A sublime pumpkin tart

Edgardo Pacheco is a Portuguese journalist who writes with eloquence and grace about gastronomy. He knows so many people in the food world that he managed to surprise us on our home turf. He arrived at our house with an irresistible sweet tart. When we asked him about the provenance of this delight, he revealed it came from the town nearby!

The tart was created in 2018 for the local pumpkin festival by a young chef called Sílvia Batista. It has a flour, butter, and sugar base, a pumpkin-pulp filling, and a topping made with pumpkin seeds, sugar, and butter. The combination is sublime.

Silvia makes the tart with her mother, Diná, and sells it in Lourinhã, where it is quickly gathering fame. The chef didn’t name the tart after herself. She called it “Dona Isabel” in honor of Isabel Mateus, who, with her husband, discovered a nest of dinosaur eggs in a local beach. 

Creating a brand-new recipe requires skill. But the naming of the tart reveals another important ingredient: generosity. Sílvia has both talent and generosity in abundance. We can’t wait to taste what else she’ll make!

Click here for Sílvia Batista’s web site. You can buy or order her tart at O Casco, Rua Dr. Francisco de Sá Carneiro, Lt 22 R/Ch Dto. Lourinhã, tel. 910 121 280.

Alentejo’s star wine grape

In the middle of the 19th century, Henri Bouschet crossed Petit Bouschet, a combination of Aramon and Teinturier de Cher conceived by his father, with Grenache. The new varietal, Alicante Bouschet, produces wines with a beautiful dark-red color. 

Over time, the French lost interest in Alicante Bouschet. But the grape found its home in Alentejo, where it flourished and transformed, becoming one the region’s most emblematic varietals. 

Alicante Bouschet was first planted in Alentejo at the end of the 19th century by the Reynolds, a British family that purchased Herdade de Mouchão. It is the star of the wines made by Julio Bastos, an heir to the Reynolds family, at Quinta Dona Maria

The photo shows some beautiful Petit Verdot (on the right) and Alicante Bouschet (on the left) grapes picked at Monte da Ravasqueira. Like Petit Verdot, most red grapes have white pulp. That is why we can make white wine from red grapes (“blanc de noirs”). If we extract the red-grape juice and avoid contact with the skins, the result is a white wine. If we allow for some skin contact, we get a rosé.  

Both the skin and pulp of Alicante Bouschet grapes are red. This type of grape is called tintoreira (dyeing) because it gives color to the wine. But it has much more to offer: enticing aromas, structure, concentration, and aging ability. Open up a bottle of Alentejo wine, and you’ll see!

Dinning with Marlene

When we dined at Marlene Vieira’s new restaurant, appropriately called Marlene, the place was packed. But, like a star performer, Marlene made us feel like she was cooking just for us, often coming to our table to chat about the food she served. 

The meal started with a variation on one of her classic themes, the “filhós de berbigão” that she serves at Zun Zum, her more casual restaurant. This time, the filhós, a star-shaped shell made from fried dough, was gloriously stuffed with foie gras, reineta apple, and a Madeira-wine gel. 

Next, came a trompe l’oeil preparation. It looked like cheese topped with prosciutto. But the cheese turned out to be an egg cooked at low temperature that, mixed with the prosciutto, created a festival of umami sensations.

We were taken to the sea by a delicate combination of violet shrimp from the Algarve accompanied by a gazpacho made with the shrimp’s head, topped with a percebes tartlet. 

Then, we returned to land with two crusty loaves of bread, one made with wheat and rye and the other with white corn. They came with fragrant olive oil made in Trás-os-Montes at Quinta de São Miguel do Seixo. 

The next menu entry was a delicate part of the codfish called cocochas seasoned with parsley and pine nuts. We reached the mid-point of our culinary journey with tasty white truffles and morel mushrooms stuffed with requeijão

They were followed by a ravishing sole dressed in an asparagus sauce, butter, and caviar. We reached the climax with a savory pudding made with an eel broth seasoned with saffron and topped with the eel’s skin. It is sublime!

Dessert was a delightful pine nut mousse with apple granita and pineapple from the Azores. The petit fours were lovely: merengue with a strawberry cream, tangerine leaves, and macaroons stuffed with almonds and eggs.

We’re lucky to have a chef like Marlene Vieira, who studied the past to invent the future of our culinary tradition!

Marlene is located at Av. Infante D. Henrique, Doca do Jardim do Tabaco, Lisboa, tel. 351 912 626 761, email marlene@marlene.pt.

Tasting Malvasias in Madeira

Prince Henry the Navigator was an early-day venture capitalist. He financed expeditions on small boats called caravels to find new lands, keeping 20 percent of the resulting profits. His first big success came in 1419 when his navigators discovered an island covered by a laurel forest. They named it Madeira, the Portuguese word for wood.  

The prince brought sugar cane from Sicily to Madeira, where it thrived because of the abundance of water and subtropical climate. The island became Europe’s leading sugar producer until the first half of the 16thcentury, when Brazil supplanted it.

Prince Henry was also interested in wine, in part because of its use in liturgic services. The best 15th-century wine was made in Crete from a white varietal called Malvasia Cândida and produced with overripe grapes. 

The Jesuits planted Malvasia Cândida from Crete in a small region of Madeira called Fajã dos Padres. Today, this varietal is rare on the island. It was superseded by Malvasia de São Jorge, a hybrid created in the 1950s by Leão Ferreira de Almeida and generally used to make Madeira Malmsey. 

Manuel Malfeito, our friend who’s an enology professor, brought to Madeira a bottle of fortified wine made in Crete from Malvasia Cândida so we could compare it with Malmsey. “Perhaps this is the first time in 500 years that a wine from the original Malvasia Cândida is drunk on the island of Madeira!” said Manuel with glee. 

How do the two wines compare? The wine from Crete is pleasant and intensely sweet. The Madeira Malmsey has much more depth because of its acidity. This acidity comes in part from Madeira’s volcanic soils, which are rich in iron, manganese, and magnesium. 

It is the combination of sweetness and acidity that makes Madeiras so exquisite. Each glass of Madeira wine is a gift from a prince.

The Paimogo fort

There are two ways to reach the fort of Her Lady of the Angels of Paimogo. During low tide, we can walk on the white beach sand while the cool sea waters bathe our feet. We can always go by land, through rolling hills painted with sepia colors that contrast with the shimmering blue of the sea. Either way, the fort awaits us at the end of our journey. 

Built in 1674, it maintains its original architecture. It has two spacious rooms on each side of the main door. In the back, a chamber with thick walls and a vaulted ceiling stored ammunition. Side stairs lead to a terrace with magnificent views. In the distance, we see the Berlenga island surrounded by the infinite sea. Below, the bay of Paimogo offers shelter from the storms.  

The fort was part of a line of defense that stretched from Cascais to Peniche, protecting the coast against pirates and other aggressors. It was used in 1808 during the Napoleonic invasions and again in 1832 during the civil war that pitched two royal brothers, Pedro and Miguel, against each other. Since then, the fort has retired from military pursuits. It is a peaceful place where we can marvel at the beauty of the land and the splendor of the sea.

The Paimogo fort is located 3.5 km north of Praia da Areia Branca.

Lunch at a royal courtyard

We drove to Alter do Chão in Alentejo to have lunch at Páteo Real, a restaurant headed by a young chef called Filipe Ramalho. Páteo Real means royal courtyard, a reference to the castle of Alter do Chão, which stands proudly in the restaurant’s backyard. 

After working in fine dining for seven years, Filipe wanted to put the new techniques he mastered at the service of the traditional cuisine of Alentejo. When he learned that Páteo Real was for sale, he drove there on a Friday and closed the deal by Monday. 

But this new beginning was tough. The locals suspected the restaurant would charge high prices for small portions of pretty food. Visitors were few and far between. One year later, it is difficult to get a reservation–the restaurant is full of visitors and locals. And for a good reason: its food is a delicious evolution of the traditional cooking of Alentejo. 

We sat in the courtyard under large white umbrellas that protected us from the exuberant Alentejo sun. A waiter filled our glasses with “O Nosso,” a pleasant white wine from Serra Papa Leite. The meal started with Filipe’s signature dish: a tart cooked with farinheira sausage made with chestnut flour, topped with pears cooked in wine, quince marmalade, and chard. This unusual combination is so harmonious that it will likely become a classic.

A plate of sliced sausages followed the iconic tart. Alentejo’s sausages are generally excellent, but these are exceptional. They come from Salsicharia Canaense, an artisanal producer with whom Filipe collaborates. Their products also starred on the following two plates: cabeça de xara (a pork preparation) served with pickled purple onions and coriander pesto and delicately smoked bacon served with roasted red peppers, olive oil, coriander, paprika, and large capers.

Next, we tried some delightful duck croquettes served with puffed rice and coriander mayonnaise. The savory part of the meal ended with duck livers seared in brandy and combined with thinly-sliced fried potatoes. It is an explosion of flavor. “When we recommend duck livers and the clients hesitate, we offer a money-back guarantee,” said Filipe smiling. “People are always surprised at how good it is.”

The dessert was a delicious tart made from almonds and pumpkin jam. We loved the arch and rhythm of the meal. It kept our palates interested and left us deeply satisfied. It is a royal honor to dine in Filipe Ramalho’s courtyard!

Páteo Real is located at Av. Dr. João Pestana 37, Alter do Chão, tel. 960 155 363.

Casa Cadaval

Manuel Malfeito, our friend who teaches enology, invited us to meet a German countess. We traveled to Ribatejo, a region near Lisbon, where Teresa Schonbörn, countess of Schonbörn and Wiesentheid, lives in Casa Cadaval. It is a sprawling estate with 5,000 hectares of agricultural land that has been in Teresa’s family for 11 generations. 

Teresa was born in Germany and studied in Switzerland and England. But her Portuguese mother made sure she spent her vacations in Portugal. The memories of those carefree summers probably played a significant role in her decision to live in Cadaval.

The property was the dowery of the countess of Odemira when she married the 1st duke of Cadaval in 1660. The countess brought a herd of mares from one of her estates in Alentejo, starting a tradition of breeding pure-blood Lusitano horses at Casa Cadaval that continues to thrive. 

Teresa invited us into her Mercedes for a tour of the estate. Her three dogs came along for the ride. Our first stop was a field where the estate’s famous Lusitano horses roam free. Teresa stopped the car, and the horses came to greet her. She addressed each one by name as if they were part of her family. 

A flock of herons followed us on the way to the vineyard that is the estate’s ex-libris. It has 70-year-old trincadeira vines planted by the countess’s parents. When we returned to the car, the dogs sat on our laps, teaching us about the terroir by covering our clothes with the sandy soil.

Next, Teresa drove us to a field covered by a flock of storks. We stopped to admire their elegant dance. The storks rehearse their flight maneuvers for three straight weeks before flying to Africa. There are no signs of modern civilization around us, only majestic pines, oaks, and holms. We could well be in a different century. Archeologists discovered, in these fields, silex from 7,000 years ago. They also found many shells of pre-historic cockles (berbigão) that lived on a river delta.

Cadaval has produced wine since the 17th century. The property is near a village called Muge. Tong in cheek, the countess calls the new wine they make Moujolais Nouveaux. 

We tried a few wines with Tiago Correia, the estate’s enologist. The first was a 2016 Riesling with a flint aroma. The grapes were harvested early in the season, resulting in low alcohol content and enticing acidity. Manuel noticed the influence of the Berlengada, the cold wind from the Berlengas islands.

Next, we sampled a delicate Pinot noir that filled our palate with joy. Finally, we tried a 2017 Trincadeira old vines. It has a vibrant, fresh taste that is enticing. Made only in exceptional years, it bears the hallmarks of Casa Cadaval: understated elegance, aristocratic charm, and remarkable longevity.

Click here for Casa Cadaval’s website.

St. George’s castle

If you’re up for a climb in Lisbon, we recommend visiting St. George’s castle. You can start at the bottom of the hill and go up the old meandering streets of Alfama, the only neighborhood that survived the 1755 earthquake.

At almost every corner, someone sells glasses of ginginha, a delightful liquor made from sour cherries. But it is unbecoming to drink ginginha from plastic glasses. We prefer to get it at “A Ginginha” in Largo São Domingos, where they’ve served it in proper glasses since 1840.  

It’s worthwhile to buy the ticket to enter the castle. However, keep your expectations low–a first sight, there isn’t much to see. A bronze statue of Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, who conquered the castle from the Moors in 1147. A marble statue of Dom Manuel, the monarch who oversaw the golden age of discoveries by Portuguese navigators. Fountains whose water has run dry, broken marble columns, and cannons that are no longer battle-ready lie around the castle, all in medieval disarray. There are pines and olive trees, their branches sought by vain peacocks searching for a thrill.

The castle was built and rebuilt over centuries, first with cement and stone and then with brick and mortar. The layers of the imposing walls read like a diary of all those who lived here: Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, and Portuguese. 

What the castle offers are magnificent views of Lisbon. The city lies at our feet, making us feel like royalty—scratch your skin, and surely blue blood will trickle out. A map made out of tiles shows us the lay of the land. Nearby there are benches inscribed with the words of Sophia de Mello Breyner. What a beautiful idea to carve in stone the words of a poet!

We stroll around the castle until the sun sets down. Only then do we go downhill. Be careful because the cobblestones are slippery. And there’s no need to rush. There’s plenty of time to get to Largo de São Domingos and enjoy a glass of ginginha.

You can get tickets online at the castle’s website, here.

The sublime wines of the Madeira island

Novice wine drinkers like slightly sweet wines, while wine connoisseurs favor wines with acidity. Madeira wines have the best of both worlds, a pleasant sweetness and a refined acidity. 

These wines are named after their terroir—a volcanic archipelago of captivating beauty. When Portuguese navigators discovered it in 1419, it had lush woods, so they called it Madeira, the Portuguese word for wood.

Like Ports, Madeiras are fortified wines. The process by which yeast turns fructose into alcohol is interrupted by adding neutral, vinic alcohol. As a result, some fructose remains, giving the wine its sweetness.

Producers begin the aging process by gently heating the wine. Winemakers developed this technique after discovering that wines improved significantly when subject to tropical temperatures during sea voyages. 

Entry-level wines are heated in large tanks for at least three months, a process called “estufagem.” More noble wines are stored in hot, humid attics for at least two years, a process known as “canteiro.” Heat ruins most wines. But not Madeiras—their acidity gives them the fortitude to survive the heat and age beautifully.

There are five main grape varietals used in Madeira production. Sercial makes dry wines, Verdelho medium-dry, Bual semi-sweet, and Malmsey sweet. Tinta Negra is perhaps the most versatile of all the Madeira varietals, capable of producing a range of styles, from nutty dry to luscious rich.

The drier wines are generally served as aperitifs and the sweeter wines as dessert wines. But Madeiras are very versatile. For example, Sercial is an excellent pairing for oysters and sashimi. 

We had the privilege of tasting Madeiras with Chris Blandy, the CEO of Blandy’s, a company that has produced Madeira wine since 1811. We compared wines made from Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey with “raw” versions of these wines. The raw wines have just been fortified but have not been heated or aged. This tasting showed us the enormous impact of heating and aging on wine quality. Water evaporates, concentrating and refining flavors. In some 20-year-old Madeiras, only 8 percent of the original wine remains, but what is left is sublime. 

Chris refilled our tasting glasses. “These wines are moreish,” he says, using a quaint British expression that refers to food or drink that make us ask for more. No wonder that in Shakespeare’s play Henry IV, Sir John Falstaff sells his soul to the devil for a glass of Madeira. We’re so lucky to drink these extraordinary wines without losing our souls!

Click here for the Blandy’s website.

The Saint Hubert tavern

We were in Alentejo with Manuel Malfeito, a professor of enology,  when he suggested that we visit one of his former students, Joaquim Saragga Leal. Joaquim used to run Taberna Sal Grosso in Lisbon but moved to Évora to be closer to his roots. 

We arrived late because we got lost. Evora is a labyrinthine Roman city with narrow streets that hide its secrets from global positioning systems. But, eventually, we found the Taberna de Santo Humberto. Joaquim tells us that it was once a tavern called O Berto that served wine and simple food. Then, some well-to-do women took it over, serving elegant food that became one of Évora’s culinary references. They turned O Berto into Hubert. For good luck they canonized him, so the place became the Saint Hubert Restaurant. Joaquim kept the saint but brought back the tavern, both in name and attitude.

He studied mechanical engineering in London and worked as an engineer but, on the side, he always cooked for friends. One day, he returned to Alentejo to help his grandmother run a famous wine estate, Herdade dos Coelheiros. He joined a wine program in Bordeaux and then went to culinary school. When he finished, he enrolled in a master of gastronomic sciences program, taking classes with professor Malfeito. 

Joaquim tells us that he wants to cook more rustic, more affectionate food, recover old, forgotten recipes, cook what his grandmother used to make, and what Alentejo taverns used to serve. “A meal at my restaurant consists of many small plates meant to be shared because the art of sharing is close to the art of conversation,” he says. 

After this long introduction, he asked: “what would you like to eat?” Manuel answered without hesitation: “the choice is up to you.” Joaquim grimaced and replied, “this sounds like another exam.” “Indeed!” agreed Manuel.  

We ran out of culinary adjectives during the meal. Cornish hens in escabeche sauce were mouthwatering, the liver duck was amazing, the bacon and garlic marvelous, the codfish tongs outstanding, and the frog legs Bulhão Pato style fantastic. 

After a brief interlude, Joaquim brought two delicious salads, one with watercress and orange and the other with tomato, figs, and hydrated prosciutto. Then, there were incredible croquettes made from beef tongue and Osso Bucco, crispy codfish cakes, and exquisite stewed bone marrow.

The dessert was a cake made from cheese, the traditional Abade de Priscos pudding, a local cake called padinha, and a chocolate mousse seasoned with salt.

After this culinary marathon, Joaquim arrived holding a tray with coffee cups and glasses of pennyroyal liqueur. Then he asked, “What grade did I get?” “A+!” we shouted.

Taberna de Santo Humberto is located at Rua da Moeda, 39, Évora, tel. 913 198 215.