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Books on Spain

A round-up and review of Books on Spain. Some old some new, fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes brief, sometimes in depth but never negative. If I don’t like it, I won’t review it!

Rick Stein's Spain
05 December 2014 @ 10:23

Rick Stein’s Spain

A change of pace this time. Whilst gathering material for this book and the accompanying television programme, Rick visited the area in which I live therefore I felt it appropriate to have a look at this book. The purpose of Rick’s trip to the Alpujarras was probably more of a publicity opportunity to be filmed with local author Chris Stewart rather than a genuine search for new recipes. Chris’s version of the encounter in his own recent book, Last Days of the Bus Club, is quite hilarious. 

Recipe books are an interesting category as on the face of it they are supposed to be instruction manuals for the construction of a meal but in reality that is very rarely the reason for which they are purchased. Most cookbooks are bought as gifts so therefore the aesthetic value is of prime importance. Even for people that purchase them for themselves it’s a sad fact that people end up just looking at the pictures with a vague thought that it might be nice to try one or two of the recipes one day. Despite our hunger for cookbooks when cooking for ourselves we prefer to stick to traditional classics like Spaghetti Bolognese, Roasts or Bangers & Mash.

While celebrity cookbooks constantly gather at the top of the bestseller lists it must be very frustrating to those highly talented authors who find their latest novel has just been ousted by a book that will probably never be read! And when Jamie Oliver is Britain’s second biggest-selling author since records began and the Hairy Bikers knock E.L James off the number one slot, that indeed is an interesting cultural statement.

So, I approach this with a slight sense of the irony of writing a review about a book which, whilst topping the bestseller charts, may well be read by fewer people than read the blogs on Eye On Spain.

If one looks at cookbooks in a wider context than just a collection of recipes then many of them are fascinating social statements and Rick Stein’s Spain fulfils that role perfectly. Seeing the cultural differences of the Spanish people across the regions through the dishes presented here is a fascinating journey. Spain is a gastronomically divided country where regions are prepared to go to war over the correct ingredients for a paella. Or should one call it Spanish Rice?

Sadly, Spanish cuisine is often neglected in favour of France & Italy. My personal preference is certainly the food of Spain as I find it simpler and somehow more honest than the overdressed creations of French haute cuisine or the painted plates of nouvelle cuisine. So, whilst I am confident that the author has a true interest in Spanish food he does let his preferences for all things French show from time to time. In fact, in the recipe Mussels in vinaigrette he actually uses the French word for gherkin which is cornichon instead of the Spanish pepinillo.

As a coffee table book this is a pleasing volume. Lots of arty pictures of food and Spanish scenery break up the text. However many of the pictures are irrelevant to the recipes with artistic images of clam shells that would look more at home hanging on a bathroom wall than gracing a recipe book. It does seem as if somebody has simply raided Getty Images stock photo vaults rather than create new and relevant artwork. 

The recipes themselves are as varied as the regions they represent and are very well presented. For those living in Spain this is certainly a collection to be sampled although if one lives in the suburbs of Milton Keynes obtaining many of the ingredients might prove problematical. Pulpo a la Feria is a nice simple recipe to try, no complicated cooking skills required. Easy, if only you can locate an octopus of the right size in your local Tesco’s fish counter!

Rick’s love of fresh fish shows through and as Spain cooks the finest fish dishes in the world this is where the book comes to life. Simple, robust dishes, full of flavour and embracing the passion of the people who created them. Neither does he neglect the huge Moorish influences on Spanish cuisine with delicious recipes of lamb, meatballs and garlic, although I will be avoiding the offal. The beauty of this collection is the simplicity of the recipes. Most are easily created by a culinary philistine like me!

If one reads this book as a mini travelogue interspersed with recipes representing the regions then it becomes an altogether more satisfying read. His insights are sharp and his eye for the unusual makes for some fascinating  vignettes on Spanish life and culture. 

For a light hearted view of Spain, its culture and food then this is to be recommended. For a coffee table book it falls short due to its overuse of stock location photos. 

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