AVELLANA DRINKING SOUP
If I had to pick a signature dish from New Art, something delicious capturing Altamiras’s philosophy, it would be his hazelnut thickening, a creamy mix of bread, garlic, hazelnuts and, sometimes, raw or cooked eggs. Did he use wild or cultivated hazelnuts? We do not know, probably both at different times, but we can be sure they were always small, sweet secano or dryland nuts. Did he roast and skin his hazelnuts? Almost certainly, for while he does not always specify this, he described in detail how to pan-roast them in an earthenware cazuela with salt and a few drops of water, then skin them to make an avellenada or hazelnut pudding. Among a dozen or so such uses, this drinking soup is one of my favourites as it lends itself to fast gourmet larder food and is gorgeously subtle. It is also one of the book’s briefest recipes, fully described in one sentence to close a dish of trout in lemon sauce. “The first cooking water makes a delicious soup if you add hard-boiled eggs and hazelnut sauce, and finish it off with little bits of candied citron.” It says much of Altamiras’s economic landlocked kitchen that flavourless trout broth was of value, but you can apply his recipe to any stock – fish or shellfish, vegetable, poultry or meat stock – as long as it is sufficiently mild to allow his crystallised fruit’s flavours and aromas to spiral up through the hot soup. Likewise, you can use any kind of crystallised fruit, such as lemon or orange rind, apricots or pumpkin, all shown here in the photo. Dice and spoon them into the base of each soup bowl and serve over the hot soup so the flavours and aromas are released. You can substitute fruits conserved in a thick syrup, or diced fresh fruit and a drop or two of molasses, or or you can turn to modern floatable garnishes like frondy fennel leaves and chia seeds, added to the soup at the very last moment so they don’t sink. The originality of this soup says much of Altamiras’s influences: his multipurpose hazelnut thickening may be considered an economic adaptation of Christian medieval almond recipes, for example in Sent Soví and Robert de Nola, but can also be found in Hispanic and Middle Eastern Arab cookery manuscripts of the Middle Ages and early modern period.