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Eating and drinking –  our favourite pastimes

by Helga and Larry Hampton features@algarveresident.com

Helga and Larry Hampton, a German-American couple, have had a villa in the Algarve since 1972 and since 1990 have spent the majority of their time in Portugal. One of Helga’s major interests is cooking. One of Larry’s main interests is eating, and finding lovely wines to complement, Helga’s meals. In their new monthly column, the couple share their passion for good food and wine with our readers.

What fun! We have been asked to write a monthly column about one of our most favourite pastimes – eating and drinking! Or more precisely food (and its planning and preparation) and wine. 

What credentials do we bring? Well, for so many years now we have indulged our epicurean pursuits and passions in a kitchen that is hardly ever “cold” and around well-laid tables in convivial hours with family and friends, that passing on some ideas should come naturally.

On the wine side, we have used great chunks of our free time over the past 40 years to visit most of Europe’s best wine producing areas, meeting quality producers and tasting a multitude of different single varietals and blends.

We hope to never be preachy or didactic, as we are well aware that there is no arguing over taste. We will strive to give food for thought – thought of how to vary, enrich and inform culinary experience with ideas, hints and practical tips.

But instead of putting this column on the basis of her own narrow parameters, Helga intends to pass on brilliant but simple, seasonal kitchen ideas and inspired new food-fads gleaned from hostesses and hosts in their circle of friends or on their travels.

Larry will try to introduce new or different wines without dwelling on tastes “like crushed dogwood with a hint of sarsaparilla”, for example, and to pair lovely, sometimes exceptional, wines with the monthly featured recipe.

The Algarve shines with the most active and well-functioning social networking, in which friends entertain in their houses where they bring their own unique multi-culturalness to bear on ever more  diverse and taste buds-inspiring dishes and menus – fertile ground for the recipe hunter.

And in Portugal we are blessed to be living in a part of the world that offers wonderful, fresh, healthy and still tasty food ingredients as well as some of the world’s best (and least known) wines. We know of no other country in Europe where you can buy a perfectly lovely bottle of red wine for well under €10 or where a truly superb, memorable red can cost less than €25-30.

Let’s count our blessings and let’s get on with this month’s feature.

We start with a chicken recipe. Do I hear “boring, boring”?

Don’t dismiss so lightly the humble white meat provider, especially not in the Algarve, where frango piri piri is definitely the best fast food in the world.

Famous now even in Washington, D.C. where last month we saw Nando, a Portuguese restaurant, attracting customers with their “Genuine Chicken Peri Peri”.

However, Nando’s huge birds with their monster breasts would NEVER be considered frangos here in the home of piri-piri.

The first recipe suggestion goes to the furthest extreme where size is concerned: Poussins, or Cornish Hens, belong to the small fowl species – they are sold as young beasties and are particularly tender.

And they are now freely available in good supermarkets in the Algarve, too.

Helga’s tip of the day:

Take your bananas apart when you get home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they continue

to ripen and get black and soggy fast.

Marie’s filled poussins

Allow one poussin per person (great for a romantic diner à deux.)

Approx. one hour for preparation and roasting

Ingredients:

• 2 poussin

• 50gr butter

• Juice of 1–2 lemons

• Flor de sal and a mix of

ground peppers

For the stuffing:

• 150-200 gr queijo fresco or other crumbly goat cheese

• A bunch of fresh herbs, chopped. (whatever you have in the garden) e.g. parsley, thyme, chives or spring onions, rosemary, mint, etc

• Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Melt the butter and combine with the lemon juice.

Prepare the stuffing by breaking up and lightly mixing the cheese with the finely chopped herbs, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Trim necks of poussins flush with bodies. Rinse inside and out and pat dry; sprinkle cavities and the rest of the body with sea salt and pepper.

Spoon the stuffing mix loosely into the cavities – don’t push in or pack tightly. This will close the cavities somewhat and safeguard the meat against drying out – always a risk with these young birds.

The mixture will melt a bit in the roasting process, but this only adds to the taste of the juices.

Arrange the 2 birds in a pan 1 inch apart, tuck wing tips under the body and pour half of the melted butter and lemon juice mix all over them.

Place pan into preheated oven 375 F, 190 C or Gas “5”.  

Roast for 20 minutes before decreasing heat slightly and pouring the remainder of the melted butter and lemon juice over the birds at this point. 

Total roasting time should not be more than 45-50 minutes. 

Serve with rice or small potatoes to soak up the lovely pungent sauce from the bottom of the roasting pan. As an accompaniment use the now beautifully plump chicoree, either halved and lightly steamed in some butter and white wine as a vegetable or raw as a fresh salad.

Wine pairing

Many wine connoisseurs would tell you to serve a lovely Pinot Noir red with your poussin. But, in the spirit of the Valentine’s Day just past, we are going to go a step further.

Before you sit down to your romantic diner à deux, dim the lights and light the candles, crack a well chilled bottle of Borga Espumante from the Campolargo winery in Bairrada and toast your sweetheart.

Fittingly, the name Borga means “party” or “good times”. The Bairrada area, about 60km south of Porto, produces a majority of Portugal’s sparkling wines, and this is one of the best.

The wine is made by the “methode champagnoise” from varietals that are widely known but rarely used in Bairrada – pinot noir with a whisper of chardonnay mixed in.

The 2006 vintage sells in Apolónia for € 20.95 but, what the heck, this is a special dinner.

When the bubbly is gone and the poussin is served, uncork a bottle of Campolargo Rosé, a single varietal made from pinot noir grapes.

It carries on perfectly after the Borga, will do a lovely job of complementing the food and is also available in Apolónia, but for only € 4.75.

Here’s another nice feature – both wines are only 12% alcohol, so you two will still be compos mentis to enjoy your after dinner romance. Happy post  Valentine’s Day!
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