We spent a memorable afternoon with Maria Azevedo Coutinho Vasconcelos e Souza, an aristocratic octogenarian who was a close friend of the great poet Sophia de Mello Breyner Andersen.
Sophia liked to eat well and was a great cook. One day, she gave Maria a handwritten cookbook with her favorite recipes. This little book shows Sophia’s attention to detail and joie de vivre.
In the first page, Sophia lays out some general advice:
1 – smell everything before cooking;
2 – use small amounts of salt and pepper; they mask the natural taste of the ingredients;
3 – salt the fish just before cooking;
4 – be faithful to the nature and the truth of every flavor.
“This book is a proof of her friendship,” Maria told us, “and friendships like ours are becoming rare because they require something that is increasingly scarce: time.”
The dining room was full but Claudia Santiago, the chef at Flor da Rosa, kept her cool. She runs the kitchen like an orchestra conductor, making sure that the rhythm is just right and that all the subtleties of the cuisine of Alentejo are reflected on the plate.
After the lunch service, we told Claudia how much we liked her cooking and asked whether she had any culinary secrets. She confessed that: “we have an amazing ingredient which are the sausages made from Alentejo black pork; everything they touch turns to culinary gold.”
We asked Claudia whether she would share a recipe with our readers. She described several classic desserts but they were all too complex. So, we opted for the marinated rabbit recipe which is simple but delicious. Here it is.
Claudia Santiago’s marinated rabbit (“coelho de escabeche”)
Cook the rabbit in a rich bouillon made with parsley, mint, cloves, and carrots. Then, grill it over charcoal for a few minutes to intensify the flavor of the meat. Shred the meat. To make the marinade, fry minced onion and garlic with a bay leaf in olive oil. Add vinegar. Combine with the rabbit and let it marinade over night. Decorate with peppers and carrots and serve.
Enjoying this dish accompanied by Alentejo wine in the elegant dining room of Flor de Rosa, made us feel like lords of the manor.
Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Flor da Rosa.
When we sat down for dinner in the beautiful esplanade of the Arraiolos Pousada, we expected good food and attentive service. We got much more than that. We were served a series of delicious dishes that harmonized perfectly with Alentejo wine and made us feel we were at the right place, at the right time.
The dinner started with two soups, a Summer cucumber soup, followed by a tomato soup with quail egg. We then had “migas” (an Alentejo specialty made with bread) with wild asparagus and lamb grilled with rosemary. The grand finale was a sampling of traditional convent desserts updated with great refinement.
We congratulated the chef, Elizabete Velez, who told us that she learned to cook with her mother and grandmother in a small village in Alentejo. She offered to give us the recipe for her delicious Summer cucumber soup because it is very easy to make. Here it is.
Elizabete Velez’s Summer cucumber soup
Get the very best cucumbers you can find. Peel them (this step is key because the peel is very bitter) and remove their seeds. Dice the cucumbers, season them carefully with salt, pepper, and great olive oil. Puree the mixture in a blender. Pour into small bowls, placing one or two ice cubes in each bowl. Garnish with toasted slivered almonds, small strips of cucumber peel, and Portuguese sausage (preferably from Alentejo!).
Imagine eating this soup in a warm Summer evening, as the sun sets over a grove of olive trees and the stars wait their turn to shine on the Arraiolos castle. It’s magical!
Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of the Arraiolos Pousada.
Quince jam (marmelada) is very popular in Portugal. Some people like it freshly made, when it is soft and yellow, while others prefer it aged, when it is hard and dark red. But both factions agree that a slice of buttered bread with marmelada is one of the world’s most simple and satisfying pleasures.
Marmelada is often paired with a slice of queijo da ilha, a cheese from the Azores islands. This combination is so perfect that it is known as “Romeo and Juliet.” Be sure to try it when you visit Portugal!
Below you’ll find a marmelada recipe from a 16th century Portuguese cookbook attributed to Infanta D. Maria. If you find quinces in your local market, bring them home and make some marmelada. There is something very special about cooking from a recipe that is four centuries old.
MARMELADA D. JOANA
Use two kilograms of quince and 1.5 kilograms of sugar. Cook the quince in a covered pot of water. Peel the quince, cut it in pieces and strain the pulp through a fine sieve. Combine sugar and water in a pot and make a syrup. Add a little orange-flower water to the syrup. Remove the pot from the heat and combine the strained quince pulp with the syrup. Heat this mixture and stir the marmalade until it no longer sticks to the bottom.