Thursday, August 6, 2009

The New Portuguese Table by David Leite Merits a Cooking Marathon

As anyone knows from reading my post on David Leite’s chocolate chip cookies I am, without question, one of the more biased readers of his new cookbook. The New Portuguese Table will be published by Clarkson Potter on August 18th, but I was lucky to receive an early copy from Clarkson Potter to preview.  Ironically, my expectations for this book were very high because I have admired Mr. Leite as a writer, teacher, culinary website creator and foodie for so long. Complicating this was the fact that my image of Portuguese cooking was based on years of trips to Provincetown, MA. I was perplexed, then, as to how much substance there would be to a cookbook that was about fried dough, sausage and kale soup.

After reading and cooking my way through The New Portuguese Table, David Leite remains one of my favorite writers. First, his writing is as personal, amusing and sardonic as always. He shares his journey of taking the Portuguese cooking of his youth for granted until he lost his grandmother. This book is about both the Portuguese cooking that he grew up with, the cooking of Portugal today and David Leite’s own twist on both. What this means is that this book is the perfect introduction to a cuisine that is so much more varied and complex than most of us know. In addition, the beautiful photographs of Portugal by Nuno Correia made me curious about a country that hadn’t previously been on the top of my “must-see” list. This cookbook then, is part biography, part travelogue and part feast for the eyes with great humor slipped in.

This is one of those cookbooks that makes me excited to cook. After a first read through, I had used up an entire pad of post-its trying to mark all the recipes I wanted to try. The end result: a New Portuguese Table marathon of cooking over 3 days. Recipes were either spectacular or very good. In many cases my husband and mother immediately begged me to make a dish again (knowing that I rarely make the same dish twice.) And, many immediately went on my new list of staple dishes. For people that are trying to eat healthy, many of these recipes are based on a fresh produce, olive oil and good proteins. But don't worry-it also has some tasty sweet and fried treats. While I am an experienced cook, I have no doubt that many of these recipes could be made by people who are new to cooking. I appreciated that Mr. Leite often gave useful substitutions for ingredients that are hard to find. I also enjoyed reading the recipes when Mr. Leite, for example, told me to "plonk" in the potatoes. I just loved that image. So, I plonked away.

Here is my run-down. I focused on making recipes that were seasonal, took advantage of great produce and were also easy to make using basic supermarket ingredients.

One last note- for people with egg allergies there is a gem of a recipe that is worth the price of this book. Mr. Leite calls it, Milk “Mayonnaise” and notes that it isn’t a mayonnaise at all because it doesn’t have eggs. What this means is that people, like my children, who are allergic to eggs can use this recipe to make salad dressings, chicken salad, tuna salad, b.l.ts, etc. That is pretty darn exciting.

The New Portuguese Table Marathon-In order of recipes in the book. Favorites have asteriks. Please note that my photographs do no justice to these recipes. I include them just to share a non-professional take on these dishes.

Green Olive Dip-This was one of my least favorites. I am not a regular eater of anchovies and for me it was a bit too pungent and strong. However, it had great texture and was tastier on salad then simply as a dip. Next time I will actually skip the anchovies or use fewer. You can actually make this at home already as David Leite posted the recipe on his website. See what you think.

Green Soup-Very simple. It needed chourizo, but I think that smoked paprika may work. It was also an easy way to eat one’s greens. I think it would be great with a poached egg.

Purslane (or Watercress) and Cheese Soup-While Mr. Leite notes that you can make this with watercress, I was lucky to find Purslane at the Farmer's Market. Having the lemony taste of sorrel, this light soup was good, easy, comforting. My little ones enjoyed the potatoes.

Salt Cod of My Youth-I haven't had great experiences with salt cod in the past. It is often so fishy tasting that it can be unpleasant. However, both this dish and the sandwiches are great ways to introduce someone to the fish. This dish was homey and rich. I actually think I will make it next time without (gasp) the salt cod, as the potato-onion-garlic-nutmeg-cheese mixture was so delectable.

Mini Salt Cod Sandwiches-My cilantro had wilted beyond hope, which is too bad as I think the strong taste of cilantro would hold up well against the cod. However, on a Portuguese sweet roll, slathered with Red Pepper Jam, mayonnaise and the Amped-Up Red Pepper paste, this was very good. Think of this as a twist on a fish sandwich. Am I sold on salt cod? Well, no. But I am glad I tried both dishes.

**Olive Oil-Poached Cod-I made this with haddock. And it was just so, so good. More importantly for working parents-it is so simple, especially if you skip the step of creating an infused olive oil (though it was delicious). I also kept things simple by using the tomato sauce recipe from the book (which uses canned tomatoes), rather than creating a new roasted tomato sauce.Grilled Beef Kebabs with Madeira, Bay Leaf and Garlic-This was good and flavorful. It is so simple that you need to make sure you use good meat. I thought it need just a bit of something, so I ate it with the tomato rice. My husband used by red pepper syrup (see the red pepper jam).
Eggs Simmered in Tomato Sauce-Another of those so simple, so good kind of recipes. And, if you have some of the tomato sauce on hand, it cooks up in minutes. I used the corn bread to mop up the sauce.

Scrambled Eggs with Fresh Cod-I left out the asparagus, but what remained was comfort food with a twist. One of our favorite elements from this dish was the olive oil that was infused with garlic and onions. I actually started with the olive oil from the “Olive Oil Poached Cod” and then added the garlic and onions. I then used the infused oil liberally on the eggs and cod, on pasta and on a salad.**Collard Greens(Spinach or Broccoli Rabe) with Toasted Bread Crumbs -perfect use of extra corn bread. It is a fantastic way to get kids (or husbands) to eat greens. I also made it with kale. Make extra bread crumbs and use them to bread cod or other fish.Black-Eyed Peas with Onions and Red Peppers-Another of those easy, cheap (!). Can see making it in slow cooker. Great cold as salad, warm, mixed with tomato rice. Everyone who ate enjoyed it, including my mother who doesn't typically like bean dishes.

**Tomato Rice-one of favorites. Simply delicious and so easy. It seems perfect with everything and will become one of our new staples. I can see throwing in chickpeas for complete protein. My 17 month old was literally grabbing for the spoon.Corn Bread-Mr. Leite describes this dense bread perfectly. It would be a good bread for people unfamiliar with bread making My 3 year old enjoyed making it with me. It is perfect for sopping up stew, soup, sauces. It is also worth making if only for bread crumbs for collards.Lemon and Black Olive Wafers-Give these to someone on the day after you bake them. They will make a quizzical face, trying to guess the secret ingredient-raisins? Prunes? Fig? Nope-olives…These grew on me, slowly, especially by the day after I made them. Friends noted that they were “interesting.” They are worth making, to begin to learn the range of ways that olives (a fruit, after all) can be used. I surprised myself by almost giving them an asterik. I also liked them most 2 days after I made them. I made them like wafers (on the sides in the photo), as well as thumbprint style. **Molasses Cookies-with walnuts, these are pretty perfect and are pictured above. One of my favorite elements of David Leite-style is his use of salt and here the salt makes these more flavorful that standard cookies. Again, these were so easy. They looked lovely and were even better the next day. I think these would be a great holiday gift. They would also be fabulous with pecans.

**Orange Cake-I completely missed David’s directions that said, “Don’t even think about taking a bite until the day after you make it…” And, yet, my friends and I loved it minutes after I took it out of the oven. The first day, still warm, it was tender, moist and full of a citrus-olive taste. Yet, it is true, it was so good on day 2. It was reminiscent of a moist pound cake. The olive taste had faded, while the orange was a hint. In fact, as I love a more dominant citrus to my sweets, I may try adding a glaze of orange or lemon.

Sweet red pepper jam: This was very good, even if I didn’t have a food mill. Instead, I put the jam in a strainer. The result-a delectable syrup that drained out. In fact, my husband preferred the syrup over the jam, using it with steak, with chicken, everything. My jam had the skins, but it was so good. I have had it on cream cheese, with meats. I could envision this with a sweet chevre tart, with quesadillas, etc.

**Amped-Up Red Pepper Paste-This gorgeous and brilliant paste will be a new stand by for me. It took minutes to make but adds a unique and complex taste to every dish that I smeared it on. At first it tasted too salty and I wondered if my smoked paprika was saltier than others. However, it mellowed out dramatically over a day or so. It was perfect brushed on chicken right before grilling. I also noticed that it mellowed out over a few days. I have thinned it with olive oil and used it as a dressing. I put it on my olive oil poached cod, my salt cod sandwiches, and on beef.

**Tomato Sauce-Another new staple as it uses ingredients that most of us always have on hand. My mom can’t stop talking about this one. It pairs perfectly with pasta, on the olive oil poached cod, for simmering eggs.

Others that I can’t wait to try (fyi: my dear husband eats neither pork nor shellfish, so I haven’t flagged those, though they sound delicious): Spicy pumpkin seeds, cilantro bread soup with poached eggs, Lemon-Mint Chicken Soup, all the chicken dishes, the Braised Beef Shanks with Warm Spices, Momma Leite’s Braised Beef with Wine and Garlic and so many more....

1 comment:

  1. WOW! Where have you been all my life? This is an AMAZING journey though the book. It's so funny to know you made all of these recipes in just a few days. It took me months of work to finesse them into what I felt did justice to the originals. Brava. This is of the most comprehensive accounts of the book, its recipes, and, most important, its voice and personality. I felt if just one person plonked her potatoes into a pot, I would be happy. Wonderful.