A Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs, with More than 500 Recipes
by Clifford A. Wright
To answer the question, "What does Mediterranean mean and what is Mediterranean food" in The Mediterranean Feast, Clifford Wright delves into not merely history, but also agronomy, economics, geography, and more. He dedicates this monumental synthesis of the influences that eventually produced Mediterranean food as we know it to "the philosophers and the cooks." Fortunately, when it seems the intellectuals have taken over completely, one comes on Wright's lyrical description of eating a cassoulet, the golden-crusted, complex French bean stew, and other passages proving that Wright's intense quest for knowledge is based on a cook's culinary passion.
Illustrated with maps and brimming with more than 500 recipes, A Mediterranean Feast is Wright's way of leading the reader beyond the popular, romantic image of this region as an eternally bountiful land. He explains how the complex web of influences between the fall of the Roman Empire in the 6th century and the Age of Reason in the 17th century transformed the Mediterranean from a harsh place where poverty and famine made "dying of hunger ... a defining occurrence," to one we could romanticize, seeing it as ever lush with citrus, sun-ripe tomatoes, laden vines, exquisite cheeses, artisanal breads, and simple but well-fed folk. Those who rise to absorb the encyclopedic knowledge and engage with the ideas set forth in this dense work, such as the peasants' willingness to accept new, unfamiliar foods to relieve the boredom and scarcity of subsistence eating, will receive a profound education about Mediterranean life as it historically relates to food.
While A Mediterranean Feast feeds the mind, it also offers a wealth of authentic and intriguing dishes from the entire region, from France to Algeria and Spain to the Near East. Readers primarily interested in cooking can flip through this massive book, picking out remarkable recipes such as the pine nut omelet of southern France, Umm Ali, a creamy Egyptian pudding containing phyllo, nuts, coconut, and raisins, and Nohutlu Pilavi, the buttery Turkish pilaf of rice simmered with chickpeas.
--Dana Jacobi, Amazon.com