I’m obsessed. I’m really obsessed and I’m really okay with it. Whenever I travel to a different place, I do my best to absorb the local food and try whatever I can. I ate a lot of Portuguese food over the week that I was in Lisbon and The Algarve, and for the most part everything was incredible. The three stand out things that I had, though, were Vinho Verde, Pastel de Nata and Couvert.
Lets start with the wine. So in the North of Portugal there is a region that specializes in a wine called Vinho Verde. It’s essentially “Green Wine”. It’s fresh off the line and should be enjoyed fairly soon after bottling. It’s a lot like a white version of Beaujolais in that respect. It’s medium dry, and a little effervescent and it is absolutely awesome. It has a a low alcohol content so it’s very easy to drink and relax with, but it’s gentle enough that you aren’t going to be hung over the next day. We ordered it with every single meal and it was just great. My Partner in Crime who is not very into wine really liked it, and it’s always nice to share things. Our preferred bottle was Muralhas de Moncao which you can find on the wine list at pretty much every restaurant and it was massively affordable.
Now lets move on to the Pastry. Pastel de Nata is the local delicacy. It comes from Belem, which is tucked up next to Lisbon. It’s a custard tart in a very very flaky crispy pastry shell. It’s delicate yet decadent. The custard is subtle with vanilla but firm, smooth and creamy. I tried this both in Lisbon, and in The Algarve and I personally think the ones in Lisbon were much better. One of the best moments on this trip was sitting in a little cafe off the beaten path in Lisbon, surrounded by trees and having a Pastel de Nata with coffee. Just a perfect moment.
And now, Couvert. This is where you’ll have to bear with me because I may sound a wee bit crazy. Couvert is essentially like a bread basket you get before a meal. Unlike in some other countries, it is charged for, but it’s very inexpensive. Couvert translates to Cover. Every restaurant has a slightly different version but it is usually Bread, Butter, Olives, Tuna Paste (or other fish paste/pate) and sometimes Marinated Garlic Carrots. One place also had Feta with the Olives. The star of the show is the Tuna Paste. It’s such a great start to a meal. You just snack on whichever combinations of things you want. I’m all about variety and I love to pick at things with different flavors and textures. A smear of butter and tuna paste on a small piece of bread, then an olive, then another bit of bread and maybe a garlic carrot or two. The flavors were so simple, clean, and different. And of course, European bread is always divine. I firmly stated whilst I was there that I could have Cover and a glass of wine for lunch every day and I would be completely content. And I did. Three times.
Of course, when I got home I wanted it again, so I’ve approximated it and the recipe is below. Serve it up with some black and green olives and some hunks of fluffy bread.
Tuna Paste for Couvert
1 Can Tuna in Water, drained (4-5oz)
2 Tablespoons Mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/4 Small White Onion, finely diced
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, minced
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
Salt and Pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together and taste. Adjust lemon juice and herbs and spices as necessary to be the most happy to your palate. Let sit in the fridge for an hour to let the flavors mingle and mellow. Serve with bread, butter and olives, preferably in the sunshine with a glass of wine on a mellow day.