Early this summer, during a particularly cold and rainy week in the U.K., I spent a few days on the Balearic Islands, enjoying crystal clear water, golden beaches, ideal temperatures and fantastic local food. The cuisine perfectly reflects the healthy Mediterranean diet of vegetables, fruit, fish and limited meat. The seafood is spectacular with ultra fresh prawns, spider crab, sea urchin and lobster. The staple accompaniment, round grain rice, is always beautifully cooked and mixed with whatever is at hand – from modest morsels of chicken, pork or seasonal vegetables to more luxurious saffron infused versions topped with seafood. Pork products are superb, as are eggs, bread and cakes.
Ibiza has become synonyms with serious partying, but it also offers tranquility and great natural beauty with green mountains, pine coves, patchworks of small fields, olive groves and of course azure coves reached by sandy roads – easily and inexpensively done thanks to a fantastic network of local buses. Tiny neighbouring island Formentera is only a short boat trip away and has white sandy beaches and turquoise waters as spectacular as any in the Caribbean.
You can’t eat out on the islands without coming across Mallorca’s beloved Sobrassada. A red, thick, raw sausage made from the celebrated black Balearic pig, using minced loin, paprika, salt and pepper. It is then stuffed into the sausage skins and hung to cure for several weeks, but, because of the climate, which is fairly humid, it doesn’t dry out the same way as other types of sausages from the mainland do, and therefore remains fairly soft. Sobrassada is usually served spread on slices of rustic bread.
There seem to be unlimited inventive and delicious ways with simple eggs and potatoes. The Mallorcan specialty Tumbet is basically a mixture of sliced potatoes, peppers, onions and aubergine that have been seasoned and fried in olive oil and then layered before being baked in the oven. Great on its own or with grilled fish or meat.
Mallorca’ capital, Mahon, lays claim to being the origin of mayonnaise, or “mahonnaise” which was usurped and tweaked by the French, who turned it into a much less robust sauce by removing the garlic traditionally used, and mixing it with neutral sunflower oil instead of peppery olive oil. I think a dollop of good mayo and a few lemon wedges makes everything grilled tastes delicious, not just fish or sea food, but in particular chicken and pork.
Making home-made Mayo is fun, and takes little skill other than patience – and elbow grease. Work on the basis of one large organic egg yolk – the essential emulsifying ingredient – a little dry English mustard powder as well as a dollop of Dijon, sea salt, a small splash of white wine vinegar and about 150ml sunflower oil. Start by adding oil drop by drop, beating it in as vigorously as you possibly can using a large ballon whisk. When the egg and initial drops of oil have formed a thickish cream, start adding oil a little more liberally, while working your biceps to ensure there is enough agitation to help the oil and egg emulsify. Half way through, take a break to rest your biceps and check the seasoning. You will need to play around with small quantities of additional vinegar, perhaps a little lemon juice and most definitely more sea salt.
The Balearic cuisine would make a perfect inspiration for a barbecue, kicking off, needless to say, with a properly made Sangria. Sangria has, rather unfairly, I have come to think, acquired a bad name due to cheap wine-fuelled “Costa” tourism. Properly made, Sangria makes a superb summer drink and a refreshing accompaniment to meals. Much less sweet than Pimm’s or Aperol Spritz, it looks great, it’s thirst quenching and just perfect to sip while the barbecue heats up. Well made, Sangria is rather more potent than it looks, using Brandy as a base, topped with chilled red wine, a little sugar, a squeeze of lime or lemon juice, plenty of summer fruits, ice and only enough sparkling lemonade to add fizz. Beware the booze-soaked fruits – they look inviting and innocent enough at the bottom of the glass.
If you prefer white wine, make a white Sangria – it tastes just as delicious and looks wonderful.
If the sun is out, a much loved Salmoreja would make a great starter for a barbecue. Bursting with mouthwatering acidity, Salmoreja is essentially a firmer version of Gazpacho, made by blending skinned, ripe tomatoes with water-soaked, rustic white bread, red wine vinegar and olive oil to a creamy texture. The skill is in balancing the acidity – working vinegar, a little sugar, sea salt and peppery olive oil until arriving at the right refreshing kick. Coral pink Salmoreja is usually served chilled, ideally in a clear glass, topped with chopped, hard boiled egg and served with a good bread.
Not normally one for sweets, I fell in love with the Mallorcan cake Gató d’Ametlla – a light Almond based – and gluten free – cake infused with lemon and cinnamon. It is very quick to make and works very well as a dessert, served with an espresso or a glass of fizz. I asked Teresa, who is one of our Baristas and a Mallorcan, for a recipe. This is her version:
6 medium eggs
300g ground almonds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven at 150ºC and grease a loose framed baking tin with butter.
Separate the whites from the yolks and whisk the whites until firm peaks
Whisk the egg yolks and the sugar until creamy and pale, then fold in the ground
almond and cinnamon, and grate in the lemon zest.
Fold in the whites – do not over-mix as it will cause the whites to lose their air
Spoon into the prepared tin.
Bake for 45-50 minutes.
Switch off the oven and leave the “Gató” to cool slowly inside the oven before moving
it to a wire rack to cool completely before being turned out.
8. Dust with icing sugar.