The menu del dia is Spain's equivalent of the prix fixe menu of the bistros of France. On it are good, no-nonsense dishes that are as long on flavor and tradition as they are short on pretension and fuss. Influenced by a unique blend of culinary and cultural influences -- wine from the Romans; rice, cinnamon, saffron, and cumin from the Moors; slow-cooked stews from the Jews; tomatoes, peppers, chocolate, and chilies from the New World -- these are the tastes that have made Spanish cooking as vibrant as it is today. To start, there might be Gazpachuelo, the mayonnaise-enriched shrimp and monkfish soup straight from Mediterranean M?laga, followed by a main course of Fabada, the gloriously sticky stew of pork and white beans from mountainous Asturias, and Bienmesabe ("Tastes good to me!"), the almond, cinnamon, honey, and lemon cream so beloved by the people of Canary Islands. A men? in northerly Navarra, which borders France, might begin with Menestra Riojana, a delicate dish of spring vegetables with extra virgin olive oil, and continue with Pich?n Estofado, a robust dish of pigeon stewed with red wine. Arroz con Leche, creamy rice pudding with a burnt-sugar crust, makes a sweet ending.
While many Americans have encountered the French term prix fixe, the similar, Spanish concept of Men? del D?a may not be as familiar. Traditionally a midday meal of three courses (including dessert), the Men? del D?a is offered at many Spanish restaurants for a set price. Daft loosely translates the concept for the home cook, offering five solid chapters (including first and second courses and desserts, along with helpful sections covering ingredients and condiments) that include plates that can be mixed and matched, or served solo. Recipes begin with extensive headnotes, chock-full of Spanish culinary and cultural information showing the author's expertise and passion for his subject. The usual yet well-loved first-course suspects--gazpacho and paella--are mixed in among dishes that may be new to the American cook, such as Alboron?a (quince, squash and eggplant in tomato sauce), and Ajo Blanco (cold almond and garlic soup with grapes). Second courses offer recipes for pigeon, oxtail and partridge (along with instructions for killing a live spiny lobster) that may intimidate beginning cooks, yet a range of recipes ensures there's something for all skill levels. Quirky yet sophisticated illustrations and a gift-appropriate size make this a worthy international culinary title. (Sept.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
Simon & Schuster
September 15, 2008
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Menu Del Dia by Rohan Daft
The Menu del Dia
If the quality is there, there's no need to employ tricks in the kitchen.
-- SPANISH PROVERB
Monday through Friday, come twelve noon or so, a freshly chalked blackboard will appear outside most restaurants in Spain. To start, it might typically offer Espinacas a la Catalana (spinach with raisins and pine nuts, the Catalan way), Fideu? (Valencian seafood noodles), Remoj?n (orange, salt cod, and potato salad from Andalusia), Gazpacho (cold tomato, green pepper, and cucumber soup), or Lentejas (lentils stewed with onion, bacon, and sausages).
To follow, Marmitako (the thick red Basque tuna broth), Bacalao a la Llauna (baked salt cod with tomato, piment?n, and white wine), Fricand? (braised shank of beef with any available wild mushroom), Lomo a la Malague?a (pork loin roasted with sweet M?laga wine, almonds, and raisins), or Chilindr?n (Navarran lamb with red pepper sauce).
Dessert (postre) is always a simpler, more concise affair: Flan (caramel custard) often suffices and, always, a plain yogurt and whichever fruit was good and to be had for a decent price at the market that morning.
To drink, it's beer, a glass or more of the house red, or water, and finally, coffee.
And as decreed by the Franco government in 1965 to provide a good, cheap, solid lunch for the workers and something more than the sun for tourists and their all-important cash, all of this is to be had for a price a good deal less than that if the dishes were ordered individually. This is the Men? del D?a, a very Spanish institution and home to Spain's classic, favorite dishes.
There survives a proud tradition in Spain -- formed partly, at least, by the dictates and memories of some hard times past -- of making the most of what you have; of respecting food as much as enjoying it; of eating locally and with the seasons; and of never allowing any imposed thrift to get in the way of flavor. There still exist a great number of small, family-run restaurants where what goes on the menu depends on what is good at the local market in the morning. And much of what there is at the local market remains local produce.
The Spanish of all classes and backgrounds pay great reverence to their home-produced delicacies such as jam?n ib?rico de bellota (ham from acorn-fed pigs), percebes (gooseneck barnacles), lechazo (milk-fed baby lamb), and azafr?n (saffron), but no more than they do to their many types of beans and their chickpeas and lentils, their pork belly and sausages and their sardines.
These are the ingredients and dishes that have always stood Spain in good stead and there is sentiment as much as there is tradition attached to them: Paella still only appears on Men?s del D?a on Thursdays, the day that rice was distributed during the long-gone days of rationing.
The law that obliged restaurants to offer the Men? del D?a disappeared with Franco in 1975 (and not all of the restaurants mentioned in this book offer one, so you might want to check beforehand), but its inherent appeal endures. Lunch remains the big meal of the day in Spain, a country -- perhaps the only remaining country in the world -- that still finds time to all but close down for three hours to properly enjoy it. In fact, a 2006 survey found that 63 percent of working Spaniards still sit down to the Men? del D?a every weekday.
This book is the result of the time I have spent living, writing, traveling, and more importantly, shopping in food markets and specialty stores: cooking, watching other people cook, and eating in Spain. And in particular, it is the result of a wonderfully revelatory, meandering, and -- save for a brief list of regional products and dishes and the names of a few recommended restaurants -- unplanned four-month-long journey I undertook in 2007. Made by train, bus, and thumbed lifts, this journey ended up crisscrossing pretty much the whole of Spain and rewarded me with all sorts of anecdotes, information, and recipes from, among others, chefs, restaurateurs, market stall holders, olive oil producers, mushroom hunters (professional and amateur), fishermen, farmers, and foragers. No one I met refused me help.
While I hope the recipes contained here are both appealing and delicious, I hope equally that, along with the accompanying introductions and notes, they give you as much of an insight into Spain and the Spanish as they do their eating habits.
These recipes will serve you well for brunch, lunch, or dinner, all year round. Fresh ingredients feature prominently and so do bold flavors. And when it comes to the cleaning up, you will further praise the great Spanish tradition of one-pot cooking. This is good, solid food and the odd slip, miscalculation, or change of ingredient is unlikely to spoil your enjoyment of it. There are certainly some dos and don'ts, some basic practices and techniques, but this is not and never has been a precise, persnickety cuisine and to treat it that way would be to lose its essence. None of these dishes is complicated and a number of them you will be able to put together in minutes. However, others will require some of your time -- that most treasured and closely guarded (if not noble) of Spanish commodities.
Something of Spain's relationship with time was explained to me one evening shortly before Christmas 2002 in the restaurant car of the sleeper train from Barcelona to Paris when, over steak and Rioja, an immaculate, blue-suited, and white-bearded eighty-six-year-old Valencian told me why he wouldn't be following his family -- children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren -- to live in France. He loved them dearly, and he missed them as much. "There's no time to do nothing in France," he said, earnestly. "Not in France, Germany, America, England...But in Spain...in Spain there's still time to do nothing."