Last week I was lost in the fragrant orange groves of Valencia. The sweet floral aroma of azahar seemed to surround me. Yet I hadn’t broken our regional lockdown. Instead, I had been transported from my dining room table to the heart of Mediterranean Spain thanks to the sensory pleasure of sipping a Moscatel white wine from Valencia in between indulging in a spoonful of homemade Valencian orange marmalade! I know, the combination certainly sounds original, (if not a little strange), but it made for a deliciously captivating, fragrant combination that was so evocative of the Valencia region.
As travel has become increasingly restricted and complicated, destination marketing is getting ever more creative by allowing food to bring the joy of travel into our homes. A growing trend in the Covid-19 era is for tourism organisations to send boxes of emblematic artisan foods and wines to travel agents, travel writers and online marketers.
My recent box of goodies had come from Bio Sense (an initiative between the autonomous region of Valencia and its chamber of commerce). Bio Sense hosted a ‘blind tasting’ via Zoom, with a top chef, together with video portraits of local food and wine producers.
After all, food and travel are inextricably linked. Getting stuck into some local grub is one of the best ways as a visitor we can connect with a culture. Sightseeing often feels obligatory when travelling, yet it’s the markets, bars, restaurants and local homes where we gain an insight into traditions and culture, as well as creating some of the best, most delicious holiday memories.
So, during this holiday season like no other, when many of us are not leaving our homes, let alone our local communities, what better way to rekindle our taste for travel than with some international food experiences enjoyed at home!
Looking back on my year of travel, I recall that my first trip away after the spring lockdown was to the picturesque Cadiz hilltop town of Vejer de la Frontera. This sparkling citadel of sun-bleached whitewashed Moorish architecture looks out towards the Atlantic ocean. On a typically brilliant clear day the mountains of Morocco are visible, a tantalising glimpse of the exotic. A little of the magic of 1001 Arabian Nights can be enjoyed at El Jardín del Califa, the romantic restaurant created by James Stuart. Dishes celebrate North African cuisine, full of Moorish and Berber influences, redolent of the colours, aromas, and flavours of the exotic.
If you want to recreate a little of this enchantment at home, visit the news section of www.califavejer.com where you’ll find recipes as well as links to cooking videos where James shares his love of this most flavoursome cuisine, from easy-to-make babaganoush and hummus, tender, slow-cooked tagines, to sweet treats like lemon and almond cake.
Flavours from the lagoon
If you’re a regular reader of this monthly section, you’ll recall that later in the year our summer travel was to Venice. The lagoon city was more romantic than ever. Without the cruise ship crowds it felt easier to blend in with the locals.
The secret canal-side garden of the Il Palazzo Experimental Hotel is the place for cicchetti and cocktails with the neighbourhood residents of the artsy Dorsoduro district. Executive Chef Attilio Franzoi has shared a recipe with us for the holiday season, a sumptuous, ‘Dark Chocolate Cremoso with date compote and amaretti’. A pudding that will bring the beauty of Italy into your kitchen. Here’s the recipe (for 8):
500g Arriba chocolate 52%
250g full cream milk
Melt the cornflour in cold full cream milk. Bring to a boil continuing to mix with a whisk. Then pour into a bowl with the chocolate. Stir with a spatula until it has all completely melted and blended. Finally pour the mix into a silicone mold. Let it settle overnight.
300g pitted dates
300 gr Disaronno amaretto
Pour the dates and amaretto in a saucepan and bring to the boil, evaporating the alcohol and cooking the dates. Use a whisk to reduce the dates into a compote.
Meringue to garnish:
200g egg white
400g sugar creamy
Whip the egg whites, adding sugar little by little. When it reaches a foamy crème, put the meringue into a pastry bag and form small meringues. Bake at 120 degrees for 2 hours.
I’m sure you’ll agree that this year has been enough to drive even the most resilient to drink. Although 2020 may not have given us much to celebrate, with lockdowns, restrictions, financial worries and, for some families, much worse, it’s important to continue to enjoy life.
Well, that’s my excuse for a renewed interest in making cocktails at home; inspired by the bar men and women I’ve met at hotels and restaurants this year, whose signature creations have really enhanced each travel experience.
Last month our Portugal Road Trip feature took us to Lisbon and the urban cool of SUD Lisboa, a unique restaurant, bar, and pool lounge. Head barman Nuno Rodrigues has shared the secret of his festive signature cocktail, ‘Snowy Berries’. Here’s the recipe:
40ml Cîroc red berry vodka
30ml ‘Funkin’ Mixed Berry purée
10ml Belsazar Vermouth Rosé
20ml lemon juice
20ml sugar syrup
30ml egg white
Glassware: ‘Old Fashioned’ short tumbler.
Shake the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and then strain into the tumbler.
Garnish: Raspberry, a sprig of mint, cinnamon and icing sugar.
Bubbles for everyone!
Closer to home, here on the coast we have one of Spain’s finest cocktail bars at Marbella Club. Rudi’s is the new Clubhouse lounge and bar, an elegant homage to Count Rudi, the hotel’s first General Manager, who has been part of the Marbella story for decades.
Rudi’s is described as a ‘timeless Bohemian lounge’, and the truth is the eclectic style of old school elegance and quirky collectables certainly immerses you in the Marbella Club ambiance of golden era nostalgia. Yet it is also fused with on-trend innovations in food and cocktails too.
Clubhouse mixologist Nelson Gallo has recently been hosting intimate Cocktail Masterclasses, sharing his skills and inspiration for stylish cocktails we can make at home this festive season. For Christmas he’s created the ‘Citrus Blues’, mixing the Clubhouse artisan gin of choice, GauGin, with Nelson’s ‘secret’ citrus chili liquor (homemade with grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, calamondin, chili and cinnamon) and ginger beer. Pop-in to try it… and banish those winter blues.
To try a festive tipple at home, Nelson suggests a Champagne Snowball, a Marbella Club twist on the classic winter cocktail. Here’s the recipe:
30ml fino sherry
15ml lime cordial
60ml Advocaat liqueur
30ml egg white
Glassware: Champagne flute
Add champagne directly to a frozen glass, shake the other ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and then double strain over the champagne (using a second small sieve over the glass to remove any small pieces of ice).
Garnish: fine grated chocolate or nutmeg. ¡Salud!
Well, before I sign off for Christmas, I couldn’t ignore one of the classic drinks of Christmas - sherry! Yes, I know that many of us may have an old-fashioned misconception of these wines from Jerez, probably thanks to our parents or grandparents sipping a Christmas morning sweet cream sherry. Yet there is so much more to these diverse wines, so make 2021 the year you get to know your amontillados from your olorosos, or enjoy the difference between a fino and a manzanilla. If you are curious about sherry, the iconic wine of Andalucía, now’s your chance to learn all about it. Book a window with qualified Sherry Educator Annie B (based in Vejer) for a Zoom Sherry Session.
If you’re reading this in the UK, your tasting kit can be shipped to you. If Spain is home, then Annie can advise on a Sherry shopping list from local wines stores. Look for the courses section at www.anniebspain.com.
So that just leaves me to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a safe and healthy 2021.