I can’t remember exactly when I became obsessed with cookbooks. But I remember reading about Judith Jones in the early days. I learned how she was the editor who brought her Master the art of French cuisine into being. She has worked with so many cooking legends from Julia Child to Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Edna Lewis, Irene Kuo, Marcella Hazan, Marion Cunningham and so on. I started collecting books from each of them. No wonder I was very happy to read the latest from Claudia Roden. This new book shares her favorite dishes from several seaports and cities around the Mediterranean where she has spent a career covering the cuisines. I received a review copy Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean: Treasured Recipes from a Long Life of Travel, and in it she shares fond memories of places she has lived or visited and the recipes of those places that are her favorites and that she prepares for family and friends. The photos show the food, of course, but also the aforementioned idyllic places. A quote from Joseph Pla at the beginning of the book reads, “Cooking is the landscape in a saucepan.” That sums it up. The recipes include everything you need to plan a simple entertaining meal: appetizers, soups, salads, vegetable sides, grain-based, seafood, meat and poultry, and desserts. The first recipe in the book sent me on my way to making a focaccia that would pair perfectly with the appetizer dips and spreads. I also made the salad with green olives, walnuts and pomegranates right away. The story behind the Sweet-and-Sour Peperonata sounds like a book in itself. It involves a visit to Palermo and dinner in an aristocratic palazzo. A description of shopping at the farmers’ market in Provence follows soon after. I look forward to spring shopping at our local farm stalls when I can gather everything for the lemony hash browns with cherry tomatoes and garlic. There are couscous, polenta, barley, rice and pasta dishes. One of the simplest, Malloreddus al Caprino Fresco, from Sardinia, intrigued me. It’s just pasta, fresh goat cheese, lemon and orange peel, and saffron. There’s even a simplified b’stilla with chicken and puff pastry. But the desserts might be the easiest of them all. The no-butter Frozen Parfait Mocha Praline, topped with a chopped hazelnut brittle, looks delicious and is easy to make. Before I try this, I have to tell you about the chickpea puree with turmeric.
Chickpeas with turmeric are native to Tunisia, but the added toppings allow you to choose from several Mediterranean options. The chickpeas were soaked overnight before draining, then placed in a large saucepan with plenty of fresh water and a little baking soda to soften them. Peeled garlic cloves and ground turmeric were added and the chickpeas were cooked until tender. The goal was for the liquid to reduce to a little thick sauce while the chickpeas cook. A few whole chickpeas were set aside for garnish before the rest was transferred to a food processor with the sauce. Olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper were added before pureeing.
I served the puree with olives, parsley, the reserved whole chickpeas and a drizzle of olive oil on top. Being transported to the Mediterranean, even if only virtually, is a joy. Effortlessly bring all the flavors into your kitchen with these simplified dishes. My obsession with cookbooks hasn’t waned and I’m excited to add this one to the collection.
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