Saturday, April 28, 2012


Congratulations to Claudia Roden, whose marvelous book, THE FOOD OF SPAIN (ECCO/HarperCollins, USA), won the IACP award in the international category for cookbooks published in 2011. 

I am a huge fan of Claudia Roden’s work, starting back in the early 1970s when a friend sent me a Penguin paperback of A BOOK OF MIDDLE EASTERN FOOD. I have made every one of the recipes in the mezze chapter—including Fried Brains—in my kitchen in Spain. I use Claudia Roden’s THE BOOK OF JEWISH FOOD (Knopf, 1996) to help me track the influence of Spanish cooking in Sephardic communities around the world. So, I was thrilled when she turned her attention to the cooking of Spain.

Claudia Roden signs copies of  THE FOOD OF SPAIN at a Culinary Historians of New York event last June.

THE FOOD OF SPAIN is a huge book, a tome (at 608 pages, it weighs in at  just over five pounds). Photographs by Jason Lowe of both food and places add to the book’s allure. In spite of the size, this is no coffee-table book. Cooks will appreciate that it props open nicely on a bookstand and that recipes really work. My copy already has stains from frequent kitchen use.

Size means THE FOOD OF SPAIN has got it all. Despite a cover blurb by modernist chef, Ferran Adrià, the book is really dedicated to traditional regional dishes. Spain’s home cooking. And, traditional Spanish cooking is what I am all about, so this book is dear to my heart.

I love the way that Claudia has put recipes in context—historical, geographical, seasonal. Interviews and anecdotes about people in the Spanish food scene—chefs and home cooks, growers and producers,  grandees and peasants—contribute a personal voice. For instance, in a sidebar about migas, fried bread crumbs, Claudia relates how her friend Cuqui described how rural workers prepare the dish in the countryside and all serve themselves from a communal pan. “There is an art of tearing up bread into very small pieces with your fingers, and Cuqui showed me how to do it on our table at a bar in Seville.”

In the headnotes for Oxtail Stew, Claudia writes about the classic recipe for this famous dish, “the way it was made with the trophy bull’s tails that were given to the picadores, the horsemen who pierce the bull’s back with a lance early in the bullfight.” What we call oxtails in America, she says, are not the tails of oxen but those of ordinary beef cattle. “After long, slow cooking, the meat becomes silky-tender and the sauce rich and gelatinous. With the heady flavors imparted by the wine and brandy, this dish is a luxury.”

And, preceding the gazpacho recipe, she says her friend Manolo makes gazpacho with just tomatoes, garlic and his own olive oil and vinegar. “He makes quantities that he pours into large Coca-Cola bottles so that he and his sister and any friends who happen to be around can have some at any time of the day.”
Artichokes with shrimp and clams.

I chose a recipe from THE FOOD OF SPAIN for Artichokes with Shrimp and Clams that is seasonal (spring artichokes) and somewhat different from the version in my own cookbook, MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN (HarperCollins 2002). Claudia adds small shrimp to the dish, making it really luxurious.

In the recipe’s headnotes, Claudia writes that she learned this recipe from a chef from Córdoba, who prepared them with fresh-picked baby artichokes. As it is difficult to find baby artichokes and time-consuming to prepare them, she suggests using frozen artichoke hearts or bottoms. In Córdoba, she notes, the dish is made with the local Montilla-Moriles sherry-type wine, but she has also used manzanilla, a fino sherry.

Montilla-Moriles fino.
I can get those small artichokes in my local market. And I just happened to have a bottle of Montilla-Moriles fino from the Alvear bodega. Montilla wines (from Córdoba province) are made in the same way as Sherry from Jerez, but with Pedro Jimenez grapes instead of Palomino. They are very similar in style.

Artichokes cooking in fino.

I trimmed the artichokes down to the bottoms and cut them in half, but didn’t bother removing the chokes. They needed more cooking time (about 20 minutes) than the frozen artichokes called for in the following recipe.


Artichokes with Shrimp and Clams
Alcachofas con Almejas—Andalusia

Recipe by Claudia Roden, from THE FOOD OF SPAIN (used with permission).

Serves 4.

Small clams.
1 pound clams
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup Montilla-Moriles wine or a dry sherry or dry white wine
1 cup fish or chicken stock
8 frozen artichoke bottoms or baby artichoke hearts, defrosted     and quartered
½ pound small to medium shrimp
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil over low heat in a wide casserole, preferably one that you can bring to the table. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion and garlic begin to color. Add the flour and stir vigorously for 1 minute, then gradually add the wine and stock, stirring all the time. Season with salt, add the artichokes, and cook for 10 minutes, or until they are tender.

Put the shrimp and drained clams on top of the artichokes and sprinkle with the parsley. Cover and cook over medium heat until the shrimp turn pink and the clams open. Throw away any that do not open.

Artichokes with Shrimp and Clams from THE FOOD OF SPAIN.

Footnote: Claudia Roden is also a finalist for the James Beard cookbook awards, to be announced on May 4, along with my other favorite cookbook writer, Paula Wolfert, for her THE FOOD OF MOROCCO (also published by ECCO).

The photos on this blog are my own, not from THE FOOD OF SPAIN.

For more on my own books about the food of Spain, have a look at this blog posting


  1. Postscript: Paula Wolfert's book, THE FOOD OF MOROCCO, won the 2012 James Beard award for cookbook in international category. Congratulations, Paula!!

  2. Well ,you have convinced me to get that hook or crook !
    Either I´ll get it from Amazon or someone will give it to me for my birthday
    A good review !
    XXXX C

  3. Charlotte: Yes, Claudia's book is a great read.