One of the most important factors i take into account when choosing a holiday destination is the quality of the food… not only the flavours of the regional cuisine, but also the quality of produce that we can find in the local markets or stores. This summer we went to Portugal which sits very high up on my scale of fabulous food and wine. Portugal was actually the first European country we visited after moving back to the UK when I was 14… we went to the Algarve and rented a house near Albufeira, again, the first time we had done a ‘self catering’ holiday. I remember the delight in discovering the weekly markets, and we drove to the nearest market each day to see what we could buy. We discovered the deliciousness of fresh churros dusted in cinnamon sugar, and my mother took so much pleasure in buying the fresh seafood and cooking in what was a very rustic kitchen!
I also love exploring the local food scene and preparing meals in our rental/airBNB houses. Simple lunches of tomato salad with olive oil and salt, rustic bread, cheese and fruit is so much tastier under the Mediterranean sun than it is sitting at home. I also try to rent a house with a BBQ so we can take advantage of the warm balmy evenings and make the cooking a social occasion. On day one I buy my basics… olive oil, salt, garlic, sweet onions, lemons, butter and eggs. From this we can produce magical meals…! I also forage for herbs in the gardens – one rental this year just had rosemary, the other had 3 types of mint, thyme and rosemary! One of our favourite lunches was a Tortilla, made with leftover new potatoes from the night before, lots of chopped sweet onions, salt, pepper, a little rosemary and chopped chorizo, all combined with some eggs and a mixture of whatever cheese we had. Fried in a pan and then grilled to ensure it was cooked all the way through…served with a simple green salad.
Our second house of the holiday was in Ericeira, the home of surfing in Portugal. We had a stunning outdoor BBQ and bar area… conducive to long aperitif hour and simple barbecued food. For nibbles I used the leftover bread from breakfast to make bruschetta which we topped with super ripe tomato mashed with garlic, salt and olive oil, or with a piece of aged iberico ham, or a local cheese. Even my non-tomato eating teen devoured these, stating that the tomatoes were sweet and didn’t taste like normal tomatoes! We followed this one night with a favourite dish, a version of Tagliata steak – I bought a thick piece of rib steak which was suitable for 4, rubbed with salt, pepper, olive oil and time, and then grilled on high heat to serve rare. We sliced this and served over a green salad, dressed with garlic, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil… and local rustic bread on the side. A stunning piece of meat, simply cooked.
On our last night, the teens were lamenting the fact that they hadn’t had any Piri piri chicken… so we bought a whole chicken (spatchcocked by the supermarket butcher) and a jar of the Portuguese ‘frango asado’ marinade. This went into a wire contraption and then onto the BBQ where we cooked it slowly for about 30 minutes… delicious! I also bought some meaty pork ribs and made a quick rub with brown sugar, salt, piri piri chilli powder and chopped herbs. This also slow cooked over the BBQ resulting in succulent juice meaty ribs which almost fell off the bone.
I know that holiday cooking is not for everyone… i have many friends who prefer to be cooked for every night of the holiday, but thats not for me. I find it relaxing and its not like cooking at home – the pace is slower, its more hit and miss, and we end up cooking together. Always a pleasure…. never a chore… and its all about the olive oil, salt, garlic and fresh herbs.