The idea that through food you could describe or
reconstruct a world is central to Claudia Roden's work
searching out traditional recipes and their stories and
One of the most respected food historians and cookery
writers, author of A Book of Middle Eastern Food and
The Book of Jewish Food as well as numerous others on
Mediterranean food, she has recently published The Food of
Like her other major works, it is not a glossy cookbook
although there are enticing photographs, but a work of
scholarship, history and meticulous research, as well as
stories and anecdotes and wonderful, practical, and above
all, authentic, recipes.
"Spain's signature tune is the sofrito of fried onion and
tomato to which garlic and green pepper are often added. The
bits of chopped cured ham that find their way into most
dishes; the chorizo and blood sausage that feature together
in bean and chickpea stews; the wine or sherry and the brandy
that go together in sauces - these are all among its themes.
"The picada, a ground paste of nuts crushed with garlic and
fried bread tells you the dish is Catalan.
"The gentle flavour of saffron tells you that you are on the
Mediterranean coast or perhaps in the south. Pimenton
(Spanish paprika) or the faint aroma of grated lemon zest and
cinnamon tells you that a dish is Spanish," she says in the
Spanish cuisine is an amalgam of many people who have
inhabited and influenced the culture of the Iberian Peninsula
(the Romans and Visigoths, the Moors, the Jews), the exotic
new vegetables the conquistadors brought home from the New
World - tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, maize, beans, pumpkins,
peanuts, avocados, chocolate and vanilla - and later French
cuisine. There was the influence of the aristocracy, who ate
a lot of meat and game, the peasants, who ate beans and
vegetables, and the monasteries, which developed many grand
and Lenten dishes, as well as delicate pastries.
The varied geography - rainy mountainous zones in northern
Spain, the dry interior, the Mediterranean, and the Pyrenees
- all developed different cooking styles, and these are
illustrated by numerous recipes in this stylishly produced
Roden's own origins hark back to Spain, for her family were
Sephardic Jews who left Spain at the time of the reconquest
at the end of the 15th century, and emigrated to the Middle
East. She grew up in Egypt, but her family had to leave when
Jews were expelled from there in 1956, and she has lived in
the UK most of her life.
In the 12th century, the clergy - the major landowners in the
Asturias region - planted out their extensive lands with
apple trees. Today, apples are used to make cider and are an
important part of the economy. They also appear in both
savoury and sweet dishes. When we sent out emails asking
friends for their favourite recipes, Ana Isabel Lozano sent
me this one, which has become one of my favourites. An apple
inside the cavity gives the chicken a fruity aroma and
freshly pressed grape juice gives it a caramelised glaze. In
Asturias, Reineta apples are used but the golden delicious
variety is a good substitute.
Roast chicken with apples and
5 golden delicious apples
juice of ½ a lemon
1kg white seedless grapes, destalked
salt and pepper
3 Tbsp olive oil
Peel and core the apples. Cut one in half or into quarters,
so the pieces will push easily inside the chicken, and the
rest of the apples into eight slices each. Drop the slices
into a bowl of water acidulated with the lemon juice to
prevent them from discolouring.
Blend half of the grapes in the food processor and collect
the juice by pressing the mush through a small-holed sieve
with a wooden spoon. Discard the skins left in the sieve. You
should get about 250ml of juice.
Stuff the chicken with the halved or quartered apple and put
it in a baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and rub
with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
Turn the bird breast-side down in the baking dish and pour in
125ml of the grape juice. Roast in an oven preheated to
190degC/gas 5 for 45 minutes, then take the chicken out, turn
it over, pour the remaining grape juice over it and return to
the oven. Cook for another 30 minutes or until the chicken is
brown and caramelised and the juices run clear when you cut
into the bird between the leg and the body with a pointed
While the chicken is roasting, heat the butter with the
remaining two tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan. Put
in the drained apple slices and the remaining grapes and
saute over a medium heat, turning over the fruits and shaking
the pan gently until the grapes are soft and golden and the
apples tender and caramelised. It can take 20 minutes.
Transfer to a baking dish with their juices and reheat in the
oven when you are ready to serve.
Variation: Add a handful of raisins or sultanas, or
six to eight moist pitted prunes cut into pieces, instead of
the grapes in the frying pan with the apples.
• This recipe is reprinted with permission from The
Food of Spain, by Claudia Roden, published by Penguin Group
(NZ). Available at all good booksellers nationwide.