Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Traditional Portuguese recipes incorporate spices, ingredients from all over the world

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Carla Azevedo has just released her second Portuguese cookbook, Pimentos & Piri Piri: Portuguese Comfort Cooking (Whitecap Books, $39.95). While she covers many traditional Portuguese dishes, including caldo verde (creamy potato purée and greens), bacalhau com natas (salt cod in cream sauce) and carne de porco a Alentejana (pork and clams Alentejo-style), Azevedo wasn't born into this cuisine. The Toronto-based teacher and writer is from an Italian-Canadian family, and she was introduced to the foods of Portugal when she met her husband, Antonio Azevedo.

According to Azevedo, this approach has its advantages. "There's something to be said about someone outside the culture coming in, experiencing the food and saying, 'Wow, this is amazing,'" says Azevedo, during a phone interview with the Winnipeg Free Press. "While maybe people who are in the culture, who are eating it every day, don't think it's such a big deal."

Azevedo was drawn to the cuisine's global influences. "The Portuguese were explorers," she explains. "They did a lot of travelling, went off to Africa, India, lots of different places. And they weren't shy about picking up from other cultures."

Piri piri, for example, often made into a spicy Portuguese sauce, is a hot pepper (of complex and sometimes disputed origin) found in Mozambique. "It's always by the table," according to Azevedo.

Asian and eastern Mediterranean spices like saffron, cinnamon and cumin show up in soups and stews, while many desserts pick up tropical flavours like coconut and orange.

And of course, there's cod, which the Portuguese brought back from Canada, often in dried, salted form.

Azevedo emphasizes that while her cookbook is inspired by traditional Portuguese dishes, the recipes have been adapted to today's North American kitchens. Many of the ingredients can be found at any supermarket. "A dish like caldo verde, it's typically made with collard greens, but don't feel uncomfortable about substituting other greens," she advises. "Don't be afraid to substitute and simplify as much as possible."

Other ingredients, such as chouriço, a smoked and seasoned pork sausage, are worth seeking out, Avezedo suggests. She recommends getting out and exploring your city's Portuguese grocery stores. Here in Winnipeg, Viena Do Castelo is a favourite of Free Press food critic Marion Warhaft. The Sargent Avenue store offers a small eat-in section as well as takeout prepared foods and Portuguese specialty products like pimento paste.

When it came to preparing these wonderful ingredients, Azevedo drew on her training as a chef as well as her degree in journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto. Sometimes, she says, her research involved going up to ladies at Portuguese grocery stores and asking them how they planned to prepare their fish.

She also learned from friends and family, watching as they cooked old favourites. The recipes weren't always standardized, Azevedo soon found out. "Often people would say, 'Oh, it's a little bit of this, a little bit of that.'" Pinning quantities down could be difficult. "But in the end that's not a bad thing," points out Azevedo, "because ultimately you have to taste it."

"Trust your instincts and your taste buds," Azevedo counsels.

I decided to take her advice and jump into some Portuguese recipes. I started by making garlicky lemon pork cubes. Called torresmos in the Azorean islands and rojµes in mainland Portugal, these are often served in big platters right before Lent, sometimes with sweet potatoes or taro root and cornbread.

I also tried a tart in which thin slices of pear are covered by creamy custard. The buttery crust gets the unusual addition of port wine, which hails from the northern city of Porto. In Portugal, this tart is more commonly made with apples, but Azevedo happened to have some pears on hand one day and liked the result. Since the pastry recipe makes enough for two pies, she recommends making up one apple and one pear version and deciding which you like best.


Lemon and Garlic Pork Cubes

1 kg (2 lb) boneless pork loin, cut into large 5-cm (2-inch) cubes

310 ml (1 1/4 cups) dry white wine, divided

60 ml (1/4 cup) white wine vinegar

60 ml (1/4 cup) lemon juice

1 large head garlic, minced

6 bay leaves

3 ml (3/4 tsp) pimento paste, divided

2 ml (1/2 tsp) paprika, divided

1 ml (1/4 tsp) whole black peppercorns, crushed

1 ml (1/4 tsp) whole cloves

1 ml (1/4 tsp) piri-piri sauce or Tabasco sauce

90 ml (6 tbsp) lard (approximately)

Fine salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste


Rinse the pork under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Transfer to resealable bag and place in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine 250 ml (1 cup) wine, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, bay leaves, 2 ml (1/2 tsp) pimento paste, 1 ml (1/4 tsp) paprika, peppercorns, cloves and piri-piri sauce. Pour over the pork and seal the bag; turn to coat well. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight, turning several times. Bring to room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking.

Remove the pork from the marinade, letting the excess drip off. (If barbecuing, reserve and strain the marinade; otherwise discard.) Pat the pork dry with paper towels.

In a skillet, heat the lard over medium-high heat until melted. Cook the pork, in batches, for about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown. (If barbecuing, grill the pork on medium or 10 to 15 cm, 4 to 6 inches, from medium-hot coals, brushing occasionally with reserved marinade, for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until brown.) Transfer the pork to a plate and keep warm.

Drain all the fat from the skillet and pour in the remaining 60 ml (1/4 cup) wine, 1 ml (1 tsp) pimento paste, 1 ml (1/4 tsp) paprika, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the pork pieces, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the pork juices run clear. Transfer the pork to a serving dish. Using a spoon, degrease the pan juices and drizzle the sauce over the pork.

Tester's notes: This dish had an incredible flavour, and not just from the fearless amount of garlic. If you tend to think of the bay leaf as an aimless herb you occasionally have to pick out of your beef stew, the subtle green flavour in this marinade will be a revelation. Buy fresh bay leaves, if you can find them, or, if using dried, make sure they are still aromatic. I found the lean pork loin I used was tasty but could have been more tender -- I will probably look for more marbled meat next time.

-- Excerpted from Pimentos & Piri Piri: Portuguese Comfort Cooking, by Carla Azevedo, Whitecap Books


Pear Cream Tart


810 ml (3 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour

30 ml (2 tbsp) granulated sugar

5 ml (1 tsp) fine salt

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) butter, softened

1 egg

60 ml (1/4 cup) port


Creamy pear filling

4 or 5 Anjou pears

30 ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice

10 ml (2 tsp) plus 15 ml (1 tbsp) granulated sugar

2 eggs

5 ml (1 tsp) ground cinnamon

250 ml (1 cup) 18% cream (sometimes called coffee cream)

30 ml (2 tbsp) port

125 ml (1/2 cup) sifted icing sugar


To make the tart shell: Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Gradually add the butter, 15 to 30 ml (1 to 2 tbsp) at a time, mixing with a fork until well distributed and the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg, mixing well. Gradually add the port, a spoonful at a time, mixing lightly with a fork until the dough forms a ball. (Alternatively, in a food processor, mix the flour, sugar and salt. Add the butter and process until the mixture becomes crumbly. With the food processor running, through the feed tube, add the egg, followed by the port one spoonful at a time until the mixture forms a ball.)

Wrap the dough in waxed paper and refrigerate for about 20 minutes, until cold. This will allow the pastry to rest and make it easier to work with dough. (Recipe can be prepared ahead to this point, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 day.)

On a floured surface, roll half the dough into a 25-cm (10-inch) circle. (Wrap the remaining dough in waxed paper and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months for later use.) Transfer to a 23-cm (9-inch) pie pan, flute edges and place in fridge until ready to use.

To make the creamy pear filling: Peel and core the pears; cut into thin slices. Toss with the lemon juice so they will not turn brown. Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator and arrange the pear slices decoratively in a circular design on the bottom of the crust; sprinkle each layer with a little sugar (you may need up to 10 ml or 2 tsp of sugar). In a bowl, beat the eggs, ground cinnamon, 15 ml (1 tbsp) sugar, cream and 30 ml (2 tbsp) port.

To assemble: Pour the cream mixture over the pears in the pie plate. Bake in a preheated 220 C (425 F) oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 17 5C (350 F) and continue baking for 40 to 45 minutes or until filling in the centre is golden and set. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Dust with icing sugar just before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tester's notes: The port adds a subtle flavour to both the pastry and the filling of this not-too-sweet tart.

-- Excerpted from Pimentos & Piri Piri: Portuguese Comfort Cooking, by Carla Azevedo, Whitecap Books

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2014 C1


Updated on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 6:50 AM CST: Changes headline, adds photo

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