A Mediterranean FeastThis is, by far, my favorite cookbook. I am on my third edition. The first perished in a cooking-oil mishap and I broke the back of my second copy. Both fine deaths for a cookbook when you realize most are doomed to a purgatory on some dusty shelf.
This book is a grand overview of the cuisines that have emerged from the Mediterranian basin. It is a James Beard award winner and with good reason. You are going to expect a lot from a cookbook subtitled "The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs, with More than 500 Recipes" and Wright delivers.
He knows his subject well enough not to fall into the perils of hyper-detail or semantic argumentation. He starts with the Romans and moves both geographically and historically forward with you following on every page.
While this may not end up being the definitive volume on the subject, it does more than any other book or cookbook I have found for putting it all in perspective. There are important similarities between Spanish and Italian cooking but many of the same themes resound in both. This is Wright's territory.
You start with simple cabbage stews and follow the introductions of hard wheat pastas and middle eastern spices. The muslims military influence is as much at work here as the extravagant success of Venician traders. It is a broad churning culinary nexus that you can finally see in perspective.
Wright takes the time to explain some rather subtle differences in different types of cooking that many other writers simply assume. An excellent example is an extended essay on the cooking of rice and lays out the specifics of what defines a pilaf, risotto and arroz. This piece alone helped me tremendously in my efforts at all these dishes.
What makes this book special is that it has a readability as well as cookability. You can actually perform the recipes in the book - a quickly vanishing trait today - and then get just as much pleasure sitting down and reading it like a normal book.
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