As the world turns its attention to the host country of the Olympic Games, I’m reminded of a trip I took to Brazil 20 years ago with my friend, chef and cookbook author Christopher Idone. He was so enamoured of Brazilian food that he wrote a wonderful cookbook, “Brazil: A Cook’s Tour” (Clarkson Potter), for which I was the editor.
We travelled through Sao Paulo, Rio and Bahia, and all the recipes over which we had pored on manuscript pages were suddenly there in real life, 3-D, red with dende oil, crunchy with manioc flour, aromatic with coconut milk. There were rich Feijoadas, creamy Tutu a Mineira, hot and cheesy Pao de Queijo.
Brazil’s combination of Indian, African and European (mainly Portuguese) cultures is visible in the ingredients, techniques and dishes of the country. In more recent years, an influx of Japanese, Lebanese, North American, Chinese and other immigrants has continued to enrich the culture and food with new influences.
One of my favourite dishes was Camaroes com Palmito, or Casserole of Shrimp and Hearts of Palm, which we encountered in Rio de Janeiro. Two of the most appealing foods ever are nestled together in a tomato-tinged, brothy, one-pot dish, fragrant with scallions, cilantro and parsley.
Christopher and I continued to cook and eat together after our trip to Brazil. He died just months ago, having introduced a whole lot of people to a whole lot of cuisines, including Brazilian.
This recipe is adapted from his classic book, and I can’t think of a better meal to tuck into during the opening ceremony.
CASSEROLE OF SHRIMP AND HEARTS OF PALM (CAMAROES COM PALMITO)
Start to finish: One hour
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
10 large ripe plum tomatoes, roughly chopped (juices reserved)
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
4 scallions, white and most of the green, trimmed and chopped, divided
2 pounds extra-large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 (14-ounce) cans hearts of palm, drained and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Hot cooked white rice to serve (about 6 cups)
Heat a large heavy stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the flour and stir until it starts to turn light beige, about 2 minutes. Turn the flour out of the pan onto a plate.
In the same pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, and saute until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add the bell pepper and garlic, and saut√© until the vegetables are all tender, about 4 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices. Partially cover and bring to a simmer. Adjust the heat so the tomatoes keep at a simmer, and cook for another 10 minutes, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft and soupy.
Add the broth and return the mixture to a simmer. Stir in half of the parsley and half of the scallions.
Add the shrimp and hearts of palm to the pot with the tomato broth mixture, season with salt and pepper and stir. Sprinkle the flour very gradually over the cooking shrimp and tomatoes, stirring constantly, until all of the flour is incorporated. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and the shrimp are almost cooked through, about 4 minutes.
Stir in the remaining parsley and scallions, and the cilantro, and cook for 1 more minute. Serve over white rice.