This recipe was given to me yesterday by a relative who is not much inclined to telling the truth, but whose lies never exceed a hundred per year. And because this year he has more than surpassed that number, I am sort of persuaded to trust his word. The page seems to date to the time when Sancho Panza traveled to Alcalá de Henares to receive his Doctor Honoris Causa, an occasion on which Don Quixote escorted him.
With my nerves in a devil of a mess and my master immersed in his chivalric studies, I strolled to the small market next door. Amid the shouting, rolled-up skirts, straw pants, lies and chivalry, I devoted a few minutes to the noble art of bargaining. And when the noble ladies making their purchases swore at me, I dismissed their lack of wisdom and focused on the business at hand of saving a few maravedíes.
While my master wasted his time fencing with an oak tree, which he accused of practicing magic, I peeled and cut as thinly as I could the onions and the garlic cloves reddened by these Henares lands. And in a pot, at a not-too-high heat, with two tablespoons of good aged olive oil, I put the garlic to brown. After one or two minutes, I added the onion, so fat it weighed almost a pound. I let this cook for about 15 minutes, stirring at times, until tender.
Sobbing, partly due to the sting of the onion and partly due to laughing so hard at the excited children who surrounded Don Quixote, I cleaned the head, backbone and scales of the small sardines. I like them just the right size, rather than huge, from the bay or the beach. Then I set them aside for later.
This was the moment to add the spices and herbs, to leave them two or three minutes on the heat and then pour in the vinegar, which some people water down and pretend is good aged wine. Three minutes later we added the white wine. We salted the sardines and, at the count of five minutes, give or take a second, we placed the small fish filets in the stock. We stirred them, brought them to a boil and covered them, turning off the heat so they could cook slowly in their tender innocence.
Meanwhile, we made the bread, salads and sauces to dress the sardines. As I assisted this work with a little sip of wine, and my master continued righting the latest wrongs, I readied my belly for the sweet drowsiness that comes after a royal feast.
— Tom Miller contributed to this article.