Tumbet. | L. CORARL

0

Not all that long ago the culinary year was divided into four seasons and cooks had access to certain fruits, vegetables, game birds and fish only during well-defined months.

But man’s ingenuity knows no bounds when the making of money is involved and nowadays foods that were strictly seasonal are available all year round, either flown in from afar or grown here in plastic tunnels. As a culinary term, the word seasonal will soon be obsolete.

When I first came to the island, the traditional dish called tumbet was for the summer months only because that was when three of the main ingredients, aubergines, red peppers and tomatoes, were in season.

It also includes potatoes, but different varieties were available at distinct times of the year.

But nowadays anyone could eat tumbet 365 days a year because every ingredient is on sale all year long.

Tumbet was such a sacred speciality in the old days that no purist would have eaten it unless every ingredient was grown locally. The true purists, and there were many, would even stipulate certain items had to come from specific areas of the island.

A Mallorcan food writer I knew in the old days always used only tomatoes from Banyalbufar, because he considered them to be the finest.

Everyone stressed that all ingredients had to be fresh, so even the use of canned tomatoes was a sacrilege. Aubergines from the mainland were also taboo because the local ones were the best.

I am not one of those people, and there are many, who say that all fruits and veggies grown here and all fish caught in Mallorcan waters, are the greatest.

But when you compare local aubergines with those from any other part of the Mediterranean, it soon becomes clear that those from Mallorca are superior in every way.

Mallorcan aubergines are much sweeter than other varieties, all of which have to be sprinkled with salt and left for an hour to rid them of their bitter juices. This isn’t necessary with Mallorcan aubergines.

Tumbet is cooked in a greixonera, the traditional island earthenware dish that comes in a variety of sizes and depths. The flattish one is ideal for tumbet because it is easier to serve after you have cooked the layers of sliced fried potatoes, aubergines, pieces of fried red peppers, everything covered with a thick tomato sauce.

Throughout the Mediterranean you’ll find dishes that combined tomatoes, aubergines, red peppers, courgettes and onions. Tumbet is unique to Mallorca.

Tumbet, however, has undergone considerable changes over the years. The word comes from the verb ‘tumbar’, which can mean to shake, turn over or to stir.

The dish was originally a slowly cooked mixture of meat, potatoes, red peppers and other veggies. In his famous book Die Balearen, the Archduke Luis Salvador, or s’Arxiduc as he is popularly known here, mentions a typical tumbet of the day, but it was quite different from the one we now know.

S’Arxiduc in the 19th century wrote about having lunch in the San Cristobal hermitage when the main course was tumbet made with pieces of lamb cooked in a greixonera over a low heat.

The dish was shaken from time to time so the meat, which could also be rabbit, didn’t stick. The meat was always shaken, never stirred with a spoon. Shaken is one of the meanings of the verb tumbar from which the noun tumbet comes.

Cook snails were finally added to the lamb along with a sauce made from garlic, parsley, almonds, egg and saffron. The dish was simmered over a very low heat until the lamb was tender.

This way of making tumbet has completely disappeared and today it is done only with potatoes, aubergines, red peppers and a thick tomato sauce.

Tumbet is usually eaten as a starter nowadays, but at the height of summer when it is really hot, it makes a nice mains for lunch. Mallorcan housewives sometimes make it more of a mains by adding slices of pork tenderloin fried separately. They also serve portion of tumbet topped with a couple of fried eggs.

The making of tumbet is easy enough, even for complete beginners, but it needs care and attention, the best of ingredients and you must follow the basic rules.

In a well made tumbet there must be enough potatoes, aubergines and red peppers to make a good layer of each. Be sure to have plenty of thick tomato sauce. If there is any left over it can be used for a pasta dish.

RECIPE

1. Cut the potatoes into thinnish rounds, enough to make a good cooked layer on the flattish greixonera. Sauté them in a good amount of virgen extra olive oil as when doing a Spanish tortilla. The potatoes should be soft, but the rounds unbroken as much as possible.

2. Cut the aubergines into rounds of about half a centimetre thick and sauté them in virgen extra olive oil on both sides.

3. Keep the heat low enough to avoid scorching them. Transfer them to a plate when they are soft and add salt to taste.

4. Break thick red peppers into smallish pieces (most Mallorcan housewives never use a knife on peppers of any kind) and sauté them separately until they are cooked through. Transfer them to another plate.

5. Make a thick tomato sauce with at least 1.5 kilos of fresh tomatoes. Use the Mallorcan remallet variety or plum tomatoes, which are called tomates de pera in Spanish.

If you use a vegetable mill, chop up the unpeeled tomatoes and sauté them in plenty of virgen extra olive oil until they are thick and pulpy, about 45 minutes. Put them through the vegetable mill into another saucepan or a bowl.

If you are not using a vegetable mill first peel the tomatoes and then chop them finely before cooking them as above.

In either case, the sauce should be very thick and with no traces of watery liquid. Garlic and herbs of your choice can be added to the sauce as well as salt to taste.

6. Assemble the tumbet in a shallow greixonera by making a first layer of potatoes, top it with the aubergine slices and then spread the red pepper pieces over the surface.

7. Spoon over the tomato sauce to make a final layer. The tumbet must rest for at least a couple of hours to let the flavours intermingle.

A tumbet can be reheated in the oven but most Mallorcans I know prefer to eat it at room temperature. It is, after all, a summer dish.

If you have any leftovers put them into the fridge immediately because in the summer heat the ingredients would quickly ferment. But never serve it straight from the fridge: room temperature is always best.

Leftovers can be mixed into beaten eggs to make a flat Spanish tortilla. You can also chop up leftover tumbet, reheat it and use it as a filling for a French style omelette.