When I embarked on the Camino for the first time, I never had considered writing a cookbook. It was only after I got back, when I started craving certain dishes and started trying things in my kitchen, that I had the idea of writing Tastes of the Camino.
So in the name of research, I walked the entire 500-mile trail from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Santiago again. I made it a point to taste as many different foods as possible. My mother was travelling with me and we never ordered the same thing. That way, I could taste her food as well and consequently have a larger selection of recipes to feature in the book. As I ate, I would try to mentally match the flavor profile with specific ingredients and the texture with particular cooking techniques. For instance, did the dish contain saffron or pimentón (Spanish paprika)? Was it stewed on the stovetop or was it braised in the oven?
In addition to tasting the food, writing down what I tasted and how I thought it was prepared, I often was able to get into many kitchens along the Way and talk to the person in charge of preparing the food, quite often, the“mom” of a mom-and-pop operation but, on a few occasions, a professional chef. While nobody shared written recipes, they all were quite happy to engage in a detailed conversation discussing preparation methods, proportions, etc. This was how I learned most of the tips and tricks to making the dishes authentic and remarkable. Of course, I took copious notes!
For the most part, when I left Spain, I had a good idea of how most dishes were prepared. However, there were a handful of dishes that were still quite mysterious to me. So upon returning to the United States, I turned to my vast cookbook collection as well as a couple of Spanish food websites to understand the origins of a dish, what made it authentic, and most importantly the technique involved. Once I understood the technique, I would marry it with the ingredients I knew would replicate the flavors and textures I experienced on the Camino.
Next up… the exciting yet solitary recipe development phase!