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How Tasty Was Majorca

June 03, 1993|COLMAN ANDREWS

The first time I went to Bodegas Mesquida, a little winery about 20 miles south of Palma, Majorca, I figured I'd fit the visit in on my way to a luncheon engagement. That was a mistake.

Along with an array of clean, bright wines, I was served several kinds of homemade sausage, some great country-style bread (from a local bakery whose wood-burning oven, I was told, dates from the 11th Century--yes, the 11th Century) and several kinds of confectionery, all characteristic of the island of Majorca, and all so good I couldn't stop eating. I regretted this later when I sat down for my serious lunch.

The second time I visited, I thought I'd be smart and arranged to arrive after lunch, when I was already sated. Then, over Mesquida's Blanc de Llagrima (50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Parellada), ever-better Cabernet Sauvignon and new, as yet unreleased, Merlot, there appeared plates of grilled herring with chopped grilled tomatoes, two varieties of the Majorcan specialty called frit (one a mix of finely chopped lamb's offal with scallions, mushrooms and green peppers; the other made with slivers of pork, red peppers, garlic and potatoes), several kinds of local cheese and more of that bread. I couldn't resist.

"Some day," said proprietor Jaume Mesquida when I complimented him on this superb food, "you'll have to come for a real meal."

I did just that in February and discovered a whole world of Majorcan home cooking that I had previously known only by reputation.

There are a number of excellent restaurants on the Spanish island of Majorca, including a Michelin two-star called Tristan, but very few places that serve anything that could be considered traditional local food. In fact, anyone who's ever traveled to Majorca and eaten in the usual tourist haunts would probably be surprised to learn that there's any indigenous cooking worth bothering with. The typical mass-market restaurant fare tends towards greasy fried fish, desiccated rice casseroles and roasted chicken with limp and mushy French fries.

Real Majorcan cuisine, though, involves rich soups, complex stews, colorful salads, moist and flavorful rice dishes, beautiful fish and shellfish simply but effectively elaborated, earthy presentations of pork and offal, superb Majorcan lamb roasts. Almost everything is enhanced in one way or another with local vegetables, wild mushrooms and herbs.

The Mesquidas--Jaume, his Brazilian-born wife, Lucy, and his mother and father, Maria-Esther and Jaime (Jaume is the Mallorquin version of this common Castilian name), and his grandmother Masiana--live adjacent to the winery. Though it's in the town of Porreras, the setting is semi-rural. One of the neighbors raises chickens and turkeys; another keeps three or four pigs; a third was planting olive saplings in a narrow stretch of orchard when I visited in February. The Mesquidas themselves have a large kitchen garden and a courtyard partially overgrown with herbs. They often keep live snails, collected among the vines, in a cage in the basement, to be used in some multi-ingredient soup or stew. And they love to show off Majorcan food.

The meal prepared for me by Maria-Esther and the family cook, Maria Toledo, with the help of Lucy and the advice of Masiana, included the following dishes (all given in Mallorquin, the local dialect of Catalan):

Coca De Prebes Torrats , a sort of Majorcan pizza, topped with roasted red peppers of remarkable sweetness. Arros Brut , literally "dirty rice"--a sort of soupy paella made with chicken, rabbit, pork shoulder and wild mushrooms, with short-grain rice added late in the cooking process. (Heroically scaled multi-ingredient "casserole" dishes of this sort are typical of Majorcan cuisine, and among its greatest treasures.) Sopa Torrada De Peix , Majorcan fish "soup"--technically not a soup at all (the word sopa means soup "sop," something to soak up the juices), but a fish stew served over slices of grilled bread, with very little excess liquid. Peix Al Forn , or "fish in the oven"--a whole fish (in this case a paguera or sea bream) roasted on a bed of thinly sliced onions and potatoes and crusted with a wealth of local vegetables. Rostit Humit De Xai , a "wet" lamb roast, moistened with Sherry and brandy and cooked in a covered pan. And Greixonera De Brossat , a Majorcan cheesecake, traditionally made with a kind of cottage cheese called brossat.

Luckily, I had no plans to eat for, oh, at least three or four hours.

*

COCA DE PREBES TORRATS (Roasted Sweet Red Pepper Pizza) 2 cups flour 2 tablespoons dry yeast, dissolved in warm water 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 teaspoon lard 3/4 cup warm water, about 3 to 4 large sweet red peppers 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped 3 to 4 sprigs Italian parsley, finely chopped Salt

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