Forty years ago on a family vacation in Portugal Michelle M. Winner’s sister fell in love with an almond tart. And so did she.
By Michelle M. Winner
After a more recent trip to the Iberian Peninsula, the first thing she took out of her luggage was a small white box. Gently lifting the lid, and unwrapping a red napkin while watching my eyes, she giggled when I screamed in recognition.
“Ohhhh where did you find it ?” I rejoiced. “Santini Ice Cream in Chiado, Lisboa,“ she told me, “and it’s for you.” I couldn’t take it from her so I said, “ You’ve brought it half-way around the world, but let’s share it, and find out how to make it, OK ?” She broke off several pieces from the round, glazed, toasted almond- topped pastry with the sinfully-rich shortbread crust, and we bit into a forty year old memory. We realized we didn’t even know the name of the sweet obsession we had carried in our hearts all of these years.
I reached out to the very best person I knew that could help; my friend Miguel Carvalho of the Portuguese National Tourist Office in New York. Naturally, he knows or can find out, anything about Portugal you want to know. While I described the part cookie, part short-crust tart to him, my sister emailed a photo of “our” remaining sweet, just to be sure.
”Tarte de Amendoa” Miguel told us, rather quickly. “Almonds as you know are used widely in Portugal since 60% are produced in the Tras-os-Montes and Algarve areas. As far I know the tart is eaten all over Portugal for birthdays, weekends and special occasions. It’s a dessert and for me I can use any excuse to eat it, coffee, tea, breakfast, birthday party . . . I know a friend that makes it for every party she attends and does not give the recipe to anyone. It’s a secret.”
With that he hung up and sent us a romantic tale of the origin of almonds in Portugal (below) and went scurrying off to his kitchen to make the tart. A few hours later, he sent us a picture of the glorious tart and you’ll find his recipe under “desserts” at Honest Cooking http://bit.ly/Wt8lxz . Visit the Portuguese National Tourist Office to begin your own discovery of this diverse and culturally rich country that is accessible, safe, friendly and affordable.
The legend: One of Portugal’s well-known legends tells of how almond trees came to be part of the landscape of the southern region of the country. An Arab prince, married to a Christian from the north, noticed that his wife lived in a permanent state of melancholy, and so one day he asked her the reason for this enduring mood. She told him that she missed the snow, frequent in the north of the Peninsula, but which rarely fell in the more southerly regions. The prince then ordered the planting of almond trees, whose blossoming at the end of the winter would create the illusion of fields covered with snow.
As to the validity of this romantic and highly lyrical legend? Who cares! The Portuguese love their almonds and the Tarte de Amendoa is simply sublime as Miguel said, “for coffee, for tea, breakfast, birthday party . . .”
Michelle was born with a fork in her hand. As a culinary travel writer and confirmed foodophile she delights in the world-wide discovery of new flavor profiles, spices, salts and herbs. Based in one of the world's foodie meccas; Portland, Oregon, not far from "Pinot Noir Heaven" Michelle shares culinary travel and chef's recipes. Her photography has appeared in Saveur Magazine and she has contributed culinary travel articles to Forbes online, WSJ online, Business Insider, Condé Nast Digital Media, Islands magazine and many others. A confirmed globetrotter, she still keeps her bags packed and fork in hand (well . . . except through airport security.)