The Algarve, Portugal

Cooking for athletes on the Algarve turned out to be easy. All that was difficult was avoiding too much of the cheap, extremely quaffable vinho verde.

The fish markets in Quarteira were a particular pleasure, heaped with everything from the wild and wonderful (long, snake-like espada fish, black with bulging eyes and enormous teeth) to the cheerfully appealing (cockles, pippis and clams in abundance, all spitting at shoppers as they walked by). We bought a gleefully ugly monkfish for a garlicky stew, turning its liver into pate along the way, and ate a plethora of local breams and shellfish. The local recipe for cockles couldn’t be simpler or more delicious: steamed in olive oil, garlic, white wine and fresh coriander.

Wild herbs such as lavender, thyme and rosemary grow by the sea and provided a ready source for cooking over the month we spent there. Rabbit was widely available and made an excellent paella with chunks of sweet blood sausage, and other meats, particularly pork, were cheap and available in wide range of cuts. Greens are in abundance, locally grown, and while we were there grelos (in this case the flowering tops to a kale plant), made for very pretty, if occasionally stringy, eating. Also popular locally are warrigal greens! Yes, Australia’s own native spinach-like plant has made it all the way to Portugal, where it’s become a popular vegetable patch addition. Apparently the plant is also grown in France. Why it’s not grown in more Australian gardens, I don’t know. While we were there we added handfuls of warrigal greens to seafood stews, or sauteed with garlic to serve with simply prepared pork cuts.
Near the cross-country course where runners from around the world kicked up their heels, a local restaurant Casa do Mel (known locally by English-speakers as the Honey Farm) provided good meals, gorgeous housemade carob cakes (with carob prepared from local carob trees) and local honey from bees drunk on the region’s orange flowers. Did I mention the oranges? Why the runners sucked on gels on long runs, I’ll never know. I just nicked an orange off the handiest tree!
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