Claudia Roden has long been an inspiration for me. My first forays into Middle Eastern cuisine quickly led me to her door, and I devoured her books A Book of Middle Eastern Food and Arabesque. I was obsessed with ful medames and was desperate to recreate it at home. When I became curious about Jewish cuisine I quickly purchased The Book of Jewish Food following which I discovered her other books (the full list on Amazon is here). Discovering Claudia Roden felt like I had fallen down a culinary rabbit hole.
So when I spied her at the OFM Awards last November, I was overcome with shyness and couldn’t say hello. I also didn’t want to be annoying and invasive. Later in the evening, Claudia came over to say hello and to congratulate me on my award. I was delighted and borderline dumbstruck: how lovely of her!
I knew that Claudia had been working on a new book The Food of Spain for the past 5 years and that it would be out soon. It is always exciting to know that one of your favourite authors is working on a new book. Thrillingly then, recently I received an email asking if I would like to come over for lunch and to talk Spanish food.
So, on a beautiful sun scorched March afternoon, I found myself knocking on Claudia’s front door. Not long after I was sitting in the sun with a glass of thick glistening Spanish hot chocolate. Claudia shared stories of Spain, Spanish culture and food. All about the regional variations, all about Spanish food including the influences of the Roman, Visigoth, Muslim and Jewish populations over the centuries. Really fascinating and peppered with many charming anecdotes of the 5 years that she spent researching and travelling Spain, it was a wonderful afternoon.
There were tales of coca – a pizza style tart that appeared at around the same time as pizza did, and maybe influenced / inspired pizza itself. Nobody seems to know for sure. Naples was part of Spain at that time so it is possible. There were tales of fiestas in Seville and beautiful large bowls of tomato with eggs and tuna. There was a beautiful platter of fried aubergine with salt and honey. We sampled the dishes as we chatted about them and finished with raisin and sweet wine ice cream and walnut cake with brandy.
Claudia’s book The Food of Spain is as informative and charming as I expected it to be. I am still over the moon that I got a chance to sit down with her and chat about it, while eating some of the food too.
I will leave you with Claudia’s recipe for Raisin & Sweet Wine Ice Cream. She made it like a large round cake and served it in slices. I recommend you do the same as it is a bit of a show stopper. For ice cream, it is a fabulously straight forward recipe that does not need an ice cream machine or regular beating by hand.
Recipe: Raisin & Sweet Wine Ice Cream
Helado de pasa y vino dulce
Serves 10 or more
100ml sweet Pedro Ximinez sherry plus more to pass around (love that!)
700ml double cream
300 ml whole milk
1 small cinnamon stick
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
8 large egg yolks
100g caster sugar
Put the raisins in a small bowl and pour over the sherry. Leave to soak for an hour or longer.
Heat the cream and milk in a large saucepan with the cinnamon stick and vanilla extract until almost boiling. Remove from the heat and leave fir half an hour to infuse before removing the cinnamon stick and reheating.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a pale thick cream with an electric mixer. Add a ladleful of the hot milk and beat well, then pour this egg and sugar cream into the saucepan, off the heat, beating vigorously to mix well. Now return the pan to a low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until the mixture thickens. Do not let it boil or it will curdle (if it does, you can save it by beating it thoroughly with the electric mixer until smooth).
Pour the custard into a serving bowl and let it cool, then cover it with cling film and put it into the freezer. After about 3 – 3.5 hours, when it has firmed enough but is not yet hard, take it out of the freezer and thoroughly mix in the raisins together with their sherry. You must do this before the ice cream becomes too hard to mix but when it is firm enough so that raisins remain suspended evenly and do not sink to the bottom. If you do not mix thoroughly there will be little white lumps in the ice cream, but that too is lovely. Return to the freezer and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Take the ice cream out of the freezer 10 – 15 minutes before serving, then cut it into slices. If it proves difficult to dislodge the slices from the bottom, dip the bowl in a bowl of hot water for a few seconds.
Pass the bottle of Pedro Ximinez around for everyone to drizzle a little over their ice cream.
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