The Best Bean Clams – Portuguese Travel Cookbook

Readers, epicureans, random people who discovered this blog in the first place, I am proud to present to you an awesome book about portuguese food. Not much has been published as such in the past, specially in english and in a down to earth way. It was, and still is, the foodie adventure Nelson Carvalheiro (writer) and Emanuel Siracusa (photographer) took on through our edible hidden treasures and rustic paths. Remember, it’s no longer about being the typical mass tourist, it’s about learning about a different heritage, an uncommon lifestyle, to return home with memories such as flavors, textures. And our country has it. It has it all!

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After reading most of the book, and finally reaching the last chapter about the Algarve, I came upon my favorite recipe, about Bean Clams.

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Nelson describes the fact that these clams can be searched for on the beach, it’s a very common things for locals to do (although it’s not legal). I myself used to pick them up and stuff them in my hat as a child, during the long lasting sunsets and warm breezes that would keep me searching the sands, so we could have some for dinner.

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Tho whom doesn’t know what they are, they are gorgeous. You MUST eat them. Now, a little bit about this animal: here we eat them seasonally, and by this I mean we cook them during months that have the letter R. That’s right, except for the months of May, June, July and August, this delicacy is an essential part of our foodie gatherings, a relaxation, conversation, commensality induced dish to enjoy on a lazy Sunday afternoon (or any other day of the week if I might add).

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Recipe (credit: Nelson Carvalheiro)

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg bean clams
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Cilantro
  • Lemon wedges

Instructions:

  1. Make sure to buy fresh live bean clams. This is quite obvious, but still, I’m sure some crazy person will go looking for the frozen stuff (don’t. Just, don’t). I acquired these at our local Lota (place where the boats come in with fresh fish, where they provide sea water to clean the shelfish at home. Although they have already been previously depurated (so we don’t get sick with toxins), further cleaning in your own kitchen is easy and tasty (less residual sand). Wash the clams with the sea water, and let them set at least 1/2 an hour so they spit out all the gunk (cover with plastic wrap otherwise you will have a sprinkler party in your kitchen).
  2. Slither the garlic, fry it in olive oil in a pan, without burning. Add the bean clams, lower the heat and let them open slowly.
  3. Add the wine and cover so the vapor can help the uniform cooking, without overcooking.
  4. Top with freshly squeezed lemon juice, chopped cilantro and freshly ground pepper.
  5. Serve with extra lemon wedges, some bread for sauce dipping and a refreshing glass of white wine.

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The Portuguese Travel Cookbook will soon be available in English. Check out Nelson Carvalheiros website for more info about his foodie travels, and the website about the book.

Pumpkin Pie or Squash Tart?

Pumpkin craze, here we go. Everywhere I shop, there is something pumpkin related. Even worse than that, is the pumpkin spice obsession, which is basically just a mix of spices – that don’t even taste like pumpkin at all! For a funny review about pumpkin spice, read this article. During my visit in Indiana last year, where I haven’t set foot in for the past twelve years, I have encountered pumpkins in every house, supermarket, store window, neighbors garden. Even more than squirrels, which seems odd because I spot about fifty of them a day.

I have finally given into the pumpkin season, and decided to make my own version of the pumpkin pie. squash mini

But, I chose to use squash instead! Aha! It seems to be a tendency to use canned pumpkin puré, which I don’t get, because – look at all the PUMPKINS AND SQUASHES PEOPLE! THEY ARE EVERYWHERE!

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Ok, I can sympathize with all you lazy cooks, but once in a while, at least once a year, put some elbow grease into it and do the real deal. Dare to be different. Risk to be real. Dish the can and go all natural.

So, I went to Walmart (what an adventure), and found a bunch of squashes that looked ever so peculiar, interesting, and felt so intrigued that I bought a few to test and cook. This is a rare opportunity for me, as I don’t find so much diversity in Portugal (we are not pumpkin spice obsessed – yet).

Looked up some recipes at the local library to find out exactly what kind of squash I bought in the first place. And so this is what I made.

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For the crust recipe, check my Pear, Roquefort and Walnut Tart. It never fails.

Pumpkins and squashes are very versatile ingredients and combine extremely well with warm spices. With this recipe you are bound to have a bit of roast pulp leftover, which can be frozen for a future tart, blended into a soup or used as a simple spread to substitute butter on toast – with an extra dash of honey and toasted almonds for a super healthy breakfast.

Filling:
Ingredients:
500 grams roast pumpkin pulp
100 grams whole cream
150 grams brown sugar
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch lemon zest
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon powdered cloves
¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Greek yoghurt and honey for topping

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Procedure: Roast at least 1.5kg of pumpkin in quarters with a dash of olive oil, honey, and balsamic glaze with the peel on as it is much easier to remove the pulp out after roasted. Depending on the pumpkin or squash you choose, water content will vary, so to be sure your tart doesn’t end up liquid and soggy, make sure to squeeze the excess liquid with a cheese cloth or a strainer and kitchen towel. Purée the pulp with remaining ingredients in a blender. Pour the pumpkin mix into the pre-baked tart base and bake at 190ºC for 10 minutes before reducing the oven temperature to 165ºC. Bake for 40 minutes or until the filling is set. An easy trick is to slightly shake the pan and if the filling stays put then it’s ready. Do not cook longer than this as it will cause the filling to crack because of the over-coagulation of present proteins.

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Serve with a spoonful of fresh Greek yoghurt and honey.

 

 

(Sun)Dried Tomatoes

A special blog post because I am, at this precise moment, in a very special place. Italy! Bologna to be exact, and if there is something I have been eating every day (most likely every meal) is tomatoes. I even have a jar of stuffed pecorino version in my mini fridge in the hotel room.

Some say that the best tomatoes ever are italian. Well, no wonder, they use them in (almost) everything, I suppose they have developed and mastered the skill like no other. But somehow I beg to differ – any tomato can be delicious, when grown in your own backyard, treated with a little TLC – these kind tomatoes will beat the italian version, any day of the year.

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Late this last summer I felt overwhelmed with the amount of tomatoes we had growing in the backyard. This year, a special bush grew out of proportion, right next to the kumquat tree. I have only seen them before in the supermarket, and they are named Berry Tomatoes (slightly different than the cherry version). They are small, plump, sweet and have a heart shaped longitude about them.

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As usual, with any seasonal fruit and veg, I get fed up of eating the same thing, the same way, every day. Then after the season has passed, I start missing whatever I used to have in excess the previous months. So I decided to pick a whole bunch and make some dried tomatoes to keep during the winter.

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Typically, pomodori secchi, is common in the south of Italy, obviously because of weather conditions that are appropriate for the artisanal sun drying technique. Many types of tomatoes can be used, later to be stored in olive oil to preserve during long periods of time, without the tomatoes acquiring oxidation and subsequentely moldy taste.

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The ones I made, however, were in an oven. I don’t believe we have the right conditions to do them in the blazing sun, even thought southern Portugal is hot, health safety issues arise quickly, and I am not about to gift my friends and family with unsecured edible presents. You should always keep this in mind.

Ingredients:

  • Plenty of tomatoes chopped longitudinally in half (as many trays you can get in your oven at a time);
  • Dash of sea salt;
  • Dash of freshly ground pepper;
  • Dash of brown sugar;
  • Dried herbs (if you wish).

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 120ºC. Lay the halved tomatoes on a tray with parchment paper and season with the salt, pepper, sugar and herbs. Bake for at least 3 hours (this will depend on the size of the tomatoes, moisture content, how many trays you make, the ability your oven has to circulate the heat and how many times you turn the tray around to even the dehydration – this part in particular also helps the excess moisture escape from the oven ever so often). Basically, if you feel that your tomatoes have reached your desired consistency, take them out, set to cool then store in olive oil.

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Keep in mind that, if you want to buy jars that have an airtight seal, you preserves will last longer. But don’t forget to sterilize the jars first here (I use the microwave method). After opening any jar, make sure to store it in the fridge (the olive oil will solidify, but it doesn’t go bad.

Another awesome thing about making this recipe is the fact your olive oil will taste like the sweet, chewy, savory pomodori, so pick a good extra virgin one that you can later use to dress a salad, dip bread or drizzle on a freshly baked pizza. 

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As you can see, a few droplets of moisture remain on the sheet. Also, some tomatoes have become so dry, and others are still a little plump. You have two options for this:

  1. Start picking out the tomatoes that have reached the desired consistency;
  2. Let them be, and have batches of rustically different tomatoes.

I have tried doing this with a lower temperature, 100ºC to be precise. I did not enjoy the amount of time it took, neither the accumulation of moisture. I ended up increasing the temperature to 110ºC, but not a very good result as with 120ºC. If you do however own a convection oven with special moisture extraction features, by all means, do it at 60ºC for a long time. The lower the temperature, the better flavor retention and preservation.

But if you have huge batches to dehydrate like I do, and little time (or simply are an impatient being), 120ºC works just right.

Ghee, carob and coconut Brigadeiros

“Brigadeiro” is a sort of truffle, made with condensed milk, butter and cocoa powder. It’s a highly popular sweet in Brazil, and because of Portugal’s connection with the country, we have developed a life-long love affair with the bite-sized dessert.
You can find the original version in many pastry shops, cafés and supermarkets but you can easily make this delicacy at home.

I have posted this recipe in the Portugal Resident, but am reposting it here so I can add a few more photos you can drool over.

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This is a photo I took with a macro lense – the effect of the glass table in the background, lit by the morning sunshine, is amazing. Kudos to whoever invented low aperture, it’s like my favorite photography feature ever.

If you decide that dirtying a few dishes for the sake of some homemade goodies is a delightful option, ditch leaving the house, put your apron on and turn the stove on.

Another advantage you get by making this recipe is the fact that your imagination has no limits – choose and play with the ingredients of your preference, just like I did.

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The first part of my culinary adventure was to make Ghee – Indian version of butter and what the French designate as “clarified” butter.

Basically, the process consists in slowly heating the butter in a pan and skimming the frothy foam, with a spoon, while it gathers on the surface.This might take a while (15-25 minutes), but the result is well worth it – butterscotch scented butter, without the impurities or water, a ton of flavour, a longer shelf life and a good option for lactose intolerants.

Any leftover goes amazing in, well, almost anything you decide to cook.

Ingredients
▪ 310 grams condensed milk (uncooked)
▪ 90 grams ghee
▪ 25 grams carob flour
▪ 25 grams cocoa flour
▪ Coconut shavings (for coating)

Instructions
1. Make the ghee as instructed above. Usually, 250 grams of butter will give about 140 grams of ghee (if you skim the foam carefully during the process). Each brand of butter will have a specific percentage of waste, but if you purchase a high fat content butter, you will be able to get more ghee out of the process.

2. In a pan, combine all of the ingredients and stir on medium-low heat for about 10-14 minutes (this depends on the pan and the heat). Keep in mind to stir, almost constantly, and don’t let it burn. It will stick to the pan, so make sure you take it out as soon as it’s finished. Use a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap, with a bit of oil, so the mix won’t stick to this either.

3. As soon as it has cooled down enough to handle, weigh portions of about 35 grams each, roll into balls and toss in coconut shavings for a protective (yet edible) coating.

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If you want to gift someone with this edible treat, stack about five portions so they form mini cylinders, wrap in parchment paper and tie both ends with some ribbon (just like a huge piece of candy).

I used half carob and half cocoa powder because I enjoy the aromatic mix, and both ingredients actually combine very well together, without the carob becoming overpowering.

Algarvian Carrots

Here’s a vegetarian nibble, nonetheless a very Portuguese one, specific to the Algarve, the southern part of the country.

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Our tidbits, or petiscos as we call them, are a reason to mingle and an excuse to have a drink or two. Unlike the spanish tapas, which were born out of necessity, traditionally seen as a slice of bread used to cover glasses of wine to keep the flies away (I have always wondered if there is any truth in this – I would suppose that flies would be more attracted to food than to booze, but the concept does make sense as the verb tapar literally means to cover something).

The Algarve was only conquered in 1249 and considered as a separate part of the country for centuries. Given the fact that Portugal was occupied by diverse cultures for so long and is vastly known for being the main entrance to Europe, the Algarve in particular prospered into a very unique region. Boasting grand monuments like Moorish castles, places named with the “Al” prefix and special ingredients, this region is characterized by its predominant Arab influence – such as the recipe I share with you today.

In restaurants and taverns through this southern part of our country, you will find this simple marinated carrot preserve, made with cumin – one of the many ingredients that has become part of our traditional food.

I posted this recipe on the Portugal Resident a month ago, but I am now posting it on my personal blog in honor of the Rota do Petisco (the Tidbit Route), that has been going on since the beginning of September, and only has one week left. Basically it’s a route where various restaurants and food & beverage establishments have a specific petisco + beverage for only 3€ (sweet and coffe or regional liquor goes for 2€). You adquire a passport for 1€ (money goes towards social programs) that allows you to check out every participant, where it is, what you can eat and till what time the place is open. The specific areas that have been a part of this long lasting gastronomic event in the Barlavento side of the Algarve is Portimão (three areas), Alvor, Ferragudo, Mexilhoeira Grande, Silves and Monchique. Hurry up and be a part of this edible rally until de 10th of October, very well organized and set up by Teia d’Impulsos – next year, expand to Lagos please!

Now about this algarvian petisco:

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Ingredients:
– 1 kg peeled carrots
– 1 bay leaf
– 1 teaspoon caster sugar
– 3 cloves of minced garlic
– 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
– 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
– 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
– 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
– 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and cilantro
– Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Procedure:
Boil the peeled carrots for 15-20 minutes, with the bay leaf and teaspoon of sugar. They are not meant to be overcooked.

Cut the carrots into large slithers, big enough to be eaten with a toothpick.

Mix in the remaining ingredients except the cumin, which has a special technique associated with it.

By slightly heating the seeds in a non stick frying pan, they become more aromatic. Just make sure not to burn them!

Don’t throw away all of the cooked broth; keep at least half a cup for the marinated concoction and the remaining can be used for a soup or to make some tasty vitamin-rich rice.

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I also made this cheese twisted peanut pesto bread (future recipe to post), in the meantime you can check out one of my oldest posts with the peanut pesto post, special edition made with purple basil.

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For one of those lazy afternoons, I enjoyed the marinated carrots, the cheese pesto bread and some extra virgin olive oil with droplets of homemade balsamic glaze infused with orange zest and rosemary.

This is a great recipe for a nibble evening with friends, or to make a different salad.

Any leftovers? Make a tasty tuna sandwich for lunch, with this veggie as an extra filling.

Fig Cake

Fig picking is coming close to an end here in Portugal, and after a few weeks of eating way too many of them, necessity plus a little out of the box thinking just makes you cook wonderful things. Like this cake.

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Figs are a big part of Portugal, the south in particular, where you can find a peculiar sweet treat called Queijo de Figo, which literally means fig cheese. It’s like dried fig paste with a mix of nuts and condiments, condensed into a cheese format and texture. Cabrita Neto has developed some tasty concoctions with outstanding ingredients, almonds and cardamom. They even have individual bars, that you can eat as a on-the-go snack. Because, come on, who doesn’t want to eat a tasty piece of fig cheese while walking to work or on a stroll by the coast?

Considering the overflow of this fruit through our lands, plus our cute habit of stopping the car by any road side to pick, we acquired a knack of showing you guys all the ways we love to eat, breath and speak fig.

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In my home town, at the top near the castle wall close to a garden, there is at least five trees. As soon as summer hits, the fruity smell wonders through the air, and people pop by a branch ever so often to see if any figs are ripe enough to eat. After a few weeks of hot summer heat, beachside adventures and tourist drenched streets, you will find the locals around the trees, with huge poles, that have a sort of tweezer-ish character about it, so they can reach the high branches and pick the out-of-reach fruit. It’s traditionally beautiful.

Not every tree is the same. My grandmother’s tree starts mid August, my backyard trees all sort of begin in September, and a few are still not ready to eat yet.

So, about this cake: it’s a great recipe to add any sort of fruit you wish, and it keeps quite a while considering how moist it is. The lack of dairy provides a sweet treat for a huge group of special dietary people. The original recipe called for only oil, but I have combined half olive oil, so the health benefits are present, without the overwhelming flavor some might not enjoy much in sweets. What sort of olive oil should you use? I prefer to save the extra virgin for salads and bread dipping, use the virgin one for baking as flavor wise it will just combine with the remaining ingredients plus, it will also be cheaper to concoct.

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Ingredients:

  • 250 grams brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 100 ml virgin olive oil
  • 100 ml cooking oil
  • Lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 225 grams all purpose flour (whole grain for you health nuts)
  • 7 grams baking powder
  • 7 grams baking soda
  • 2 grams sea salt
  • 300 grams figs
  • 4 tablespoons Tawny Port wine
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (ghee for lactose intolerants)
  • 2 tablespoons milk (water for lactose intolerants)

Instructions:

  1. Roast the figs, whole, in port wine and a drizzle of honey. No need to add too much sweet, the figs speak for themselves. Let cool and save the sticky port wine syrup. This will be the base for the glaze. sem título-1079
  2. Beat the eggs sugar, oils and lemon zest for 5 minutes on medium, until a smooth paste os formed.
  3. Sift the flour, bicarb + baking powder, and add to the previous mix.
  4. Add the salt, the roasted cooled figs (cut in quarters).
  5. Place in a cake pan with parchment paper and bake at 165ºC for at least one hour.
  6. Cool the cake, remove from the pan and gently remove the parchment paper. It is suppose to look fairly rustic.
  7. Make the glaze with the roast fig + port wine syrup, softened butter/ghee, lemon zest and milk/water.glazing cake
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  9. Eat.

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Any leftovers? Eat it for breakfast, lunch, snack, whenever. It’s just that sort of cake. Goes well with everything and everyone, if you’re wondering.

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My dog also enjoyed gazing at the cake.

Casa Vale da Lama Eco Resort – Pizza Time

In Vale da Lama there is an Eco Resort. Charm full, peaceful, plus, they have a Pizza gathering every so often Saturday through the warm summer evenings. You should call to reserve ahead of time – and make sure you don’t do it the day before, otherwise you will risk not being able to go.

Once you get there, and even if you get lost on the way (I did, at least twice), you will feel at home. Random tables, cozy benches, down to earth puffs, and several relaxed people waiting for a very delicious evening. As long as your stomach can handle as much pizza as it possibly can, you won’t ever leave this place hungry, I even had to stop eating the everlasting flow of pizza, because I just cannot leave a place without having dessert.

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So, here’s the deal: you book, you arrive, you pay the 8€ that allow you to eat as much pizza as humanely possible, you buy a drink and you are seated to whichever table was assigned to you and your company. In case of small groups, you also get to know other individuals that will be seated next to you – it’s all about sharing a space, having a few laughs, eating pizza. What else cold you possibly want to enjoy on a summer saturday evening?

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The pizzas, from what I gathered, are a mix of available ingredients: mushrooms, eggplant, onion, peppers, cucumbers, feta cheese and fresh herbs.

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Besides the comfort food, the setting, the people, the whole event is an amazing experience. Whoever is preparing the pizza’s have the best mood ever – because pizza making is fun, ain’t it? Plus, you get to make a bunch of hungry people happy. That’s awesome just by itself.

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Happy people – happy food!

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The music is also fantastic! Kudos to the DJ for sharing some good tunes. This weekend coming up you can hear some live music from Mariana Root – it starts at 9:30pm. 

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Even the Pizza People show their moves!

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Even if you are not into much socializing, and want to gaze up at the vast star printed sky, you can enjoy such an event on many of their available chairs, puffs, even hammocks. On this night, I saw a shooting star.

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The dessert: carob brownie with figs. You’re not gonna find a more traditional dessert like this one, with regional and sustainable ingredients. That’s what this place is all about – eco friendly fun and life.

Visit Vale da Lama Eco Resort event here, where you can find details for this Saturday, the 19th, and contact to make your reservation. More info on their accommodation, events, get to know them through their website here.