Monday, 26 May 2014

Esperao-uma marca de confiança

When I think of the Alentejo it conjures up images of vast wide open spaces, cork trees and artesan food products, but most of all fine wines and olive oil.Used for seasoning, in meals (as an ingredient), for frying or used cold (for preserving sausages, olives, certain vegetables and cheeses), olive oil is an important part of any cuisine, both in sweet and savoury food, imbuing it with flavour, aromas and colour. It distinguishes and customizes our food.One soon learns and becomes comfortable with particular brands that are reliable and work best for you as an individual.In my case Esperao is the name and olive oil is its acclaim.

Herdade do Esporão is currently a national and international benchmark in the field of wine and olive oil production.Like so many projects in Portugal, Esperao is a family business passed down through generations.In this particular case the Roquette family is now only in its second generation.Surprisingly, Portugal produces only 1.5% of the world´s olive oil production. The glorious Alentejan wines we quaff so easily are another matter altogether.Over the last 41 years, Esporão has made a major contribution to building the identity of the Alentejo as a top winegrowing region.A bottle of wine can and should reflect the climate and land where it was made, the customs and knowledge of those who produce it and the imagination of those who drink it.No pressure there then.

Every wine label tells a story. It is not just the mark of the producer, varietal, vintage, origin, percentage of alcohol by volume, wine-making style, net contents and government warnings. Labels tell more subtle tales about wine makers and their whims, what inspires them, and who they hope will buy and drink their wine. Labels not only reveal things about what is in the bottle but provide clues about their makers´history.
Some wine labels are stand-alone artworks. France’s Château Mouton-Rothschild is one of the world’s most sought-after and prized wine brands.
In the 1920s, the founder’s heir and great-grandson, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, enhanced the brand’s collectability by commissioning famous artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, to create original designs for labels. The practice soon became permanent.Likewise
from their beginning, Herdade do Esporão wines have had  an association with the iconic world of art, allying some of their most prestigious wines with the world of fine art.
The enjoyment of Esperao wines is as much about drinking them as appreciating the labels and some of the iconic artworks that support them.From the simplicity of the Alandra range to the more complex reservas and private collection wines Herdade de Esperao is inseparable from the iconic world of Portuguese art.I remember a few years back when the graphic image on the Alandra label showed the bunch of grapes but not as it is now.The grapes were actually dye cut showing the wine in the bottle behind the label.This is an example of the quality and imagination behind Esperao products.
One of founding principles of Herdade do Esporão was setting  Portuguese artists the challenge of illustrating the labels of their “Reserva” and “Private Selection” wines. The list is endless, the following artists have taken up the challenge: António Ole, Armando Alves, Artur Bual, Costa Pinheiro, Dórdio Gomes, Gabriel e Gilberto Colaço, Graça Morais, Guilherme Parente, Joana Vasconcelos, João Hogan, José de Guimarães, José Manuel Rodrigues, José Pedro Croft, Julião Sarmento, Júlio Pomar, Júlio Resende, Lourdes de Castro, Luís Pinto Coelho, Manuel Cargaleiro, Mestre Isabelino, Pedro Cabrita Reis, Pedro Calapez, Pedro Proença, Rubens Gerschman and Rui Sanches.

This collection of original works, is on show in their wine tourism building.
Portugal is a country notorious for producing great value wines, and Esporão’s list of affordable bottles is long and appealing. With sleek and simple yet attractive and unique wine labels, Esporão has plenty of options to offer.

Friday, 23 May 2014

A trifle indulgent -Chocolate Limoncello and Strawberries

You can tell a lot about a person by what’s in their trifle, but  this, I tell you, is the trifle to end all trifles.Glossy brown tones of chopped up chocolate mousse cake soaked in Limoncello, strawberries macerated in muscavado sugar and puréed apricots  beneath a tiramisu-like eggy mascarpone layer dripping through them gives this trifle a feeling of indulgence.
My inspiration came from  an amalgamation of trifle recipes and a loosely based interpretation of a Nigella recipe for cherry and chocolate trifle, another berry and brownie trifle and Nigel Slater´s Apricot and Amaretti trifle.
The resulting  indulgent chocolate limoncello and strawberry trifle helped me use up left over chocolate cake (I know!!!) and some left over strawberries.

Serves 6-8
2 tablespoons muscavado sugar
455g/1lb strawberries

455g/1lb apricots
1 chocolate mousse cake crumbled
6 tablespoons Limoncello plus extra for macerating strawberries
230g/8oz mascarpone
2 free range eggs, separated
60g/2oz caster sugar
230g/8oz crême fraiche or thick double cream or a combination of both

Roughly chop up and crumble the chocolate cake,and  make a layer on the bottom of a large glass trifle bowl.Quarter 2/3 of the strawberries and put them in a saucepan wth the sugar and a spoonful of the pan over a low heat and cook until the strawberries soften slightly and their juices start to run.Set aside to cool then pour them over the layer of crumbled chocolate cake.add another layer of crumbled chocolate cake and pour over the limoncello.
Halve the apricots, remove the stones and place the halves  in a shallow pan of simmering water and cook for 4-5 minutes,until the tip of a knife will slide through them effortlessly. Drain and allow the fruit to cool.Purée half the apricots in a blender and rub through a sieve. Pour the apricot purée over the amaretti biscuits.

Scatter the remaining apricots and the strawberries over the purée. Beat the mascarpone and the egg yolks in a bowl till creamy, beat in the sugar, then beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in gently.
Place the trifle in the fridge for at least 4 hours for the flavours to blend together. Spread the crême fraiche and or cream over the top of the trifle.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Cold salmon cassoulet-like winter in July

An amalgamation of Iberican colours and flavours
Cassoulet is one of my very favourite dishes, but I usually only cook and eat it during the colder months, as it is traditional comfort food. However, it contains some fabulous ingredients that with a bit of meddling can provide a stunning dish for outdoor eating in a warmer clime, in this case the sunny Algarve.What is whole and hearty for winter can become garden party "arty" for summer.
 The classic cassoulet should contain haricot beans,garlic sausage, lardons, duck confit,thyme and breadcrumbs.The “correct authentic” recipe is always hotly debated.In different parts of South West France where the dish originated, they all have their own regional recipe.So despite the summer heat, and in defiance of possible French judgement of the merits of my recreation, I decided to “deconstruct” the recipe and then “reconstruct” it into a fabulous summer dish.
I took most of the principal elements of a classic cassoulet and reinvented it.Not everybody will be delighted to hear that I substituted poached salmon for the pork.Haricot beans kept my recipe true to the original but I embellished it with two more bean varieties - feijao verde( Portuguese green beans or runner beans), and fava beans. I incorporated a smidgen of Spain by adding some Pequillo peppers and rounded it all off with a fresh dressing that brought an Iberican unity to the dish.Plated up on our Moroccan mosaic garden table on a barmy early summers evening a simple twist of tastes became life altering despite the simplicity.

Cold Salmon Cassoulet

serves 4

4 x 175g salmon
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons sea salt
1 teaspoon of Wynad peppercorns


3 cups haricot beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup borlotti or pink beans
250g broad beans
250g french beans or runner beans
6 small pequillo peppers julienned
Fresh oregano , basil, parsley and thyme

FOR THE DRESSING - mix together

3 vine ripened tomatoes skinned deseeded and finely chopped
3 Anchovies finely chopped
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice ( approx. 2 limes)
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped


Place the salt, peppercorns and bay leaves in a large deep frying pan with 5 cups (40 fl oz ) of water and bring to the boil. Cook for 5 minutes then remove from the heat. Add the salmon, cover and leave for 15 minutes. Remove the fish from the stock, carefully skin and break into strips or large chunks. Toss all the salad ingredients together in half the dressing. Plate up the salmon on a bed of the salad with the rest of the dressing poured over the top and a sprinkling of fresh thyme.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Corgetes secados em sol

Today was by far the hottest day of the year. I was as frazzled as a fried courgette and it gave me the idea for this dish.I needed a simple vegetarian starter for one of our guests but at the same time one that created an element of surprise . This particular guest spent most of the day chilling on a sun lounger in a shady nook of the Casa Rosada garden,nodding off on her Dick Francis.Meanwhile, her dinner, drying naturally on a wooden board under a towel on the garden wall, was the novelty.With the addition of some simple kitchen garden ingredients, mint and garlic,a blob of  aged balsamic and a smidgen of extra virgin olive oil,a graphic modern plate awaited her arrival at the dinner table in the garden.
This style of cooking is originally Neapolitan, and is often applied to fish such as sardines as well as vegetables.Aubergines and strips of peppers can be prepared in the same way, so an eminently suitable cooking technique to apply to local early summer Portuguese produce.
 It can be eaten either as a vegetable dish on its own or as a salad.It can be eaten straight away but the marinading process intensifies the flavours.The longer it is left,the stronger it will be,but it is so good you won´t be able to leave it alone for very long.It also was not very long before I felt a blog post coming on and called upon the photographic expertise and camera of the thespian to record my creation.It is so delicious and summery that I would suggest doubling the quantities from the outset.

Sun-dried Courgettes with mint and garlic
Serves 6
9 large courgettes,topped and tailed
175 ml(6fl oz) olive oil
large handful of fresh mint leaves,coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves,peeled and finely sliced
aged balsamic vinegar for dressing
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Flor de sal
Cut the courgettes into thin slices lengthways. Place them on a wooden board, cover with a cloth and leave them in the sun to dry for about 3 hours.Alternatively, put them in the oven at 140ºC /275F / gas mark 1 for about 1 hour to dry out completely without colouring.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan and fry all the dried courgette slices, in batches if necessary,until golden.Don´t bother to turn them over.drain carefully on kitchen paper.
Transfer the courgette slices to adish and sprinkle with the mint,garlic,vinegar,olive oil and Flor de sal.
Cover and leave to stand for about 4 hours in a cool place or even better overnight.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Mango lime and saffron Kulfi

 One advantage is, it takes so long to melt that we had time to take a photo without fear of  it melting

Finally the sunshine has arrived and its here to stay.With temperatures in the high twenties its time for ice cream.What does one do with left over condensed milk? Making ice cream never crossed my mind but when I discovered kulfi and had some left over mangoes I put two and two together and suddenly Lahore´s traditional dessert was re-created here in the Algarve. In India one can pop out and pick up a kulfi from the kulfiwala,who sells it off a cart decorated and painted in vibrant colours.Here in the sunny Algarve dreaming romantically of all things Indian can become a reality.
Kulfi is easy and ridiculously simple to make at home. Unlike Western ice creams, Kulfi is not whipped, resulting in a solid, dense frozen dessert similar to traditional custard based ice-cream. Thus, it is usually considered  in its own distinct category of frozen dairy-based desserts.
Its very similar to the traditional ice cream, having the same taste and creamy texture and all one needs is condensed milk pistachios, cardamom and mango. Having combined these ingredients it is then poured into  cone shaped moulds and served on a leaf or frozen on a stick.
The kulfiwalas keep the kulfi frozen by placing the moulds inside a large earthenware pot called a "matka", filled with ice and salt.This all reminds me of the famous ice cream maker Carlo Gatti who may have been the first, or one of the first, in England to offer ice cream for sale to the public.Gatti cut ice from the Regents canal under licence from the Regents Canal company.The original ice pit where Gatti stored his ice cream is still in evidence in what is now the Canal Museum in Kings Cross where one can learn more about the history of the ice cream trade, as well as the English canals.
I digress, so now back to how you can make your own kulfi in the comfort of your own home.
Mango lime and saffron Kulfi

1 tablespoon boiling water
Large pinch of saffron threads
1L (4 cups) condensed milk
335g (1 1/2 cups) caster sugar
50g pistachio kernels, finely chopped
50g blanched almonds, finely chopped
3 ripe mangoes
1 tablespoon caster sugar, extra, to serve

Place the boiling water in a small heatproof bowl. Add the saffron threads and set aside for 2 minutes.Cut the cheeks from the mangoes and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh.Pulp the mango flesh.
Meanwhile, place the evaporated milk and sugar in a medium saucepan. Stir over low heat for 3 minutes or until the sugar dissolves. Add the saffron and liquid, pistachios almonds and mango pulp to the milk mixture and stir well to combine. and mix into the condensed milk mixture.
Pour the mixture into six 250ml (1-cup) dariole or freezerproof moulds. Place in the freezer for 6 hours or overnight to firm.
Quickly dip the base of each mould in hot water to loosen the kulfi and turn out onto serving plates.