I don’t remember exactly when I became obsessed with cookbooks. But, I do recall that in the early days, I read about Judith Jones. I learned how she was the editor who brought Mastering the Art of French Cooking into being. She worked with so many cooking legends from Julia Child to Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, Edna Lewis, Irene Kuo, Marcella Hazan, Marion Cunningham, and on and on. I started collecting books by each of them. It’s no surprise that I was delighted to read the latest by Claudia Roden. This new book shares her favorite dishes from several seaports and cities around the Mediterranean where she has spent a career reporting on the cuisines. I received a review copy of Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean: Treasured Recipes from a Lifetime of Travel, and in it she tells of fond memories of places she lived or visited and the recipes from those places that are her favorites and ones she prepares for family and friends. The photos show the food, of course, but also the idyllic places mentioned. A quote by 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 meal for entertaining: Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Vegetable sides, With grain, Seafood, Meat and poultry, and Desserts. The first recipe in the book sent me on my way to make some focaccia that’s perfect with the dips and spreads for appetizers. Also, I made the Green Olive, Walnut, and Pomegranate Salad right away. The story behind the Sweet-and-Sour Peperonata sounds like a book of its own. It’s about a visit to Palermo and a dinner in an aristocrat’s palazzo. That’s soon followed by a description of farmer’s market shopping in Provence. I’m looking forward to spring shopping at our local farm stands when I can gather everything for the Lemony Roast Potatoes with Cherry Tomatoes and Garlic. There are couscous, polenta, barley, rice and pasta dishes. One of the simplest, Malloreddus al Caprino Fresco, from Sardinia has me intrigued. It involves just pasta, fresh goat cheese, lemon and orange zest, and saffron. There’s even a simplified b’stilla made with chicken and topped with puff pastry. But, the desserts might the simplest of all. The no-churn, frozen Parfait Mocha Praline topped with a chopped hazelnut brittle looks delicious and easy to execute. Before I try that, I have to tell you about the Mashed Chickpeas with Turmeric.
Chickpeas with turmeric comes from Tunisia, but the added toppings are up to you to pick and choose from several Mediterranean options. The chickpeas were soaked overnight before being drained and then placed in a large saucepan with lots of fresh water and some baking soda to help them soften. Peeled garlic cloves and ground turmeric were added, and the chickpeas simmered until tender. The goal was for the liquid to reduce to a small bit of thick sauce while the chickpeas cooked. A few whole chickpeas were kept aside for garnish before the rest with the sauce was transferred to a food processor. 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. These simplified dishes can bring all the flavors into your kitchen with ease. My obsession with cookbooks hasn’t waned, and I’m happy to add this one to the collection.
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