I’ve learnt and continue to learn a lot about Catalan and Mediterranean food from a variety of books on the subject. I’m also keen to improve my knowledge of my native cuisine, there are those books that enlighten me on the politics surrounding food and its production and of course those that help me be a better cook. Here I’d like to share those titles that I’m particularly impressed with, a list that is sure to grow:
Catalan, Spanish and Mediterranean food
Honey for a Weed, Patience Gray ISBN 0-333-45504-5
Patience Gray and her sculptor partner lived for a number of years during the 1960s in Catalonia, Tuscany and Apulia in Italy and the Greek Cyclades. ‘Honey for a Weed’ is an autobiography of their experience, eating and cooking and an insight into a distinctly different period.
River Cafe cook books, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers ISBN 009188464-0, ISBN 009182788-4, ISBN 0-09-187943-4
This series of books from the creators of the River Cafe in London have been invaluable in educating me about the Mediterranean seasons and the produce available here. I’m particularly fond of the vegetable recipes as they are inspiration for how to use the market produce.
River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers 978-0-718-15349-6
From the same authors as above, as the name suggests it is a collection of classic Italian cookery. Delicious recipes and beautiful photographs of Italian streets, countryside and people going about their lives.
A Book of Mediterranean Food, Elizabeth David ISBN 978-0140273281
Elizabeth David is an interesting and rebellious character whether you are interested in food or not. In her early 20s she ran off with her already married lover and they sailed around the Mediterranean on a yacht before getting trapped and then separating there due to the start of the Second World War, where she then went to work in Egypt. This book was written in England in the post-war years of austerity but brings to life the food she had eaten during her time away.
French Country Cooking, Elizabeth David ISBN 0-14-046789-0
French Provincial Cooking, Elizabeth David ISBN 0-14-046783-1
Elizabeth David went on to write many more books and articles after ‘Mediterranean Food’, these two although about French cooking also include recipes that are Catalan and Basque as both regions cross into France. Regardless of the French origin of the recipes many ingredients and techniques overlap into Spanish cuisine and they are again a source of good ideas and inspiration.
Ottolenghi the cookbook & Plenty, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi ISBN 978-0-09-192234-4 and ISBN 978-0-09193-368-5
These books don’t strictly fall into the ‘Mediterranean’ food bracket but seeing as the authors hail from Israel and Palestine and I ADORE these books then I’m going to include them. Bright, fresh, inspired cooking, every recipe beyond delicious and the cakes are superb. ‘Plenty’ is completely vegetarian.
Culinaria Spain, various contributors – published by H.F.Ullman ISBN 978-3-8331-4729-6
The Spain edition of a series of books about the cuisine of a variety of different countries. Very useful for a broad overview of the gastronomy and regional variations of Spanish food.
Eating up Italy, Matthew Fort ISBN 0-00-721481-2
Food writer Matthew Fort travels through Italy sometimes basking in glorious sunshine, others soaked and chilled to the bone on his Vespa whilst he samples food, learns about ingredients and recipes and visits people who produce them.
British food and cooking
Full English A journey through the British and their food, Tom Parker Bowles ISBN 978-0-09-192668-7
Our much maligned British cuisine gets a boost from Tom Parker Bowkes as he travels through different regions of England and Wales visiting producers, traditional and dying traders such as tripe dressers and pie and mash shops as well as those advancing British food. Contains some great traditional recipes.
Farmhouse Cookery, Laura Mason ISBN 0-7078-0339-x
Written following the 2001 UK foot and mouth epidemic to raise awareness of the activities of tenant farmers on National Trust land it includes traditional recipes from farms and individuals from almost every region of the UK and includes some stunning photographs that can make one very homesick for our green, rugged and pleasant land.
Food politics and related topics
Not on the label, what really goes in the food on your plate, Felicity Lawrence ISBN 0-141-01566-7
A must-read eye-opening book, I will quote the blurb to describe its content: “She discovers why beef waste ends up in chicken, why a third of apples are thrown away, why bread is full of water and air. She meets the hidden armies of migrant workers exploited throughout Britain (and I will also add Spain here) on whom our supermarkets depend. And she shows how obesity, blighted town-centres, motorways clogged with juggernauts, environmentally ravaged fields in Europe and starving smallholders in Africa are all intrinsically related aspects of our new globalized, industrialized system of 21st centur food production.”
Fat Land, How American’s became the fattest people in the world, Greg Critser ISBN 0-713-99739-7
We all know America is now the fattest nation in the world, in this book Greg Critser explains how newly developed ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, steadily increasing portion sizes, rapidly declining amounts of exercise and cleverly marketed products and sponsorship campaigns in schools by large multi-national companies have piled on the pounds of the citizens across the pond.
General cookery books and encyclopaedias
McGee on Food and Cooking, An encyclopaedia of kitchen science, history and culture, Harold McGee
Quite possible the best book about food ever. Do not be put off by sciency explanations of how cells change during cooking as this is only one aspect of this book. It’s also a great tome about the history of food production and cooking techniques, how these have changed and are changing and a collection and description of possibly every ingredient on the planet, particularly useful if you come across a new ingredient and know nothing about it.
Leith’s Techniques Bible, Susan Spaull & Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne
Produced by the Leith’s cooking school in London, this book is invaluable for teaching and refining the basics of cookery, especially for anyone trying to teach themselves. It contains processes and in some cases step by step drawings to help you learn and improve your skills. There are other titles in the ‘bible’ series including a ‘Baking Bible’ and ‘Cooking Bible’.
Rick Stein’s Taste of the Sea, Rick Stein ISBN 0-563-38781-5
So many fish in the Barcelona markets, all with Spanish or Catalan names, not all of them familiar to me. Rick Stein’s book helps me identify and prepare the fish I buy and is stuffed with mouthwatering recipes.