The theme for this season of Cookbook Club is Cooking Off The Beaten Path. Food is culture and I deeply believe in its power to take us on amazing journeys (inner & outer). Over the next couple months, we’ll explore a few cuisines and cultures that may be new to many of us.
Along the way we’ll try some new ingredients and techniques and learn why they matter. We’ll not only seek to understand differences, we’ll also look for connections. In this season of Cookbook Club, we’re also exploring beyond the kitchen. Our live group discussion also branched out to music, art, and cultural influence. I’ll share a taste of that with you as well!
Our first cookbook of this season is Portuguese Home Cooking by Ana Patuleia Ortins – a book rich with recipes for comfort foods and hearty soups – the perfect kickoff to our winter season!
Portugal is not an extension of Spain
Portugal may share a peninsula with Spain, but that’s about the end of that. Still, plenty of food lovers make the mistake of assuming the two cuisines are interchangeable. We couldn’t be further from the truth. Portuguese cuisine is distinct in its ingredients, cooking techniques, and flavor combinations.
Geographically, Portugal makes up most of the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula. It doesn’t boarder the Mediterranean either, so isn’t really part of that clique of countries. Still, Portuguese culture has ancient roots and similarities from shared cultural influences. More so, they were the cultural influencers of their time.
Winemaking and many flavors and ingredients were introduced to Portugal (and most Mediterranean countries) by the Phoenicians around 600 BC. Still other flavors and techniques arrived with Arabs, Turks, Moors, and from Portugal’s close neighbors in West Africa.
the original food influencers
The Portuguese were (and are) a seafaring people who were leaders in the Age of Discovery. In their travels, they became the conduit for many of the world’s most beloved ingredients. The Portuguese are credited with bringing chiles to India, European style bread and tempura to Japan, African coffee and cashews to Brazil, and tomatoes to Europe. And that’s just a little nibble of the whole story.
Today, you’ll find Portuguese culture assimilated into places around the globe, including Macau in China, Goa in India, Mozambique in Africa, the country of Brazil, and Massachusetts USA.
Which leads us to the books author, Ana Patuleia Ortins from Peabody, Massachusetts. She may be born and raised in the US, but she grew up immersed in Portuguese culture. The Portuguese are natural assimilators, yet they are tenacious in their culture and treasured foodways. And we are all thankful for that!
about the book
Portuguese Home Cooking is Ortins’ third book about the cuisine of her unique and influential culture. The book is a beautiful homage to her father’s cooking, family life, and her community. It’s also a book redolent with aromas of refogado – the sauté of onions, garlic, bay leaf, paprika, and tomato that are the base for many Portuguese dishes. Also of sweet peppers, homemade sausages, cilantro, and cinnamon.
And don’t forget the salt cod – bacalhao. Definitely, don’t forget that one. Even if you don’t think you’ll like it. I’m betting you’ll find at least one recipe in here that will make you change your mind. Trust me!
Recipes range from the simplest soups to in-depth instruction on how to make different traditional sausages at home, or even how to make your own wine – something every good Portuguese immigrant was doing in their home basement, and many still do now.
These are home-style recipes, and the author graciously provides plenty of substitution suggestions and permission to make them your own. We all did this in our own ways.
the cooking part…
For each cookbook I create a menu featuring a selection of recipes – kinda like an assignment. This provides some structure for prep and for our conversations. They’re only suggestions, and many people experiment with whatever strikes their fancy. This round I also included some challenges for those who wanted to push their limits a bit. Here’s what we chose from for this book…
soup kale soup carrot soup bread soup with salt cod main course gomes de sá style salt cod stewed chicken feijoada (bean and sausage stew) desserts rice pudding orange squares pastéis de nata challenge time! Portuguese sweet bread & others homemade cheese other meats: tripe, rabbit…
notes on what we cooked
kale soup is so much more than the name implies. The Portuguese are known for their soups. All kinds of soups. This one is hearty. It makes a satisfying meal with some good crusty bread and a drizzle of olive oil (but definitely not if you’re carb-averse). Lots of kale, but also beans, potatoes, root vegetables, pastina, and lots of flavorful Portuguese sausage (for the meat eaters). The recipe makes a ton. I can vouch for the fact that it freezes well.
gomes de sá style salt cod is that bacalhau recipe I’m counting on making a salt cod lover out of you. It worked on a few people in the past couple weeks. Layers of sliced potatoes, flaky cod, and caramelized onions, baked and topped with briny olives and sliced hard cooked egg. This was one of the most made dishes from this book. I only made a half recipe and regret that. I’ll definitely make this one again and again. So easy and fast (minus the days it takes to soak the cod).
stewed chicken: I didn’t personally make this, but many others did and most of those proclaimed their love of it heartily. It’s the Portuguese chicken-n-rice or arroz con pollo that all world cultures have and love. So simple. Aromatics – onion, paprika, garlic, bay leaf; tomatoes, wine, chicken, rice, peas. Familiar. And yet distinctly Portuguese. Ortins also offers a version with potatoes instead of rice as an alternate. Try that one too!
rice pudding: Another dish I only made a half recipe of and wish that I hadn’t been so stingy! Ortins’ recipe is made with arborio rice and lemon infused milk, giving this a creamy lemony sweet risotto consistency. It’s addictive. Go ahead and take the time to follow the garnish instructions – a few of the club members went all out with stencils. I just sprinkled cinnamon on the top and feel like that didn’t do the dish justice at all.
orange squares: I had an image in my head of orange flavored blondies. Which sounded good to me. But what I got was a tender, light, eggy orange scented sheet cake drenched in orange syrup that it soaks up perfectly. More like something you’d expect to find in Turkey or Greece.
pastéis de nata: When you think of food in Portugal, I’m guessing you probably think of these delectable little egg custard tarts. So far, I don’t think anyone made these. I will someday. But not until I have a kitchen that give me enough space to make them comfortably, and a gathering big enough so they don’t go to waste or get eaten all by me.
have you cooked from Portuguese Home Cooking?
Share your experience in the comments!
As always, I want to thank Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore and the 92nd Street Y in NYC for creating these programs that provide great opportunities for furthering food and drink scholarship and enrichment.
Reminder, if you would like to catch up with the past seasons’ books, you can get started HERE.
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