Shellfish and custard tarts – create a taste of Portugal at home

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Those of you who come to Faro from time to time are familiar with the fresh seafood of the Algarve, but I had only been to Portugal once before – a little foray beyond the Spanish border for a few hours, so my knowledge was limited. It has been a wonderful adventure.

We rented a small house in the old town of Olhão, a small fishing port not far from Faro, with friends who also love to cook. We filled our baskets in the markets with local produce and vegetables, bouquets of purslane, verbena and coriander.

The red brick fish market near the waterfront had a fascinating selection of fish and shellfish: octopus, cuttlefish, clams, tiny conquilhas, mussels, razor clams, shrimp and beautiful silver sabers. And Corvina – new to me – gurnard, sole, sea bass, lovely little anchovies, whole or already gutted, ready to marinate or fry, and, of course, mounds of fresh sardines.

Olhão was the center of the sardine canning industry in Portugal and was renowned for its quality. Unfortunately, since the mid-1970s action has moved to Morocco, so the seaside town is now almost entirely dependent on tourism.

Countless sandbanks appear and disappear with the tides. We visited several small islands off the coast, Coulatra, Isla de Cabanas, Armona. One day we took a boat and a picnic to Ilsa Deserta, an idyllic desert island where we collected beautiful seashells and swam in the crystal clear waters.

At low tide one can wander the golden sands of any local beach and pick up tiny conquilhas between the toes. Local fishermen harvest clams, oysters and mussels as they have done for generations and take them home or sell them at the local fish market.

Twenty kilometers further along the coast in Tavira I visited the salt flats where the most exquisite fleur de sel is harvested in the same way it has been for hundreds of years and surprise, surprise, it There’s an Irish connection: Rui Simeao, the 86 year old owner who lived through the end of WWII proudly told me that an Irishman named Anthony Creswell used Tavira Flor da Sal for his Ummera smoked salmon multiple award-winning – a small world.

On Saturdays, local farmers and their wives flock to Olhão’s market and set up waterfront stalls to sell their locally grown fruits and vegetables. Lots of beautifully ripe green and purple figs and lots of intriguing dried fruit products. Beautifully decorated rolls and cupcakes with locally grown flaked almonds. The beekeepers were numerous with their new season honey: orange blossom, carob, rosemary and small honeycomb quarters. Another stall sold dried beans and lentils, as well as barley and ground wheat at home for making beer and bread.

I bought a verbena plant from a lady at a flower stand and stood in line for some piping hot golden crunchy churros mixed with cinnamon sugar.

White peaches were also at their best, as were the huge juicy heirloom tomatoes. One old lady was selling sweet potato leaves, and another was selling long strands of multi-colored peppers, some sweet, others like Scud missiles – a kind of Russian roulette wheel.

We were so torn between cooking in our little house and eating at local restaurants and cafes. We grilled sardines over charcoal on the small barbecue in the backyard; steamed open conquilhas with minced garlic, chili and cilantro; ate Portuguese spinach mussels; and make escabeche with the leftovers. Cilantro is a favorite herb in Portugal, much more widely used than parsley.

Breakfast was a feast of fresh fruit, local cheese, honey and bread from the little bakery a few cobbled streets. I also loved the pork with bay leaves and clams which I ordered twice from Sabores de Rio in the main square. I also loved the riso con Lingueirão (rice with clams) and I love the bran of riso e pato – rice with duck. Many of these dishes are easy to reproduce at home. Visit the fish stalls of Cork’s English Market, Ballycotton Seafood or your local fishmonger. I use leftover roast duck for the riso e pato and have a feeling it will become a favorite.

There were lots of sweet egg desserts, but my favorite by far is the pastéis de nata – the little puff pastry cream pies sprinkled with a pinch of cinnamon.

Mussels with saffron and spinach

It is a beautiful dish with a golden creamy sauce and bright green spinach leaves contrasting wonderfully with the black and orange of the mussels.

Ingredients

  • 150g (5oz) spinach

  • extra virgin olive oil

  • 4 tablespoons of dry white wine

  • 2 sweet white onions, finely chopped

  • 4 bay leaves

  • 1 finely chopped celery stalk (optional)

  • a few sprigs of thyme

  • 10 black peppercorns

  • 2 lbs (1 kg) mussels, cleaned and trimmed

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter

  • 2 pinches of saffron strands

  • 250g (9oz) fresh cream

  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Wash the spinach, drain it and then melt it in a pan with a little olive oil. Don’t overcook it. Put aside.
  2. Pour the wine into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the onions, bay leaves, celery (if using), thyme and peppercorns and bring to a boil.

  3. Now pour in the mussels and cover the pan, keeping it on low heat. Shake the pan from time to time to distribute the seashells. Check that the mussels are open and, when they are all open, pour the batch into a colander over a bowl to collect the broth. Remove the flesh from some mussels and discard those shells. Discard any mussels that have refused to open.

  4. Wipe out the pan and put it back on the heat. Melt the butter and add the saffron, crème fraîche and mussel liqueur. Check the seasoning and add freshly ground black pepper. You may just need some salt as well, but the mussel broth is usually sufficiently salty. Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes, then return the spinach and mussels. Cook for a minute to warm the mussels, then serve immediately in hot bowls with crusty bread.

    This recipe is from Sam and Jeannie Chesterton’s Buenvino cookbook.

Portuguese Steamed Clams with Cilantro

Quick easy and extremely delicious

Portuguese Steamed Clams with Cilantro

Ingredients

  • 1kg of clams

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

  • 2 tablespoons of dry white wine

  • freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • freshly ground black pepper

  • A handful of chopped cilantro

Method

  1. Wash the clams in several changes of cold water, discard those with damaged or broken shells.

  2. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan, add the garlic and cook for 4-5 minutes over medium heat. Add white wine and a generous drizzle of lemon juice, bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes and freshly ground pepper.

  3. Add the coarsely chopped cilantro and clams. Cover and steam for 4 to 5 minutes or until the clams split open. Turn into a serving dish, sprinkle with a little more cilantro. Serve with good crusty bread to soak up the juices.

Portuguese custard tarts

Here is our recipe for Pastéis de Nata, the famous Portuguese custard tarts. We use homemade puff pastry to make these delicious pies, they make a much more complicated dough

Portuguese custard tarts

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg

  • 2 egg yolks

  • 115g (4oz) golden powdered sugar

  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch

  • 400 ml (14 fl oz) whole milk

  • zest of 1 lemon or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

  • 900 g puff pastry

Method

  1. Lightly grease 2 12-muffin cups.

  2. Preheat the oven to 230 ° C / 450 ° F / thermostat 8.

  3. Put the egg, yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan and whisk, gradually add milk and lemon zest if using, and whisk until smooth.

  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil, continue cooking for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla extract if you use it.

  5. Transfer to a Pyrex bowl, let cool. Cover with parchment paper to prevent skin formation – prick here and there to allow steam to escape.

  6. Roll the refrigerated puff pastry into a 3 mm (1/8 inch) thick sheet, cut into 7.5 cm (3 inch) disks. Press into muffin cups.

  7. Pour a generous dessert spoonful of fresh pastry cream into each pie dish. Bake in preheated oven for 16-20 minutes or golden on top. Let cool in the molds for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack. Sprinkle with a little freshly ground cinnamon. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

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