Born and raised in Spain's Basque Country, Teresa Barrenechea (The Basque Table
), has been very purposeful with her title, choosing the plural, cuisines, to speak of Spain in her most recent book, The Cuisines of Spain
. There is no one Spanish food, plain and simple. And what the author wants to convey is a sense of place for the many delicious dishes she presents (there are over 250 recipes). It's a kind of culinary coaching, a catch up for the cooks already familiar with which dishes one can attribute to Northern Italy, say, or Sicily, or Alsatian France. Spain, and Spanish culinary traditions, remain something of a frontier. And that makes Teresa Barrenechea something of a pioneer. Exploring Regional Home Cooking
: That's the sub-title of the book, and therein lies the magic.
The Cuisines of Spain is first and foremost a book to read. The author's first two chapters describe in great detail the history and geography of Spain's regions which she groups by shared climate and natural resources. She calls this "following bean stews rather than political boundaries." Woven into this tapestry are traces of the Phoenicians, ancient Greeks, Romans, Celts, Visigoths and Vandals (who left behind livestock farming practices), Moorish and Jewish culture, and, of course, the New World impacts of foods returning with Columbus--tomatoes, potatoes, corn, peppers. She gets granular--which pigs, grown where and eating what, contribute to the great hams of Spain.
She divides the book by the flow of a meal, and makes suggestions throughout which dishes would typically go together. This is if you were to choose to cook an entire Spanish meal, from tapas to dessert. You could also strive to include a single Spanish dish in your weekly meals, learning as you go, expanding a repertoire, because this is home cooking. This is about every day, not just special occasions.
The enterprising cook will find chapters devoted to "Tapas," "Cold Soups and Salads," "Vegetable Dishes and Other First Courses," "Breads," "Pies and Pastas," "Warm Soups and Legume Stews," "Rice Dishes," "Fish and Shellfish," "Poultry, Meats, and Game," "Desserts and Other Sweets," and "Beverages." There's a chapter of basic recipes as well as a list of sources for some of the more unusual ingredients.
This is a lush, beautifully illustrated and designed cookbook, as at home on a coffee table or nightstand as in the kitchen. Take the author's advice: Follow the bean stews into a new world of Old World home cooking. --Schuyler Ingle
Few have done more to disseminate the delights of Spanish cuisine than Barrenechea. A Spanish native, former New York restaurateur and author of The Basque Table, Barrenchea mixes Spanish history with the 250 recipes in this formidable cookbook. The recipes are grouped by course, and the author suggests some main dishes can, "in small portions, be served as tapas." This should, in theory, make meal-planning fun, but the sheer volume of recipes may intimidate many: there are eight chapters of courses, not counting tapas or sauces, and although Barrenechea insists these recipes do not require "hard-to-find ingredients," Spanish staples like salt cod or blood sausage can prove difficult to locate. Similarly, the author claims "you don't need a lot of specialized equipment," right after she asserts "if you want to cook authentic Spanish dishes," you'll need earthenware casseroles in different sizes, a paella pan, a food mill and a mortar and pestle. Although the recipes are superior-clear, concise, and delicious- this cookbook seems intended more for education than entertainment. Those who are obsessed with Spanish cooking will consider it a treasure; anyone with slightly less interest may feel overwhelmed.
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