Have you ever stayed up all night thinking about an amazing dish?

Have you ever stayed up all night thinking about an amazing dish?

11-11-2021Peter Clover

The big duvet is finally on! With all the fantastic autumnal weather we’ve been enjoying throughout October, I was beginning to wonder if we were about to give winter a bi-pass along with a big high five! But then came the rain along with the big howling winds (I don’t like the big howling winds as I always think the roof is going to fly off. I blame Judy Garland and that annoying little wizard from Oz for that!) Then the clocks went back and suddenly it’s dark by 6 o’clock.

Up until then the sun had been shining, the skies had been blue, and the weather had been absolutely glorious. In fact I was feeling indulgently smug with recent emails to the UK, bragging about our continued sunshine to those less fortunate, surviving back home in the greyer and colder climes of blustery Blighty with only Boris to brighten their sallow days!

But seasons change for everyone, and without doubt the temperatures here in Mallorca have certainly dropped, yet in a nice, cosy comforting way. To be honest, it only feels like a few weeks ago since I was sleeping under a light summer bedcover, as the evenings, along with the days, have been so relatively mild.

Yet with memories of soaring temperatures governing a scorching summer when even the flimsiest of sheets felt far too much, it was somewhat exciting when the weather front took a turn, and the big duvet came out of the cupboard.

Having relocated from the UK and living in Mallorca for the past fifteen years, it’s been easy to forget how fortunate we are with our Mediterranean weather. We have on average, a staggering 300 days of sunshine throughout the year.

And come November/December, after the inevitable rain, it’s usually still bright and sunny enough to doubt that winter has actually arrived. Yet we can still feel sufficiently satisfied knowing that it definitely won’t last for long.

For me, the appearance of the big duvet goes hand in hand with the resurrection of certain, local and traditional fayre. Those hearty Mallorcan casseroles with that warming, rustic savour found in rich stews bubbling away on kitchen stoves, and dishes which have been put on hold during the warmer months while lettuce ruled.

Light summer meals are super dreamy, yet the craving for something more decadently wholesome takes control the moment those clocks go back and the big bedding appears.

In fact, even before the darker nights began drawing in, my gastronomic body clock was already ticking away at all the possibilities which lay ahead. ‘Tumbet’ – that delicious Mallorcan cousin of ratatouille: aubergines, courgettes and red peppers layered with potatoes and topped with tomatoes is a mouthwatering masterpiece. ‘Lomo con col’ – tender pork layered with sobrassada and bottifaron wrapped in cabbage parcels and casseroled slowly in a hearty jus laced with pasas and pine nuts.

So many local delicacies to showcase. Yet it was ‘sopas Mallorquinas’ which was playing trick or treat with my taste buds. Even before the big chill I was scanning the supermarket shelves for the obligatory green cabbage. But no such luck. Seems like the seasonal ‘cols’ were still flourishing in their fields waiting for the late harvest. I found small, insipid looking cabbages yet not the big, football sized ones with flapping, fleshy leaves which are just perfect for the Majorcan classic.

Then ‘Boom!’ suddenly they were everywhere and I couldn’t wait to rush home with my valued prize and knock up a favourite Mallorcan dish. I even lay awake that night thinking about it, and couldn’t wait to get started.

Now, like many local specialities, ‘sopas’ takes time, and there are as many variations on the same theme as there are super yachts in Palma. Some people prefer their sopas dry using lots of bread. Others favour it moist with less ‘pan’. Some use only cabbage, others use a greater variety of vegetables.

My version evolved from a cooking lesson with a Mallorcan friend when we first arrived on the island, and was further influenced by the memory of the best sopas I have eaten, which was served in a Palma restaurant now sadly defunct.

There is no right or wrong way when it comes to ‘sopas’. It’s all down to your own personal taste and preferences, although traditionalists will no doubt challenge that. But you can’t please everyone. This is my humble version!

I like to use ‘aguja de cerdo’ for the meat ingredient, which is a very tender cut of pork and similar to a neck chop. Unfortunately there is no exact equivalent outside of Majorca, yet ‘aguja’ is widely available and sold here in all local supermarkets.

This recipe is enough for 4-6 people. I always tend to make a lot as sopas is ‘gawjus’ re-heated the next day topped with bacon and a fried egg (the faithful traditionalists have probably just fainted in unison).

Start by heating a little olive oil in a wok or large, deep, frying pan. I use two ‘aguja’ fillets and cut them into decent bite size pieces. Fry the pork for a few minutes on all sides, then add a large chopped onion, 2 large spring onions (sofrito) chopped, and 1 stick of chopped celery. Cook for 5 mins then add a little more oil, ½ green pepper and ½ red pepper, chopped.

I then add 2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced, ½ an aubergine thinly sliced and ½ a sliced courgette. Stir ingredients well, cover and cook for 10 mins while you prepare the cabbage and ‘acelga’ (chard). Remove tough stalks and shred leaves from ½ a decent sized green, flappy leafed cabbage and a small bunch of acelga.

Add two chopped cloves of garlic to the vegetables and slowly start introducing the greens. It will initially seem far too much, but pop a lid on the pan and the cabbage will slowly cook down. Add a little stock to help the process. Mix and stir the vegetables with each addition of cabbage.

Season with salt, pepper, a good pinch of allspice plus a few dried chilli flakes to taste. I also add a few cauliflower florets along with a few of the outer leaves chopped small. Cover, and keep cooking the mixture down slowly, slowly, adding chopped parsley while frequently turning and stirring until all the vegetables are very tender and perfectly cooked through.

It seems like a lot of vegetables, but they all cook down and the end result is sublime. You can really add whatever vegetables you have to hand, but the proportions and ingredients of this recipe is what I usually stick to.

When the vegetables are cooked, take a large, ovenproof terracotta dish or ‘greixonara’ and line with overlapping slices of ‘pan de sopas’ – this is day old, rustic Mallorcan bread, sliced paper thin and sold in bakeries and most supermarkets. Pan de sopas is at the heart of this dish and you cannot make it without the distinct savour of this specific, and unique ingredient.

Tip the vegetable mixture into the bread lined dish, level, and pour over a little extra stock or water to ensure the bread soaks up plenty of juice. Press down any exposed bread. I like my sopas to be quite moist at this stage. Drizzle surface with oil then bake in the oven for 10-15 mins to crisp the top slightly.

Traditionally this local dish is eaten sprinkled with vinegar and a side of sliced radishes, green peppers and spicy, pickled guindillas. Whichever way you like it, this winter warmer is a real Mallorcan treat, and perfect for those chillier days. Just enjoy!

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