Wednesday, April 29, 2009

3000 Years of Spanish Cooking

When I was in Spain last Christmas, my dear friends Horacio and Alicia, who know my fondness for cooking and historical food research, gave me a delightful book, 3000 Años de Cocina Española. It’s a very unusual cookbook by two women, Rosa Tovar and Monique Fuller. It was originally intended for an English-speaking readership, but it was clear that the book would be of interest to Spaniards, too, so the women collaborated on the work, which was published by Espasa in 2006.

Because of its geographical location, Spain has probably had more diverse culinary influences than most European countries. The cookbook is structured to cover “recipes” from each of these periods, although obviously, in some cases the recipes are purely speculative. We probably don’t know what the Celts ate, or even who the elusive Iberos were, let alone what they ate. But the authors have gathered recipes from old Spanish sources, such as Rupert de Nola, or even from the very earliest European recipe collections that appear among the Romans, such as Apicius’ De re coquinaria. They have grouped them historically and in an entertaining fashion; for example, there are meal suggestions for offering a dinner for a (medieval ) bishop. In case you’re interested, they think he’d like chicken soup flavored with roses and saffron, followed up by a tasty turbot in a bitter orange sauce.

3000 Years of Spanish Cooking

The book has a preface by the famous chef Ferran Adrià, and features a very lovely font and layout and some pleasing chapter art. It also has a great bibliography, for folks who are interested in food history.

And best of all, the recipes work! Many of the recipes are simply traditional regional recipes that have been modernized in terms of their quantities and techniques, and they have been carefully tested and are explained clearly. I have found that sometimes artistic, literary or historical cookbooks look great and may be entertaining to read, but the recipes are disastrous. 3000 Años de Cocina Española, however, is a successful cookbook and you will be able to whip up some historical delight from it that you will actually recognize as the thing that you had in that wonderful restaurant in … well, you’ve probably forgotten the name of the town anyway.