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Portugese Patterns

portuguese tiles

ceramic tile

Portugal has been one of those few European countries to which for some reason both my husband and myself never had been to. We had often been very close by, in Spain, we had seen pictures, heard recounts and read articles though. According to them, every pore and place of this history laden little country sounded fantastic, and a few weeks back we finally decided to go see for ourselves and travel to Portugal.

What a great decision this was! Even though our expectations were high, we did not get disappointed in any way. The cities are charmful and pictuesque, full of art and beauty stories, the villages and landscapes ever changing, rural and genuine. There’s colors and gardens and architectural styles, orchards and green spaces and traditions. The people act calm, friendly and helpful towards strangers, and seem like a happy and serene bunch between themselves.

pulpo

vineyards in the duoro

And the food, oh the glorious food, is an entire story on its own. Portugese food is down to earth and does, what food first and foremost used to be and (at least there, how refreshing to witness) still is intended to do: It nourishes. Both the body and the soul, and abundantly so. There is little Froufrou in Portugese food, and much honesty. Animals and plants are used in their entiety. So one will get served pig ears instead of just the loin, turnip greens instead of just turnip, or tiny, whole fishes, eyes, fins and all. Continue reading “Portugese Patterns” »

The (other) Forbidden Fruit

eggplant toast with mediterranean flavors

I feel bad for the eggplant. While I adore her – and her versatility – nobody else in my house loves eggplant. It gets worse: Not only do my men, all five of them, not like her, they despise her. So passionately, that they have her on the radar. It is impossible for me to sneak her into any dish. My troupe will detect the finest slice, the most subtle paste, the tiniest dollop of pureed eggplant wherever I try to hide it. So most of the time, our kitchen functions eggplant free.

But every now and then I protest in my very own way, by preparing an eggplant meal just for myself. Celebrating, highlighting and respecting this – in my house, anyways – forbidden fruit, brings my mind at least a little peace. And after having enjoyed my meal, I always feel happy and serene. Thank you, my beloved eggplant, you tolerant and humble, dark beauty!

aubergines before baking

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Circle of Friends

White Anchovy fillets on toast, with olive

I don’t know what was first, the tiny little pin or the tray of boquerones. I tried to recall, but I really can’t. It could have been both ways around. But then, it doesn’t really matter, after all.

Fact is, that an old Spanish friend once gifted me with a little brooch. It shows a bullfighter and his beast and was given to me so that I always would remember San Fermin, the 9 days long celebration dedicated to the art of bullfighting – and my dear old friend. Fact also is, that I very recently received a tray of beautiful boquerones – Spanish white anchovy filets – from another friend. Both these two presents made me realize that today, July 10, marks the middle of San Fermin. And so I decided to wear my brooch and put the boquerones to good use. Not because of an affinity to bullfighting, no. Because is was in the mood to honor my friends, here and overseas, to let memories float and, yes, to eat well. Which my beloved Spain is all about.

White Anchovy fillets in tray

San fermin bullfighter pin

I prepared two very simple, very quick versions of tapas. For the first one I covered a slice of toasted bread with the boquerones. I did not even bother to dry or drain the fish fillets, but let the olive oil and vinegar – in which they had been resting – slowly mingle with the bread. I added an olive for a new flavor dimension – and for the eye. I served this flat tapa on top of a glass of wine. Which, as a matter of fact, is the very original way and purpose of tapas (meaning: covers).

White Anchovy tapa on wine

Then I made some banderillas. These are tapas that are served on a toothpick or small skewer (the familiarity with the bullfighter’s weapons is pure coincidence, but I like the idea.) They are especially popular in northern Spain. What goes onto the toothpick depends on the region and ones individual taste. Cured meats, canned fish and seafood, potatoes or eggs will do as well as fresh or grilled vegetables, pickled foods and even some sauces to dip the whole thing in. Banderillas are supposed to be eaten in one bite, so the key is to vary and balance textures, flavors and colors. I picked crunchy, sweet red pepper, organic Manchego, buttery olives and the smooth, meaty boquerones. This was seriously good finger food. An edible ode to my circle of friends, in more than one way.

Skewer tapa with olive, cheese, pepper and boquerones

Ménage à Trois

cucumber, melon and olive salad

It all started – as so many things and dishes have – at the market. I found those gorgeous, bright green, wonderfully firm cucumbers stacked up at my one farmer’s stand. Of course I bought some. On the way home, a little pick up truck on the side of the street caught my attention. Its deck was covered with melons: Huge water melons and much smaller cantaloupes. The latter smelled sweet, summery and flawless. I chose my favorite one.

cucumbers at their peak

cantaloupe melon half, with seeds still in

And that’s when my world changed. At the spot, before I even had paid for the melon, I decided to skip the original idea of finally trying out a cooked cucumber dish. I would serve it raw again, as I usually do. Yet marry the (inside) a bit pale, not very bold cucumber with an attractive cantaloupe, which I never had done before. Little did I know what this furiously fast hook up of mine would lead to…

While pondering how the complete family in the end should appear and taste, later looking through my fridge and pantry and mentally listing perfect little companions for the couple – think red onions, burrata, a great jamòn, vincotto and all the other possibilities -, I came to the conclusion that my pair would never become fully happy surrounded by a bunch of more or less common minors. What would tie the crispy coolness of the cucumber and the smooth sweetness of the cantaloupe melon into true harmony though… would be the buttery, briny, rich olive.

Less sometime is more. The Ménage a Trois was born. Without a doubt the most tasteful and beautiful one ever.

holy trinity: cucumbers, melon, olives

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