The City of Mist by Carlos Ruíz Zafón

If you haven’t read any of the books of Carlos Ruíz Zafón, you’re surely missing out on one of the true literary pleasures of this universe. A modern-day Cervantes, Ruíz Zafón spun stories about labyrinths, mysterious figures in black, magical pens, death and destruction and war, the beauty of love, the pain of romance, the devastation of betrayal in all forms, and above all else, the sheer sensual, emotional and physical joy of books and reading. What a man he was.

The City of Mist is his posthumous gift to his many fans, of which I count myself. These are stories that he intended to be published and shared after his death, to warm us against the cold reality of his being gone forever and never having any more of his gorgeous prose to look forward to…..but we are so very fortunate to have the Cemetery of Forgotten Books quartet of books, not to mention this wonderful collection of stories, as his legacy.

There is a certain melancholy that permeates the pages of all of his books, including this one. It makes sense when you think about it. He writes so eloquently about life, loss, war, grief, love, food, and death. All essential elements of life, but in his hands, these are not just everyday emotions. They are grand treatises on the very nature of existence. We all, to paraphrase a friend, carry sorrow, perhaps too much. It is a condition of being human. And yet sorrow, as with any other emotion, is not quantifiable, and that is where Ruíz Zafón’s work comes into its own. It sits down with us, holds our hand, kisses our lips, dries our tears, laughs hilariously with us, and in some cases, sends us contentedly – or perhaps not so contentedly – to find our rest.

If you’ve read the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, you’ll be well-acquainted with the Sempere family. Daniel is the protagonist of the first book The Shadow of the Wind and the third, The Prisoner of Heaven. David Martin is the romantic anti-hero of the second book The Angel’s Game, and Alicia Gris takes center stage in the fourth book The Labyrinth of the Spirits, but all four of them intertwine around each other in such a labyrinthian way that you could read any of them in any order and they will all somehow take you to that silver Ariadnian thread that leads you back into the light. In The City of Mist, these 11 tales feature a young boy (David Martin of The Angel’s Game) trying to win over a young lady with his writing prowess; a young mother who is menaced by a wealthy woman who wants her child; a pre-medieval labyrinth maker who sails around the world and ends up in Barcelona teaching Raimundo de Sempere – yes, that Sempere family! – how to build a labyrinth that can contain a demon; a deal made between Miguel de Cervantes on a trip to Italy and a certain devilishly clever book publisher by the name of Corelli, a tale of famed Barcelona architect Antonio Gaudí’s fabled trip to New York City, and many others.

As the author himself said, “El Laberinto de Los Espíritus que una historia no tiene principio ni fin, tan solo puertas de entrada.” (“The Labyrinth of the Spirits is a story without a beginning or ending, but only with doorways to enter.”) I think you could say that about all of the books in the series, and obviously this collection of short stories as well, so closely tied to the universe created in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.

There are few food references in the stories, with the one stand-out being in The Prince of Parnassus when Cervantes has left Spain for Italy, stolen away with the incomparably beautiful Francesca di Parma, and makes a deal with Andreas Corelli, a mysterious book publisher who offers him fame in exchange for something else rather Faustian. The story is told in memory by a Sempere ancestor, and it is magical in his lyrical description of how he printed a secret play by Cervantes himself which was inspired by his forbidden love for Francesca and his subsequent deal with the mysterious Corelli in which he loses everything he loves in exchange for the realization and ability to write a masterpiece, which I think we all agree that Cervantes did. In spades. So although there were not many food references, there was a paragraph that I read, coincidentally right after reading a Spanish-inspired recipe for albondigas con champiñones, also known as meatballs with mushrooms.

Leaving the beautiful Francesca in her room, fast asleep in the arms of the nymphs, the two men departed at nightfall. They had arranged to meet Sempere at an inn that lay in the shadow of the fishermen’s great cathedral – known as the basilica of Santa María del Mar – and there, sitting in a corner by candlelight, all three partook of a good wine and a loaf of bread with rashers of salted pork.

Since the story references rashers of salted pork – bacon or ham – I decided to stuff my albondigas with the deeply Spanish flavors of smoked paprika, Manchego cheese and finely minced jamón Serrano. Oh, what joy! I felt that these salted ham-studded meatballs, served in a luscious tomato-based sauce, would be a fitting tribute to this book and to the blessed memory of one of the 21st century’s finest authors.

For the albondigas
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup milk
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons Rioja wine
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons of flour
3/4 cup of half-and-half (or milk)
4 plum tomatoes
1/2 onion
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup Rioja wine
1/2 cup brandy
1 cup chicken stock

For the mushrooms
3-4 tablespoons garlic olive oil
1 pound sliced mushrooms, any variety
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, melt the butter a small saucepan, add the flour, and stir together until a paste forms, about 2 minutes. You’re basically making a roux. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and cook, stirring, until it thickens into a sauce. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, pork, eggs, garlic, parsley, wine, paprika, salt and pepper with the cooled roux. It’s easier to mix with your (very clean) hands. Refrigerate the mixture for at least 3 hours, if not overnight.

Form the meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. This is quite therapeutic, much like making stock or stirring risotto or cooking down onions until they are caramelized. But I digress.

For the sauce, finely chop the onion, carrot, garlic, celery and parsley and cook in the same pan you made the roux, mixed with olive oil and generous pinch of salt, for about 10 minutes. Add in the tomatoes and paprika and cook until the tomatoes break down. Pour in the wine, the brandy, and the chicken stock, stir again and simmer on low for about 20 minutes.

If you have a stick blender, use it to blend the tomato sauce to a relatively smooth texture and keep on a low simmer. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper if needed.

Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Cover and keep warm while you prepare the mushrooms. (Yes, you will dirty up quite a few pans and bowls and utensils. Deal with it.)

Slice the mushrooms and add them to some heated olive oil in another large pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked, roughly 10 minutes.

Spoon the meatballs and sauce onto a plate, adorn with the delicious mushrooms, and dive in. Sooooooo delicious and very Spanish with the smoked paprika and salty Manchego cheese. This is good served with the rest of the Rioja wine, but any Spanish wine will suffice. Drink a toast to the genius of Cervantes, the Sempere family and the late, great Carlos Ruíz Zafón.

20 thoughts on “The City of Mist by Carlos Ruíz Zafón

  1. Hola Vanessa, You are very welcome. I was sorry to hear of the death of your friend. May she rest in peace.
    Having three ‘hollow-legged’ sons who loved eating, and entertaining a lot when younger, we bought a small hotel in Bournemouth in the 80s. Extremely hard work but great fun. That certainly focused our attention on the subject of food…I used to make the starters and desserts, and ‘im indoors made the main courses. It certainly tested our patience!! Unfortunately, the hotel was Edwardian and people wanted more luxury for their money (two bathrooms between
    ten bedrooms…) and although we made a success of the business, it drained our resources, so we regretfully sold it. I imagine you entertain a lot?
    Now we are retired in Spain, we enjoy the tapas more than a larger meal…Happy eating. Cheers. Joy. (https://joylennick, New post due…)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear ‘Food in books,’

    I’m not usually ‘into angels’ much, but you really are one!! I’ll explain…

    I’m nearly as old as Methusaleh, and a tad slower these days, but still write a few columns weekly about writing in the Costa Blanca Newspaper in Torrevieja, Spain, and Chair for a small writing group called Writers’ Ink. I’ve also written ten, modest books. Anyway…I’m half-way through my weekly letter,.and flagging. Half-written and struggling, I take a break and notice your great piece about the fabulous ‘Shadow of the Wind’ which I adored, and mention of which fired me up again. ..Carlos Ruiz Zafon immediately spoke to me…oh his beautiful prose and deep-reaching sentiments..So, guess who I’m going to mention when I return to my letter? I’ll send you a copy if I may. Oh, and thank you for the recipe! (‘im indoors does all the cooking these days, although I Ioved cooking for five of us for 37 years…He’s ‘getting his own back..) . Many thanks for reading and inspiration!

    Very best wishes. Joy Lennick.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is such a wonderful compliment! Thank you for sharing that with me. Yes, Ruíz Zafón was a true literary master, wasn’t he? And yes, I would be honored to receive a copy of your letter!!! ❤️


      1. Hi again, Sorry I don ‘t know your name…?It is hardly a ‘literary letter’ – I do write those now and then…. I’ve been penning them weekly for seven years, so they can grow a bit casual.! Last night, courtesy my dear husband, we had ‘Bubble and squeak,’ consisting of potatoes, chopped pork sausages and spinach, with gravy of course. Yum.

        The very best of luck to you. Cheers, Joy xx.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My name is Vanessa. 🙂 I am very appreciative of your mentioning my blog post regardless of what it is called. Thank you again. And your bubble and squeak sounds lovely. I love that dish though I haven’t made it in quite some time. A dear friend of mine, Kate, was British and made it for me when she would visit. Very sadly, she passed away in November and though I’ve meant to make it in her honor, my heart has not quite been in it. Perhaps in a few months I’ll have the heart to whip up a panful in her memory. Thank you again, Joy!


    1. Thank you so much. It’s a marvelous book, filled with wonder and sadness. Like life, I suppose. I think being from the misty, mysterious islands of Brittany, you would certainly appreciate these stories. And the albondigas were delicious!

      Liked by 1 person

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