We happened upon Porto the way you might happen upon a new neighborhood haunt, or a dear friend in the most unexpected of places, or more precisely a great hotel deal while swimming through the depths of the internet. Zach speaks some Portuguese and looks for opportunities to practice so when he spotted the hotel he quickly checked for flights, and then before we really had a chance to question it, we had booked a long weekend in Porto. And since neither of us tends to do a ton/any research before arriving in a foreign city for the weekend it continued to feel like a happy coincidence up until we boarded the plane back to Zürich.
Porto is tucked in the Douro River estuary, just a few miles from the coast and the crashing waves of the Atlantic. It is a wonderfully bright little city with unique buildings and wonderfully friendly people. We did as we usually do and casually wandered through the city (with the help of the nytimes 36hrs), stopping occasionally to soak it all in with the help of an espresso or glass of wine.
More likely it was a glass of wine. Like the Champagne region of France, Porto gives its name to its signature beverage, port wine. The grapes are grown inland, the vines terracing endlessly along the hills that define the river valley. Traditionally the port was ferried down river in small wooden boats - like a grownup version of a Venetian gondola with the long wooden steering oar - to Porto, where it was, and still is, stored in long warehouses with terracotta roofs.
Zach and I can't claim to be wine aficionados, but we do love wine, especially wine from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain, and since the Douro River and the Ribera del Duero are on in the same, we made sure to sample the Douro wines and drive inland along the river and through the vineyards.
The Douro wine region hasn't fully opened itself up to tourists yet. We drove for along the river for a little while before finding a spot where we could do some tasting and after the tasting we drove for a bit longer in search of something eat. There was one fancy restaurant, a few restaurants that had already closed for lunch, and a woman by the side of the road selling cherries. We went with the cherries, at least as something to hold us over until we got closer to town and found something more substantial, which we eventually did. Much to Zach's surprise I bought a kilo of cherries. I agree that a kilo is a lot for a snack, but it's just so easy to say "um" instead of trying to fumble my way in Portuguese around a half or less. And since we did end up finding lunch we had a lot of cherries left over, cherries that I couldn't possibly abandon, especially since they cost 4x as much in Zürich, so I nestled them in my purse and brought them home.
On Friday after walking in circles (the good type of circles) through the city we found ourselves at Bugo Art Burger where we ate delicious burgers covered in caramelized onions in a port wine reduction, which we followed up with panna cotta with berry-port wine compote. Heavenly. The panna cotta inspired this cherry-compote dessert. I substituted yogurt for panna cotta (because I'm never quite comfortable with that amount of heavy cream) and cherries for the berries and ended up with a wonderfully summery dessert. And since I had so many cherries I also made a single little jar of cherry jam. Gosh, I love summer!
This picture was taken from the spot we stopped for a tasting. We liked the regular, deeply sweet yet strong, ruby port, but we found the Rose port light and summery so we bought a bottle and that is what I used in this recipe. I think it would be just as good with regular port, or even orange juice if you don't have any port.
This dessert oozes summer goodness and would be a light, fresh, and cool end to an evening spent outside. I might even go so far as to say that it tastes better eaten outside.
Zach suggested adding a little crunch to the layers, perhaps with crushed biscotti or amaretti cookies, so if you're with him and like a little crunch I think that it would make a great addition.
// Cherry - Port Compote with yogurt and honey //
adapted from Bon Appetit
enough for 4 servings
1 lb / 450 g whole cherries (results in roughly 3/4 lb or 340 g pitted cherries)
1/2 cup / 125ml Rose Port (regular Port or orange juice also work)
1/4 cup + a couple tablespoons raw sugar (or normal sugar)
4 tablespoons of honey, one for each serving
4 small containers of yogurt (ideally a thick yogurt like Greek), one for each serving
Mix the pitted cherries, port and sugar in a heavy bottomed pot. Bring the ingredients to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium - low and simmer until the cherries begin to release their juices and soften. At this point you will notice the volume of the ingredients will have increased. It should take about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the cherries to a bowl and leave the juice to thicken over low heat until it coats the back of a spoon, about 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently to insure it doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan.
Pour the reduced syrup over the cherries. Let the mixture cool.
Place a tablespoon of honey in the bottom of each serving container. Follow with the yogurt and then top with the cherries and their juices. Serve immediately, or place in the refrigerator until about 20 minutes before eating.
For the jam I followed David Lebovitz's no-recipe method. I used about 350 grams of pitted cherries, which was just enough jam to fill one of these cute little pots.
Our hotel was across the Douro from the city of Porto, hovering on top of the long warehouses. Although it might have been nice to be smack in the center of town, it was a quick walk and we were able to appreciate the view.