Juan Altamiras' New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar's Kitchen Notebook by Vicky Hayward

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Juan Altamiras' New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar's Kitchen Notebook by Vicky Hayward

Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A translation of a 272-year old cookbook interwoven with information about 18th century Spanish life and culture and topped off with advice for the modern cook: it's a delight!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield
ISBN: 978-1442279414

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In 1745 a Spanish friary cook, Juan Altamiras, published the first edition of his New Art of Cookery, Drawn From the School of Economic Experience. It contained more than two hundred recipes for meat, poultry, game, salted and fresh fish, vegetables and desserts. The style was informal, chatty and humorous on occasions and it was aimed, not at those who could afford to cook on a grand scale, but at those with more modest budgets, who sometimes needed to cook for large numbers. Whilst the ingredients were - for the most part - modestly priced there is a stress on the careful combination of flavours and aromas. Spices are used conservatively and the bluntness of some Moorish cooking is eschewed in favour of something much more subtle and we see influences from Altamiras' own region, Aragon, the Iberian court and the New World.

Now obviously a 272-year old book of recipes aimed at Spanish locals cooking for reasonably large numbers might not have a great deal of application in the early 21st century, but author Vicky Hayward has added considerable value to her translation by giving guidelines for today's cooks (from experienced chefs) and interweaving the story of eighteenth-century Spanish life, its traditions and culture. It's well done, retaining the spirit and style of the original and making it accessible for the modern cook. The book is gloriously free from unnecessary illustration, which you can't say about many modern cookery books which seem to be padded out with glossy photographs.

You want to know about the food, don't you? I'm going to tell you about my personal preferences, which do include some meat dishes, but not in proportion to the number given by Altamiras. If you like meat you'll find many more to your taste than I do! I did however like the stuffed lettuces, although I made a vegetarian stuffing. This highlighted one of the great points about Altamiras and probably one of the reasons why his book ran to twenty editions - he's not prescriptive about ingredients and you can adjust the recipes to take account of what's in season or - more importantly - what's in the larder.

I enjoyed crumb custard - an eggy custard with crisp breadcrumbs on top. It's a cheap pudding made more luxurious by the addition of some cinnamon and sugar and it's economical with power - I found that it sat quite happily in the oven alongside whatever else was cooking. Another use for breadcrumbs is breadcrumb noodles - a mixture of breadcrumbs and cheese, spices and raw egg extruded into a bowl of boiling broth. They turn into spoon shapes as they cook!

Particularly appealing are the fish recipes and I love the idea of salt cod with tomato and orange. I've often served fish and tomato or tomato and orange but I'd never thought of combining the three. I used fresh fish rather than salted, but the flavours work. I was nudged into having a look at fried breadcrumbs and I'm glad that I was, as I might have passed it by, but the mixture of bread, onions and green peppers makes a good satisfying lunch - although you will need to have started it the previous day. You'll find more breadcrumbs in braised onion wedges. The pot roasting creates a delightful sweetness which is so often missing when onions are cooked too quickly.

Good asparagus is something of a luxury these days, but asparagus revuelto makes a good lunch dish: the version with egg cooked over the top is particularly good. My one reservation about a recipe in the book is for tomatoes preserved in olive oil. I haven't tried it, but instinct tells me to beware!

The book was a good read and I got far more out of it than I expected. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If you'd like to know more about Spanish food we can also recommend A Late Dinner: Discovering the Food of Spain by Paul Richardson.

Buy Juan Altamiras' New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar's Kitchen Notebook by Vicky Hayward at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Juan Altamiras' New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar's Kitchen Notebook by Vicky Hayward at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Juan Altamiras' New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar's Kitchen Notebook by Vicky Hayward at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Juan Altamiras' New Art of Cookery: A Spanish Friar's Kitchen Notebook by Vicky Hayward at Amazon.com.


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