Sintra Light

Silver light of the morning.

As I drive through the valley of Galamares up towards Sintra, the light filters through clouds that cling to the ridge. The morning mist drops the visibility down into pockets, shrouding trees and making the umbrella pines resemble those parapluies popping up through the fog. Smoke wafts up from a fire or two, set to clear cut branches and debris a day ahead of forecast rain, adding to the blue quality of the air.

From the beginning, Portugal drew me in with its light. My first stay, at a hotel perched on the Monte de Estoril during the nearly cold month of February, illuminated for me the meaning of “A Costa Prata”—the Silver Coast—as the evening light there turned the grey ocean into a shimmer of mercurial waves, like the glass ornaments from my grandparents’ time that hung on our Christmas tree. That light gave all it touched a magical quality, and I felt for the first time that sense of stepping out of time, and walking between centuries with an ease that I’d not found elsewhere.

Now, during my drive I climb up through that same kind of silver light. I know on the other side of the hill I’ll be in full morning—the sun strong and clear on the drier side of the serra. I’ll go about my business looking up at the clouds that still cling to the castle of the Moors, and Pena Palace, granting them mysterious cloaks to wear all day. There are stories still being told up there, tales we can pick up when we walk up the emerald-clad paths to visit them. Deep in those woods, the light takes on the green of following fairies and wandering, falling behind in time. Of fresh air, clean air, cleansing air.

Once my work is done, I come back over the hill. As I drop down in the curving road again and look out towards the ocean, I see the different light we find here in the hour before sunset—the platinum light. It’s a small change of words in Portuguese: from prata to platina, but a goldening evocation of the ending of the day.

If I make it down to the beach in time, I can see the light shift once more, through bands of deepening colors, and a final blaze at the end. We first watched the sunset here after a storm rolled through, off the ocean then the clouds marching up the serra, keeping their ominous cast. But the sunset behind those dark clouds was all platinum light, gracing the waves tumbling in, turning to ochre the cliff on the other side of the beach.

A silver shot along the sand—and then the sun sets; the light goes down for the day.

For a cozy fall evening, after the sun sets and the light fades, we toss together a pasta using broccoli (now growing more prolifically in the cooler days), local smoked cheese, and roasted chickpeas. An economical meal to enjoy as we get ready for the richness of the holidays.

Pasta with Roasted Broccoli and Chickpeas

Massa com Broculos Assado e Grão

1 head broccoli, cut into 3/4-inch florets, saving the leaves and any bits to toss in at the last

1 can (14.5 ounce or similar) chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 cup shredded smoked cheese (or parmesan can work too)

1 lemon, zested

1 tablespoon za’atar

rosemary sprigs

at least 2/3 cup olive oil, so you have enough for roasting and drizzling

salt and pepper (fresh ground black is great)

1 pound pasta, like rotini or penne

  1. Bring at least 4 quarts of salted water to boil, and cook the pasta according to package directions and to your taste. Toss in any leaves and broccoli bits at the end. Drain, reserving a cup of pasta water.
  2. Meanwhile, have an oven preheated to 180C or 375F, and roast the chickpeas on a baking sheet, tossed with olive oil, rosemary sprigs, and za’atar. Roast the broccoli in another pan, so the florets aren’t touching, and drizzle with olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper.
  3. The broccoli will take about 20 minutes (more if you cut the florets larger than 3/4 inch) and the chickpeas about that same time. You can leave them in longer if you prefer them to be crunchy instead of soft. 
  4. Crumble the roasted rosemary springs over the broccoli.
  5. Toss the broccoli, chickpeas, and lemon zest with the pasta. Once combined, add a bit of the pasta water to make it come together, then toss in the cheese. Salt and pepper, and more olive oil to drizzle on, to taste, if you wish.
  6. A variation on this would roast garlic cloves and/or shallots with the broccoli, and toss them into the pasta at the end.