Last year around this time the world was turning their attention to the host country of the Olympics, and learning more about the culture, history, and people of that magical country Brazil. I got to visit Brazil 20 years ago, in the company of my very dear friend Christopher Idone. Christopher was so enamored of Brazilian food that he wrote a wonderful cookbook called Brazil: A Cook’s Tour, which I edited, pubished in 1995. (Somehow Christopher, an admired veteran food writer, ended up with yours truly, a pretty junior food editor at the time — a very classic case of “and the rest was history”).
After the book came out, we traveled through Sao Paulo, Rio, and Bahia. All of the recipes that he and I had poured over on the pages of the manuscript were suddenly all there in 3-D real life; red with dende oil, crunchy with manioc flour, aromatic with coconut milk — rich Feijoadas, creamy Tutu a Mineira, hot and cheesy Pao de Queijo.
The combined cultures of Indian, African, and European (predominantly Portuguese) over the past centuries are visible in the different types of ingredients, techniques, and dishes of the country. And in later years an influx of Japanese, Arab, Lebanese, North Americans, Chinese and other immigrants has continued to enrich the culture and the food with new influences.
One of the dishes I wanted to eat over and over was the Camarões com Palmito, or Casserole of Shrimp and Hearts of palm, which we encountered in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Two of the most appealing foods ever (in this writer’s opinion) nestled together in a tomato-tinged brothy one-pot dish, fragrant with scallions and cilantro and parsley.
Christopher and I continued to cook and eat together for 20 more years after our trip to Brazil. We fantasized abut going back for the 2016 Olympics, knowing that because of his health it was not in the cards. When he died a little over a year he left this world having introduced a whole lot of people to a whole lot of cuisines, including Brazilian.
This recipe is adapted from his classic book, Brazil: A Cook’s Tour (sorry, Christopher, I love you, but I didn’t make my own shrimp stock).
Casserole of Shrimp and Hearts of Palm (Camarões com Palmito)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ¼ 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
- ½ 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
- ¼ 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 the flour turns 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 sauté until slightly softened about 4 minutes. Add the bell pepper and garlic and sauté 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 that 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.
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