I am currently enjoying a little time at the beach in the Algarve, Portugal. We haven’t posted anything for a couple of weeks because it was my job (sorry Becky) & my brains fried in the heat. It was 35 degrees last week and I moved from sunbed to pool & back again.
It is twenty years since we first came here & my parents fell in love with it & bought a house. My sisters and I always felt very lucky that they did, as we have a second home in a gorgeous, sunny place. The beaches here are incredible with fabulous cliffs full of fossils and weird strata. The picture above is one of my favourites down on the Atlantic coast. We used to body board/drown there every year, and basically spend the whole summer messing around in the water & rock pools. We loved it.
We also really enjoy the food. The quality of basic ingredients is far superior to those we have in the UK. The fruit and vegetables are fresh and tasty. The chicken is corn fed and puny but has tons of flavour to stand up to the fiery Piri-Piri sauce. It is here we remember what things should taste like. Even the worst looking most wrinkled old potato tastes better than anything I have bought in a supermarket in the last six months.
The baked products here are a highlight for me. Pastel de Nata is a national institution & no wonder. I know we do some good egg custard type things in England but I prefer these. The pastry is unique, like lots of extra thin, crispy filo but softer yet still crispy. The custard filling is always perfectly soft and should be slightly burnt on top. My dad insists that we have one everyday & nobody objects.
I consider that I had never really eaten bread until we came here. The stuff we ate growing up in England was terrible (much better these days) but Portuguese bread is my favourite bread ever. A while ago I stopped eating gluten but this week I am back on it with a vengeance. I didn’t even consider denying myself the chewy yummy goodness of Pao de Monchique or Portuguese rolls.
One of the traditions I love most (being a glutton) is couvert. This is placed on the table when you arrive in a restaurant for dinner. The most basic is bread & butter but it can get really elaborate (and filling) with cheeses, sardine pate, olives, spicy sausage, toasts and marinated carrots. They are always amazing and I always eat too many and so never have space for dessert. Nothing is elaborate its just good quality food.
I could basically make a meal just from the couvert. It is a good job that restaurant service is so slow, so by the time they have cooked your meal (always from scratch) the initial feast has digested a little.
Here is a recipe for Portuguese style marinated carrots. It is simple and easy and makes a great appetizer or side dish. The carrots absorb the vinaigrette which contrasts with their sweetness.
Portuguese Marinated Carrots
Ingredients (serves 4, as a side or on a starter platter)
1 bay leaf (dried or fresh)
2 cloves garlic, the freshest sweetest ones you can find
3 tbsp olive oil
1tbsp white wine vinegar
salt & pepper
1. Prepare the carrots, hopefully they wont need to be peeled. Slice them and boil them in salted water with the bay leaf until tender.
2. Meanwhile finely slice the garlic and mix together the oil and vinegar. These things need to be ready as soon as the carrots are soft.
3. Drain the carrots and immediately add the garlic, oil and vinegar while they are still boiling hot so that the garlic and vinegar cook a little in the heat to take away some of their pungency.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste and mix everything together really well. Leave to cool. You can give them a good stir while they are cooling to make sure the carrots absorb plenty of the oil & vinegar.