My husband and I just recently returned from a two week trip to the Mediterranean. We were blessed to have this opportunity to celebrate our first anniversary as well as a successful business year with colleagues from Tennant on a Western Mediterranean cruise.
For me, part of each country's story is told through the local cuisine in addition to its architecture and natural environments. The Mediterranean is a wonderful place to explore both history and cuisine. This blog is my attempt to highlight a few of the most memorable moments of this journey.
We started our adventure with an overnight in Barcelona before heading the Malta. We stayed near the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and were delighted to find out that we could enjoy a light and water show that evening. Sitting on the steps of the museum watching the water dance with light while sipping local beer and sangria was a quite spectacular way to start.
We followed that with the Spanish tradition of tapas for our dinner that evening. We starting with a cold course of local cheese and meat which were much larger than I expected. Definitely meant to be shared with more than two!! However, we did our best to try to make a dent in the platters in front of us while saving room for the shrimp and asparagus tapas that followed.
I have talked about Manchego cheese in prior blogs but I was in heaven when I saw a hunk of this favorite on the cheese platter. Its nutty flavor combined with a slice of ham (which is generally air dried and cured and served thinly sliced) was delightful on slice of crusty bread.
Another traditional tapas dish is bread with tomato. A very simple dish as the fresh bread is spread with fresh diced tomatoes and sometimes there was a hint of garlic as well. Simple but delish, I would recommend you trying it when tomatoes are in season in your area.
I also partook in a couple of seafood tapas when we return for one additional night in Barcelona following the cruise. Mussels, calamari and shrimp. The mussels were some of the sweetest, most flavorful that I have had anywhere in the world thus far. Again, simply prepared in a wine and garlic broth. While the shrimp and calamari were also quite tasty and most definitely fresh. The shrimp was prepared three ways: panko-crusted, wrapped in phyllo and then one that looked like it was also wrapped in a pastry type crust. I was pleasantly surprised to find when I took a bite that it was wrapped in shoestring potatoes and fried. What a fun idea!!!
Our second stop was Malta for a week of exploration and relaxation. We enjoyed this enchanting group of three islands. Their cuisine was as varied as its history. Malta has been conquered and traded frequently until achieving independent status in the 1980s. Roman, Arab, French, the Knights of St. John and finally English were a few of the ruling parties of the centuries.
Their history along with having tourism as a major component of the economy of the islands meant that you could enjoy just about any type of cuisine during your stay. Italian prosciutto ham, French onion soup, fresh seafood of just about any variety, Gouda cheese imported from the Netherlands. However, one island tradition is Maltese bread. You can still purchase a large round loaf of this delightful crusty bread for less than 1 euro, even in the touristy areas of the island. Airy and soft in the middle and chewy and crusty on the outside. The loaf that I picked up at the local market is a memory that I know will stick with me for a very long time. A pretty good value I'd say for 1 euro.
After a delightful week in Malta, we returned to Barcelona to board the Norwegian Epic for a week at sea. Our first stop: Naples, Italy. We opted to visit the Almaffi coast and Sorrento for our excursion. In Sorrento, we had a traditional local lunch, which I have to say, if I ate every day, I would be quite overweight, but none the less, it did hit the spot! We started with simple manicotti stuff with ricotta and herbs and covered in a light tomato sauce. I could not help but eat it all! It was then followed by chicken scaloppini with roasted potatoes and carrots on the side. The local white wine that was served with our meal was a perfect pairing. Thank goodness we did a fair amount of walking that day to work off lunch and the gelato we stopped for later that afternoon in Almaffi. Lovely part of Italy, just lovely. I hope to return again!
Our next adventure was in one of our favorite spots from our last visit to Italy: Cinque Terre (5 Cities) on the coast of Italy. These cities boast spectacular views as they sit perched precariously on the cliffs above the Mediterranean. We enjoyed a lovely seaside lunch in the city of My husband enjoyed a tasty margarita pizza while I again had to go with the mussels. A huge portion for about 10 euro with a savory wine broth heavy with garlic. You may have guessed that I have a "thing" for mussels and you'd be right!
If you are looking for a simple but elegant dish to serve as either an appetizer or a main course, mussels are really an easy and delicious. You can buy them frozen just about anywhere these days.
Mussels with Garlic Wine Sauce
4 pounds of mussels
4-6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, minced
2 cups of dry white wine
2 cups of chicken broth
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
juice of 1/2 lemon
Clean mussels and place in a large stock pot. Add onions and cover with water. Cook over high heat covered until mussels open, shaking pan periodically to move the mussels around. Do not over cook or they will be rubbery. Discard any mussels that do not open. Strain mussels.
While the mussels are cooking, combine wine, broth, red pepper flakes and garlic in a separate pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the lemon juice. Simmer for 2 minutes more. Plate mussels in large bowls, sprinkle with gorgonzola cheese. Then pour 1/4 of the broth over each bowl. Sprinkle each bowl with parsley just before serving. Serve with a lemon wedge on the side. Serve hot.
I learned from our tour guide that the area was especially known for their pesto and the secret to getting pesto to nicely coat your pasta is to cook the pasta with one potato that has be cut into a few chunks. It adds additional starch to the pasta to help the pesto stick to the pasta!
After Italy, we had a day in France which we spent touring the country side of Provence. It was beautiful. And, no trip to France is complete without crepes. We savored ours on the seaside in the village. We opted for caramel with vanilla ice cream with a sprinkle of cinnamon paired, of course, we a glass of a soft French wine. (Remember I was on vacation.....)
Our last stop was in Palma, Spain. We did a local wine tour sample their wine, olive oil and other local fare. I enjoyed tasting the Spanish olive oil as it was a bit more mild than the Italian olive oil. They served almond spread and tapenade along with a pizza with peppers. Simple but elegant and paired well with the wines we tasted.
As with my adventures in the Mediterranean had to come to an end, this blog must to conclude as well. I hope you enjoyed this brief tour of the Mediterranean and its cuisine. One thought that I walked away with from this trip is that good food and a satisfying meal does not have to be fancy or complex; simplicity can satisfy the soul. So adios, au revoir, rrivederci or until I blog again!!