CHARD BREADCRUMB FRITTERS
Altamiras’s migas cookery – his 18th-century dishes prepared with recycled breadcrumbs swept from the refectory table or grated from stale loaves – can be considered a friary speciality. The crumbs involved were very different from those sold in packages today; they varied in size, and they included crust and crumb. One of my favourites among them all – there are some fifty in New Art – is his original formula for fritters flavoured with saltcod, meat or chard stalks. The latter, cooked for Lent, can be bracketed within his waste-not, want-not cookery designed to turn humble, sometimes even despised produce into something delicious. They were called pencas de acelgas en pastelillos, or chard stalks in fritters, and were based on a handful (or armful) of stalks cut from the leaves of any variety of chard. Valuable nutritionally, it was nonetheless a vegetable considered a weed in Spanish 18th-century kitchen-gardens where it sprouted spontaneously, putting its roots down under walls or in shady corners. Apart from the chard stalks, separated from the leaves and boiled, Altamiras needed eggs from the friary hens, recycled breadcrumbs, seasoning, olive oil plus, of course, the time to squeeze every drop of water from the cooked stalks before mixing them into his breadcrumb frying batter. Today these fritters have lost any sense of frugality: our ideas of healthy eating and aesthetics reset them in our minds as deliciously fresh Mediterranean grazing food, great to cook for a crowd of omnivores and vegetarians (or even coeliacs if you use coeliac breadcrumbs). For a crowd fry the pastelillos in advance, drain them well on kitchen paper towel and keep them in the fridge till you are ready to flash-fry them in a shallow pan of bubbling olive oil. If you do not have not time to make your own crumbs then you can grab a packet of Japanese panko, crispy large dried bread fragments that hold their texture and crunch. The fritters can then grow into an 18th-century tasting meal if served with a loaf of bread, a couple of Altamiras’s sauces – for example his garlic mayonnaise freshened up by hierbabuena mint or his tomato and pinekernel mojo emulsion – and some fruit and wine.