Cooking is a whole lot easier when you’ve got the freshest ingredients available at your fingertips. That’s why cooking in the summer is ideal, where farmers’ markets abound with foods begging to be made into something delectable. My vacation cooking in the southwestern Algarve was interrupted this year by swarming flies (don’t get me started!) but before they wreaked their havoc (and my creativity), I was able to create a few simple yet sensational meals.
These same winds which eventually carried swarms of pesky flies into the region, gently carry sea salted air into my Algarve kitchen. As the winds blow from the sea across the arid land, the winds pick up the flavors of the region, wild herbs like sage and rosemary mingling with sea salt delivering their distinguished aroma.
As I assembled a platter of fresh figs, sliced goat cheese, Algarve honey and chopped mint, breezes wafted through the open window blanketing and infusing my dish with mysterious flavors. Sadly, that air, which magically waves it’s flavor wand on my food, cannot be bottled and brought back to the states like the Piri Piri oil which I was able to carry home. (What I’m trying to say is that food just tastes better there!) But I will share this dish with you, knowing that the taste will certainly please your palate, but to me it’s missing something. One ingredient which makes it sensational and cannot be replaced — the Algarve air.
All you need is about 4 fresh figs, a round of creamy goat cheese with a rind like a Bucheron, a handful of fresh mint and a tablespoon or two of local honey. And if you’re feeling it, dot it with your favorite hot sauce like the Portuguese Piri Piri oil to give it a spicy kick. Just slice and arrange as you wish on a platter and imagine you’ve got the Gulf of Cadiz in the background.