Cookery books are never written in isolation; mine rely on the generosity of strangers who often then go on to become friends.
My insight into the culinary life and goings-on in Mallorca is largely thanks to a group of close friends who used to take it in turns to host Sunday lunch together. And I got introduced to them because another friend lent me her finca, which I moved out of after 4 days (I gave up being sensible and scientifically sceptical about the invisible furniture being dragged across the sitting room, doors which suddenly refused to open, and a beeping whistle sound which followed me about the house) to a hotel where a friend of Sally Caimari -Mitchell also happened to be staying; she insisted on the introduction because, serendipitously, Sally ran a tapas bar and had these pals all of whom are really keen on cooking.
The research became easy after that.
And one of that group was a chap called Miguel Morell, a tourist guide and translator, a generous man with a droll sense of humour and an in-depth knowledge and love of Mallorca. He passed away last Friday, reinforcing my conviction that those who love life always die sooner than they should.
He introduced me to mad salami makers, amazing wine producers and the bedlam of Palma’s fish markets. This photograph of a pig reminds me of an excursion we made to the interior of the island, I think we were on our way to some caper producers, when I saw the sow and thought ‘ahah! Photo opportunity!’
I stopped the car and Miguel took me to task in a ‘do it if you must, what do I care, but you really ought to know’ kind of way – it was against the law to park on a solid white line. There was no traffic, it was a country lane, but he was with me in an official guide capacity. By the time we’d finished our debate about the trouble I could get him into, the pig had decided to move off; instead of a close up of its snout, it’s a picture of a porker in shadow.
Tumbet is Mallorca’s version of ratatouille. This recipe came from Miguel’s mother, Catalina Villalonga. Lynn, Miguel’s wife, showed me how to make it. The key to its success is to cook the vegetables in a greixonera, a glazed earthenware shallow dish Mallorquin (and Spanish) housewives use cook with over an open flame. And yes I know it is unseasonal, but it is a good way to remember him:
3 aubergines, medium size, 1cm slices
6 tablespoons olive oil (at least)
8 potatoes, medium size, peeled and cut into ½ cm slices
3 red peppers, deseeded and cut into approximate 4cm squares
8 garlic cloves, unpeeled, crushed
1kg ripe, fleshy tomatoes
2 bay leaves
Salt, pepper, sugar if necessary
Salt the aubergine slices, and leave for 30 minutes or so in a colander to let the juices drain. Heat the oil in a large greixonera or frying pan and fry the potato slices over an medium heat for around 10 minutes until cooked through. Let them form a crust before attempting to turn them over. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the potatoes to another greixonera or large gratin dish. Make an evenly distributed layer with them.
Next rinse the aubergine slices and pat them dry. Fry them in the oil you have used for the potatoes. Once they have taken on some colour and looked soft and cooked, transfer them to the dish to make another layer.
Add more oil to the frying pan if you need to. Lower the heat and add 7 of the garlic cloves. Fry them gently until soft, being careful not to let them burn. Squeeze the pulp from the skins and spoon the garlic mixture evenly over the aubergines.
Grate the tomatoes, discarding the skins. Remove the skin from the 8th garlic clove, chop it up a little more and fry it along with the tomato pulp and bay leaves for about 10 minutes – all you’re doing is giving the opportunity for the flavours to be introduced to each other. Adjust the seasoning, adding salt or even a little sugar if the tomatoes need a flavour boost. Pour over the other vegetables.
You can serve it like this, or bake the vegetables in a preheated 190C/375F/gas 5 oven for 25 minutes. Let it cool to room temperature before serving. This step results in the tomato sauce being absorbed more by the other vegetables.
This serves around 4 to 6 people. You can eat it on it’s own with bread, or alongside eggs, roast lamb, or grilled sardines; it’s an adaptable dish.