Friday, September 12, 2008

Around the World - Portugal

First, I would like to apologize for the poor quality of the pictures. I am still awaiting my new camera, and so I took these with my camera phone. But, better than nothing!

Often confused with Spanish cooking, Portuguese cuisine is actually quite distinct. Based on regional produce, emphasising fish, meat, olive oil, fresh vegetables and fruits, and spices, it features hearty soups, homemade bread and cheeses, as well as unexpected combinations of meat and shellfish. Like, Pork and Clams.

Those with a sweet tooth may be interested to learn that one of Portugal's best-kept culinary secrets is its vast and distinctive range of desserts, cakes and pastries. The staple diet is one of fish, meat, vegetables and fruit. The food of Portugal is inspired by the Atlantic and thus many of the dishes contain fish, especially salted cod, and because Portugal is not a rich country a lot of its food is the simple fare of fishermen and farmers. Expect to find fish, meat, rice and potatoes (usually fried) and other calorific staples, combined with olive oil, wine

The day begins with breakfast, for which a café or pastelaria (pastry shop) will provide you with a croissant or other such pastry and a coffee to wash it down. Coffee tends to be served as espresso (uma bica in the south or just um café in the north). At breakfast, though, you might also order um galão, which is a milky coffee served in a glass. Lunch a heavier and eaten around 1:00. Dinner is served late, starting at 7 or 8:00, with an emphasis on good food, and better friends.

Staple foods in Portugal are the various soups, such as the caldo verde (thick vegetable soup) or sopa à alentejana (garlic and bread soup with a poached egg in it), and countless varieties of fish and shellfish soups. As mentioned above, fish and shellfish are unsurpassed in Portuguese cooking and you can get pretty much anything from crab, clams, barnacles, prawns or crayfish to mullet, tuna and the ubiquitous bacalhau (dried, salted cod). Much like French cheese, Portuguese bacalhau can be cooked in 365 different ways and is much tastier than it might sound, particularly when cooked as bacalhau à Gomes de with potatoes, onions, olives and hard-boiled eggs. Sardines (sardinhas) are close behind in popularity and can be grilled or barbequed, or there is the arroz de marisco, which is a bit like a seafood risotto crossed with a soup

Meat is less excitingly presented than fish in Portugal and often comes served with piri-piri sauce, a sizzling chilli concoction, either optional (ie, on the table) or in the cooking. Chicken is very popular and has whole restaurants dedicated to it. Pork can be cooked with clams (porco à alentejana) or simply grilled. Be careful not to fall into the trap of eating blood-and-guts blends of tripe, "meat" stew or papas de sarrabulho, a ghastly blood- and bread-based dish. Eww! Who comes up with this kind of stuff????

I have found myself over-reaching a bit with the menus as of late, so I limited myself to more simpler dishes. Partly because it has been stressing me out, and because it was becoming a bit of a strain on our grocery budget. I stuck with a main dish, a simple side, some bread, and a dessert. So much more relaxing, and I was able to enjoy the meal and the company of good friends! Just like the Portuguese...

Lombo de Porco - Braised loin of pork
2 lb. pork loin roast
2 onions, sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
2 carrots, cut in chunks
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp shortening
1/4 cup wine of chicken stock
salt and pepper
mixed, cooked vegetables

Melt butter and shortening in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Rub salt all over pork, put in the pan. Brown on all sides, about 15 minutes or so. Add the onions, tomatoes, carrots, parsley, and wine.. Season with more salt and pepper, and simmer gently for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the meat is tender. Place the roast on a hot platter, strain the sauce and pour over it. Serve with cooked vegetables such as eggplant, pimentos, carrots, peas, small potatoes, fried in a little butter.

The meat ended up sitting for longer than it should on the platter, and was a little dry. There wasn't much sauce, so after straining the juice, Mix some broth or water with the vegetables, smoosh them a little, and strain again. It was good, but I have done lots of similar types of dishes. Still, it was a simple dish and a lot less stressful than other weeks. Fish would have been more appropriate, but I happened to have the pork roast on hand in the freezer.

Pao - Farm Bread

1 heaping tbsp yeast
3/4 cup semolina (durum) flour*
1/ cup very warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

*I didn't want to make a trip just for semolina flour, but if I remember right, it is a little coarser than regular flour and is yellow in color. Possibly extra fine ground corn meal would be an adequate substitute? I put about a cup of corn meal in the blender, turned it on, and let it go for a few minutes. About every 30 seconds, I would turn off the blender and stir the corn meal. It ended up part flour, part fine cornmeal.

Combine the yeast, semolina flour, and water in a bowl with a mixer. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and let stand until foamy - about 15 minutes.

Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour. Stir in well. Add salt and remaining flour. The dough seemed quite thick after the first 1 1/2 cups, so I added the additional flour 1/4 cup at a time. I only needed about 1 extra cup before is was sticking to my dough hook and there was some flour at the bottom that was not mixing in. It seemed a little dry. At this point I took the dough out, and the floury bits that didn't mix in, and kneaded them until it was one dough ball. It should be just past sticky point, I found it got a little moisture with the kneading, which was odd, but okay... knead about 5 minutes more.

Let it rest a few minutes while you lightly oil a large bowl and fill the sink partway with warm water. Place the dough in the bowl, turn to coat with oil. Olive oil is suggested. Let rise, covered, until double. Mine took a little less than an hour.

Punch down, turn out on to lightly floured surface, knead 20 times. Let rest another 5 minutes. Spray an 8-inch cake pan with nonstick spray, or ready a baking sheet with a sprinkling of cornmeal. Shape dough into a ball and place in pan. Cover and let rise until double, about 30 minutes.

After 10 minutes of rising, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Fill a large, shallow pan (like a cookie or jellyroll pan) halfway with water. Place one rack in the center spot, and another rack just under it in the oven. Carefully place the water-filled pan on the lower rack.

Bake the bread at 500 for 15 minutes, in the center of the top rack. Reduce heat to 400, bake another 20-25 minutes. Bread should be richly browned and sound hollow when tapped.

Remove from pan immediately, turn right side up on cooling rack. Serve at room temperature.

Lighter than cornbread, with a fluffier and finer texture, and a yeasty taste to it. Baked with the water in the oven, for steam, it gave the bread a moisture interior and a crispy crust. We all really enjoyed it, and I would bring this to a chili cook-off just to see people's faces! A definite make-again!

Arroz Doce - Sweet Rice

2 cups water
1 cup white rice
2 cups hot milk
1 stick cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 fresh lemon rind (use a vegetable peeler for big pieces for easier removal)
ground cinnamon

Bring water to a boil in medium saucepan. Add rice and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Add milk, sugar, cinnamon stick, and lemon rind. Simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened to oatmeal consistency, about 15-20 minutes. It will also thicken some while cooling so don't worry it being a little flow-ey.

Pour into a large serving plate or dish and remove the rind and cinnamon stick. Spread flat and allow to cool on wire rack.

Garnish with cinnamon. You can decorate it by pinching a bit of the ground cinnamon between your fingers and place while your hand is no more than an inch away from the rice (criss-cross patterns are traditional), or you can just dust the entire top with the cinnamon. Serve at room temperature, but refrigerate the uneaten portion.

Three words: Oh, my, word! They like their desserts very sweet, but it was really good! Not sour lemon-ey, more like the essence of lemon. Because you are boiling the rind, with the lemon oil, instead of adding lemon juice, it is a nice hint of the lemon flavor. We all like this a lot, and it made for a delicious breakfast this morning, the little that was left mixed with some milk. Being very sweet, you won't need a lot to finish your meal off.

2 Tasty Tidbits:

Stephanie said...

The Around the World-er strikes again! Looks good. I need to try that pao, I love breads that are just a little unique. And that rice dessert is so beautiful!

Elle said...

Sorry the pork was a bit dry, but it looks delicious! I'm really intrigued by the bread, too! And the sweet rice, oh my gosh, it looks so comforting and good.