Balearic Islands' Recipes
The gastronomy from Majorca, Menorca, Eivissa·Ibiza* and Formentera is comprised of many delectable and pleasurable dishes. The cuisine takes full advantage of the islands' resources and the many cultures which have passed through the archipelago over the years have left their mark: many different civilisations (Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, French, English...).
The Balearic Archipelago, which lies off the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea, is composed of two eastern main islands, Majorca and Minorca, and the smaller Cabrera, and two smaller western islands, Ibiza and Formentera, together known as the Pitiusas. The presence of talayots, stone structures that date to the third millenium BC, are evidence that this wildly beautiful archipelago has been inhabited since ancient times.
The islands' strategic location attracted conquerors throughout the centuries, from the Carthaginians, Romans, and Vandals to the Byzantines and Moors. In the thirteenth century, the crown of Aragon took control of the archipelago. Catalonia, part of the kingdom at that time, exercised considerable influence over the Balearics, and even today a dialect of Catalan is still spoken on the islands.
Driving out of Palma, Majorca's capital, you will enter a landscape cluttered with windmills. Water is scarce, but olive trees are abundant and some are believed to be more than a thousand years old.
The Tramuntana mountain range, which runs from the northeast toward the southwest of the island, stops the mostly northern winds of the same name. It is not a compact, massive range but one broken by gorges and valleys, creating a shape similar to that of three rolling waves. North of the mountains, the villages are quieter than those of the south, and the coast is lined with rugged cliffs. Deià, a beautiful village on the north shore, is home to many writers and artists. Southern Majorca, less mountainous and with a more temperate climate, has become a major tourist destination.
Smaller and flatter than Majorca, Minorca also has two principal sides: The north is darker, with ground rich in slate and turbulent sea. The south is mellow, green, and luscious, with lonely, sandy beache. Cows graze on meadows, and the dairy industry is sizable. Mahón, the capital, a natural port, was important to the British Navy during the eighteenth century. Britain occupied Minorca in 1708, and the Peace of Utrecht legitimized their presence in 1713. With the exception of a short period of French domination, Minorca was essentially under British control until 1782, although the Spanish did not regain full control until 1802. The other islands have remained under Spanish rule since the expulsion of the Moors.
Ibiza and Formentera
Third in size, Ibiza is closest to the mainland, just a short ride away by ferry. One of Spain's fashionable vacation resorts, it is the gathering place of le beau monde and has an intense nightlife.
Formentera - the jewel of the Balearic crown in our opinion - is just a stone's throw away. About three miles long and lined with sandy beaches, it is small and flat and, thanks to strict zoning laws, remains in a glorious state of natural beauty and tranquility.
Majorcan Olive oil
It would be hard to find a better example of a Mediterranean diet than the cooking from the Balearics. Already during the first century AD, Roman historiographer Pliny praised the excellence of Majorcan olive oil and wines. During the sixteenth century, olvie oil production became one of the main income sources for the island, surpassed only by wheat and oats, and most of the farms had their own almazaras, or olive oil mills. The main varieties grown today are Empeltre, Arbequina, and Picual, and the oil is protected by the Denominación de Origen Aceite de Mallorca.
Ensaimadas and other bread pies
Altough olive oil is used for most cooking on Majorca, manteca (lard), or saim in the local dialect, is used to make bread pies, pastries, and specially ensaimadas, the famous pastry coils of the Balearics. It is typical to see visitors in the Palma airport carrying the telltale cardboard boxes that conceal these iconic pastries. Cocas, or crusty bread pies topped with various ingredients, are also common. Catalan cooks make similar pies, but their are usually square or rectangular in the Balearics, and oval in Catalonia.
Cocarrois and empanadas are savory turnovers filled with vegetables or meats, while robiols and crespels are sweet. One bread preparation that does feature the celebrated local olive oil is pa amb oli (similar to Catalan pa amb tomàquet), which appears on every dinner table. Toasted bread is usually rubbed with tomato, usually tomàquets de ramellet (small, highly aromatic tomatoes), and sprinkled with olive oil -or the reverse, tomatoes are sprinkled with olive oil and rubbed with bread. The experts still don't agree!
Fish and shellfish in Majorca
Not suprisingly, fish and shellfish are frequent menu items.
Mero (grouper) cooked a la mallorquina (covered with many chopped vegetables and baked), is popular, as are calamares (squid) and
raya (skate). Visitors to Minorca should not miss the chance to try the loval spiny lobster, which has a distinctive bluish cast and is usually served in the tomatoey stew known as
caldereta de langosta. The use of fennel, otherwise rare in the rest of Spain, is typical in these dishes.
Sobrasada, Majorca's typical sausage
The porc negre, or black pig (not to be confused with the 'pata negra' of jamón ibérico fame), has lived on the islands for almost seven thousand years. It plays an important role in the life of the locals, many of whom consider it inconceivable to let a day pass without eating sobrasada, the islands' signature sausage made from this tasty pork.
The humid sea air that makes curing hams in the manner of the mainland impossible helps create the soft texture that distiguishes this intense, semicured, spreadable sausage. It appears in countless ways in everyday cooking, including as a topping for bread and cocas, in sauces and in fillings.
Desserts on the islands rely mainly on almonds. Among them are
gató d'ametlla, a rich cake made primarily with almonds, sugar, and eggs, and
almond ice cream.
Ibiza has a delightful dessert called flaó, a blend of aniseed, mint, and fresh cheese, and the local apricots, pomegrates, and figs are superb.
Menorca's typical products: Mayonnaise, Cheese and Gin
The British can be credited with initiating two of the Minorca's best-known products, the magnificient Queso de Mahón and the highly praised Xoriguer Gin.
They encouraged the Minorcans to raise cows and make cheese, and Queso de Mahón, a pure cow's milk cheese available both semicured and cured is the delicious result. The British established the first gin distillery in Mahón, and today the spirit continues to be made in the traditional fashion, in copper stills (introduced by the Moors) heated by wood fires.
The British also figure in the story of mayonnaise, known as salsa mahonesa, after the island's capital. The Minorcans insist that it was created by one of their own and sent off to Paris by the French when they took Minorca from the British in the 1750s.
Wines are produced on Majorca and regulated by the Binissalem and Plà i Llevant DOs. The allowed grapes are the native Manto Negro and Callet for red wines and Moll for whites. In both DOs, the use of the native Manto Negro, a large, dark grape that yields a big, bold wine, results in wines ideal for maturing in oak. The local white wines are less distinguished and represent only a small part of overall production. Majorcans also manufacture, in limited amounts, Palo de Mallorca, a celebrated digestive made from cinchona bark, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
- Sobrasada: Residents of the Balearic Islands are unabashed partisans for their distinctive red sobrasada sausage. It is made from the meat of the local porc negre, or 'black pig', which is related to the ibérico pig of the mainland, but is slightly larger with a longer neck and meatier cheeks, and it is seasoned with a local paprika ground from the local red peppers.
- Ensaimada (Majorcan Sweet bread): A Majorcan favorite, ensaimadas are warm, yeast-based cakes fashioned into round, coiled shapes. Although delicious, these cakes are time-consuming to prepare, because the dough must be allowed to rise several times.
- Pa amb oli: Pa amb oli means "bread with olive oil" in Majorcan, and it is as commonly eaten in the Balearic Islands as pa amb tomàquet is in Catalonia. But while the Majorcan usually add the tomato to their bread and then the olive oil, most Catalans do the reverse. Both preparations can be served as breakfast, as a snack at any time, or as an accompaniment to lunch or dinner. As with pa amb tomàquet, this recipe can be embellished with a topping of jamón serrano, anchovies, or cheese.
- Gató d'ametlla - Majorcan Almond Cake: This Majorcan cake is believed to have originated in Valldemossa, the island town made famous by Chopin and George Sand, who spent a winter together there in an abandened Carthusian monastery that today draws many visitors. This version, a recipe from one of our friends, is the best that I have ever tasted.
- Flaó - Cream Cheese Mint Tart: Flaó is similar to American cheesecake, but the use of mint leaves and aniseeds sets it apart and makes it particularly refreshing. It calls for requesón, a fresh milk cheese, also known as Quark, and though you can easily make your own, I have also obtained spectacular results using the more readily available cream cheese.
- Burrida de Raya - Skate in fish Stock: Fish soups with names similar to this one are common in the Mediterranean, with the type of fish and the seasoning varying with the locale. For example, Provençal cooks make bourride and serve it with the rust-colored sauce known as rouille, while Ligurian cooks make buridda and accompany it with fried bread. The burrida of the Balearics calls for skate in an allioli-enriched stock and thin slices of country-style bread.
- Grouper a la Mallorquina: When a fish is prepared a la mallorquina you know that it will be cooked with a variety of vegetables piled on top. Ideally, the fish is a whole and weighs at least five pounds. Grouper is a good choice, but so is red snapper, striped bass, John Dory, or any other lean, white fleshed fish. The crown of colorful vegetables not only looks pretty but also infuses the fish with sensational flavor.
- Caldereta de Langosta (Lobster Stew):
An exceptional Lobster stew, typical from the Balearic Islands, and
celebrated all over Spain.
- Almond Ice Cream: Whether served with
ensaimadas or alone, this ice cream makes a perfect dessert.
Mahón is a traditional semi-soft cheese, produced from cow's milk on Minorca, the outermost of the three Balearic Islands. The city of Mahón is the major town on this small agricultural island.
Traditionally, to produce Mahón cheese, the curd is placed in the center of a cloth. The corners of the cloth are then knotted and twisted together, which gives the cheese its typical "cushion" shape. It then matures in the cloth for several days. The flavor is smooth, yet buttery sharp, slightly salty with a marvelous creamy, nutty aroma.
Olive Oil Mayonnaise
Spaniards claim mayonnaise as their own creation, and although there is some dispute over the origin of the word, the commonly accepted derivation is that the sauce and the name come from Mahón, the principal city of the Balearic Island of Menorca.
This mayonnaise is all natural; nothing but genuine Spanish olive oil, fresh egg yolk, vinegar, sugar, salt, lemon juice and spices.
XL Blanched Marcona Almonds
These large, flat almonds are distinctively Spanish. They are more crunchy and flavorful than the normal American variety. The uncooked variety is perfect for baking and cooking. Or you can sauté them in olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Remember, as a snack Marcona almonds should always be sautéd, not roasted or toasted. This is due to their delicate flavor which can be overwhelmed by other cooking methods.
Flor de Sal with Black Olives from Mallorca
Flor de Sal is the highest quality sea salt in the world. It is harvested by hand along the coast of the island of Mallorca, and has become an essential ingredient in the kitchens of many of Spain's top chefs. In this artful variation, roasted black olives are ground and mixed to create a pungent and aromatic seasoning. The salt obtained is 100% natural without any alteration.
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