My love for authentic regional foods prompted me to accept an invitation to review David Leite’s new cookbook, The New Portuguese Table. Though I have eaten Portuguese food, I never made it until now, and I somehow managed to miss the Iberian Peninsula on my trip through Europe in the mid 90s. Leite’s book has inspired me to learn more about Portuguese cooking and refueled my longing for an excursion to the region.
Leite starts by taking the reader on a gastronomic tour of Portugal, highlighting the specialties of each region, including wines. Though I am not an expert on wine, I can declare without reservation that my two favorite Portuguese exports are port and Madeira, and Leite provides helpful introductions to both wines. If you have never tasted either wine, this is an excellent opportunity to try them with some of the recipes from the book. I did find myself longing for some specific suggestions for wine pairings with the recipes, particularly for those making their first foray into Portuguese cuisine.
With two sides of the country bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, you can be sure that seafood is a strong force in Portugal’s culinary heritage, and you’ll find page after page of inspiration. Of course the classic salt cod (bacalhau) is present (Salt Cod of My Youth, Mini Salt Cod Sandwiches, Salt Cod in a Potato Jacket, Salt Cod and Shrimp Fritters, etc), but there is more to Iberian Peninsula seafood than salt cod. Leite includes dishes with clams, shrimp, skate, shrimp, squid, and octopus, though substitutions will also work.
If you prefer land fare, there’s plenty of poultry, pork, beef, lamb, and vegetables to keep your interest, as well as breads, desserts, and various sauces. I’m eager to try the Madeiran Griddle Bread (Bolo de Caco) which is made with sweet potato, the eggless Milk “Mayonnaise” (Maionese de Leite) and all its variations, and all the chiles in our garden have us casting our eyes on the Red Pepper Paste (Massa de Pimentão Forte) and Piri-Piri Sauce (Molho de Piri-Piri) which we will use on the Grilled Chicken Slathered in Hot Sauce (Frango com Piri-Piri).
We’ve made three things from the book so far and have been delighted with each. The Tomato Jam (Doce de Tomate) gets its richness and complexity from cinnamon, cloves, and a dose of ruby port, making this a very classy jam.
Spicy Azorean Garlic-Roasted Pork (Torresmos Açoreanos) is a treat for heat lovers, though people with a lower pain threshold could replace part of the half-pound of red chiles with some red bell pepper.
The Punched Potatoes (Batatas a Murro) are a winner that remind us of the New York salt potatoes Michael grew up with. The garlic oil drizzled over the salted potatoes elevated the flavor, and we’ll enjoy these again and again.
I found Leite’s book to be a very accessible introduction to the food of Portugal and look forward to more delicious dishes from it.
[Received book from the publisher.]
Publisher: Clarkson Potter Publishers