Spanish cooking is not the homogenous kitchen a cursory glance would have you believe it to be. In Barcelona we are part of Catalunya and have our specific Catalan dishes: offal, snails, butifarras, and Canelones to name some of the more familiar dishes.
Basque cooking is equally unique. They call their small bites pintxos, we call them tapas in Catalunya. The gilda, sounding like it might have come out of The Great Gatsby, is a series of pickled guindilla peppers, green olives and anchovies impaled on a banderilla (named after the sticks used in bullfighting). “The name Gilda” Marti Buckley tells us “came later, after the Rita Hayworth character from the 1946 film Gilda zoomed to popularity in Spain.”
The book is full of these insights. Buckley digs deep into Basque history to find out the stories behind the dishes. As the chef-owner of Mugaritz tells it “Sometimes the most perceptive view is the one that comes from the outside, showing us that our everyday cooking can be exceptional.”
She devotes sections to specialty ingredients. Like Espelette Pepper – one of my favourite spices but one that is hard to find. It is named after Ezpeleta, the town it comes from and cultivated in the 9 villages around it. 200 tons of it.
As with much of her book, I find myself thinking “Is that so? I didn’t know that.” Which is what I like best about the book. That Buckley has gone to some length to find out the stories that even the citizens of Basque Country might not know.
Her recipes don’t disappoint either. Like the famous crustless La Viña cheesecake. Or “Fried Milk” yes it’s a thing and you have to try it!
It’s a thoughtful and considered book. Saveur Magazine agrees with me and chose Basque Country to be part of the Saveur Cookbook Club!