Heart of palm, that is…
Time for another traditional Brazilian recipe! Heart of palm (“palmito” in Portuguese), is, as the name suggests, the core of a palm tree sapling: it’s very delicious, but their harvest came at a huge price: to obtain the “palmito“, the whole tree was killed. Brazil was the greatest producer until the 90’s, but the population of palm trees decreased to near extinction. Other varieties of trees that are perennials are now cultivated to take the place of palmito; the most promising is called “pupunha“. To listen to the correct pronunciation of those words, click the sound wave below. “Pupunha” might be a challenge for Americans, but practice makes perfect! Go ahead and give it a try…
Heart of palm is often associated with salads (as the classic “millionaire’s salad”), but I want to expand your palmito-horizons to cooked dishes, like this wonderful pie. It is great warm or cold, by the way. Make sure to read my comments after the jump for some more thoughts on “palmito“.
Clique no link acima para a receita em portugues….
2.5 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), cold, cut in pieces
3/4 cup yogurt
1 t salt
1 egg yolk
2 T olive oil
1 onion, diced small
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 can hearts of palm, diced
1/2 cup olives, diced (I used a mixture of kalamata and green olives)
1/2 cup green peas (frozen is fine)
green onion and Italian parsley, to taste (minced)
4 – 5 oz cream cheese
1 T flour
salt and pepper to taste
Make the filling first, because it needs to be used cold. Saute’ the onion in olive oil until translucent, add the tomatoes, allow them to release some liquid, then add the diced heart of palm, olives, salt and pepper. Cook a couple of minutes, add the cream cheese, parsley, green onions, and flour, cook for a couple more minutes until the cheese melts and the texture turns creamy. Transfer it to a bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature. You can prepare the filling the day before and keep it refrigerated.
For the dough: add almost all the flour (2 + 1/4 cups) and the salt to a large bowl, work the butter into the flour with your fingers or a pastry fork, then add the yogurt (cold). You may or may not need to use the rest of the flour. Do not overwork the dough. Allow it to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes (you can also prepare the dough the day before).
Open half of the dough in a circle and cover the bottom and sides of your pie dish, making sure the dough is not rolled too thin. Add all the filling, open the second half of the dough, and either cover the pie completely, or cut strips, forming a simple grid over or a more elaborate lattice pattern. Brush the dough with egg yolk mixed with a little water to thin it. Cook in a 375F oven for about 40 minutes (please see my comments for variations on this).
Allow the pie to sit for 15 minutes before slicing.
You can use any pie dough you like, as long as it’s not sweet, of course. The best way to roll this dough was following the instructions in Fer’s website: place the dough on a plastic bag, flour the surface and add another plastic bag on top. The rolling pin never touches the dough, so it doesn’t stick or tear…it’s as easy as pie! King Arthur sells fancy bags for exactly this purpose, but I used a homemade, improvised version and was quite satisfied.
If you happen to check the recipe as posted in a few different Brazilian websites, you will see that I changed the cooking time quite a bit. It turns out that when I made it exactly as written the crust did not crisp up enough to please my beloved husband… In my memory, the authentic Brazilian pie did not have a very crisp crust, so this may very well be a gastronomic cultural difference.
Vive la difference! As the French so wisely put it…
I don’t see the need to blind bake the crust because the filling is not very moist, so I decided to make a “compromise version”, in which the whole pie is baked for a longer time. You are more than welcome to tweak this basic recipe around, as long as you keep these basic traditional ingredients unchanged: hearts of palm, tomatoes, black olives, and green peas. Without them, it’s just not right. This same filling can be used for little appetizer wonders called “empadinhas“, but “essa e’ uma outra historia, que fica para uma outra vez” (that is a whole other story, that shall be told another time ;-))
Hearts of palm can also be served in a creamy preparation, much like creamed spinach. It’s a great match for chicken, seafood, or pork, and it’s wonderful in souffles, or as a component of stews. I’ll bet a savory crepe would work well too… So, next time you see one of these colorful cans don’t be afraid to take it home!