Galicia Guide: Part 2

Pulpo

Vigo

Vigo is the biggest city in Galicia, and not really a tourist destination.  Our main reason for going there was to visit the Cies Islands, a nature reserve off the coast, but it turned out to be a great city in and of itself. It’s perched on the side of a fairly steep hill with views out over the Ria, and is largely modern and 19th century, with sweeping boulevards through the city centre. It reminded me of Marseille without the constant feeling that someone is about to mug you. The old town is quite small, you can cross it in five minutes, and is filled with shaded winding passageways leading out into bustling light filled squares. We stayed in the centre in a hotel that seemed to have acquired all of its furnishings from some kind of adult film company prop sale. Each night, without fail, we ended up starting off in  A Lareira, a lovely little wine and food shop in the Old Town which had a few tables. There you could get a selection of great local wines by the glass and delicacies such as cured beef ‘jamon’ and little pinchos. We also enjoyed Taberna Baiuca another wine bar in an adjoining square, which was playing host to the world’s largest dog while we were outside.

Vigo1

Vigo2

Vigo3

Sanxenxo

Sanxenxo is trying to market itself as the Marbella of Galicia, and honestly, the comparison is a bit too kind on Sanxenxo. It’s a town of high rise sixties flats crowded around a city beach. Apparently, it’s the favourite holiday spot for Madrilenos. We spent a considerable portion of the trip in the bus station there, wandering up to various staff, pointing at buses and saying ‘Pontevedra’ in an increasingly fearful tone as bus after bus disappeared off with no regard for timetables. Its saving grace was a visit to the lovely vineyards at Adega Eidos, where we were given a tour in impeccable English by Noella (despite the fact that they get about one set of English language visitors per month). Adega Eidos is at the top of a large hill near the bus station, which we climbed twice. Learn from our mistake, the vineyard is not open from 1-3pm. They make three different albarino wines here as well as some liqueurs, which we tasted after a tour of the lab, vat rooms and the vineyard itself. The tour was genuinely interesting if you’re curious about wine, and trying three entirely different tasting wines made from the same grapes in the same fields gave a great insight into viniculture. Noella was knowledgable and chatty, and we ended up staying far longer than expected. I didn’t bring a camera, but you can see it all on their website.

Pontevedra3

Cambados

Pontevedr4

 

The Cies Islands

The  largest of the Cies Islands is home to the best beach in the world according to the Guardian. It is in fact home to two mountains and multiple beaches, including a nude beach that the guidebook explains is referred to locally as ‘the German beach’. They islands are a nature reserve which only allow 4000 visitors per day, which means that you need to book well in advance in order to be sure of being allowed to visit. We did none of this, and instead turned up at the port hungover and half asleep at 9am in the hopes of getting a cancelled ticket, which we immediately did.  Fighting nausea and exhaustion on the boat over, I wondered if spending 8 hours on an island in the Atlantic was a bad idea. It wasn’t. It is one of the most spectacular places I’ve been. In our eight hours, we managed to climb to all of the various peaks, and swim at most of the beaches (my convent education didn’t leave me feeling suitably prepared for a nude beach). There are two reasonably priced restaurants on the island, as well as public toilets and a supermarket in the small campsite by Lanzada beach which made my hoarding of litres of bottled water and toilet paper in my tote bag pretty redundant. Bring lots of suncream.

Lanzada Beach

Cies 2 Cies Islands

 

Pontevedra

 Halfway through our hellish five hour journey from Cambados to Vigo, a journey of some 50km (timetables are basically a sick joke in Galicia), we spent a large amount of time navigating the suburbs of Pontevedra. They are some of grimmest suburbs I’ve ever seen. So much so, when we arrived in Vigo, I frantically tried to figure out if we could cancel our upcoming two day stay there (we couldn’t). Fortunately, the old town of Pontevedra turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, straight out of Don Quixote. Medieval squares lined with arcades gave way to narrow streets lined with tapas bars. We didn’t actually end up eating or drinking anywhere spectacular, in part due to spending a night watching the World Cup final in a bar that kept loading us up with stodgy free pinchos, but exploring the old town after dark was one of the highlights of the trip.

Pontevedra 1 Pontevedra2

Pontevedra5

 

 

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Roasted Carrot Salad with Bulgar, Feta and Peas

Carrot salad

 

I made this salad a few weeks back during one of my thrice monthly health kicks. These usually last a few days, in which I largely eat plants, go to the gym, take the stairs in work, then remember fried things are delicious and the whole cycle begins again. It was meant to contain all sorts of things other than carrots and peas but I was thwarted by my vanity. I went to the gym, had a long, bitter and thankless workout, and was smugly strolling into the changing room when I was confronted with a host of confused semi clothed women clutching towels around themselves. It quickly became clear that all the water to the building had been cut off, and I was destined to walk home looking and smelling as appealing as a secondary school changing room. I scurried through the backstreets of inner city Dublin like a fugitive, darting through alleyways that probably weren’t the safest to try and avoid human contact. Clearly, going to the supermarket was out of the question, and so I ventured home to raid my fridge, freezer and cupboards to salvage dinner. And this was what I found. The carrots were lingering at the bottom of the vegetable drawer, a little disturbingly since I’d bought them over a month ago. Mint is the only herb that doesn’t die in my dark and damp kitchen, and I had a hoard of bulgar wheat in the cupboard. Thank god for my borderline survivalist stash of dried goods. This salad keeps well for packed lunches, and is quite cheap to make once you have a good store cupboard. 

Makes about 4 side servings

Ingredients

For the roasted carrots

  • 6 carrots, peeled and sliced into batons
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper

For the salad

  • 150g frozen petit pois
  • 150g bulgar wheat (unsoaked weight)
  • 75g feta, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey
  • a few shakes of togarashi or chilli flakes (optional)

Method

  • Mix the carrot batons with the remaining ingredients and roast at 200C for 25 minutes or until soft and a little browned around the edges.
  • Meanwhile, boil the petit pois as per pack instructions.
  • Soak the bulgar wheat in hot water until soft (approximately 20 minutes, but keep tasting)
  • Make the dressing by whisking the oil, juice, garlic, allspice and honey together.
  • Once the bulgar is properly soaked, dress and season with salt, pepper and togarashi/chilli flakes.
  • Mix in the peas, carrots, feta and chopped mint.
  • Serve at room temperature.

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The Island Cottage, Heir Island, West Cork

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Before supper clubs and pop-ups became buzzwords to be lobbed around  by knowing foodies, The Island Cottage was offering the perfect pop up restaurant experience on a small island off the coast of West Cork. Every summer for 25 years, locals and visitors make the five minute ferry journey from Cunnamore Pier to Heir Island, walk up the winding lanes past cottages and fields, and find themselves at the front door of John Desmond and Ellmary Fenton’s cottage for a very unusual restaurant experience.

The Island Cottage restaurant seats 22 people in the living room  for a four course set meal cooked by John and served by Ellmary. John trained at the Ritz Hotel in Paris while Ellmary was manager of the restaurant in the Hôtel de Crillon and this experience shows in the wonderful food created from a tiny domestic kitchen, and the efficiency of serving a large amount of people in a quite small space.

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I have been hearing about the Island Cottage for years, as my dad honed his cooking skills at the one on one cooking school run out of the kitchen, and many of my favourite dishes growing up came from here (including Duck Aigre-Douce). As a child and teenager my fussy eating habits would not have suited the fixed menu format, but over the past few years I have learnt to eat pretty much everything. Once you’ve eaten bull testicles, you’ve pretty much crossed the fussy eating rubicon. On this visit,kindly sponsored by my parents, we were blessed with the kind of  beautifully sunny evening that makes West Cork the equal of the Cote D’Azur or Amalfi. We started off with drinks in the herb garden behind the cottage, with views across the evocatively named Roaringwater Bay to Mount Gabriel, and Jeremy Iron’s pink castle. When dinner was ready, Ellmary ushered us inside and provided me with some aloe vera lotion for my recently acquired sunburn, while guiding the various tables through the menu. Depending on your party size, you may have a table by yourself as our group of four did, or you may share with others

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The meals at the Island Cottage combine classic French cooking with great local ingredients.Our starter was a delicate cured salmon with home-made mayonnaise, pickled cucumber and delicate little loaves of brown bread. I have a challenging relationship with salmon, I love it raw and hate it cooked, and this was just perfect. Brown bread similarly would not be high on my list, but we ended up polishing off ours so quickly we were supplied with a second helping. The main was cod with a creamy mushroom bonne femme sauce and potato pureed with olive oil. The cod having been handpicked that morning by John from the fish market at Union Hall was immaculately fresh. It was delicate and melted into perfect little bites at the touch of a fork. This was followed by a slice of local Gubbeen cheese along with a tart fresh beetroot garnish that perfectly complimented the nuttiness of the cheese. Our dessert was a white chocolate mousse with passionfruit and raspberry sauce. I was the only person at the table who actually likes white chocolate but this again was devoured by all. It managed to capture the sweetness and creaminess of white chocolate, without the cloying feeling it usually leaves.

At midnight, our dinner complete, we wandered down the pitch dark lanes (bring a torch) of the island to our waiting ferry and made the trip back across the bay under the millions of stars that are never visible in inner city Dublin. It was the kind of evening to savour in your memory for a very long time.

 

The Island Cottage

Heir/Hare Island

Skibbereen

Co Cork

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Broad Bean Dip with Mint, Garlic and Parmesan

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An unusual little shop opened on the slightly desolate stretch of Dun Laoghaire Main Steet near the People’s Park recently, taking the place of a perenially empty Indian restaurant. To the untrained eye, it looks like a slightly spartan newsagent, but inside it’s filled with a selection of all the random things a Guardian reader could need. Family members have sourced Sheridan’s cheese, olives, and tamarind paste in recent weeks along with  fresh vegetables like baby aubergines and okra.

Recently they’ve been selling glorious Irish broad beans (fava beans) for next to nothing and today I bagged myself a kilo out of the sheer excitement of seeing them. Broad beans scream cliches like ‘summer in a bowl’ and ‘fresh and healthy’. Which is what you need when your last meal was a mountain of chips from the fantastically named ‘Legends of Dun Laoghaire’ chipper at stupid o’clock. Unfortunately, if you’ve had an evening where garlic cheesy chips seemed like a good idea, the chances are the next day isn’t going to be a very productive one. Sunday afternoon laziness kicked in.  So I turned them into a lovely dip, the ultimate in lazy cooking. This is quick and easy to make and moderately healthy.

Serves 4 with bread and other things to dip in

Ingredients

  • 300g shelled broad beans (from about 600g weight in their pods)
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 heaped teaspoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated parmesan/pecorino/vegetarian-friendly hard cheese if you’re that way inclined
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • A few fresh mint leaves
  • Salt/pepper

Method

  • Shell the peas, and boil in their skins for 3-5 minutes in a medium saucepan until soft.
  • Drain the beans from the saucepan, run a paper towel over it to dry it and return it to a low heat
  • Heat the butter in the saucepan, and cook the onion until soft and glistening, about 6 or 7 minutes
  • Add the garlic for two minutes until it colours slightly
  • Remove from the heat and add the broads back in (you don’t need to take them out of their pale outer skins for this)
  • Add the remaining ingredients, and blend.
  • The puree won’t be completely smooth, but shouldn’t have any big chunks.
  • Check the seasoning and serve with warm pitta bread.

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Galicia Guide: Part 1

Santiago Arches

Galicia is a part of Iberia which is largely overlooked by non-Spaniards. Unlike the images I tend to associate with Spain, it’s green and lush, with milder temperatures and beautiful beaches and rias (estuaries dotting the coast). It’s a cheap place to visit, with a glass of great local wine costing no more than €2.5o, and lots of great local seafood, as well as good rail connections between the major towns.  I couldn’t find a lot written about Galicia, so I’m putting up a mini guide to the places I visited and enjoyed.

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela is the best known of the Galician cities for tourists. The end of the Camino de Santigo pilgrimage route across Northern Spain, it is packed to the gills with tired looking pilgrims and hikers. The prices reflect this, and it was the most expensive place we stayed in Galicia, which is still pretty cheap by Irish standards. It is breathtakingly beautiful, with dramatic gothic buildings, winding streets, and lovely squares.

Scallops are traditional here to mark the end of the pilgrimage, but fish of all kind play a big part. Pulpo a feira, boiled octopus cut in slices and sprinkled with paprika  features on every menu, and at the local market there is a guy with a big pot of ocotopus boiling all day ready for people to buy a tentacle as a snack. We tried it first at a great local place recommended by our concierge, La Bodeguilla de San Roque along with a tangy stew of prawns, oyster mushrooms and seaweed, and a plate of salt cod croquetas.

The next night we returned to the central market for a small tasting menu of fresh fish at the Abastos Taberna at the market. Portions were tiny (think one razor clam per person) but the food was very fresh and elegant, with subtle flavours to accentuate the fish. At €21 a head, it was the most expensive meal we probably had, but the staff and atmosphere were lovely. Afterwards we joined the crowd of locals drinking wine on benches outside, fuelled with mini pinchos like a warm crab cake. Each evening, we started out in our hotel, Costa Vella, which had the most beautiful garden which was open to non-guests. They have  small cafe and bar there, where you can sit with a plate of olives and a glass of wine and catch the evening sun. This was probably my favourite bit of Santiago and I was so busy enjoying it that I forgot to take photos, but trust me, it is wonderful.

Santiago

sardines Santiago

Santiago streetscape

 

Cambados

Cambados is a small, pretty coastal town known as the home of Albarino wine. The old quarter is very small but lovely, and dotted with lively tapas bars. Being perfectly honest, this is probably somewhere to spend an afternoon rather than stay, and it turned out  to be very difficult to reach by public transport unless you come from Santiago. Buses in Galicia have a habit of not turning up, or turning up late, and their main saving grace is being extremely cheap. They also alternate between saying where they have come from, and where they are going on the front, so you never know where it is actually en-route to.

We did find a truly lovely restaurant  in Cambados, hidden in a walled garden beside the beautiful Pazo de Fefinanes, which made the trip worthwhile. The Terraza of Bodega Gil Armada served raciones of fresh fish, salads and empanadas for very reasonable prices, all under the shade of huge magnolia trees. The vineyards which produce the Gil Armada wine are visible in the distance, and a glass of their crisp Albarino cost €2.50 (the standard price for glass of good wine in Galicia we discovered). We tried some pimientos de padron, pan fried local green peppers sprinkled with salt, and were given pinchos of their mussels with vinaigrette and a mussel empanada. Later, we wandered through town and tried a few more spots, including a tiny wine bar where the lady behind the bar produced two freshly cooked mini hamburgers with manchego to accompany our midnight glass of wine.

 

 

Pimientos de Padron

Bajo MagnoliaMussels Cambados

 

 

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Crispy Spiced Lamb with Aubergine and Pomegranate

Lamb with Aubergine

During my most recent, technically ongoing,  attempt at becoming one of those fit, healthy, exercise loving people, I signed up for the daily Women’s Health Magazine email.  Ever since then, it’s been a daily barrage of guilt (“four foods you have to stop eating or your loved ones will turn against you”, “five ways your flabby arms are ruining your career”) combined with some fairly sweeping statements about physical intimacy that do not bear close examination. It’s a constant reminder that I am just not one of those gym junkie types.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the gym being both relaxing and addictive. For me, it’s cooking that offers the kind of buzz and sense of calm people get from exercise. I exercise based on a combination of Catholic guilt and fear.  The most relaxing thing for me is a day with nothing to do but cook. This lamb dish from the Morito cookbook was made on one of those kind of days, a lazy Sunday with hours to spend in the kitchen. It’s a little bit time consuming, but not tricky to make, and it looks so pretty at the end that you get a fantastic sense of accomplishment.  I followed the recipe pretty much to the word, but if I was remaking it, I’d add some tahini to the aubergine to give a bit of extra bite. This dish serves 6-8 as part of a mezze.

Ingredients

  • 600g stewing lamb
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or a cinnamon stick)
  • 1 onion, halved
  • a few sprigs of thyme and some bay leaves
  • 3 aubergines
  • 3 tablespoons greek yoghurt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 50g butter
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • chilli flakes, to serve
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pinenuts

Method

  • Put the lamb in a large sauce pan with all of the ingredients down to and including the bay leaves.
  • Simmer for around 45-50 minutes, skimming the froth off the top as you go (appealing, I know!)
  • The meat should be very soft and easy to tear apart with a fork/your hands once cooled (test with a fork before taking off the heat)
  • Roast the aubergines in a very hot oven, over a gas flame or over a barbecue until soft (around 45 minutes in an oven at 220C)
  • Once they cooled, scrape the flesh from the skin into a bowl, and blend with a stick blender.
  • Stir in the yoghurt, oil, lemon juice and garlic.
  • Once the lamb is torn into small shreds, heat the butter in a saucepan.
  • Cook the onion in the butter with a pinch of salt until soft and sweet, 10-15 minutes.
  • Add the spices and cook for a minute, then add in the lamb.
  • Fry until bits of the lamb are crisping up, then remove from the heat, and pile on top of the aubergine in a big bowl.
  • Top with the pinenuts, mint and pomegranate seeds.

 

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