Fiona Dunlop's fascinating book looks at the Moorish influences on Andalucian cuisine.
In his latest book, London-based restaurateur Jose Pizarro takes us through his favourite dishes from the region.
Andaluz: A Food Journey Through Southern Spain by Fiona Dunlop (Interlink) Andalusia: Recipes form Seville and Beyond by Jose Pizarro (Hardie Grant) In this post I’m going to look at two recipe books about the gastronomy of this wonderful region. One is by the ebullient Extremaduran-turned-Londoner restaurateur, Jose Pizarro and the other by travel and food writer Fiona Dunlop.
Fiona’s book follows an interesting format: like her previous work Mexican Modern for which she interviewed top chefs from around Mexico, this sees her travelling around southern Spain talking to 20 cooks and teams behind Michelin-starred establishments, but also from small beachfront restaurants in out-of-the-way towns. She has already written about Spanish food in her book New Tapas.
Dividing up a huge and diverse region – geographically and gastronomically - like Andalucia is always tricky: Fiona opts for east/centre/west: from coastal Almeria across the olive fields and mountains of Jaen, the hills and beaches of Granada, Malaga's lesser known inland Axarquia, and on to the plains of Cordoba and Seville, finishing in Cadiz and Huelva, seafood heaven with plenty of pork thrown in.
At the start of each section is her introductory travelogue of the area and its main towns. Of Seville, glorious baroque city in the west, she says: “The city is the heartbeat of wheat fields, olive groves, and vineyards, stretching south to Jerez, while the bucolic Sierra del Norte is plundered for its game, honey and vegetables.” Some of the stand-out recipes in this book are the wonderfully-named zaramandoña – cod, tomato and red pepper salad, from Nuestra Tierra tapas bar in Almeria; Mozarabic monkfish with a sauce of sweet wine, raisins, and pine nuts from El Faro in Cadiz; and, in the Sierra de Huelva, at the renowned Arrieros restaurant, we find Iberian pork tenderloin with dates in quince and chocolate sauce.
A wonderful taste of the Middle East, Iberia and American cultures in just a few Spanish dishes. But what makes this cookbook really buzz for me is the first section, on the Moorish period of Andalucía, when the region was ruled by Arabs and Berbers from North Africa for eight centuries, reaching its peak during the Caliphate city of Córdoba. Fiona explains how strongly their cuisine and agriculture influenced the local customs and dishes: citrus fruit, rice, figs, chickpeas, almonds. pine-nuts, saffron and many more products were all brought across the Mediterranean.
Fiona tells us about the 10th-century musician Ziryab, who brought the idea of the three-course meal to the Caliphate: salad or soup, followed by fish, fowl and vegetables, and finally fruit and nuts to “close the stomach”; he also pioneered escabeche, the pickle-marinade so beloved in today’s Andalucia. All this gives a clear and detailed context to the recipes which follow; additionally,, as someone who lives part-time in Andalucia,
Fiona also explains that it’s a personal venture for her: “this book, in search of Al-Andalus through its culinary legacy, is my ode to the entire region – its momentous past, its bewitching landscapes, and its charming, garrulous, truly egalitarian, often surreal, and ever generous-hearted people…”
What the reader gets is an extremely palatable mix of history, travel and food. Taste Andalucia’s past through the recipes, and explore its hidden corners with this entertaining and erudite writer.
Originally from Extremadura, the region just to the north-west of Andalucia, Jose Pizarro is a restaurateur with three restaurants in south-east London and the City, and a pub in Surrey. He has already published books on Basque Country and Catalan cuisine, and in this volume we get the full gamut of Andalucian cooking, with its extraordinary range of local ingredients thanks to the fertile soil and bountiful seas.
Divided into four sections - meat, fish, vegetables and desserts - each recipe has a short introduction peppered with anecdotes of people he’s met and dishes he’s served in his restaurants, like salmorejo with smoked sardines, “At Pizarro… it was a big success.” There is a good balance between today’s ubiquitous favourites – tuna tartare, with which he explains about the ancient almadraba tuna-fishing system – and much-loved classics which are less familiar to a foreign audience, like pan de higo (fig bread). Simple yet tasty options which showcase typical local ingredients – salad of mojama (dried tuna) and pickled apple, or papas aliñas – potatoes with peppers, onions and vinegar, as served in Bodeguita Romero in Seville.
The Moorish element is also present in Jose’s book, with Moorish wild boar stew, an aromatic feast of meat with cumin, coriander, cinnamon, raisins, chocolate and orange. From Jose’s personal reference, we have his mother Isabel’s pork ribs, with wine, oregano, garlic and lemon.
We learn about techniques for the famous sardines cooked on a long wooden stick, at a restaurant in Sanlucar de Barrameda: “Baldonero used olive and oak wood for the fire. The sardines are cooked as they are with no extra oil, and you can tell they are done when their eyes turn white. This is absolutely the healthiest way to eat fish.”
The desserts section is as comprehensive as I‘ve seen in a cookbook on Andalucian food: from gañotes (fried honey pastries) made by Franciscan nuns in Ronda, to marmalade soufflé puddings by Jeannie Chesterton, a Scottish chef who runs a gourmet b&b in deepest rural Sierra de Huelva.
One simple but little-known classic is the torta de aceite, a thin, crispy olive oil biscuit which dates back centures. Commercial versions come flavoured with orange or cinnamon, but he uses fennel seeds. I’d recommend both of these books as Christmas presents for lovers of tapas both traditional and contemporary. Each has its own list of recommended restaurants in the major cities and beyond, as well as mouth-watering food photography and atmospheric shots of villages and dramatic landscapes. Buen provecho!