Portuguese caldo verde and broa bread

Some of the best memories and experiences I had when I lived in Portugal are intrinsically linked with food. One of the most enduring memories I have is of eating the deliciously rustic and simple soup, caldo verde, served with a freshly baked big oval white loaf direct from the bakery in our street, aptly named Urb. Farinha (Flour Street).

Living the good food life – Algarve style

For a couple of years, my family and I lived in Sao Bartolomeu de Messines, a small traditional Algarvian market town with barely a trace of tourism, let alone any British residents, yet it is only 25 minutes drive inland from the busy coastal resorts. The food was therefore really part barrocal (inland) and part litoral (coastal).  Rabbit and pork featured a lot and also fish like bream and sardines; seafood including clams and lobster.

The food available in Messines defined the place and living there. The daily municipal market in the town centre was open all morning selling spanking fresh local produce. I remember sardines, red mullet and bream and freshly picked fruit and vegetables from the surrounding countryside – citrus fruit, pomegranates and figs. There was also a butchers selling local meat and charcuterie such as presunto, a dried cured ham similar to proscuttio.

massines market

mesines municipal daily market

Messines daily market (Casa Arabella website)

On the last Monday of each month, there was the added bonus of the arrival of a travelling market which moved round towns in the area each week. It always felt like an especially festive day, the town centre buzzing with locals having a day out, a good day to catch up with friends and neighbours.

The food was a real treat on these days. Barbecues were set up in the street round the town centre selling grilled chicken and barbecued polpo (octopus) tentacles (a favourite) as well as bifanas – spicy thin pork medallions marinated with chilli and paprika served in a crusty roll. Such delights would be followed with masaladas, Portuguese donuts deep-fried to order in the street, coated in sugar and handed to you in a slip of greaseproof paper.

These days usually ended by joining my friends in a pastelaria, sitting outside and drinking copious numbers of bicas (espresso), accompanied by delicious and irresistible pastel de natas before we moved on in the evening to a few imperials (draught) beers, usually the attractively named Super Bock.

Two doors up from our house, our neighbour had converted the ground floor of her house into a makeshift restaurant and served up her rustic and creative French / Portuguese food.  You never quite knew what you might get, or even what you were eating, but it was usually soups, stews or roasts, always delicious and an entertaining place to take visiting friends from the UK. On special occasions, like weddings, christenings and birthdays, I remember eating suckling pig, shellfish dishes such as cataplana and drinking copious amounts of local wine as well as vinho verde from further north.

The village was surrounded by lush countryside and the gentle hills on the west side of the town were covered in regularly harvested cork oaks as well as olive groves. It was also where local people would collect fruit from the Medronho tree, Arbutus unedo  (also called strawberry tree). These trees are not cultivated but are wild and form part of the natural vegetation around the area.

The Medronho fruits are collected  to make the local firewater Aguardente de Medronhos.  Local men usually drank a shot of this potent Medronho along with a bica first thing in the morning. Although largely unregulated and unlicensed, distilling of Medronho was tolerated as a local tradition and you could be guaranteed to be offered some if paying a social visit to friends and neighbours.

Medronio - red fruits ready to pick

Medronho – red fruits ready to pick

Olives, much like Medronho, are considered to be an acquired taste and I certainly developed my love of olives while living there, in fact it is almost an infatuation these days.  I recall our neighbour handing over a huge bucket of olives he had just collected from a tree in his garden.  They didn’t last long in our house.

Finally, there was Tia Rachel’s (Aunt Rachel’s) restaurant on the outskirts of the town, and a short walk up the hill from our house.  This was the place where we regularly made a lunchtime pilgrimage to indulge in the best barbecued chicken piri-piri the Algarve had to offer (despite the claims of other piri-piri places on the tourist trail).  Sitting outside in the shade, even in summer, lunch would always start with the simplest caldo verde and fresh white local bread.  This was followed by a pile of spicy chicken piri-piri with fine-cut chips and a lovely fresh side salad with a simple vinaigrette. Barbecued chicken doesn’t get better than that!

Caldo verde

Caldo verde, meaning green broth is a very simple traditional Portuguese soup that would have originally contained only a handful of the most frugal ingredients: kale (couve gallego), onion, garlic, potato and water. Many permutations can be found online which in my view unnecessarily ‘sex-up’ caldo verde, adding sausage or chorizo, beans or rice.

In fact, I never saw a piece of sausage in caldo verde in the Algarve – just the basics outlined, although I permit myself the decadence of using home-made chicken stock instead of water. I’m not a purist, and I love chorizo, but the soup wouldn’t be the same with these additions.  I used home-grown Picasso potatoes and Brussels sprout tops, which needed picked just before they were burnt and blackened by another impending storm.

The way to get the most out of this soup is to use the best ingredients you can get and serve it with a traditional Portuguese-style loaf – I chose broa.

Ingredients

6 large potatoes (not a floury variety), diced

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 big handfuls of kale or other brassica, sliced to taste – shredded or chunky

1.5 litres of good quality chicken stock, or veg stock

olive oil, a glug

a few grinds of black pepper

salt, to taste

Method

  • Sweat the onions, garlic and potatoes in the olive oil, covered for 10-15 minutes.  They should not take on any colour.
  • Add the stock and simmer gently for 40 minutes, or until the potato chunks are tender.
  • Blanch the brassicas for 30 seconds in boiling water and refresh in cold water, before adding them to the soup.  This way, they will lose any bitterness and retain their vibrant colour. Add seasoning.
  • Stir the greens through the soup and then serve with broa or other thick crusted artisan bread.

caldo verde 2

Broa bread

Although this is not what I would have regularly eaten with caldo verde in the Algarve, it is another traditional Portuguese bread.  The daily loaf I had in Messines was more akin to a classic Italian bread, with a thick, crisp, hard crust and many air holes.  It was a bit more yeasty though.  Despite searching, I have been unable to pin down if this this type of loaf has a specific name and everyone just called it ‘pão’.

Broa is a hearty rustic bread made from a mixture of cornmeal, wheat and rye.  There are many and varied recipes online, most of which I found less than enlightening and a bit confusing, or there were aspects of them I simply didn’t like. I therefore decided to make my version of what I considered a rustic textured broa should be.

The best technique I thought might work for this recipe was to make a sponge with water, strong white flour and yeast before combining and kneading the remaining wheat flour, rye and polenta. It worked well, producing a very even bake. The rustic loaves were not too dense or heavy (achieved by keeping the rye proportion down) and had a thick crisp crunchy crust thanks to the polenta – and bags of flavour.

Ingredients

Sponge:

500g strong white bread flour

10g dried fast action yeast

600ml warm water

Rest of the ingredients to be added when sponge is ready:

250g polenta

250g rye flour

20g salt

20g fat – I used goose fat for extra flavour – butter or olive oil are fine

Preheat the oven to 250C

Method

  • Mix the sponge ingredients together well in a large bowl.  Cover with cling film and put in a warm place to at least doubled in size (takes about 45 – 60 minutes).
  • Either by hand, or using the dough hook on a food mixer, combine all the ingredients and knead for 10 minutes.
  • Flour the dough lightly and place in a bowl,  cover and put in a warm place until it doubles in size (1-2 hours).
  • Gently knock the dough back, divide in 2, form into 2 rounds and leave to rise on a covered baking sheet or in a proving basket until it rises significantly, about 30 minutes in a warm room. Dust with rye flour.
  • Place in a very hot oven for 10 minutes, adding a cup of boiling water in a tray at the bottom of the oven to give a crisp crust. After 10 minutes,  reduce the temperature to about 180C and bake for 40-50 minutes more.  It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

broa 1broa 2

It has occurred to me that I would like to explore more of the Portuguese culinary repertoire and remind myself of further delights.  Fun as this may be, perhaps I should just take a holiday in the Algarve and experience the real deal once again!

caldo verde

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31 thoughts on “Portuguese caldo verde and broa bread

    • Yes, we were fed all sorts of intriguing stuff, most of which you could identify, including some dubious bits of anatomy. The meat we couldn’t identify was probably horse 🙂 Oh, and we had to endure the occasional dog fight too, usually involving our own dog who would follow us in!

  1. Such wonderful memories of your time in Portugal. I may need to get some tips from you as we are thinking about going to the Azores next year, and maybe some time in the Algarves as well. It’ll be a big family trip for us. Your post confirms to me what an important role seafood plays in the cuisine of Portugal.

    • Yes, thank you and the food was really so important to the experience of living there. I’ve never been to the Azores. Although The Algarve has some really stunning beaches, some resorts have changed beyond recognition in the last 30 years. I think getting a flavour of region it is a good idea to cover the coast and inland e.g. the old Moorish capital of Silves near Messines is worth a visit. It will be an exciting trip for you, no doubt – and the seafood is almost as good as it is here 😉

  2. What a great experience that must have been! Thank you for the fun read, and the recipes. I certainly developed my love for olives while visiting Lisbon last year, that was almost all I ate (ok, I might be exaggerating slightly…)

    • Thank you! It was great, and the food was just the tip of the iceberg. As ever with food, it is like a glue that binds people together. Lisbon is a great city to visit too – we used to head up there on occasion for weekends and events. I miss a lot about the place – including the olives 🙂

  3. That market looks wonderful – don’t know why, but markets overseas always seem more interesting than those at home. I will, of course, be trying your bread recipe!

    • The market was great – but you had to get there early, the best was gone by mid-morning, as you would expect with fine produce and a market culture. Yes, I agree that markets always look more exotic and appealing overseas – but then again, I used to find the market in Newark, Notts. really exciting (and there was an olive stall:) as we just don’t have the same market squares/culture up here. At least there are farmer’s markets – but they are different again. Enjoy the bread, we tried to make it last but both loaves are now gone…

  4. The bread recipe looks great – I might have a go at it for my next batch; the soup too. Lovely atmospheric writing as usual! You don’t say the year(s) you were in Portugal. I wonder if what you describe is still there. I spent a year in Spain in the early 70s, again a little inland – from Malaga – and life was much the same as you describe – ‘tinto’ at 3 pesetas a glass. But the meal I remember most was sardines from the charcoal grill on the quayside at Bilbao – with lots more tinto – after a 24 hour drive up from Malaga to catch the last ‘cheap’ ferry before summer prices.

    • Thank you, the bread wasn’t a lot of effort either. I was in the Algarve in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I remember the sardinias too, landed fresh and barbecued by the quayside in the coastal town of Portimao – of course also with vinho tinto. Most of what I describe is largely unchanged, but I’m not sure if my beloved Tia Rachel still exists.

  5. What a post! So many memories flooding by. Virtually every day I had to have Caldo verde whilst in Lisbon, undoubtedly one of my favourite European cities. Years ago people I knew from there took us to a café that specialised in pastel de natas, as so many do. That café was near The Belém Tower. Amazing day out.
    As for the firewater! I had many of those one evening in a village near Armação de Pêra when staying there with a Portuguese friend many years ago. I survived, but I doubt if the Yucca plant next to me did as most of the firewater was chucked into its pot! Hah! I know about poteen.
    Lastly, have you ever been to Monsanto? Thee most beautiful town I’ve ever been too! Quite simply enchanting.

    • Thanks, I still remember exactly what the authentic pastel de nata tastes like but they are very hard to find or replicate, although I had one made by a Portuguese colleague a couple of years ago, took me right back. Medronho, well, I’d have done the same. I bet the yucca expired not long after 🙂 I never visited Monsanto, but know it is stunning – an excuse to return to the country! Thanks for sharing your tales.

  6. Hi. I just spent an enjoyable 30-minutes reading your very interesting posts. That bread looks splendid, and I must give it a try. I’m an avid home-bread baker and this is one recipe that I’ve not seen before. And thank you very much for visiting my blog, Tracey!

  7. Your time in Portugal sounds wonderful, love the sound of the market – they’re always one of my favourite things to explore when going anywhere new, including in the UK. You’re very good at making it all so interesting. The caldo verde and the bread look delicious too.

  8. Tracey!
    I just ‘met you’ in that bloggy sort of way…reading your comment on Putney Farm’s Caldo Verde post. I thought your decidedly prudish C.V. sounded like a similar philosophy to mine.

    I look forward to growing my Beira Kale each year and supping up some Caldo Verde soup on the very first rainy day of the season. She may not be as dolled up as one of those sausage-y, chorizo-ish numbers, but she sure does know how to make you feel good from the inside out! Sexy indeed! http://themuddykitchen.com/broke-hungover-with-guests-2/

    I promise to Google how much a gram of something is and whip up a batch of your toothsome Broa if you try my hair-thin kale chopping ‘cigar roll technique’ next time and report in!

    Thanks for sharing your purist take on this: a favorite, simple, gut-warming dish.

  9. Pingback: Caldo Verde e Broa Pão (it) | briggishome

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