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Algarve Potato Salad

Algarve Potato Salad

Algarve potato Salad 2

This is a really simple potato salad that can be found practically in all Algarve tables, especially during summer months. In restaurants it is usually served as a side dish for any kind of grilled fish, but at home some people still serve it by itself. In my family it is usually served as a side for fried small mackerel a.k.a jaquinzinhos fritos.

As you can tell it is really simple to prepare, but do make sure you use good quality ingredients.

Ingredients:

(serves 4)

  • 6 large potatos
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • dried oregano to your taste
  • pinch of salt

Preparation:

  1. Boil the potatoes with their skins in salted water.
  2. Start preparing the potatoes dressing in the bowl by adding the olive oil, white wine vinegar, crushed small/medium sized garlic cloves (with their skins on), oregano and salt.
  3. When the potatoes are done, take their skins off and cut them in random shaped pieces. Add them to the bowl while their still hot, that way all the flavours mix more easily. When you are ready to serve just toss everything together.
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Simple Tomato and Avocado Salad


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Tomato and Avocado Salad 3

It is getting warmer and sometimes you only crave for a quick, easy and light lunch. This is it. The recipe is so simple that is pretty much in the photo itself, but I will write it down anyway.

Ingredients:

(serves 2)

  • 10-15 plum or cherry tomatoes (used plum for this recipe)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Preparation:

Cut the tomatoes and the avocado in small pieces. Slice  1/2 of a small red onion thinly and add it to the salad. Drizzle everything with a bit of olive oil and toss it. Finish with some basil leaves (coriander leaves or oregano can be an alternative to the basil).

Tomato and Avocado Salad

Sea delicacies you must try in the Algarve

Algarve region has taken advantage of its position towards the Atlantic for a long time. People gained a lot from the close relation with the ocean and to what it was able to provide to them. It is only normal that here, and in Portugal in general, there is more fish consumption per capita than the European countries average. We would be crazy if we would not do it, right? This long and intricate coastline is full of different varieties of fish and seafood to choose from. Also, up to these days, many typical dishes in the region are prepared with the same processes and elements that they once were. Each ingredient was and should be respected and the waste avoided to the maximum.

This list contains some of the sea delicacies that most of the locals appreciate to have on their tables. This is not an exhaustive list, but I tried to go for a representative selection, moving from Algarve’s West coast towards the East coast.

Gooseneck Barnacles (Percebes)

Hoy, percebes...

Gooseneck Barnacles, in Portuguese, Percebes, are the gold of the Atlantic. The fact that they aren’t always available, together with the fact that people actually risk their life to harvest them are factors that make them an even more desired product. There are a good amount of people from the southwest coast that live from the sea, including from the gooseneck barnacle harvest, since it is a product that people are willing to pay good money for.  They are at their best during the winter season and the bigger they are, the better. This is not a type of seafood you can find everywhere because they can only be found in areas where the waters are cold, wavy and rich in plankton. It is a real luxury to have a product like this around. They are cooked simply in boiling salted water, sometimes people even boil them directly in sea water. Tasting gooseneck barnacles it is like tasting the sea.

Where to find: Mostly found in small pubs and restaurants between Odeceixe, Aljezur, Sagres, Vila do Bispo up until Lagos.

Fried Moray (Moreia)

Moreia Frita

Fried moray is another petisco (tapas) typical from the southwest coast. The moray is open and sun-dried with skin on (ideally), then it is fried and served. Usually, it is either served as a sandwich or in bite sized pieces with some bread slices. It might seem a bit odd or even not the most presentable dish, but it a real treat.

Where to find: Usually found in small pubs and restaurants between Odeceixe, Aljezur, Sagres, Vila do Bispo up until Lagos.

Mussels (Mexilhão)

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Mussels and Eggs

Like Gooseneck barnacles, mussels are also very common to find in the Vicentine Coast, therefore, there are many people harvesting them to make a living in this area. Usually the most common way to eat them is sauteed in a bit of olive oil, white wine and garlic. The final touch is just a squeeze of lemon juice on top of it, this will help to balance the dish richness. The mussels are also used as the basis of many local dishes, they give that extra ocean taste to rice, pasta, corn flour (Xerém) dishes or even in the famous Cataplana. The strangest pairing that I tried them with was in the middle of scrambled eggs and it was delicious.

Where to find: Usually found in small pubs and restaurants between Odeceixe, Aljezur, Sagres, Vila do Bispo up until Lagos.

Fish Eggs (Ovas)

If you visit any fish market in the Algarve you will for sure find fish eggs. We cook those big fish eggs and serve them sliced in cold salads along with the usual chopped onions, garlic and maybe some potatoes. They are usually served as simple starter or as petisco.

Where to find: A bit all over the Algarve coast.

Conquilha Clams and Regular Clams (Conquilhas e Amêijoas)

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Clams, conquilha clams or regular clam varieties, can be found a bit all over the Algarve. Most traditional dishes using Conquilha clam variety can be found in Lagos, here they also go by the name of “Condelipas” recalling the name of their great fan, the Count Lipe. Usually, they are simply sauteed, but they can also be found in the base of local soups, in the Cataplana or in Xerém.

Where to find: Can be found a bit all over the Algarve coastal cities.

Razor Clams (Lingueirão)

Razor clams can be simply sauteed and served as a starter or as a main dish, for instance in the  form of Razor Clam rice. This rice is meant to be creamy, moist and have a delicate sea flavour finally balanced with the freshness of some coriander leafs.

Where to find: Mostly found in Olhão and Tavira areas.

Sauteed Cuttlefish Eggs (Ovas de Choco)

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Cuttlefish eggs are hard to find, mainly because you need a good quantity of cuttlefish to turn their eggs into a meal, but they are totally worth searching for. In some restaurants or in some fish markets, especially in Olhão area, these amazing delicacies. The product is usually so fresh that they should be simply sauteed with a bit of olive oil, garlic, white wine and topped with coriander. This orange tone doesn’t come from the tomato sauce, the eggs themselves contain a small pocket of a red coloured caviar-like goodness that colours the sauce.

Where to find: It can be found mainly in Olhão area (markets and restaurants) or in other fish markets (by previous request).

Muxama

Muxama de Atum

Muxama, as many people describe it, is the prosciutto of the sea. A prosciutto made from cured tuna instead of pork. This is something typical from Tavira, the east part of the Algarve, closer to the spanish border. In this particular area, the local economy used to be based on the fishing industry, mostly tuna fishing.  Muxama is made from  a salted tuna fillet that is then dried, using a technique that was left in the region by the arabs more than 2000 years ago. The product was mainly consumed by the fisherman class in times of food shortage. Nowadays, it is produced in very small quantities, which makes it a gourmet product. It is served thinly sliced, sometimes paired with orange, tomato, or even dried almonds and a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil .

Where to find: Commonly found in the east part of the Algarve, namely Tavira.

Oysters (Ostras)

Estavam deliciosas!

Close to the Spanish border, in the small village of Cacela Velha you can find great oysters coming from this natural protected area, the Ria Formosa park. Some of these take up to 4 years to reach the right size to be consumed and obviously are not available in big quantities. If you are a fan of oysters, than this is the place to visit. The view from here it is actually a pretty good reason to visit it too.

Where to find: Cacela Velha.

Ricotta and Pear Jam Mousse with Almond Praline 

Pear Jam and Ricotta Mousse with Praline

The previous week I got the nicest surprise from Quinta de Jugais in the mailbox. They had just sent a selection with four of their delicious jams made with fruit that comes directly from Serra da Estrela. When I opened that box I knew I had to try something with that pear and port wine jam, and I did so. A big thanks to them for this gift box.

One of my favourite pairings in Italian pastry is pear and ricotta, so that was my inspiration for this go-to, no fuss ricotta and pear jam mousse. This is the perfect kind of dessert if you are hosting a party or dinner at your place and you want to impress with minimal effort. It might look like you have slaved for some time in the kitchen, but the truth is that it couldn’t get any easier. Plus, the following recipe makes the most out of the natural sweetness of the jam, sugar was only added in the form of almond praline topping.

RICOTTA AND PEAR JAM MOUSSE WITH ALMOND PRALINE

Ingredients:

(serves about 5 to 6 portions)

Mousse

  • 350g of sheep ricotta (good sheep ricotta, not cheap ricotta)
  • 200g of heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons of pear and port wine jam from Quinta dos Jugais
  • 2 gelatin sheets

Praline

  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 5 tablespoons of caster sugar
  • 2 handful of toasted almonds

Preparation:

Whip the ricotta until it is smooth, then add the heavy cream and whip until the mixture reaches a stiff consistency. Fold in the mixture 4 heaped tablespoons of Quinta dos Jugais pear and port wine jam. Put the gelatin sheets in cold water until they are softened and then dilute them in a small quantity of hot water. This time fold in the gelatin mix (make sure you do it well to avoid a lumpy mousse) and let the mousse sit in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours. Switch the oven on to 180ºC, toast the almonds with skins and once they are ready just let them cool at room temperature (remove them from the hot baking trey if you want to avoid that they get even more brown). In a non-stick pan, add the 5 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of water let it caramelize in medium heat moving the pan around to avoid the caramel to cook unevenly and to get burnt. Once the caramel reached a gold brown colour just mix in the toasted almonds and pour the praline in cold surface covered with a baking sheet to let it cool. Once the praline is ready cut in pieces and with the help of a pestle and mortar just reduce it to small pieces. Serve the pear and ricotta mousse with layers of the praline topping on a nice and funky glass.

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Tim and the Mousse

Spoonful mousse

Easter in Algarve & the Folar Workshop at Casa Modesta

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This year my Easter vacation and arrival in the Algarve started in the best way possible, with a Easter Folar workshop at Casa Modesta.

Casa Modesta is a charming rural hotel that opened a year ago in Quatrim do Sul, near Olhão, just in front of a salty lagoon from beautiful Ria Formosa Natural Park. The house is a family project founded by brothers Vânia Brito Fernandes e Carlos Fernandes that decided to transform their grandparents pre-existing house in a new chapter of family memories. The old house gave place to a pair of beautiful modern buildings, but the main Algarve architectural traits were maintained, like the white colours, the straight lines, the wood oven, and the typical roofs, that go by the name of açoteias, once used to dry figs, almonds and even fish.

Carlos was the one to warmly welcome us to Casa Modesta that afternoon, as his family members were finishing the preparations for the baking afternoon.  In the meantime, he told us all about the story behind this family house and the project while giving us the tour of the place. The tour was truly inspiring and we were ready to get our hands dirty by the end of it. IMG_1449

Folar is a sweet egg bread that is baked during Easter in Portugal. It was usually done using the remainings of bread dough that was then enriched and transformed using some sugar and spices. Grandmother Carminda did the more traditional Folar recipe while we were going to get our hands dirty with a Folar de Folhas (Layered Folar) always under Guida’s attentive guidance. Folar de Folhas is a variation of the typical Folar, this one is original from Olhão area and it is a more moist and caramelized version of the typical one.

The recipe of Folar de Folhas we baked during the workshop and that I have the pleasure of sharing with you here below is courtesy of Guida Zacarias, it is her own family recipe. At this point, if you are in a no fat diet, I should tell you that you might consider a strategic retreat out of this post. But if you choose to read in until the end, I swear you won’t regret it.

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Folar de Folhas from Algarve

Ingredients 

(Recipe for 4 units of Folar de Folhas)

Folar dough

  • 2kg of bread flour
  • 100g of bakers yeast (2 cubes of 50g)
  • 600g of light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of cinnamon
  • 150g of lard
  • 250g of margarine
  • 1 cup of tepid milk
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • teaspoon of salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of fennel seeds tea

Liquid filling for the layers

  • 300g of margarine
  • 200g of lard
  • 1 cup of oil

Dry  sugar mixture for the layers

  • 600g of light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of cinnamon

Preparation

  1. A day before baking, dilute 50g of fresh yeast in a bit of warm water, add 600g of the 2kg of flour and knead. Cover it with a cloth and let it sit in a warm place for 7 hours (ideally overnight).
  2. To start the dough add the 1.4kg of flour in a big clay container, the dough prepared in the the before, along with the remaining dough ingredients list mentioned above. In the end, add the cup of fennel seeds tea. Start incorporating everything with your hands and kneading the dough, bringing the dough to the center and using your fists to press down the dough in the end. Knead it for 1 hour, until you see the dough is thicker and starts detaching a bit from the container and hands.
  3. Cover the folar dough in that same container and leave it to raise for 8 hours in a warm place.
  4. Grease the sides and bottom of a  small aluminium pan with margarine. Cut a circle the size of the bottom of the pan of baking paper and place it in the bottom. Add a bit more of margarine on top of it and sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mixture, this will allow a good caramelization in the bottom of the pan.
  5. In another pan, melt the mixture for the liquid filling for the layers, adding the margarine, the lard and the oil.
  6. In a bowl mix 600g of sugar with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon.
  7. Once the dough is risen, starting taking small portions of it and in a floury surface form small circles it with the help of a rolling pin. You should try to create a circle with the diameter of the pan you will cook the folar in. Add a the circular folar sheet to the pan, on top a bit of the liquid filling and then the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Repeat the process until you fill a bit more then the middle of the pan, around 7 to 8 sheets of dough. The last sheet of dough should only be sprinkled with the sugar mixture (do not add the liquid for the filling on top of it). A bit of advise, don’t be cheap with the liquid filling and sugar mixture, the more you use it, the more caramelized your folar will be.
  8. Repeat the process until you end up with 4 pans of folar.
  9. Once you finished the whole process, leave the folar to rest around 1 and 1/2 hour (ideally).
  10. Cook it in a wood oven from 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the temperature. Otherwise, you can do it in your house oven at high temperature. Always check on them from time to time. If you see they are starting to get a bit burnt on top, just cover them using some aluminium foil on top.

I know this is a really decadent recipe, but hey… Easter is only once a year. Plus, something that was actually done by you will taste much better. Right? Just think about the calories you burn while kneading that dough. 🙂 This is also a really nice group or community activity to try out. You will find yourself spending some quality time with the people around you, like our grandparents used to do back in the day.

Finally, a big thanks to Fernandes family and to Guida Zacarias for the lovely afternoon and for the sharing spirit. I really hope to return soon at Casa Modesta.

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A Grouper and Ginger Cataplana

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Happy 2016 everyone!

To kick-off this new year I decided to bring you a simple recipe prepared in a particular cookware that I have been wanting to use for a long time, the one and only, Cataplana. I got one as a Christmas gift this year, so it was the perfect timing to try some new recipes in it.

Cataplana is a culinary artefact typical from the Algarve region, another one of the many influences that Arabs left when they ruled the region many centuries ago. The first Cataplanas were shaped by artisans in Zinc, but nowadays they can be found both in copper and stainless steel. It should be used in low heat to allow the flavours of the ingredients contained to infuse and mingle slowly, it is basically the same cooking principle used in the Tagine, if you think of it. This clam-shaped pan allows a simple, healthy and fast way of cooking. You might think of it as a futuristic and minimal looking predecessor of pressure cookers. It can be used to cook almost everything but traditionally it is mainly used to cook fish and seafood dishes.

The inspiration to make this dish came from a fish stew I ate before Christmas in my favourite restaurant in Lagos, A Comidinha. This restaurant serves typical local dishes, cooked with fresh local ingredients. It is simple, non-pretentious food that is prepared to perfection. The combination of a typical southern Portuguese fish dish with the ginger twist was amazing and I wanted to try it out, but cooking with the Cataplana. I can’t help to get inspired and excited when I stumble upon dishes that are both traditional in the way they are prepared but elevated by adding a single different ingredient that changes everything.

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(Serves 2 to 3)

Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/2 medium onions
  • 2 small garlic cloves
  • A thumb size piece of ginger (big thumb)
  • salt
  • good pinch of white pepper
  • 6 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons of white wine
  • 6 to 7 medium potatoes
  • 7/8 steaks of grouper
  • 1 medium sized chilly
  • a handful of chopped fresh cilantro

Preparation:

Begin by slicing and dicing all the ingredients before staring to cook, this way the next part of the process is only assembling. Slice the onions and the garlic (the onions should be sliced in coarse slices but not the garlic), peel the potatoes and slice them with a half centimetre thickness. Start assembling the Cataplana by distributing the sliced onions and garlic in the bottom. Then, add the olive oil, the grater ginger, the chilly and the white wine on top of it. Distribute evenly the potatoes in layers on top of the onions. Finally, place on top of the potatoes the grouper pieces and season everything with salt and a good pinch white pepper. Close the Cataplana and allow the ingredients to cook in low heat for more or less 30 minutes. It is done when the potatoes and the fish are cooked. The low heat will help avoid the ingredients from sticking in the bottom of the pan. When everything is cooked, chop fresh coriander leafs (use also part of the stalks that are full of flavour), add it on top of everything and it is ready to go to the table.

Hope you enjoy this Cataplana recipe as much as I do.

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The Fado of Portuguese Food

fado

Since I moved to Italy, slightly more than two years now, one of the things that really impressed me from the start was how Italians, in general, have a good food culture and how they are proud of it. It is a spirit that I really admire and I think that this is one of the main reasons why Italian food became so famous.  That recognition worldwide elevated the Italian language to one of the official languages of gourmet, just like it had happened in the past with French food.

In Portugal, people are also very into food, especially lately with so many cooking shows and food channels on television. Everyone knows what is to confit and it is trendy to serve gourmet and well composed dishes when you have people over. But even with this spirit it seems that Portuguese food never reached a big visibility worldwide. Our food it is still a niche in the international food scene, and this, in my opinion is connected to an interaction of geographic, political and historic factors.

Portuguese cuisine is, without any doubt, my favourite. Everytime I describe someone what we eat in Portugal there is a word that I mention over and over, that word is diversity. Despite the fact that it is a very small country, each region has its own products and typical dishes that are very different from the next region. Close to the sea we have amazingly fresh fish and seafood and inland, dishes where the meat use is more prominent. And talking about meat products, we are also known for using up all of the parts of the animal, especially the pig.

The fact that Portuguese food can be very straight forward is also something very positive. To illustrate this I can tell you that our cuisine plays a lot with sweet/salty contrasts (like Requeijão com doce de Abóbora, a salty Ricotta with Pumpkin jam), or the symbiosis between land and sea ingredients in the same dish (Carne de porco à alentejana, which is a rich pork meat dish with clams and seasoned with garlic and paprika). Basically, our cuisine is not constricted by many rules and culinary dogmas, which still leave us great room for creativity and evolution. Except maybe the holy trinity in each dish start, the garlic, the onion and the tomato. Amen.

When the Portuguese decided discover the world many years ago, we brought and traded a never ending quantity of spices and aromatic herbs, many of which are still well present in most of our dishes. Our cuisine contemplates the Atlantic, but never turning back on the Mediterranean and Arabic heritages. We were influencers and were influenced by so many cultures of the world for so many years.

The reason that makes our cuisine still going under the radar in the world is certainly connected in some way to the lack of self-love that the Portuguese people have been suffering from so long, so long that might even have become chronical.

Amália, the greatest Portuguese fado singer, immortalized this condition in a fado song called “Lisboa Não Sejas Francesa“, which means “Lisbon don’t be French”. These lyrics tell us about a girl who is the personation of the city of Lisbon, that is willing to ignore its origins to embrace the more trendy French ways. This song pretty much sums up the spirit of so many Portuguese people, which sometimes is so open minded and eager to try new and trendy things that quickly forgets about the origins.

I have been noticing lately that anytime a foreign article in the press mentions something good in or from Portugal, the praise is received almost like an epiphany in the country. Are we living on the image that the others have from our country? Sometimes it seems so.

But how and when did we lose our self-love?

Portugal defined its borders many years ago, expelling the Moors and fighting the Spanish family. From those days it seems we have gotten a little too comfortable in our piece of land, maybe because few were the ones that really tried to take it from us ever since. We started the discoveries in the 15th century, that was so long ago but brought so much greatness to the country, that even up to this day we recall it to exalt it as the almost sole good thing the country has achieved (ah yes, along with the national football team achievements, of course). Are we so negative that we need to go that back in time to feel good about ourselves as a country?

After that, the country has witnessed a continuity of darker periods, failing monarchies, a royal bloodline in decadence, republican leaders lacking a vision of common good and a dictatorship that left the country economically, morally and intellectually poor. In these recent years, we still need to be saved from ourselves, with a never ending path of bad leaders, that are only looking to fill their personal bank accounts and getting jobs for their families and friends. But then again, the leaders only reflect their people. Also, I can’t avoid mentioning the deep financial crisis that we are facing since 2010.

But now something seems to be changing in Portugal. We are still under financial crisis, without industry, employment or money, but apparently this situation lead to a change of attitude at national level. Finally people seem to be willing to start going back to basics again, to our origins, valuing our products and our own heritage. Like if the big mental revolution that we had in recent years is giving out their fruits at last.

Could this be a changing point to Portugal? Can this change of attitude put the Portuguese gastronomy on the world food map? A new generation of great and passionate chefs are promoting Portuguese food inside and outside of the country. Promoting the quality of the products, services, restaurants and new food projects with the help of groups, associations and passionate people.

We should be the first to value what we have and only then we can really demonstrate and defend our real potential. Let’s continue to be the citizens of the world, like we always have been, but even more proud of our origins. We are still proving that we are in charge of our fado “destiny” and step by step we are building the foundations for something better.

Illustration credits: Pedro Loureiro | http://pedromacloureiro.com/