Refugio da Villa Cooking School
Cooking classes are not for the faint of tummy. Tragically for me I had a bug this day and could not face cooking but I deputised husband John to take my place at the bench and gave instructions to pay attention and pick up all the tips. I stayed around though to take some photos and when it came time to eat the results I gingerly had a teaspoon of each dish but I was holding out for a full recovery, there were many more food and wine days ahead for my group in Portugal.
The class was held in the original homey kitchen filled with Portuguese cooking artifacts. It was in a traditional ‘Manor House’ that is now open for business as a hotel. We were welcomed in the morning with a light glass of white wine and then it was all hands inside the kitchen with chef and his assistant who warmly conveyed all the secrets of the Portuguese kitchen.
Dried black eye peas are used as frequently as the Italians use cannellini beans, cooked and spiced up with a couple of herbs and spices and then used as a salad or topping. Only the Italians would put it on toasted thick country bread, not these dried melba toasts you see here in the photo. Surprising because we found that flavourful country style bread is served all over Portugal. We all looked forward to tasting the many varieties of bread baked with ground corn that was frequently included in bread baskets.
The traditional cooking implement of Portugal is the Cataplana, seen here in the picture. It is very versatile as it can interlock its lid allowing you to flip it over. The food all looks a bit orange doesn’t it, well there is lots of tomato and paprika used here. One of the dishes was salted dogfish, now there is a name to turn your stomach. Similiar to dried cod, the fish so loved here but now we hear most of it comes into Portugal from Scandinavian waters. Another dish we had was Migas, one of the many bread enhanced dishes in Portugal. It uses up left over bread and is found in most regions of the country in various regional recipes.
Dessert was Sericaia – another rich set custard tart, this time served with sugar plums the traditional accompaniment in Alentejo. Such egg rich desserts are integral to the sweet way of life here.