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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” »

Homage to Simplicity – and a Very Dear Friend

 

simple appetizerNow, that I officially have admitted my fascination with foods that have the ability to boss one around – and sometimes torture one, by implying rough schedules and nearly unacceptable sets of efforts -, I decided to confess my other side. My affair with the lovely, leisurely and somewhat lazy world of simplicity.

Some of you now might want to accuse me of a double life. Of cheating. Being bad. – But wait, let me explain. First, honestly, do you think I would ever, ever cheat on food? We are talking food, my friends! And when I think of simple foods, I see complexity. (So I do not lie to either of them!) Simple is not easy. Simple does not mean the same as easy. Simple is complex, without revealing it. Simple is complex while looking easy. – Just imagine that unforgettable moment, when you bit into this perfect piece of bread. It was divine. It was simple. But for the baker who had hand crafted the bread, it was not easy. It was complex. Same with well made cheese. Wine. Chocolate. And so on.

Most people, once they have visited and eaten in Italy, no matter what part of it, can’t stop raving about its cuisine. Well, guess what? One of the characteristics of all Italian regional dishes is their simplicity. They consist of only a few ingredients, yet the purest and quality wise best ones, assembled in just the right way. It sounds and looks easy. In reality, it is complex but not complicated. Simple. Simply simple.

ingredients for amuse bouche

While contemplating about dishes and recipes that reflect simplicity – eliminating such great players as a perfectly composed sashimi, the ultimate piece of beautifully marbled meat, cooked by the most talented man at the grill, or the best ever spaghetti, say, al pesto – I suddenly was stuck with that one Amuse Bouche* my dear friend Fabian Fuchs likes to serve at his “Krone” (crown) restaurant in Blatten, just outside of Luzern, Switzerland.

salami fabian, sbrinz

Salami, Marcona Almonds, Sbrinz, olives. That is it. Four ingredients. Cured ingredients, all of them, to which the Chef doesn’t do anything but serving them in separate bowls. Each of the four products, when you think about it, contributes its very own kind of fat (or deliciousness). And each of these fats is complemented or contrasted by another flavor profile: The meatiness and pepper of the dried sausage, the nutty, slightly smoky hints of the almond, the caramelly sweetness in the cheese, the subtly oily and green notes of the olives. Now add the textures: Chewy and dense for the meat, crunchy and creamy at once in the cheese, both mealy and smooth for the almond, soft and buttery in the olives. Sounds pretty complex, hm? Yet, this is perfect simplicity in a platter. – As a matter of fact, this dish is so simple that it never even has been named. The restaurant staff refers to it as “the little plate” or “quattro” (four, in Italian). A quartet that plays pure, beautiful harmony, indeed.

So complexity, which is demanding, and simplicity, which is trickier, are damn similar, after all. That’s why I love them both. (And the next post will be less philosophical, I promise. I love that, too.)

(*palate entertainer, literally translated, aka small nibbles served while the guests are waiting for their first course.)

salami, olives, cheese and almonds in jars

Continue reading “Homage to Simplicity – and a Very Dear Friend” »