Rick Stein’s Spain
By Rick Stein
BBC Books/Ebury – £25.00
I met Rick Stein at a party once, and like Spain, he too, is silently confident. What you saw was what you got. But just as in all walks of life, it’s important to penetrate beyond the surface in order to discover all the varying and unspoken untold(s).
Such is most definitely the case regarding Spain, especially its cuisine.
Realising and fully understanding this, Stein – who spent many a childhood holiday in the country – has ventured off the so-called beaten track and compiled over 140 recipes in this altogether glorious and totally inspiring new book, Rick Stein’s Spain. New, being the operative word here, as Spain is indeed, very much a new country – thriving with sparkling potential and suave possibility.
The author writes in the book’s Introduction: ‘’Since General Franco died in 1975, Spain has become a completely different country, prosperous, sexy even, and confident. Cities like Barcelona and Valencia are exciting places with entertaining architecture […] buildings engage the viewer and give a sense of optimism and hope for the future. My problem is not that I don’t enjoy this new Spain, it’s just that I’m still imbued with memories of Spain over my lifetime.’’
Herein lies the key to many of this book’s delightful travelogue of recipes.
Consisting of ten chapters – the first nine of which concentrate on the various regions of Spain with the tenth devoted to the Spanish Larder, Desserts and a Cheeseboard/Cookery Equipment section – one can literally open any page and be immediately coaxed into investigating further. I kid thee not. No doubt, this has a great deal to do with James Murphy’s excellent photography, and the degree to which one’s tummy is dancing the rumba.
On page 224, which focuses on the region of Extremadura, we find ‘Chickpeas with Chorizo,’ which is as simple to make as it is succulent to eat: ‘’If you were to ask me for the one dish in the world that best celebrates the fabulously earthy quality of chickpeas, it would be garbanzos con chorizo. Chorizo goes with all the pulses – white beans, brown beans, lentils – but nothing seems better to conjure up an image of those vast plains of La Mancha stretching to Extremadura than these large peas with their slightly firm texture blended with the pork sausage of the region […].’’ Venture into the Andalucian chapter, and you will find another little gem of a recipe on page 247, ‘Potato Salad Dressed with Olive Oil, Vinegar and Tuna.’ Stein stumbled upon this while in Ramon’s, a little tapas bar-cum restaurant, way off the visitors’ beaten track in Seville. Suffice to say, Papas alina con melva de almadabra sounds simple enough, but as is so often the case in cooking: simple is quite often the best.
To be sure, terrific, mouth-watering, culinary examples arrive fast’n’furious throughout Rick Stein’s Spain: ‘Chickpea, Salt Cod and Spinach Stew’ (Castilla La Mancha), ‘Chicken and Rabbit Paella with White and Green Beans, Tomato, Pimenton and Saffron’ (Valencia), ‘Clams with Serrano Ham and Oloroso Sherry’ (Andalucia)… And this is before one has even reached the Desserts!
As always, the only minor point is actually locating all the necessary ingredients. Having lived in France (where trying to buy anything that wasn’t French, was not only impossible, but considered blasphemous) and now in Germany (where chorizo is both expensive and illusive), it is imperative to understand the varying merits of jazz cooking; especially in pursuit of Stein’s gastronomic vision.
That said, this is an absolutely wonderful cookbook – one that I’d strongly recommend to anyone, anywhere, anyhow.