Essential Mediterranean: How Regional Cooks Transform Key Ingredients into the World's Favorite Cuisines


With The Essential Mediterranean, Nancy Harmon Jenkins continues her lifelong exploration of Mediterranean food — how it is grown, prepared, and shared around the table. In her latest book, Ms. Jenkins introduces cooks and readers to a cluster of core ingredients and foodways that are fundamental to all of the Mediterranean's diverse cuisines. She shows how the Mediterranean attitude toward food — a combination of respect, integrity, enthusiasm, and sheer joy — can be cultivated...

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With The Essential Mediterranean, Nancy Harmon Jenkins continues her lifelong exploration of Mediterranean food — how it is grown, prepared, and shared around the table. In her latest book, Ms. Jenkins introduces cooks and readers to a cluster of core ingredients and foodways that are fundamental to all of the Mediterranean's diverse cuisines. She shows how the Mediterranean attitude toward food — a combination of respect, integrity, enthusiasm, and sheer joy — can be cultivated across the Atlantic.

In twelve informative and captivating chapters, the author focuses on the core ingredients common to the diverse cuisines of the region: salt, wine and vinegar, pasta and couscous, bread, olive oil, Old World legumes, New World peppers and tomatoes, dairy products, the family pig, and the resources of the sea. In each chapter she travels to a different corner of the Inner Sea to describe how and why these essential ingredients are obtained, what determines their quality, and where they fit in local cuisines.

Each chapter draws on history and ethnography as much as on the lives of Mediterranean people today. Readers will delight in Majid Mahjoub, the colorful Tunisian "Shakespeare of olive oil," and commiserate with Provencal cheese maker Yves van Weddingen as he struggles to maintain his standards in the face of bureaucratic demands. Home cooks will garner a new appreciation of high-quality Spanish jamon de bellota as they follow the Trigo family through the annual winter ritual of transforming the family pig into hams and sausages.

More than 170 contemporary, accessible recipes, simple to reproduce at home, bring the foods and the regions alive, while additional chapters include basic procedures and staples, as well as a helpful guide to ingredient sources.

The Essential Mediterranean gets to the heart of this world, celebrating its diverse food cultures and the shared ingredients that are the essence of these remarkable cuisines.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
[Jenkin's] enthusiasm is catching, and in this book she breaks down the recipes into chapters based on the core ingredients common to the cuisines of the region -- salt, olives and olive oil, peppers and tomatoes, pork, fish and so on. — Dwight Garner
Publishers Weekly
Books on Mediterranean food are common, but this one is uncommonly good. Jenkins's writing experience stands her in good stead in this innovative exploration of this sunny region. Chapters are organized by major ingredient, and each opens with a thoughtful essay on the item that blends personal experience and well-researched information. The first chapter, on salt, explains the salinity of the Mediterranean and recounts a tour of a saltworks in Sicily with its owner, a gentleman over 80 years old who credits the magnesium in the salt for his good health. While almost every recipe in the world calls for salt, Jenkins does a good job featuring those in which salt or salt-preserved ingredients are key: Salt-Baked Fish and Moroccan Chicken with Black Olives and Salted Lemons. Another chapter on olives and olive oil features Turkish Green Beans and Olive Oil and a Tunisian Orange-Olive Oil Tea Cake that calls for pulverized whole oranges, skin and all. A chapter on wheat contains a recipe for Classic Mediterranean-Style Bread Made with a Sponge that cleverly transforms the dough into everything from focaccia to a North African bread with fennel and nigella seeds. Jenkins enables those of us not lucky enough to reside along the Mediterranean with the tools for an authentic re-creation; e.g., Focaccia di Recco from Liguria calls for a combination of taleggio, goats' milk cheese and sour cream to reproduce the flavor of a local cheese not available outside the area. She also plucks deserving dishes such as Green Tomato Jam Pie and Balkan Oven-Baked Meat and Vegetable Stew from obscurity, proving that no matter how many books have been written about the Mediterranean, a talented cook can still find more recipes to harvest. (Apr.) Forecast: Jenkins, author of The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, Flavors of Tuscany and Flavors of Puglia, plays to her strengths, and she has good name recognition among serious cooks. This is a title that manages to walk the fine line between intellectual and accessible, and home cooks' love of the flavors of the Mediterranean shows no signs of waning. Expect strong sales.
Library Journal
Jenkins, author of two books on Italian cooking as well as the highly regarded Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, has always been fascinated by the connection between food and culture throughout the Mediterranean world. Her latest work is organized around the ingredients that are, as she writes, "central to the Mediterranean table," integral to these distinct but interconnected cuisines. Each chapter, from "Salt" to "The Oldest Legumes" to "From the Pasture," begins with a wide-ranging, thoroughly researched introduction, providing both historical and cultural context, including interviews with, for example, an artisan cheese maker in eastern Provence, an olive oil producer in Tunisia, and other such experts. Then come a dozen or more recipes that both showcase the specific ingredient and display the diversity of the cuisines that rely on it; thus the dishes in "The Family Pig" range from Basque Pork Ribs in Adobo to Neapolitan Christmas Soup to Cypriot Braised Pork with Coriander. Jenkins concludes with a section of basic recipes and a source guide for the featured ingredients. Offering new perspective on the enduringly popular cuisines of the Mediterranean, as well as more than 100 delicious recipes, this is highly recommended for most collections. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060196516
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/18/2003
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 760,058
  • Product dimensions: 7.37 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Hailed as "an anthropologist of the human soul as revealed through food" (, Nancy Harmon Jenkins has written frequently about Mediterranean cuisine (The Essential Mediterranean, Flavors of Tuscany, Flavors of Puglia, The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook). She also writes for national publications, including the New York Times and Food & Wine, and she works closely with the Culinary Institute of America, leading tours to Italy and Spain for the CIA's Worlds of Flavor program.

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