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Posts Tagged ‘Minorca’

Mr T opted for sopa Menorquina as his set-menu starter at La Guitarra in Ciutadella de Menorca one rainy lunchtime and its simple, straightforward heartiness really hit the spot. Unlike Cafe Baléar, however, La Guitarra is one place I wouldn’t advise opting for the menu del dìa; for although the restaurant has a great reputation for local specialities its à la carte menu is very obviously the focus. One lives and learns all the same: its troglodytic charm would be a wonderful escape from the heat of Summer and descending from scorching street level into its stone-walled cellar-cool basement interior for a slap-up meal is what we’ll be doing next time, but in the interim I recreate this Balearic soup with fond remembrance of Menorca’s old capital in the Spring.

 

 

I wished I had ordered the sopa too as my garlic prawns were just that; peeled prawns with overcooked garlic and despite their toothsome texture, not much flavour in either.

We both ordered the sea bass a la plancha for mains and it was ok; fresh and decently cooked but decidedly dull!  The highlight of our lunch was so obviously the working man’s vegetable soup that it demonstrated how plain food doesn’t have to be plain.

This hearty soup could easily be made fit for a vegetarian – vegan even – by the substitution of the small amount of meat with extra olive oil, garlic and paprika.  On the other hand, if you’re a meat-eater but can’t get hold of sobrassada or chorizo, substitute pancetta or lardons and throw in extra pimentón (unsmoked, for a change) and garlic.

Sopa Menorquina

serves 4 as main course

2 TBS olive oil
5 cm or so sobrassada, cubed (or chorizo if unavailable)
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 green cabbage, separated into leaves and torn into strips (chop if you must)
1 large carrot, chopped
100g spinach or Swiss chard, torn or chopped
100g broad beans or peas or flageolets (any fresh or frozen green bean is good)
2 tomatoes, fresh or canned, diced
500 ml or so stock (if none fresh, make it with a bouillon cube)
1tsp pimentón (whichever style you prefer)
at least 4 slices of hearty peasant bread, toasted

sweating onions and garlic with sobrassada in olive oil

Chop or tear all the vegetables into pieces of approximately equal size.  Heat oil in an enamelled cast iron pot and sweat the onions with the sobrassada, garlic and pimentón on a medium-low flame.  Add the diced tomato and bring to a gentle simmer, then add the rest of the vegetables and cover with two cups of hot stock.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

throw in some extra pimenton to boost flavour

The correct way of serving this sopa is: for each person, place a slice of toasted bread in the bottom of a soup plate, ladle over the vegetables and their broth, place in a 150C oven for 10 mins and serve:

serve in wide shallow bowls drizzled with olive oil and country bread on the side

but unless it has just baked a loaf of bread, there’s no reasonable reason to whack on the oven specially, so I have been known to serve the soup straight from the pot: topped with a spoonful of homemade ricotta, a trail of olive oil and with slabs of toasted country bread on the side nobody minds one jot.

Incidentally, at La Guitarra we ordered a bottle of Blanc Pescador, assuming (rightly!) its name denoted an affinity with fish, but as my Spanish vocabulary was not up to anticipating its pétillant tingle – “vino de ajuga” translates to “needle wine” apparently – it came as a pleasantly prickly surprise, and with a much cleaner and clearer flavour than el crudo cava, an awful lot more dignity too.

La Guitarra
c/ Dolos baixos
Ciutadella de Menorca 07760
tel: 971 38 13 55

3-course menu del dia €12.50
Blanc Pescador €13.50

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interior of Cafe Baixamar, Mahon de MenorcaCall me weird but I just don’t like it when my waitress takes such obvious offence at any punters daring to invade her erstwhile empty restaurant.  I understand her feelings; years of food service taught me there’s nothing so intrusive as a damn customer when you’ve just gotten used to a bit of solitude.  But those same years – and basic economics – also taught me to stand up & snap out of it, smile brightly and serve politely: as they say, it’s not rocket science – the pay’s better.

Our handy AA Twinpack guide recommended this place for its atmosphere but I doubt it intended the ambiance generated by a blasé bint who was too patently, petulantly cool to be bloody bothered by bloody customers and at lunch-time, at that: 1.45pm, 1345 hours.

In what way was it our fault there was no chilled cava?  ¡¿¡¿No chilled cava!?!?  And was this girl cronies with the (frozen) calamari?  Planning a painting of the (tinned) pimentóns piquillos?  Dating the (possibly pre-packaged) tortilla española?  We felt obliged that despite her simmering resentment our waitress brought anything at all, for not one thing was removed on her return to bar stool, tabletop disappearing beneath debris the while. (more…)

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Thunderclap followed by dramatic downpour started our first full day with a bang and skewered all tanning plans – but what on earth to do in a vacation-villa ghetto with no sunshine?  There’s this:
Rainy day on holiday
or the teeming toddlers’ activity club (no pics natch) but I’m not short enough, so once the clouds had shed their motherload we plodded north to Ciutadella. The 2km walk was slower but more interesting than taking a bus as we got to smell the landscape and discovered this domestic scene.Domestic pigs in Menorca
That’s daddy pig in the foreground (¡cuales cojones!), separated from his wife, girlfriend and countless scurrying offspring (those little shapes in the background) by a sturdy wall.  Everything in the compound had acquired a uniform ruddiness from the red earth in which they snuffle so they’re hard to spot (no pun intended).
Ciutadella Town Hall atop harbour wall
Like a corny movie, sunshine broke through as we arrived at Ciutadella harbour and the unmistakably Spanish scent of seafood and garlic a-sizzle in olive oil wafted on the breeze.   Strolling by a strip of restaurants nestling along the foot of the old city wall we noticed a number were recommended by our excellent guide book but didn’t fancy their uniform demeanour, nor sitting in the shade for that matter.Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca after our lunch
Just the other side of the bridge we spot Café Balear – set apart and empty.  None too promising, when all the other places are populated, but a seat in the sun and good reviews sits us down.  And then the real holiday begins: our waiter recites the appetizing menu del dìa; we pick cigale carpaccio and cod alioli for T; pimentos relleños and hake for me, and what a treat they turn out to be:
Carpaccio de cigalo at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
pimentos rellenos de bacalao at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
Cod with alioli at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
hake with potatoes and piquillos at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella, Menorca
I let these pictures speak for themselves, only adding that everything was spankingly fresh and flavoursome (pimentos obviously stuffed in-house) and the presentation perfect for my tastes – burnishing the alioli was an aesthetic nicety which I shall try at home. Ok, so I envied T his tasty extras: migas-stuffed tomato and a wee filo parcel of spinach with pine nuts and raisins but was happy with my hake and well satisfied.table on the terrace at Cafe Balear, Ciutadella harbour, Menorca
A bottle of crisp house white (Penedès again), perfectly chilled with ice bucket, stand and napkin allowed us to take our time; as we progressed through our meal the place filled up – to bursting – and we felt pretty smug to be watching people queue for a table.
People queuing for lunch at Cafe Balear
Don’t often do dessert but I’m never churlish if it’s included in the price, so ever authenticity-oriented I opted for almond cake over apple pie and T mentioned

you’ve had one crème caramel you’ve had them all

as his excuse for trying the same. Good choice, Canadian…
almond cake dessert at Cafe Balear

Service was laudably professional, efficient and friendly despite the fact the place was packed.  Highly recommended, but do arrive early or book ahead.

Menu del dìa: €17 pp  bottle house white: €10

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Great view, not such great food

Sa Nacra restaurant/bar, Santandria cove, Menorca, looking west
So we fetched up at Sa Nacra, a waterside bar/restaurant in (or on) Cala Santandria on both our first and last days in Menorca.  I suspect we ordered the wrong things, but I got the idea the setting is so perfect nobody feels they have to pay much attention to the quality of the fare on offer.  Talking about the wrong thing to order…

hamburger, sausage, egg & chips at Sa Nacra, Menorca…bless his heart; to the left we have hamburger, sausage, egg and chips in time-honoured transport caff greasy spoon style. It’s a good thing Mr T dislikes ketchup as there was none; just a cruet of salt & pepper, oil & vinegar. The vinegar’s always good in Spanish territory, though.

Having awakened at 3 am to catch our Balearic-bound sardine torpedo, T found it satisfying, surprising, but not exactly exciting. And being Canadian he was kind of expecting a bun…

platter of local sausages and cheese, Sa Nacra, MenorcaEyes right for another kind of surprise: my platter of local sausages and cheese(“s”) – before a bite taken.  No garnish, nor much generosity there.  Ah well, at top right two niggardly slices of queso mahon, and reasonably fresca at that because it was ok but bland. Gnawing clockwise, next lies salchichon, pink and slightly garlicky – Spanish salami. Then the most interesting item, morcilla; black pudding (or blood sausage if you must) – thankfully European-style so it didn’t taste like blood-soaked fruitcake, but subtly spiced and savoury; probably bound with rice and featuring the odd fennel seed to lift any heaviness.  Last of all comes sobrassada; essentially the Balearic version of chorizo – no mistaking that tell-tale orange-hue of paprika pimentón.  Good, but not a gastronomic highlight either.

pa amb tomat, at Sa Nacra, Menorca

For us francophiles the lack of automatic bread was a bit of a quandary – in Menorca we discover its presence is unpredictable – so, keeping true to my mission to eat local, I ordered another island speciality: pa amb tomàquet.  It’s supposed to be country bread toasted over a flame, rubbed with tomato and garlic and doused in olive oil.  Which it was, after a fashion, but you can take the country out of bread just like you can take bread out of the country.  Remember dutch crispbakes?  Squish a tomato into one of those and then take the tomato away – voilà!  Certainly edible on 3 hours sleep when washed down with a bottle of cherry-red rosado de casaPenedès I think; in a cooler bucket without ice so we were compelled to drink it fast to drink it cool: a far from odious chore in all that sunshine…

…and for us just arrived from chilly grey England the view was sheer delight: water so clear you can see all the way to the bottom, fish idling below, seabirds wheeling above, all eager for overboard crumbs.  view from Sa Nacra towards Santandria
In my enthusiasm for peering into the depths I tipped the bench and almost launched myself overboard – crumbs!  Rather wish I had though, as Sa Nacra is well-appointed with ladder up and out plus open-air shower, but preferred are plunges from their diving board.

his: €7.25 mine: €4.50 bread: €1.50 wine: €10

 

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Gazpacho, Spanish summer soup
Sorry folks – no new posts for a short while as I’m off to a (we hope) quiet corner of the Balearics.  Following a bit of research on its gustatory specialities this is what I’m hoping to plunder:

  • hierba for the lady
  • gin for the gent
  • a whole ham for slicing
  • queso Mahón for dicing
  • sobrasada for the larder
  • wild fennel for fish & products porky – ubiquitous on Ibiza but Mr T threw out my fagot, damnit

and while I’m there I’m looking forward to eating ensaimadas, scoffing coca and tucking into tons of tasty tapas and if I have the time, finding a handsome leather belt (not for eating). 

I’m not lugging my laptop there and back – we’re on a charter flight for heaven’s sake – so comments will have to bide their time until my return.

In the hope that the sun shines brightly enough to make a lycopene boost imperative, I bring you my easy yet delicious version of:

Gazpacho
modified from Paula Wolfert’s version in her Mediterranean Cooking
(a terrific book now sadly out of print)Big Tom spiced tomato juice

  • 750 ml (1½ pints) tomato juice
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • ½ cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • ½ clove garlic, peeled & microplaned (or crushed)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ice cubes, salt & pepper

Pour 250 ml tomato juice into a blender; add the rest of the vegetables and buzz at high speed until smooth.  Pour into a wide shallow (preferably Spanish earthenware) serving bowl and use the rest of the tomato juice to thin down the gazpacho if necessary.  If it’s overpoweringly tomoto-ey add a few ice cubes instead.  Stir in vinegar and oil, season lightly and chill for a couple of hours. 

Check and adjust seasoning and oil/vinegar balance.  Serve annointed with droplets of good olive oil and chopped green and/or chilli pepper, spring onion or chives or coriander, croûtons and/or fresh bread on the side.  If the weather’s really hot (fingers crossed!) extra ice cubes will be most welcome.

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