When I buy a cookbook, it’s a serious matter. Cookbooks are expensive. I want to cook from them for life. Otherwise, why pay the $20 to $30 bucks?
My favorite cookbooks sport grease stains, dog-eared folds, and scribbles along the margins. They make me dream. They transport me to places I’ve never been through intriguing recipes and good writing. They can even sit in for good novel.
So when I mail-order a cookbook that bores me or offers few recipes I would actually cook, I kick myself. This was the case with Mario Batali’s “Spain: A Culinary Road Trip,” which I bought in anticipation of my summer trip to Barcelona.
Every time I see the book on my shelf, I feel like a sucker -- a sucker for Mario’s orange Crocs, for co-author Gwenyth Paltrow’s quiet beauty and Hollywood mystique, and for believing the two of them together could inspire me to cook.
The part-travel, part-cookbook and companion to the PBS television series, weaves location shots with Mario’s blow-by-blow of whom they met and where they went, recorded dialogue dryly rendered in text boxes, and recipes that, for one reason or another, fail to compel me to pick up my trusty Henckels and start chopping.
As a traveler, I enjoyed the photographs of the various regions of Spain and I found a few recipes that piqued my interest, but there was only one recipe that inspired me to cook and that was for migas.
The book offered little information about the stir-fried bread dish but Wikipedia explained that migas, literally translated as “crumbs,” was originally eaten as a breakfast made with leftover bread or tortillas.
Both sweet and salty, this easy-to-prepare classic peasant dish packs a ton of flavor. Many traditional recipes, including Mario’s, suggest cooking it with fresh grapes. I prefer dried currants, which offer a more subtle counterpoint to the salty, fatty chorizo. I've also changed the porportions and omitted the pancetta, which I didn't have on hand and upped the amount of chorizo instead.
I’m still unsure if the recipe was worth the book’s $34.95 cover price (ouch!) but this is one dish I’ll enjoy for a long time to come.
Here’s my version, inspired by Batali's so-so “Spain.”
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup roasted red bell pepper from a jar, drained and cut into strips
4 garlic cloves, not peeled
5 ounces of chorizo, casings removed, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3-1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 cup currants
1 egg per person, fried so that the whites are cooked but the yolk is still moist, to top each plate
Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl and sprinkle with just enough water to moisten. Mario suggests covering them with a damp paper towel and setting aside for two hours. I skip this step. The important thing is that the bread be evenly moistened. A spray bottle would work well.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir until lightly browned. Add the chorizo and cook until the fat is rendered, about 8 minutes. Add the bread crumbs and mix thoroughly with the garlic and chorizo and cook, stirring frequently, until the crumbs are lightly browned. Add the currants and roasted red peppers.
Meanwhile, fry the eggs. Spoon the migas mixture onto each plate and top each plate with an egg.