Here we are, at the penultimate stage of Euro 2016. Up until now it’s been a tricky tournament to predict. Every time we think we have an inkling what’s coming next, the tale twists a different direction: Spain’s premature adieu, England failing to make it through. Wales slaying Belgium, one of the pre-tournament favourites. Germany doing to the most un-German thing of all and missing penalties.
So we’ve given up trying to predict what comes next. Instead, we’re turning our attention back to what we know best – food. Wales, Portugal, Germany and France. Four great footballing nations, four brilliant culinary destinations.
Here, to celebrate the food of the semi-finalists, we’ve selected a recipe to represent each one and pitted them against each other.
WALES vs PORTUGAL
It’s tempting to bill this tie as the Ronaldo versus Bale show. But for us something more important is at play – the battle of the pastries. Welsh leek pasty battling Portuguese egg custard tart. One a savoury delight, the other a sweet treat. Both tasty, but who should gain the upper crust?
Wales: Mini vegetable pasties
First, let’s explain why we picked this recipe. It makes 24 pasties, the same number of players in the Welsh squad. And like the nation’s football team, it is greater than the sum of its humble parts.
It calls for you to use whatever leftover cooked vegetables you might have to hand. Then you add some buttery leeks – the most Welsh of veg – and little pieces of cheddar. Everything is sealed inside ready-rolled puff pastry (if you’re having people round to watch the game, you can prepare up to this point) and baked for half an hour. And by this time the filling will have had a chance to bond and build some team spirit.
Portugal: Custard tarts with honey crust
Portugal have been on the receiving end of some stick. Here they are in the semis without a regulation win to their name – three draws in the group stage, an extra-time victory over Croatia and a penalty shootout triumph over Poland. This a run that frustrates some. But to these people we say this – pastel de nata. Bake these Portuguese custard tarts, eat these custard tarts, and feel the frustration disappear as quickly as the buttery, crumbly pastry.
With their wibbly wobbly, vanilla-scented egg custard filling and sweet-spice (honey and cinnamon) crust, they are the perfect treat to enjoy if you’re cheering on Ronaldo and friends.
GERMANY vs FRANCE
Both sides will fancy their chances: France with home advantage on their side, Germany riding on the wave of a nerve-racking win over Italy. On paper, it’s a tie that’s too close to call. And the same goes for the plate. In one half there is a modern take on a German classic, on the other half there is a classic take on a French…. classic.
Germany: Black Forest sundae
Everywhere you look in the German line-up there is strength, from the solid foundation at the back to the strong core in the centre and touch of class in attack. So it would be right to celebrate this formation with a Black Forest gateau, a towering German structure constructed in a similarly brilliant way.
But it’s early July and we’re in the UAE. Much better to enjoy all the traditional Black Forest flavours – with none of the fuss – in refreshing sundae form. Ready from start to finish in under 30 minutes, the sundae features layers of cherry compote, squidgy brownies, a scoop of chocolate ice cream and curl of zesty lime cream. And to finish it off, a cherry on top.
France: The ultimate croque monsieur
The croque monsieur and French team share two things in common. The both bubble up top (on the pitch because of superstar Antonie Griezmann, on the plate because of all the grilled cheese, man). And they can both be burdened by expectation. Just as little upsets the stomach like a naff croque monsieur, few things break the heart as much as the exit of the tournament hosts.
While we can’t predict there won’t be melancholy in Marseille come the early hours of Friday, we can say that a pile of these croque monsieur will result in happy tummies.
The recipe makes one but can easily be upped to scale. And it’s great food for entertaining, too. Not just because it can spread out on a big platter ready to be tucked in to come national anthems, but because it can be prepared ahead of time, too. The cheese sauce – full of gruyere and parmesan – can be made a little bit ahead of time, meaning all that’s left to do is a little bit of spread, assembling and grilling.