Sampling Tampa's food history: Revisiting the rum omelet and Cuban bollos

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Most of my friends recoiled at the idea, and to an extent, I did too, having a hard time imagining how the recipe would work. My first attempt at the dish was a bit clumsy, but it also revealed how the dish could work, even for skeptical guests. Beginning with six eggs, some chopped guava shells, and a little sugar and sherry, I cooked the ingredients in a single layer before folding it and lightly browning on both sides. I then sprinkled the top with sugar and doused it in rum. To flambée, using chilled rum will not work -- use warm rum or room temperature rum. The flames will help caramelize the sugar on the omelet, which goes a long way toward lifting the dish from the breakfast table to the dessert plate.

One last thing I discovered about bollos and rum omelets: they serve as great party food. Revive these old classics the next time you feel nostalgic and adventurous.

Black Bean and Cornmeal Bollitos

1 1/2 cups canned black beans (skins removed if you use traditional black eyed peas)

3 cloves garlic

6-7 tablespoons cornmeal

4 tablespoons store bought crispy fried onions (or use fresh onion)

1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded

1 tablespoon hot sauce, preferably "Valentina"

1 teaspoon oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 packed tablespoon cilantro

Blend ingredients in food processor until smooth. While blending, add corn meal until dough is stiff. Roll into balls a little smaller than a golf ball, then roll in flour and corn meal for frying. Deep fry until crispy and hot. Serve immediately with hot sauce.

Rum Omelet

1 tablespoon butter

2 eggs

1/3 cup chopped fruit (guava shells, pineapple, stewed apple, banana, etc.)

1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sherry

1 tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup rum, warm

Sugar, for garnish

Mix eggs with fruit, sherry and sugar. Allow a couple minutes at room temp to allow the sugar to dissolve into the egg mixture. Melt butter in a medium skillet. Cook the mixture over medium heat until firm on the bottom, then fold the omelet in half. Flip to lightly brown both sides. Top with sprinkled sugar and flambee in warm rum, spooning flaming rum over the omelet. Serve immediately.

I was inspired last month when I judged a heritage pie baking contest at Cracker Country, a living history program at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Some of the 19th-century recipes sounded unusual, especially the vinegar pies and jelly pies, but many shined despite my doubts. Florida has its share of iconic dishes, but many have fallen out of fashion into obscurity and disrepair. How many near forgotten classics could shine again with a little love? Here are a few notes on my own recent explorations into two local favorites that are rarely celebrated these days.

I’ve always been intrigued about a simple Cuban snack once popular in Tampa and Key West, black eyed pea fritters called “bollos” or “bollitos.” These “balls” or “little balls” are little more than mashed bean and garlic. After fooling with a few old recipes, I quickly found they didn’t work so well. The bean mixture was never firm enough, and the outside of the fritter wasn’t nearly crispy enough. Thankfully, making bollos was a cheap experiment and kept trying.

I have heard of battered bollos, but wanted something simpler, so I settled on a flour and cornmeal crust. I also switched gears on the filling, opting for black beans and store bought crispy fried onions. Garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, and hot sauce and spices rounded out the flavors. Traditional bollos were much simpler, with little more than garlic and bean, but my version tastes much more interesting. Serve with hot sauce.

The next recipe I tackled was more unusual and more intriguing: The rum omelet. Once famous as a dessert in Tampa’s Spanish restaurants, it takes the idea of a Spanish omelet, or tortilla, into sweet territory, studding eggs with fruit and flambéing in rum. For decades, the rum omelet stood beside Crepes Suzette and flan as a favorite dessert.

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