As we consider the cuisine of Portugal today, there are many ingredients that have come from the age of exploration. Cinnamon and curry spices were brought to Portugal by Vasco da Gama and became a staple for many of the egg sweets. Onions and garlic were brought to Portugal by the Romans, who established colonies there. They also brought wheat, olives, and grapes. The Moors who occupied Portugal for 500 years were responsible for planting almond, fig, apricot, lemon, and orange trees. They invented the cataplana, a clam-shaped pan for cooking.
A famous dish that resulted from the Moorish influence was Ameijoas na Cataplana (clams tossed with sausages and pork). The dish was created during the Inquisition to test adherence to Christianity, since the consumption of pork and shellfish was forbidden by Orthodox Judaism and Islam. The Moors are also credited for the egg desserts so popular in Portugal and throughout the Portuguese-speaking world. The nuns in convents were responsible for making these sweets and are credited for taking them to Brazil in the sixteenth century.
This recipe comes from the Ribatejo region of Portugal which is the area northeast of Lisbon along the Tagus River.
Serves 4 to 6.
1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. salt
½ c. white wine
6 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 pounds pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons bacon fat or lard
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 pounds littleneck clams
4 tablespoons cornmeal
½ cup olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
4 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon flour
1 cup minced fresh parsley
For the Clams: Wash the clams well and scrub with a brush. Place the clams in a pot with water to cover. Add the cornmeal and salt. Refrigerate for 10 hours. This will whiten the shells and give the clams a sweeter taste.
For the Marinade: With a mortar and pestle, purée the garlic and salt. Add the wine, lemon juice, vinegar, paprika, pepper, and bay leaf. Cut the pork into 1-inch cubes, rub well with the mixture and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
The following-day Clams: In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the onion slices and garlic. Sauté over medium heat until the garlic is lightly browned. Remove the garlic. Add the tomatoes, flour, and pepper and continue cooking over medium-low heat until the vegetables are tender. Set aside.
For the Pork: Heat the olive oil and bacon fat in a large, heavy skillet over high heat until almost smoking. Drain the pork from the marinade, set the marinade aside, and in the skillet brown the pork quickly in small batches. Transfer the browned pork to a dish and keep warm. In the same oil sauté the onion and garlic until limp and golden, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, reserved marinade, pork cubes and any juice that has accumulated. Mix well, cover and simmer on low for 30 minutes. Add the clams and the tomato mixture to the pork mixture and simmer until the clams open, about 15-20 minutes. The Portuguese usually serve this dish with French fried potatoes and white rice.
Note: If you have a cataplana, add all the ingredients to it at the point before you cook them for 30 minutes. Then add the clams and tomato mixture to cook and meld for the last 15 to 20 minutes. Some cooks use red wine instead of the white for the marinade.
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Photos courtesy of Tom Wallace and Wikimedia Commons.