Dinner

31 May 2020

As we have moved around Europe we have tried to import a local dish into our library of recipes. Finding something new in a local restaurant in each country and making it on board later serves as the kind of souvenir that is practical for boat life. We don’t eat out as often as you might imagine, and according to our pictorial record, we seem also not to have followed social media trends of photographing our dinner!

Dinnertime in Portugal was dominated by fish. We simply cannot forget getting caught up in sardine festivals all the way down the Atlantic coast of Portugal but it was a different kind of fish supper that stands out. Tuna night in Lexioes with the Germans goes down in legend set an early precedent for shared meals on board Pintail and, frankly, for setting back my resolution to try fish for another year. That enormous chunk of tuna caught and donated by our neighbours fresh from the Bay of Biscay, smoked, grilled and stewed, fed six not just for dinner but breakfast and lunch for at least three days.

It was not until Turkey that I braved trying fish again and where the ubiquitous sea bream became my first and fast favourite fish. It was also where we shared another memorable fish supper with friends in Fethiye. During Lavinia and Richard’s visit we experienced buying our fish and having it cooked for us whilst watching all the comings and goings in the atmospheric fish market.

Stefan has yet to fulfil his promise of providing fish for dinner every night but there were promising signs in the Balearics last year so fingers crossed!

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Eating out in Italy was dominated by excellent pizza. We have had memorable pizzas on a pavement in Rome and became regulars at Il Mulino in Licata in Sicily. The pizzeria owner in Vibo Valentino even drove us back to the marina after a great pizza night with Susie and Mike. which we have never tried to replicate in the galley because (a) it’s too cheap to bother, (b) Pintail’s oven is just too erratic and, most importantly, (c) they just make it too good. It’s not all pizza in Italy but it is all those simple, fresh ingredients thrown together so brilliantly. Pasta alla Norma, that very simple, almost sweet and sour, aubergine pasta has become a firm favourite on board since Sicily.

In Albania we really didn’t know what to expect on the menu. There were a lot of similarities with Greece, just across the border, but some surprises too. In a rooftop restaurant over looking the river in Berat we found a stew of okra. We don’t see okra very often at all and have been scared of it on account of its reputation to go all slimy but this stew was so delicious, fresh and tasty and the markets so full of the strange angular bean that we had to give it a try back at the boat.

And our attempt wasn’t half bad.

One meal out we searched high and low for across Europe was Stefan’s favourite curry. In Portimao, Ostia and Tirane we literally walked miles in search of the most disappointing Indian restaurants but sometimes we were surprised by finding a real gem. In Piraeus the backstreets of the port housed a very unassuming and tiny restaurant where we had some of the best Indian food we’ve ever had. We met a Dutch couple at the next table who had eaten there every single night of their holiday. That and the fact that we went back two more times during our short stay tells you how good it was. The dhal makhani was the best I’ve ever had! But that wasn’t the only Indian restaurant we discovered and returned to more than once. In Malta Stefan insisted we return three times to sample the delights of the restaurant just down the road from our hotel. A decent curry has, though, been largely very hard to find and latterly we have given up the search, saving it for trips back to the UK.

The tavernas of Greece, however, provided Stefan with more than his evening fix of meat. Many souvlakis were eaten on the beach fronts and in the harbours of the islands but there was no greater meat feast to be had than in our favourite Agios Nikolaos restaurant, Karnagio, with its brightly coloured chairs and enormous portions.

But our takeaway dinner recipe comes from another restaurant we discovered by chance during our winter in Crete. Whilst Pintail was safely moored up in Agios Nikolaos, we took a roadtrip into the foothills of the island’s White Mountains.

We stayed in the village of Vamos and one night found the taverna, I Sterna Tou Mploumosifi. In the summer, food is served on the large roadside terrace but in winter we were glad to find a small dining room inside warmed by an open fire. Reading the menu in the cooler February temperatures our eyes turned away from the Greek salads and souvlakis we’d had a lot on our voyage around the Peloponnese, over to the Cyclades and down to Crete. Instead the more hearty traditional Greek stews attracted our attention and along with the usual options of beef or rabbit was a vegetarian option which was destined to find its way into our Pintail recipe book.

We both loved it so much we went back to order it again on our second night and then, back at the boat, set out to recreate it. This is our version although we recommend a visit to Vamos to try the original.

Chestnut and mushroom stifado

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Chestnuts (roasted and peeled or, if you don’t have the time, inclination or gas, and they are available, tinned or vacuum packed will do just fine), baby onions or shallots (peeled but whole), garlic, red wine, baby mushrooms, tin of plum tomatoes, tomato puree, cinnamon, bay leaves

1. Gently sweat the whole baby onions in a little olive oil. Add sliced or crushed garlic – one or two cloves or more if you like! – and cook until browned.

2. Add the baby mushrooms to the pan with half a glass of red wine and cook for a couple of minutes.

3. Add the tin of tomatoes, a good dollop of tomato puree, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a couple of bay leaves. Add a cup of water and simmer slowly for a long time. The slower and longer the better so that the sauce reduces down to a sweet, sweet taste.

4. When the delicious smell is driving you to distraction, add the already cooked chestnuts and cook for another 10 minutes. Fish out the bay leaves, their work is done.

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Best served with Stefan’s epic garlic bread or just some rice and more than a little raki!

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