As it is good tradition on this blog a culinary souvenir from the country we’ve visited in the form of a recipe must not be missed. Cause it’s not only seeing different things that make travelling so exciting and enriching … it’s as well so much about different smells and flavours.
When it comes to culinary traditions, for me the Portuguese are the masters in making the most of simple ingredients. Have a look at the various sweet pastries they have. They’re all basically made of three simple ingredients: (lots of) eggs, sugar, flour.
And their main dishes: a good quality piece of fish, seafood or meat thrown on the grill, perhaps some olive oil and coriander leaves – that’s it! And it’s so perfectly good.
But what I really fell in love with this time we stayed in Portugal was pão alentejano and queijo fresco. Bread and fresh cheese – as simple as it gets.
This bread! I could have survived solely from eating this from morning to evening:
… toasted with some butter and local honey in the morning,
… as tosta filled with ham and cheese for lunch,
… cut into thick slices accompanied by some petiscos like olives, tomatoes, pâte de sardinha, chouriço and of course queijo fresco in the evening.
The secret to this bread?
It has a rich, slightly sour flavour which comes from the starter dough that is fermented for two days.
It’s moist and soft inside due to the long periods the dough is left for rise.
The low baking temperature (at least for bread) results in a thick and crisp crust.
With the help of some Portuguese pages and Google translate I baked my version and have to say that I’m really satisfied! Although it couldn’t fully reach the bread I had eaten in Portugal – how could it! – it awakened holiday memories, together with the simple homemade queijo fresco. If I would have used real cheese moulds (which I ordered right after this) it would have been even less fuss (and mess) to prepare.
Not to forget: the Portuguese are not only my kings of baking bread now, but also of making the most of leftovers, turning them into something totally new and absolutely delicious! Cause one disadvantage of pão alentejano is that it doesn’t keep fresh too long, the Portuguese kitchen offers several dishes to use leftover stale bread: Açorda, ensopado, sopa seca, migas … all of them are brilliantely compiled and beautifully illustrated by Alexandra Klobouk and Rita Cortes Valente de Oliveira in their book “Die Portugiesische Küche. A Cozínha Portuguesa” – the latest addition to my ever growing cook book collection. Besides – obviously – authentic Portuguese recipes it’s full of interesting stories, atmospheric pictures and the lovely illustrations of Alexandra.
starter dough: 100 g bread flour (type 550), 1 teaspoon active dry yeast, 50 ml lukewarm water
final dough: 650 g bread flour (type 550), 12 g salt, 400 ml water
Add water and dried yeast into a jar, stir until yeast has dissolved. Add flour and stir into a tough paste. Close the lid, but not fully, so that the gases that develop during the fermentation process can escape. Transfer to the fridge and keep there for preferably 48 hours. This is important to create the characteristic sour flavour of the bread.
After two days: In a big bowl knead remaining flour and water into a dough. Let rest for 20 minutes. Add starter dough and salt and knead the bread dough for at least 5 minutes until you have an even ball. Coat the bowl with olive oil, return dough to the bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for another four hours. After two hours quickly knead dough to remove some air and let rest for the remaining two hours.
At this point you can seperate 100 g of the main dough and keep it as your new starter dough in the fridge. It will be ready in another two days.
Press the dough into a small square shape, fold one half over the other to form a loaf. Transfer bread loaf to a lined baking tray, cover with a towel and let rise for another 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 250°C. Bake bread for 5 minutes at 250°C, then reduce temperature and bake for another 45 minutes at 200°C.
1 l whole milk (goat or cow), 1 teaspoon salt, 2 rennet tablet
In a big pot heat milk to about 35°C. Take a few tablespoons of the milk and dissolve rennet tablets in it. Stir into the rest of the milk and let sit for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile prepare cheese moulds. After 30 minutes the milk should have seperated into whey and curds. Cut cheese into squares in the pot. Transfer into cheese moulds with a skimmer. Press down to remove any excess whey. Drain in the fridge over night. Keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.