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cookbook reviews: traveling the mediterranean

by Grace Bonney

I was really torn over what books I would write about this week. Do I try to do something in tune with Lena’s fresh fruit cake? Do I focus on the fruit? The baking? How about none of that? I got three things in the mail today: Jamie Oliver’s fifth Jamie Magazine which is the “British Issue”, Slow Food’s new Soup book “Zuppe” and my Slow Food Italy membership card. Tomorrow I travel with a friend to the wonderful Piedmont region of Italy to enjoy the world’s best Cheese fair, which alternates years with the Slow Food Salone del Gusto. So, I thought I’d hone in on Europe for a round up of Mediterranean cookbooks. The kind that make you dream of moving, the kind that you crave when you get back from a trip and want to make some of the great food you had when you were away. Check in next month for northern European cookbooks. If you’re interested in new Cheese finds, check out my Twitter feed on Friday, when I’ll be documenting the best finds of the fair, and from there will move on to Milan for more foraging! -Kristina

CLICK HERE for all 4 cookbook reviews after the jump!

The Real Flavour of Tuscany by Lori de Mori and Jason Lowe (published by Quadrille): I love cookbooks that tell me a story about the food in it, grounded in history or tradition. I love cookbooks with great photography. I love cookbooks that make me dream of visiting the places they talk about. And it’s an added bonus if the recipes are great too. This book ticks all those boxes as it tells the story of 25 food artisans in the Tuscany region of Italy, including recipes by each artisan. The recipes are authentic, not your usual Italian-ish recipes passed off as “real Italian cooking”, and the photography of the places, people and food so enthralling, I must admit that it has inspired me to plan a trip to revisit Tuscany this autumn to enjoy the visual experience in first person. If you’re too far away for that, this book is the next best thing!

The Eagle Cookbook: Recipes from the Original Gastropub by David Eyre (Absolute Press). This is a re-edition of a book I never knew about. It’s the very tasteful collection recipes from a London-based pub which heralds itself as the first pub to serve a full menu of ‘real’ food. But it’s not what you’d expect– not typical British, but what the owners/chefs describe as “On Holiday all around the Mediterranean”. (If you’re looking for real British pub food, Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Pub Food is as good as it gets!)It is a great mix of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese. It is divided into dish types– salads, soups, meals on toast, etc. (no dessert!), and is a book for omnivores. Simple recipes like Baked Sea Bass with Tomatoes, Grilled Squid Piri-Piri (I’m on a Squid kick these days), Roast Pork Tuscan style, Bucatini with Cauliflower, Anchovies, Pine nuts and Raisins all reminded me of how easy it is to make good food with little effort and few ingredients. The sides in the book are weak, but the other eight chapters, photography, and sections on how to handle meat, for example, more than make up for it.

The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe’s Western Coast by David Leite (Clarkson Potter). Not that I really needed more encouragement to go out and buy potatoes, but I think it’s a pretty powerful statement when just the sight of images in a cookbook make you go shop for food. And buy a plane ticket. If my husband hadn’t beat me to the punch, we’d be going to Portugal in two weeks, instead of Dublin (see, I love potatoes). David Leite, an award-winning, writer, draws you into his love of Portugal with wonderful descriptive narrative. Nuno Correia gets the appetite going with amazing photography. The recipes are not difficult, and sourcing ingredients is simple. Try potato skin curls with herbs, Olive oil-poached fresh cod with roasted tomato sauce, My family’s White Beans and Sausage, “Russians” Nut Cakes, or any number of the “sundries”, sauces and spice pastes that you can keep on hand to add to your non-Portuguese food as you wish. Don’t buy this book if you don’t like fish, cod in particular. Not for vegetarians either.

Eric Kayser’s New French Recipes (published by Flammarion). Well this, like the Eagle Cookbook, will be a surprise to those who expect something…French. Well I don’t really know what “French” is, but Kayser had a really good idea to organize this book around the grains he uses to bake breads, given that he is a baker. So this book is focused more on the use of grains, seeds, dried fruit and nuts. He not only has bread recipes, but also has mains, desserts, side dishes, and starters! The recipes range from extremely simple (Grilled Hazelnut Butter Sandwich, eggplant caviar with sesame oil, quinoa with three root vegetables!) to more involved (bread recipes – gluten-free cornbread, walnut tartlets with blue cheese and Jura white wine). Again, because this book is translated into English, you should use a scale (although with savory food it matters less than with baking). I find the photography to be much better than in his other books (which weren’t bad, but not this good!) and I think this is a great book to have in your collection if you want something a little different. You may struggle to find a few ingredients depending on where you live, but Kayser includes tips and notes with most recipes to suggest substitutions and accompaniments. This book could be very interesting for vegetarians (not vegans) who are willing to skip over the meat recipes to try the many other wonderful recipes that don’t contain meat.

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  • The Eagle is one of my favorite restaurants in all of London. The quality of their dishes is consistently excellent, and often brilliant. I can’t speak for the cookbook but the source I can enthusiastically recommend!

  • As a lover & collector of cookbooks, I loved reading these reviews. Tuscany is my fave region in Italy and, like you, I’m sure I’ll lust for a return visit after reading the book. Portugal is also dear to my heart, especially the Algarve.
    Thanks for sharing!

  • I’ve never been to Dublin, but I think your husband will realize he made the wrong choice not coming to Portugal this time of year … and if we are talking about food …
    When you visit us, be sure to witness your impressions here. I’ll be waiting!