Food writer and recipe tester Linda Avery reviews cookbooks.
Photographs by Jeff Koehler
Let me begin by saying that I’m totally jealous of Jeff Koehler. It began when I read and made recipes from his book Morocco. Now I’m pouring over recipes from the Basque Country to Andalucía and the image of my passport is mentally stamped on each page.
Koehler met his wife in London and moved to Spain shortly before marrying. He has an intimate knowledge of the country which comes through loud and clear in the book. He begins with a regional culinary tour and provides a map of the regions for those of us who don’t know Castilla is in the center of Spain with La Rioja and Navarra to the north (it’s quite helpful). The book has 15 chapters. Soups, fish, rice, meat and other mundane foodstuffs are slotted between pulses, shellfish, game and snails, innards and extremities. Did you just go to google to find pulses?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention salt cod or bacalao (the Catalan word happens to be the same word as Italian bacallà, in the Basque country it’s bakailoo). “Some of the most classic, even celebrated, dishes in Spain are made with bacalao.” Koehler presents nine salt cod recipes and in the glossary you’ll find how to desalt salt cod along with using saffron, preparing fresh snails for cooking, cleaning squid, cuttlefish, mussels and sundry other techniques.
Each chapter is led by interesting information whether it’s the history of tapas, or how and why consumption of certain food has changed or just an entertaining story. He quotes a funny line in the introduction to Innards and Extremities reflecting how a Spaniard feels about eating a whole animal. It essentially translates to “taking advantage of everything except the way that a pig walks.”
Wrapping up the book are desserts including Galician Crepes with Fresh Whipped Cream and Honey, Flatbread with Pine Nuts, Sugar and Anise; plus drinks like Slushy Lemon Granita and sangrias; and then conserves such as Dried Apricots Macerated in Sweet Wine and Creamy Quince Paste.
I predict that Jeff Koehler has a well-deserved award in his future for this book.
The following recipe has no season – It’s a hit for lunch, dinner or cut in smaller servings, an appetizer.
One of the most classic and popular of all Spanish dishes, the egg and potato tortilla is, simply, iconic. It was, fittingly, the first dish I learned to make when I moved to Spain in 1996, in a lesson given to me by my future brother-in-law, Robert. Preparing a tortilla with potato alone is fine, but using an equal amount of onions produces a sweeter, moister, and, in my mind, superior result. While the key to a good tortilla is keeping it moist in the center, the real trick, he showed me, comes in flipping it. Or rather, flipping the tortilla without the bottom sticking.
Makes one 10-inch/25-cm tortilla
Serves 6 to 8
1 1 ⁄4 pounds/570 g medium white potatoes
1 1 ⁄4 pounds/570 g medium onions
1 quart/1 l mild olive oil or sunflower oil
1. Peel the potatoes, halve lengthwise, and thinly slice crosswise. Peel the onions, halve lengthwise, and thinly slice crosswise.
2. In a large sauté pan or deep skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat until shimmering. Carefully add the potatoes and onions and cook over medium-high heat, stirring from time to time, until they soften and just begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes and onions to a colander to thoroughly drain. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the oil.
3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs thoroughly with a hand whisk until frothy. Season with salt. Pour the drained potatoes and onions into the egg. Gently push down to cover with egg. Let sit and absorb for 10 minutes.
4. In a 10-inch/25-cm nonstick skillet, heat the reserved 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat. Pour in the egg mixture. Immediately turn the heat to low and swirl the pan in a circular motion for a few seconds to keep the egg from sticking. Cook until the bottom is golden and the tortilla set, about 6 minutes.
5. Wearing an oven mitt, place a flat, tight-fitting plate over the tortilla. Firmly pressing the plate against the pan, carefully and quickly turn the tortilla over onto the plate, and then slide the tortilla off the plate and back into the pan. Swirl the pan in a circular motion to settle the tortilla and keep it from sticking. Tuck any edges down with a spatula. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until firm but still moist in the center.
6. Flip the tortilla onto a clean plate. Dab off any excess oil with a paper towel. Let cool before slicing it into fat wedges to serve.