by Teresa Barrenechea
List Price: £15.80
Few people have stayed in one place as long as the Basque people have stayed in northern Spain, across the Pyrenees into France, and stretching out to the sea. Basque Country has remained intact from the time of cave paintings to today. The Basque language is a language unlike any other. Even Basque DNA is different from any other European DNA around them. So it should come as no surprise that the food of Basque Country, while similar to what is found in other parts of Spain and France, is distinct to its place and people of origin. Restaurant owner and chef Teresa Barrenechea invites one and all to come sit at The Basque Table and learn while enjoying.
Though nueva cocina has invaded Basque cooking, Barrenechea has intentionally left it aside for another book. She cleaves to tradition in The Basque Table, to the pinchos (like tapas)), first courses, and main courses that make up the traditional meal served in Basque homes. It is a deceptively simple cuisine, something of a tight rope act, that demands of any cook the ability to select the best possible ingredients. When, in a dish like Chuletitas de Cordero (grilled lamb chops), you are only working with the chops, olive oil, garlic, flat- leaf parsley and salt, there's no place to hide. And yet, when everything is exemplary and the chops come off the grill at the perfect moment, the effect in the mouth and in the heart and soul of any diner will defy description. A tough kind of simple, in other words.
A fierce pride shows in Barrenechea's recipe descriptions and food notes. She holds herself to the highest cultural standard. What she aims for and achieves is a replication in print, with an American kitchen in mind, of exactly how a certain dish should taste to a Basque palate.
So take heart in dishes like sweetbreads with garlic and parsley, crayfish in hot sauce, mushrooms with scrambled eggs, white bean stew, roasted fresh ham, chicken Basque- style, fresh cod with red and black sauces, grilled prawns or trout Navarra-style. You may be cooking at home, but you'll be sitting and eating at a Basque table. And there's no other table quite like it. --Schuyler Ingle