This is a little note to say, I’m sorry for the lack of recipes over the last week. It’s been a busy week, a lot of which has, sadly, been spent outside the kitchen. However, this is the week in which I met the rather wonderful food writer, Claudia Roden.
For those of you who don’t know of Claudia Roden she is an Egyptian Jew who came to Britain in 1956. She is now one of Britain’s treasures and also one of the most prolific food writers and food historians of the century. She doesn’t just capture recipes, she captures their stories too – her family, like mine were expelled from their native country and recipes for her and for me, are part of our connection to our respective histories, countries and our families.
Beyond that, Claudia is also a lovely, elegant raconteur and from the moment she started talking, I tumbled helplessly into the stories she told from her new book, The Food of Spain.
She said that for hundreds of years, in Spain, a land battle waged between Arabs, Moors, Christians and Portuguese. So that Spanish food and culture is actually an intermingling of various foods and cultures. At one point, she said, perhaps you used to be able to tell from walking down a street whether a Spanish, Arabic or Christian family cooking depending on whether you could smell olive oil, clarified butter or animal fat that was being used to cook with, respectively.
She proceeded to tell us the stories behind some dishes – how some regional mutton dishes had spread across the country with the movement of pastures and how potatoes, beans and maize were popularised because they were the cheapest ways to feed peasant slave labour. But that prior to the popularisation of potatoes, peasants mainly ate chestnuts – could you imagine a chestnut tortilla as Spain’s national dish?
Whilst this was going on, the wonderful Jose Pizarro and his magic pan were cooking up all sorts of delights for us from Salmarejo to tortilla and sea bream in parsley, olives and oranges. All the dishes were utterly divine – the recipes for which can be found in Claudia’s new book. Jose, himself, can be found in either of his two restaurants in Bermondsey;Jose or Pizarro. I have test run Jose for you and can safely say it’s one of London’s finest places to eat tapas.
As the plates were being collected and streams of people began to scurry out like swaddled beetles into the cold Camden night I asked Claudia, ‘what’s your favourite recipe?’ hoping for the ultimate treasure from the woman who must have asked a thousand people that same question, and she replied ‘I ask people that question all the time and when people ask me, I say, I don’t know’. She shrugged.
Claudia Roden’s book, The Food of Spain: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Food-Spain-Claudia-Roden/dp/0718157192
Thank you Niels @wearethesauce for the ticket and the photo and to @Gefiltefest and @Jewishmuseumldn for organising.