Monday, July 18, 2011

A story with a zest of beach and sea and a tomato and bream rice

There were three. Maria, João and Manuel. The big summer holidays usually would bring them all to the house of their maternal grandparents in the Algarve during three weeks. The house was near the beach. It had two storeys and was painted white. The windows were outlined by a blue bar and small vases, attached to the wall with red scented geraniums. A wooden fence, also painted in white, went around the house, cut only by a gate situated opposite the main entrance. Inside the fence, a small garden with flower beds, two orange trees, one fig tree and a three-foot vine that grew around some sticks of wood and covered all the space next to the stairs to the roof terrace - "açoteia" as it is still called in that region. Often, it was there that the children played at the end of the afternoon, in the shade, under the large and ripe bunches of grapes. Other times, they delighted themselves with very sweet ripe figs that they hand picked from the fig tree.

Maria was the eldest, Joana was the middle sister and Manuel was the youngest. They were exactly three years older between each other. Manuel often had to resort to crying many fat and salty tears, to enforce his will. But age is, at some times, a hierarchical position and both sisters would end giving up.

Summer days had a routine of its own. A trip to the beach early in the morning. Sometimes their grandmother, other times, the maid called Teresa, who their parents urged to accompany the children to the sea water. Nonetheless, what they really loved was playing on the sand.

With their shovels, buckets of various shapes and forms, they would build castles where, in more than one occasion, there lived a beautiful princess trapped by a spell which never let her leave the castle during the day, or a terrible queen, with bitter look, which trapped all the fat and chubby children who later were reduced into small lovely frogs that she liked playing with. They also would build fortresses full of spices and treasures which not even Captain Hook could dream of, and boats with sails torned by the sheer force of the wind, clumsy pirates on stilts who didn't know how to whistle, mermaid singing sweet melodies to all the sailors who were left unconscious in a very deep sleep letting their boats sink, giant whales and colorful fish that the children have never seen.

After lunch, in their naps, their dreams were populated with adventures with a zest of sea. Manuel, who always dreamt of being a brave, strong and fearless sailor, had always to save his sisters who recklessly would engage in trouble.

Apart from all the fun from playing with the sand, they were delighted when their grandfather António took them fishing. Grandpa would prepare the rods, hooks and bait, and each one would take a bucket to bring the fish or a clam or two that sometimes were picked up in the Ria Formosa. Those fishing trips were magical. But it was even more magical when they returned home and grandpa went to the kitchen to prepare a delicious meal with the small fish they had caught.

Maria, Joana and Manuel, grew, had children of their own and grandfather Antonio had already departed. But they all believed they all remembered gleefully of those summer holidays and grandpa's fish recipe, which is currently made on special occasions.

1kg bream
2 onions
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon paprika
3 ripe tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1.5dl olive oil
salt and pepper
400g carolinorice
hot water (approx. 1.2L)

1. Cut bream to evenly slices and sprinkle with salt.

2. In a pan, bring to medium heat, olive oil and sauté the half-moon sliced onions, crushed garlic, bay leaves and paprika.

3. After breaking the onion, add the chopped skinless and seedless tomato. Boil until almost it is turned into puree. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Add 2.5dl of warm water. When it starts boiling add the slices of bream. Once cooked remove the slices and set aside.

5. Add the remaining water and add the rice. Rectify the seasoning.

6. Serve the rice with the fish slices.

This rice is delicious. The tomato makes all the difference. I found this recipe in a book titled Receitas Portuguesas ("Portuguese Recipes") by Francisco Guedes.

With this story and this tasty tomato rice and fish, I join the third anniversary celebration of figo lampo.

Margarida, congratulations!

[ Originally published in Portuguese as Uma história com sabor a praia e mar e um arroz de goraz ]

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