I know a few Mallorcan purists still steeped in the old traditions who never cut a slice off a new ‘pa pagès’ without first making a mark of the cross on the bottom of the loaf.
This isn’t a symbol of religious veneration, but simply a way of emphasising that bread is a daily staple and a meal without it is inconceivable. It’s all about respect, not religion.
Among family and friends, however, what I’ve been seeing in recent years is a distinct changing of attitude towards bread: they are taking it for granted.
Some of them have even got into the habit of binning stale bread. That is a gigantic no-no in my home: never have I thrown bread away.
I always have a second, third or fourth use for my French-type loaves (‘barras’) and slices of ‘pa pagès’, the island’s brown bread with which the famous ‘pa amb oli’ is made.
The ‘barras’ sold at most supermarket are great when they come out of the oven, but even two or three hours later they need a touch of the toaster to revive them.
But that little bit of heat plus a scorched surface works wonders and the slices of ‘barra’ return to their former glory.
I have them for breakfast, the surface drizzled with virgen extra olive oil and covered with tissue-thin slices of tomato. They are also delicious when spread with butter and marmalade.
I always aim to buy sourdough ‘barras’, called ‘barras de masa madre’ in Spanish. This is, of course, a superior kind of French-type loaf, but it’s not all that superior: it still needs reviving even a few hours after leaving the oven.
Both kinds of ‘barra’ can be toasted with success two days after buying them and at this stage they still make a substantial and delightful breakfast or midmorning snack, especially when topped with a plain omelette, sliced cheese, cooked ham, sobrasada or other type of charcuterie.
Three days after buying a sourdough ‘barra’ it can still be sliced thinly and then baked in a low oven to make croutons for Mallorcan fish soup.
Other island cooks dice a thick slice of ‘barra’ at this point and either bake or deep-fry the cubes for adding to cream of vegetable soups (hot or cold) or gazpacho andaluz.
These croutons add a superb contrast of textures to creamy soups and gazpachos, which can also be used as starters for a lunch with perhaps a French omelette and salad as the mains.
And when you have croutons at hand, bear them in mind for adding to mixed salad greens and also as a last minute addition to a French omelette or creamy scrambled eggs. The contrast of textures, once ag ain, is memorable.
As a little experiment, I once kept a sourdough ‘barra’ for a full week to see if I could get some good use out of it. It was during the summer and the ‘barra’ was completely dried out by this time but there was still enough life in it for two other uses.
I first took the ‘barra’ by the ends and passed it under a running tap on both sides. I then wrapped it loosely in tinfoil and popped it into a hot oven for 10 minutes, leaving it for another 10 in the residual heat.
I was almost astonished to find the ‘barra’ became most edible… but with certain limitations. The crust became so crunchy I was unable to slice it: the ‘barra’ simply fell apart when I tried to cut through it.
But the pieces of bread could be buttered and eaten with soup or salad, and there was no stale bread taste. So that was an unexpected bonus.
I kept another sourdough ‘barra’ for seven days and the loaf was put to even better use: the brick-dry bread was grated to produce de luxe crumbs as a coating for deep-fried food.
Using all the apertures on a traditional four-sided grater, I reduced the ‘barra’ to a lovely mound of crumbs of different sizes and textures.
These breadcrumbs, which I kept in an airtight container, became my favourite coating for fish fillets, croquettes, pork chops and chicken drumsticks.
They are the best breadcrumbs I’ve ever used and give even better results than the famous Japanese panko crumbs. And they’re cheaper than panko.
But making your own breadcrumbs isn’t about saving money. We are more concerned about making a better breadcrumb with a minimum of effort. And there also was the great satisfaction of making excellent use of an item most people would have binned.
Those journalists who mention that a particular city is the third largest or oldest in the world, without letting us know the names of the other two, always create a data vacuum that annoys me more than a little.
Because of that particular eccentricity, I make a point of avoiding such tiny vacuums: the other six main foods of the Bible mentioned at the start of this article are barley, grapes, olives, dates, figs and pomegranates.
The honey mentioned in the Bible came from dates, not bees, and when milk is referred to, it is from the goat. That’s why goat’s milk cheese (queso de cabra) is so popular in Spain and in other Mediterranean countries.
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