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The Food of Spain

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Written by Lisa Lawless   
Thursday, 21 July 2011
List of viewable recipes from "The Food of Spain" by Claudia Roden

ImageIf you're not able to plan a trip to Spain this year, Claudia Roden's new book, The Food of Spain, might be the next best thing. The book tells of Spain's history, the rich mix of cultures that have moved from region to region in the country over time, the geography from coasts to mountains, and how all those things have made Spanish food what it is. There have been Roman, Moorish, Jewish, French and New World influences. The Roman Catholic Visigothic kingdom brought the tradition of feeding pigs acorns and berries in forests, just as the Iberico pigs are still fed today. From the Islamic Empire came rice, wheat, sugarcane, artichokes, bitter oranges, saffron, and new varieties of sheep.

Jews in Spain arrived in the Arab regions in the south, later moved to Christian regions in the north taking cooking styles with them, and in 1492 were either banished or required to convert to Christianity. At that time their cooking traditions became indicators of their heritage and practices they had to give up to avoid persecution. Still, olive oil-fried eggplant fritters and flourless cakes, among other dishes, have remained a part of Spanish food. In northern Spain, the French influence brought foie gras, truffles, butter, and cream in addition to elaborate cooking techniques. After explorers returned from the New World, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beans, and peppers found their home in Spain. Chiles were transported to all regions by traveling monks and dried ground pimenton came to replace black pepper as the spice of choice.

Roden weaves all of these historical details and more into the story of the origins of traditional Spanish dishes, and the pages are filled with beautiful photos of landscapes, architecture, plants, animals, and food. Although the cuisine is defined through historical information, the recipes are written for the modern home cook with availability of ingredients in mind. And, these are home-cooking dishes rather than complex, restaurant fare. The recipes section starts with stocks and basics followed by dressings and sauces. Then there are tapas, soups, egg dishes, savory pies, salads, fish and seafood, poultry and game, meat, rice and pasta, bean stews, desserts, and drinks.

ImageAmong the recipes you'll find a hearty spinach and chickpea soup made with hard-boiled eggs and potatoes, and a creamy leek tart with a glossy top. Then, there's a golden baked dish of eggplant with béchamel and Manchego cheese topped with crisp breadcrumbs, and a light and flavorful pan-grilled fish with garlic and chile dressing. The roast chicken with apples and grapes will make a great fall meal, and the meatballs in almond sauce would be perfect party food. There are a few different versions of paella and other rice dishes, in addition to pasta like the fideos with seafood. The pastries chapter is hard to resist with flans, almond ice cream, puff pastry filled with almond custard, and walnut cake with brandy.

For my first dish from the book, I chose to make a typical home-cooked Catalonian coca which is a lot like pizza. Traditionally the flat dough would be topped with leftover vegetables, with maybe some anchovy fillets or canned tuna or sliced sausages. The version in the book is shown with roasted eggplant and red bell peppers, which is fit for the height of summer. Rather than being covered in a thick sauce as pizza often is, a mixture of cooked onion and fresh tomatoes was thinly spread on the dough before it was topped with the chopped roasted vegetables; it was then baked until the crust was crisp. Served with some Idiazabal cheese, a few olives, and wine, this was a simple way to savor Spain without leaving home.

To read more about Lisa's adventures with The Food of Spain go to her blog LisaIsCooking.

Coca with Roasted Peppers and Eggplants

(coca de recapte-catalonia and valencia)

Recipe from The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden (Ecco, 2011)

In Catalonia the most common coca, which is sold in bakeries, has a thin bread-dough base and a topping of roasted peppers and eggplants (the region's beloved escalivada; see page 243) and onions and tomatoes. They say this coca was born in the area of Lleida and Tarragona. It is eaten cold (I like it hot too). De recapte here means "what you have in stock," because you can add the kind of things that are normally on hand in the Catalan kitchen-see the variations.

Serves 4 to 8 as a starter, 2 as a main dish

For the dough

  • 2 ¾ cups bread flour, or as needed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • About ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar

For the topping

  • 2 eggplants (about 1 to 1 ½ pounds)
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt


Put the flour in a large bowl and sprinkle in the salt and oil. Put the yeast in a measuring cup with about ½ cup of the warm water and the sugar and stir well.

When the yeast mixture begins to froth, pour it into the flour, then very gradually pour in the remaining warm water, adding only just enough to make a soft ball that sticks together, stirring it in first with a fork, then working it with your hands.

Knead the dough in the bowl for 10 minutes, adding more water by the tablespoon if it is too dry or a little flour if it is too sticky, until smooth and elastic. Grease the bowl with about ½ tablespoon oil, then turn the dough in it, coating it well with oil, so that a crust will not form when it rises. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled in volume.

For the topping, put the eggplants and peppers on a sheet of foil on a baking sheet, and prick the eggplants in a few places with a pointed knife. Put the tray in a preheated 350°F oven and bake, turning once, until the peppers are soft and the skins have blistered and the eggplants are soft, 30 to 45 minutes (the eggplants will take quite a bit longer than the peppers).

While the peppers and eggplants are in the oven, fry the onions in 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet, covered to begin with, stirring often until soft. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and some salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

When the peppers are soft, put them in 1 or 2 sturdy plastic bags, and twist to seal them. Leave them for about 10 minutes to steam and cool. Pull off the skin from the peppers, remove the stems and seeds, and cut the peppers into ½- to ¾-inch squares.

Peel the eggplants, put them in a colander, and press slightly to let the juices drain away. Then cut them into similar?size pieces. Mix the eggplants and peppers together and toss with salt to taste and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil so that they are well coated.

Brush two large baking sheets with oil. Punch the risen dough down and knead for a couple of minutes. Divide it into 2 balls. Roll each one out on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin into an oblong or oval about 11 by 15 inches. Lift up each sheet of dough by wrapping it around the rolling pin and unwrapping it onto a baking sheet.

Spread the onion and tomato sauce evenly over the dough, then dot with the peppers and eggplants.

Bake on the upper and lower racks of a preheated 350°F oven, switching the position of the baking sheets halfway through, for about 30 minutes, or until the edges of the crust are crisp and brown. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into 4 or 8 pieces.

Variations

  • -Cut the vegetables into ¾ -inch-wide strips instead of into squares or pieces.
  • -Spread among the vegetables a can of anchovy fillets in oil, or of tuna or sardines, drained and broken into pieces, before baking.
  • -Add 8 fresh pork sausages, lightly fried and cut into slices, to the topping.
  • -Add about 12 slices bacon, cut into strips and lightly fried.
  • -Add 1 pound mushrooms, sliced and briefly sautéed in oil.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.

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