Páscoa em Newark

O The New York Times de anteontem descreve um cenário que me era bem familiar há uns anos. Leiam também as receitas para verem uma perspectiva americana da comida portuguesa. Boa Páscoa para todos.

April 8, 2009
Newark’s Portuguese Community Keeps Fires of Tradition Burning

FRANK ALEXANDRE was so excited to make his point that he hip-checked a table out of the way as he lurched toward the photograph on the wall. “Olhe! Olhe!” he said in his native Portuguese. (“Look! Look!”)

The picture, hanging in the Casa de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, a social club (named after the desolate region in northeast Portugal) in the Ironbound section of this city, shows a clutch of sun-pummeled stone buildings, the roofs crenulated with scrub, the road thick with dust.

“This building here is the cookhouse,” said Mr. Alexandre, owner of a local auto repair and towing company, pointing to an imposing windowless stone structure pictured atop a hill. “There are four or five stone ovens inside.” He explained that in times gone by, the residents of the village in the photograph would forage for scraps of wood, build a fire in the ovens and cook communally: hotter fires roasted meats and baked breads while cooler embers burbled stews and braises and coddled eggy desserts. Families then divided the food and trekked home to dine.

“That,” he said, tapping the picture, “is how we survived.”

Nearly six decades after that photograph was taken and half a world away in Ironbound, where 25 percent of the population is of Portuguese descent, the tradition of communal cooking and eating remains — especially during Páscoa, or Easter.

“Last Easter I sold about 120 whole lambs, 60 kid goats and almost as many suckling pigs,” said Herminio Lopes, who owns the Lopes Sausage Company in Newark, one of the area’s most popular meat suppliers (he has also shipped sausages to the White House).

He explained that because home ovens can’t always accommodate a whole animal, the Portuguese-preferred way of roasting, many animals are brought to restaurant kitchens, where they are marinated or massaged with a customer’s own rub, then roasted and either enjoyed in the dining room or taken home. Other people dress the roasts themselves and cook them outdoors in hand-built brick ovens.

On a ride through the city and nearby Elizabeth, Mr. Alexandre pointed out small backyards co-opted by hulking ovens — the Portuguese equivalent of the American charcoal grill — in which, he said, it wasn’t unusual for one cook to roast not only his own family’s Easter dinner but those of several neighbors.

In the early 20th century, waves of immigrants from Portugal and the Azores settled in the Ironbound district, and by the 1920s the community had its first social club along with churches and retail stores lining Ferry Street, the neighborhood’s noisy thoroughfare.

Midcentury saw another boom, which was eclipsed in the ’70s and ’80s by immigration from former Portuguese colonies, including Brazil and Cape Verde. Although the Luso population has decreased because of relocation to the wealthier suburbs and restrictions on immigration, most Portuguese families in the area still cleave to the Catholic church, religious festivals and feasts.

Despite the economy, preparing whole animals remains a booming enterprise for rogue roasters, who turn a tidy profit. “We have several people in the area who cook for a fee,” said John Panneta, a tour guide who introduces groups to the Ironbound’s social, gastronomic and cultural pleasures. “Most of them cook from their backyards and deliver it to your house.”

A different business model of roaster-for-hire is Valença, a restaurant in Elizabeth run with precision by its owner, Martinho Pereira. His crew cranks out several hundred roast suckling pigs during the holiday season for in-house customers, catered events and families who prefer to dig into their pig in the privacy of their own dining room.

When asked what secret ingredients make his pork so popular, Mr. Pereira laughed and shrugged as if to say, “What secret?” Like most Portuguese roasts, his suckling pigs are coated with nothing more than lard, garlic, salt and black and white pepper.

Recently, at the Newark home of António and Magda Araujo, Mr. Alexandre and his wife, Maria, cooked up a lamb feast. But instead of cooking it whole, they had Mr. Lopes butcher it to show off two Easter favorites — borrego assado (roasted legs of spring lamb) and guisado de borrego (lamb stew). The scene, as Mrs. Araujo described it, was typically Portuguese: “loud and fast.”

“Everything is better with olive oil!” Mrs. Alexandre shouted as she rubbed some into the lamb legs. Mr. Alexandre countered with voluminous and rapid-fire requests for bowls, pans and cutting boards. Their frantic pas de deux continued, and they dipped and spun to avoid elbows and sharp knives as they whirred garlicky pastes in the food processor, peeled potatoes and dressed the meat. In under 45 minutes, four pans along with a flan were ready for the stove. Ervilhas com ovos, a staple of peas and bacon topped with poached eggs, would be made right before dinner.

Mr. Alexandre is no stranger to the kitchen, as he’s proud to announce, having won several contests at the social club for his folar, a traditional Easter bread that in Trás-os-Montes is stuffed with cured meat.

“I made the mistake of teaching one of the young men from the Azores how to make it,” he said, “and that year he won.” Mr. Alexandre is determined to win back his title this year.

A short time later, half a roast suckling pig from Valença and both lamb dishes were nestled in the center of the table. Potatoes, rice, bread and the egg-topped peas filled the gaps. Around the table sat 10 hungry guests.

Dinner was suddenly interrupted by the bleating of Mr. Alexandre’s cellphone. A Portuguese woman was stranded on the highway and called for a tow. He stood up, popped another chunk of lamb into his mouth, and shrugged on his jacket.

“Got to take care of our own,” he said, heading for the door. “It’s how we survive.”

Lamb Stew
Time: 2 hours, plus at least 2 hours’ marinating

1 6-pound bone-in lamb shoulder; bones removed and cut into 3-inch pieces, rinsed well and reserved, or 3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder (see note)

3 ounces chicken livers

5 garlic cloves, minced

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

4 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed

Coarse salt

Ground white pepper

1 yellow onion, cut crosswise into thin half-moons

2 cups beef stock

3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped, more for serving (optional)

Boiled red potatoes, cooked white rice for serving (optional).

1. Cut lamb and chicken livers into 1 1/2-inch chunks, and place in a glass, stainless steel or other nonreactive bowl. Add garlic, bay leaves, paprika, 1/4 cup wine, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

2. When ready to cook, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add bones and sear until well-browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate. If pan is dry, add a bit more oil. Working in batches, add lamb mixture and sear, turning occasionally, until edged with brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

3. Lower heat to medium, add onion and sauté until limp, about 10 minutes. Add lamb and any juices, the bones, remaining 1 1/4 cups wine, beef stock and parsley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until lamb is tender, about 1 1/2 hours; if liquid level becomes low, add water as needed. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Remove and discard bones and bay leaves. If a smooth sauce is desired, transfer lamb to a bowl, cover and keep warm. Strain and discard solids from liquid. To serve, spoon stew into shallow bowls. If desired, accompany with boiled peeled red potatoes or long grain white rice drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled generously with minced parsley.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Note: Ask butcher to bone shoulder, cut bones into pieces and remove excess fat. Three pounds of lamb is needed; if necessary, add boneless shoulder.

Peas With Poached Eggs
Time: 20 minutes

6 ounces thick-cut slab bacon, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces (see note)

1 yellow onion, diced

1 tablespoon white vinegar

4 to 6 large eggs

3 cups (about 1 pound) frozen baby peas, thawed

1 medium tomato, seeded and diced

Coarse salt

Ground white pepper

1 tablespoon minced parsley, for garnish.

1. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté bacon until crispy-chewy, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels. Reduce heat to low and add onion to skillet. Sauté in bacon fat until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, fill a deep skillet with 3 inches water and add vinegar. Place over medium heat and bring to a bare simmer. Break an egg into a 1/3-cup measuring cup and gently tip into water. Repeat with remaining eggs. Poach to taste, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate and trim neatly. Cover and keep warm.

3. Add peas to skillet with onions and toss until warmed. Add tomato and bacon bits, and season with salt and pepper.

4. To serve, transfer pea mixture to a warmed serving bowl. Make an indentation in peas for each egg, nestle in eggs and sprinkle with parsley. Instruct guests to scoop peas onto their plates and crown with an egg.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Note: For a smokier flavor, reduce the amount of bacon to 3 ounces and add 3 ounces diced chouriço.

Flan With Tea
Time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours, plus 3 hours’ chilling

2 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons strong-flavored tea leaves, like Lapsang souchong

2 cups sugar

6 large eggs, at room temperature

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature.

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Fill a kettle of water to bring to a boil. In a small saucepan, combine milk and tea leaves. Place over medium-low heat and bring to a bare simmer; remove from heat and allow to steep until deeply infused, about 10 minutes. Strain into a bowl, discard solids, and allow to cool until just warm.

2. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Place over medium heat without stirring until sugar melts and begins to take on a bit of color. Do not stir; instead, swirl pan occasionally. Continue to cook until mixture is dark maple-syrup brown and has an aroma of caramel, 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully pour into a 1 1/2-quart flan mold or metal baking dish (such as an 8-inch square baking pan), tilting pan to coat sides and bottom. Set aside.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, yolk and remaining 1 cup sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Slowly stir in the milk mixture until blended. Pour into flan mold, and set mold in a small roasting pan. Place in oven and pour enough boiling water into roasting pan to come halfway up mold.

4. Bake flan until set around edges but slightly jiggly in middle, 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes, depending on oven, and size and depth of mold. Remove from water bath and place on a work surface to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until well chilled, about 3 hours.

5. To serve, run a sharp knife around inside edge of pan. Place a deep plate on top and flip. Remove mold, and serve.

Yield: 8 servings.