A serving of caldereta with a giant cigala. | Andrew Valente

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Lobster is one of the great seafood dishes of summer, preferred by Mallorcans in the caldereta style: gently cooked to delicious tenderness and served cut in wedges with wafer-thin slices of toasted bread.
Mallorcans are also interested in having it carefully chargrilled and also served in a rich soup with other shellfish and Mediterranean fish such as cap roig (scorpion fish).

In my rather large collection of books on Italian food, lobster is the great absentee. In a book called Pasta for Pleasure, there isn’t a single recipe for lobster — just one for salmon and another for little prawns.

The caldereta ready to be served.
The caldereta ready to be served.

Jamie Oliver, in his TV series on Italian food and the book, had one lobster recipe called ‘the best Sicilian lobster dish’, a kind of caldereta with small pieces of pasta that was thickened with pounded almonds, which is also the finishing touch in many Mallorcan recipes, especially vegetable soups.

Elizabeth David, the undisputed finest British food writer of the 20th century (and in my opinion, the best ever) published perhaps the greatest ever book on Italian cooking in 1982 (Italian Food).
She was always interested in simple cooking and recommended doing lobster on a hot plate or boiled and served only with some butter or olive oil and a little lemon juice.

This dearth of lobster recipes in Italian cookbooks is reflected on the menus of Italian restaurants and there’s a simple explanation for this situation. When poor Italians started to emigrate to the five continents towards the end of the 19th century, they took with them the simple food that was their daily fare — mainly pasta, polenta and pizza. Fishermen from coastal villages were unfamiliar with most of the crustaceans and lobster was never on their menus — not even on Sundays.

Marcela serves the caldereta.

So when these immigrant Italians started to open little eating houses for their fellow countrymen, what was on offer was basic Italian cooking of the most frugal kind.

Even today, most of us are inclined to think meals at Italian restaurants should be cheap. And they needn’t cost very much if all we’re having is a pasta or a pizza and a drink. But in the past two years or so, I’ve started to notice that some very ordinary looking restaurants are serving some very ordinary pasta dishes and pizzas at prices that are far from ordinary.

Michele Caporale, cook-owner of La Bottega in Calle Fábrica (Tel:971-454892), whose family has been in the restaurant business for more than 100 years, is one of the island’s very few Italian places that always has lobster available — and that’s because his Mallorcan regulars demand it.

Michele has a deal with stallholders at the nearby Santa Catalina fish market: when they have fine looking lobsters they call him and he takes them for his regulars. Sometimes the lobsters don’t even go on the blackboard. A phone call to a regular is enough to move them.

A serving of caldereta with a giant cigala.

When I ran into Michele last week at El Corte Inglés in Jaime III he had a lobster that was ideal for two and he was doing a caldereta with pasta for himself and his wife Marcela, who is in charge of the dining rooms and also does the desserts. There are two dining rooms at La Bottega and also a very large terrace.

Michele decided to invite me to share the lobster and in case it wasn’t going to be big enough, he also included some large cigalas. This caldereta alla Caporale was done in the style of Abruzzo, the northern Italian region where Michele was born. It is more of a light stew than a soup.

It is made with a sofrito base that includes saffron. The wedges of lobster in the shell are stir-fried for five minutes before adding white wine and enough stock to cook the amount of pasta being used. Most of the stock is absorbed by the pasta so the langosta pieces and the cigalas are served on top of the pasta and the thick remains of the stock.

Michele and the live Mediterranean lobster.

The lobster in the picture and those associated with summer calderetas, are always Mediterranean lobsters, never those with big claws.

In Spanish there is a a special word for the lobster with claws and it is ‘bogavante.’ You could make a caldereta with a bogavante, but no Mallorcan would ever do so. But you’ll find bogavantes on the chargrill, in paellas, fish stews and soups and also in some cold dishes. The Mediterranean lobster is always much more expensive than the bogavante.

Some of the bogavantes on sale here come from Canada or Alaska and they can be quite economical, especially the smaller ones. A word of advice about al dente short pasta. Most of us nowadays can enjoy spaghetti that is slightly al dente. But an Italian’s idea of al dente short pasta is more like half raw for most non-Italians. It is to be shunned at all costs because half raw short pasta is not enjoyable.