Spain has one of the most fascinating and diverse culinary landscapes in Europe. Reading a few good cookbooks before traveling here will really enhance the experience of eating in restaurants and shopping in the local food markets. Here are a few of my favorite cookbooks — plus one book of unique Spanish food traditions — that I reach for frequently when planning a meal or a trip around the peninsula.
The Food of Spain Claudia Roden Publisher: Michael Joseph
The Food of Spain is a comprehensive and beautifully designed cookbook, featuring hundreds of recipes plus engaging essays on the history of Spain and its people, culture, and food. Claudia Roden writes about the rich heritage of Spanish cuisine, beginning with the influence of the Celts, Romans, Moors, Jews and Christians plus a guide to the food of the autonomous regions, including Galicia, Andalucía, Catalonia and Valencia. The recipes are easy to follow and Roden gives the Spanish names of dishes, making menus easier to understand when visiting Spain.
Paella!: Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain Penelope Casas Publisher: Henry Holt and Co
This is a favorite! The book offers sixty different recipes, some traditional, some contemporary — all delicious. If you have always wanted to learn to cook paella, or are looking for some new rice dishes, this is the perfect book .
A note about the author: beginning in the 1980s, Penelope Casas wrote a number of cookbooks (all of them excellent) focused on Spanish cuisine, including Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain and The Foods and Wines of Spain. She is credited with introducing Americans to Spain’s culinary heritage.
The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito Alexandra Raij, Eder Montero, Rebecca Flint Marx Publisher: Ten Speed Press
The Basque Country (Euskadi in Basque and el Pais Vasco in Spanish) is located in northern Spain, bordering France and the Cantabric Sea. The Basque people are an ancient culture, pre-dating the Roman Empire, unrelated to other Europeans — and their cuisine is considered as one of the best in the world, with recipes being passed down generation to generation with great respect. The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito, with a collection of 116 Basque recipes plus photos and stories of Basque cooking and culture, is a wonderful introduction to a rich and unique culinary heritage.
Catalan Cuisine: Europe’s Last Great Culinary Secret Colman Andrews Publisher: Grub Street
One of the best cookbooks I have ever purchased — my copy is well-worn from much use in my kitchen! More than a cookbook, this is a guide to the history, culture, and cuisine of the Catalan Lands — autonomous provinces that until Spanish conquest in the18th century formed the Kingdom of Aragon. Discover the basics of Catalan cooking from its French, Roman and Moorish roots thorough many traditional recipes. Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Valencia, Murcia, Aragon, the region of France known as Roussillon, and a single city, Alghero, on the island of Sardinia — Colman Andrews explores the Catalan culinary culture that links them all.
The Desserts of Jordi Roca: Over 80 Dessert Recipes Conceived in El Celler de Can Roca Jordi Roca Peter Pauper Press, Inc.
Jordi Roca is the pastry chef of the award-winning restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Catalonia, and this cookbook is an attempt to bring his imagination into the home kitchen. His dessert recipes are truly amazing — and there are more than 80 in the book to try, with gorgeously tempting photos. Highly recommended!
Here is a short video (with English subtitles) that gives an introduction to what makes El Celler de Can Roca a unique experience. Joan Roca, the head chief is seen preparing Pálamos prawns and Jordi Roca prepares his version of a roast apple dessert:
Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture Matt Goulding Publisher: Harper Wave/Anthony Bourdain
Grape, Olive, Pig is not a cookbook but a celebration of Spanish food traditions featuring great photographs. Matt Goulding fell in love with Spain, its people, and its food, and through his journeys shares insights that most tourists (and published tourist guides) miss, describing meals and sharing uniquely Spanish culinary history and vocabulary as he travels from Barcelona to Salamanca, Valencia, the Basque Country, Cádiz, Asturias, Galicia, Madrid, and Granada. A unique book I never tire of re-reading.