By Helga and Larry Hampton [email protected]
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.
Until recently we all could be heard hopefully, longingly, reassuringly saying: “summer will definitely take place this year – sometime soon”! With all this climate-change talk, it seemed quite understandable that England should have the hottest and driest May ever and we the wettest here on the Atlantic coast.
Well, there is hope now. Come June and our verdant paradise is finally coming into its own. Aren’t these days spectacularly idyllic?! Sun baked, blue-sky days and refreshingly brisk good-sleeping nights – and, so, out come sun umbrellas and deck chairs and wonderful al fresco lunches – don’t forget to have a good sun screen handy, too!
The local Algarveans will never be found exposing their uncovered skin to the mid-day sun at this time of the year, when the distance between the sun and our planet is still so relatively short– “faz muito mal!” they say, and wait for their suntan until August.
And fresco is the keyword for this Table Talk; here are some fresh and refreshing, cool and yet spicy traditional ideas for a seafood lunch ideal for a hot summer day, the best partner for some sparkly and fruity Portuguese white wines.
Here in the Algarve we are never far from a good fish market, and only the very freshest fish will do for the following recipe ideas. Of course, as always, fresh local ingredients and simple preparations are the order of the day.
• Esceviche of Monkfish and Escabeche
• Caesar’s Salad with shrimp
• Caldeirada à Pescador
• Fresh fruit
THE FIRST COURSE
The difference between “esceviche” and “escabeche” is two-fold: esceviche has travelled all the way from Chile and Peru and uses raw fish (or indeed meat) while escabeche has stayed in the Mediterranean area and uses seared or poached fish. The method of preparation and the ingredients are pretty similar:
Cut the raw monk fish in thin slices. Poach or sear the trout fillets and set both aside. Prepare 2 versions of sauce with the following ingredients:
• Ample lime juice, freshly squeezed,
• Fresh garlic, in thin slices or little cubes (In Chile: sin aji non es ceviche!)
• Sweet onion or shallot, cut in rings or strips
• Medium or hot chillies, at discretion!
• Fresh coriander or parsley, whichever you prefer
• Salt and pepper to taste
For Esceviche lightly mix all together with the raw fish slices and keep cool in fridge until serving.
For Escabeche lightly fry the onions and garlic in a bit of olive oil before adding the other ingredients and if you like, some fresh tomato cubes. Stir and pour over the poached fish pieces and let cool off.
I am sure you all have your own very special way of preparing this staple, for which iceberg or romaine lettuce is now standard supermarket fare. A few succulent Algarvean gambas appetisingly round off this crisp, popular salad.
THE MAIN COURSE
A “Caldeirada à Pescador” is a very typical Algarvean summer dish, even though it is served hot. Goes down a treat with crusty bread and requires a lovely and fruity white wine. Your visiting guests will love this different way of serving seafood.
INGREDIENTS: (serves 6)
2 kg of varied fish pieces (readily available to choose from at every fish counter, with or without clams), 2 medium onions, garlic cloves, bay leaves, 2 large meaty tomatoes cut in slices, parsley or coriander, paprika powder, ample salt and pepper, 2 tbs. olive oil, a large glass of white wine and/or fish broth.
Into a clay or other stewing pot with lid (very important!) pour the olive oil and build layers of onion, garlic and tomato slices, alternating with fish pieces and fresh herbs until all ingredients are used up. On top distribute salt, pepper and paprika and douse with the wine or broth. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not stir. (For a variation of this simple and delicious dish add a layer or two of thinly sliced raw potatoes; it will then take 10 more minutes of cooking time.) I like a bit of bite to this dish, so I also add thin slivers of a medium to hot chilli into the simmering process.
Serving cool pineapple slices or a medley of chilled water melon (melão) and juicy honey melon (meloa) pieces does not add exoticism to this traditional lunch, as all of these fruit are local, too. By the way, half a honey melon carved out is the most wonderful receptacle for some port wine. Hmmmm – Enjoy!
Helga’s tip of the day:
You are of course well acquainted with limes for your G&Ts, but did you know that they are a cure for headaches? Cut a lime in half and rub it over your forehead – the throbbing will magically disappear
Helga has been very Portuguese with her meal suggestions and so should I be with the wine.
A typical Algarvean family will precede or start off this meal with a glass or two of vinho verde. Although the wine can be white, rosé or red, the name means “green wine” and derives from the wine’s youthful freshness and a very slight green colour around the edges.
It is a vinho verde that most summer tourists “discover” and forever identify with their Portuguese experience, because it is unique to this country (coming solely from the Minho region in the far north), must be drunk very young and doesn’t travel well.
A white vinho verde, usually made from the alvarinho, loureiro or arinto grapes, is an ideal meal starter because it is always slightly pétillant and relatively low in alcohol. Above all it is very refreshing and that’s the whole point.
One of the best known Portuguese vinho verdes, and a long time favourite of ours, is Casal Garcia, a 72-year old brand produced by Quinta da Aveleda, which is located in Penafiel, east of Porto.
Its distinctive blue label features a lace pattern associated with the Guedes family who have owned Aveleda for well over a century. Its clean, fresh, fruity flavour and 10% alcohol are perfect for starting off your summer feast. But please remember to serve it very chilled.
When your preliminary drinking is finished and you are into the meal proper I will stay with the Quinta da Aveleda and suggest their Grande Follies branco to complement your seafood.
This lovely white from the Bairrada region was introduced in 2007 and was awarded 93 out of 100 points by Wine Enthusiast in August 2010. The name “Follies” means a “pleasure that can be enjoyed not because we need it, but because we want it, we feel it”. “Grande” simply means the top of the line. Production is less than 3,000 bottles a year.
Grande Follies is made mainly from Chardonnay, which is fermented in one year old French oak, with a little Maria Gomes blended in to balance the wine.
After fermentation and blending the wine is aged for eight months in oak. Unusually long lived for a Portuguese white, this wine will keep for up to 10 years.
While Grande Follies is worth every cent, its price tag of around € 25 may put off some and perhaps not be appropriate for a casual, boozy summer lunch. In which case, I would suggest a very acceptable alternative.
Fita Preta is a very young Alentejo winery (the name means “black ribbon”). Its Fita Preta branco, created by winemaker António Maçanita, is a 50/50 blend of Antão Vaz and Roupeiro. In 2011 10,000 bottles have been produced, up from 6,000 last year.
Garrafeira Soares sell it all over the Algarve for € 8. In other words, in many ways Fita Preta is a completely different white wine from Grande Follies (terroir, grapes, price). Except for the luscious, fresh, fruity taste.
Whichever wine you choose, be sure to serve it well chilled, at 10-12 degrees.
As both these delightful white wines have only 13-13.5% alcohol, you will certainly be able to get through more than one bottle as you stay cool this hot summer with Helga’s seafood lunch on your terrace. As she says – enjoy!