We took the scenic route to Almeria via the Grace Kelly Memorial Route –
A bit of wandering around the old town hall square and cathedral –
We had a fabulous lunch of local specialities at Bodega Aranda, but you will have to wait for the next post for details of that……..
We found this fantastic stall where workmen were ordering butties filled with fried fish as a mid morning snack, and before we knew it had been persuaded into a sample plate of their dishes. Whitebait and Squid in crispy batter, Artichoke quarters and Aubergine slices dusted with flour and deep fried, a battered rectangle with a soft centre which turned out to be made from chickpea flour and fluffy potato and fish croquettes. All served with crispy yellow bread and local wine.
Lush greenery of banana groves, orange nasturtium flowers tumbling wildly down the banks of terraced plantations, mountain peaks cushioned from the sky by clouds coloured like dissolved rainbows, layer of colour upon layer of colour making it hard for your brain to work out the perspective. Lower down the slopes the greenery is broken by bright white houses with terracotta tiled roofs and dark green shutters framing the windows. The road on which I am travelling makes another step in the terracing which continues downwards to my left and the sea.
I am in Madeira. The island of 700 varieties of tropical fruits.
Maracuya – Passion fruit – I lost count of the number of varieties that we were offered samples of. There were ones with a hint of Pineapple, or lemon, or orange, or lime. Then there are Mango, Papaya, Avocado Pears, Kiwi Fruit, bitter Cherries, Custard Apple with creamy smooth flesh and shiny black seeds, the bright orange Caci or Persimmon which we know well in Spain but are just starting to be popular in northern Europe.
There are the fruit of the Monstera Deliciosa – Swiss Cheese plant, called in Madeira Filodendro. You buy them green and wait for them to finish ripening when the outer skin breaks open and reveals succulent little nuggets of fruit below which you pick off. The taste is slightly of pineapple. I did buy one to bring home, and was hoping that it would not erupt before I got here where I could photograph it for you in its stages of opening, but alas it had other ideas and made a sticky mess en route.
There are all the citrus fruits, from Clementines to Oranges, Lemons, Limes and Grapefruit.
Pineapples, Melons, Plums, Dates, Tree Tomatoes and the more usual Apples and Pears.
And above all Bananas. Mostly the dwarf Bananas with their small soft and sweet fruit, but also Silver Bananas and Apple Bananas. Where here in southern Spain, most small plots in the countryside have a plantation of citrus, in Madeira it is bananas. They are served fried with fillets of fish, which is not one of my favourite combinations. Much more successful are slices of fresh banana with goats cheese, try it you will be surprised at how well they complement one another.
The island has been a favourite settling down spot for the seafaring English, who have contributed their cake baking tastes. The famous Madiera cake, custard tarts – Tartas de Nata and Tortas De Arroz – light sponge cakes made even lighter by the addition of rice flour being the most popular.
Not surprisingly fish feature heavily in Madeiran cuisine. Espetada is a fish only found in these waters and those around Japan. It is a black skinned fish and not pretty, but very tasty especially served with a passion fruit sauce. The Tuna are big and meaty. Limpets prised from the rocky shoreline are a local delicacy. There are prawns and lobster, sardines and jacks, as well as the big game fish of Merlin and Swordfish. Being part of Portugal there is also dried Cod, Bacalao, but I am not sure if this is locally caught or shipped in.
The café on the roof of Los Lavradores Market in Funchal where we ate this fabulous salad with its topping of mango, papaya, dates, fresh goats cheese, walnuts and with passion fruit to pour over as a dressing. Their house toasted sandwich was a great combination of melted cheese, sweet onions, roasted red pepper paste and fresh oregano. Or you can just enjoy a quiet drink in the sunshine surrounded by potted plants away from the bustle of the market below.
Tasca Literaria Dona Joana Rabo-De-Peixe in the old town of Funchal. The ambiance is comfy old library with sofas for lounging and tables to eat. The chef here knows how to season food perfectly. Freshly made salt cod fritters served with a black-eyed bean salad which was dressed with finely chopped sweet onion, fresh parsley, lemon juice and olive oil. Papas con Mojo Picon, wrinkly potatoes still in their skins and firey red pepper sauce. Guacamole made in the usual way with a touch of garlic, lime and chilli, but with the unusual addition of fresh ginger. It worked really well and my guacamole will be spiced with ginger from now on.
Olives. Tucked into one of the pedestrian streets near the cathedral of Funchal this intimate restaurant has impeccable charming service and interesting food beautifully executed. The spinach and potato veloute was wonderfully light and creamy. Sardines with spicy tomato salad. Duck with mango sauce and sweet potatoes.
Pomodoro Rosso. Super stylish modern Milano décor. Good risottos as an Italian restaurant should have. The veal saltimbocca was excellent as was the fillet steak. Let down by frozen vegetables with the main course and charging for the amuse bouche.
Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will have spotted that I cannot resist a market. The more bustle and colour the more I like it. The scents of the spices and olives, the colours of the fruits, the exciting expectation of finding something not found anywhere else. All these things make a market interesting to me.
The central market in Malaga is housed in a building inspired by Les Halles in Paris, which not forgetting its arab origins is in neo moharabe style and retains one of the tenth century marble towers as well as its nazari name from when it was the Atarazanas – the shipbuilders. When I first visited Malaga the market building was still suffering from the “improvements” done in the sixties, which included a mezzanine floor which cut out the natural light and made the hall feel dingy and sliced in half the stained glass window that fills one end of the central hall. Thankfully the former glory has been returned to.
I am in the Alps this week, in theory escaping from the Spanish heat to the glacial coolness of the mountains, but France is in the midst of a heatwave. Even so, the nights are lovely and cool.
The Mont Blanc Tunnel is only ten minutes away, so I love to go through for an Italian fix while I am here. The Aosta Valley is so beautiful with its grey stone houses topped with huge round slates that over time develop wonderful hues, castles and fortresses that in ancient, and probably not so ancient times, were bases from which to defend the valley and rushing rivers that even at this time of the year are frothing with melt water from high up the mountains. The steep sides of the valley are terraced and planted with neat rows of vines each with a pretty rose bush at the end to act as an early warning system for mildew. Lower down are orchards of fruit trees enclosed by dry stone walls that have been there for centuries. In the high alpine meadows graze herds of cattle which provide the milk for the best butter that I have ever tasted, and a range of distinctive cheeses. Bleu d’Aoste, Fontina and Fromadzo as well as fresh cheeses that have to be eaten within a couple of days of being made.
For me, one of the joys of travelling is to be able to sample fresh food in its place of origin. I love Mozerella di Bufala, which in theory is available outside Italy, but until you have tasted it in Italy, you haven’t really tried it. The lightness is just not equal in the Mozerella for export. A new find for me is Burratina, a variation of Mozerella that is even lighter and creamier in the centre. So I have to buy some to take back to France to share with my friends.
I am having a group of chums round so that I can catch up with them in my brief stay here. This is the dinner that I prepared for them.
To start a salad of Batavia, fresh and sundried tomatoes dressed with pesto, toasted local walnuts, all topped with a generous portion of Burratina.
Belly of veal in slices, 1 slice per person
Mortadella in a piece
Olive oil for frying
1 onion, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
fresh or dried thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
butter for frying
Cut each slice of veal belly in two. Cut the mortadella into batons that will fit with the width of the veal slices. Wrap the veal round the mortadella and secure with a cocktail stick. Season them with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a shallow pan that has a lid and will take all the rolls in one layer. Fry the rolls turning them to lightly brown them on all sides.
Add the chopped onions and garlic, and continue frying for five minutes.
Add the white wine to come to just over half way up the rolls. Add a pinch or two of thyme.
Cover and cook at a simmer for an hour, turning the rolls after half an hour. Turn the heat down to the minimum and continue cooking for another hour and a half. By this time the sauce should have reduced slightly and be a thicker consistency. If the sauce reduces too much and the dish becomes dry, add a little chicken stock or water.
Peel and slice the carrots. fry in butter in a covered pan turning from time to time until golden on both sides. Add to the veal rolls.
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water to which a splash of olive oil has been added until al dente.
Remove the veal rolls to a warm dish and remove the cocktail sticks.
Add the pasta to the white wine sauce and stir to amalgamate.