After working as a food and beverage director for years and overseeing numerous special events all over the U.S., I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing chefs. It is always rewarding to collaborate with chefs to create the most incredible culinary experience for clients and their guests. However, the most rewarding experiences are when I am able to work with dear friends who are also extremely talented chefs. One such friendship, stretching back to the early eighties, is with my treasured friend David Leite (whose last name, quite coincidentally, rhymes with “eat”). Roberta and I are always elated when we have the opportunity to be a guest of David’s at his Upper West Side residence in New York City to try out one of his newest culinary creations.
David Leite is the publisher of Leite’s Culinaria. He has received three James Beard Awards for his writing and is also a two-time winner for his website, Leite’s Culinaria — the first ever to win this honor. His work, infused with his Portuguese heritage, has appeared in numerous national publications. He is currently at work on a memoir titled “Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression.”
David’s masterpiece recipes allow you to feel like a professional chef. They are sophisticated yet manageable. Two of his succulent recipes I particularly enjoy are clams and sausage in a cataplana and Portuguese white gazpacho. You can find more exceptional recipes in his cookbook, “The New Portuguese Table,” which won the Julia Child Award for Best First Book. Be sure to check out “The David Blahg” on his website, leitesculinaria.com, for a more personal glimpse of David and his recipes.
When Roberta and I prepare these dishes, we like to serve them family style by staging the pots in the middle of the table and allowing the guests to serve themselves. We like to pair the table linen colors with the colors of the food and serve the entire meal with a wonderful home-baked bread and an incredible wine…all by candlelight of course! If you try these recipes and want to share your experience, send me an email at [email protected]
CLAMS AND SAUSAGE IN A CATAPLANA
QUICK GLANCE: 25 MINUTES PREP TIME; 35 MINUTES COOK TIME; SERVES 4.
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces chouriço, linguiça or dry-cured smoked Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4 inch coins
1 1/4 thick slice presunto, Serrano ham or prosciutto, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 medium yellow onions, cut lengthwise in half and sliced into thin half-moons
1 Turkish bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, drained and chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
4 pounds small clams, such as cockles, manila, butter or littlenecks, scrubbed and rinsed Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1. Heat the oil in a large cataplana or a pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium- high heat until it simmers. Dump in the chouriço (or dry-cured Spanish chorizo) and presunto (or Serrano ham, prosciutto) and cook, stirring occasionally, until touched with brown, for 6 to 8 minutes.
2. Lower the heat to medium; drop in the onions and bay leaf, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, for 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more. Stir in the tomatoes and any accumulated juice, the wine and paprika. Discard any clams that feel heavy (which means they’re full of sand), have broken shells or don’t close when tapped. Plunk the clams into the pot and turn the heat to high. If using a cataplana, lock it and cook 5 to 10 minutes, shaking occasionally, until the clams open. If using a Dutch oven, cook, covered, stirring occasionally until the clams pop open, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Carry the cataplana triumphantly to the table, making sure everyone’s watching, and then release the lid. Bask in the applause. Toss out the bay leaf and any clams that refuse to open. Season with a few grinds of pepper, shower with parsley and ladle the stew into wide shallow bowls. Oh, and have a big bowl on hand for the shells.
PORTUGUESE WHITE GAZPACHO
QUICK GLANCE: 30 MINUTES PREP TIME; 30 MINUTES COOK TIME; SERVES 4.
For the white gazpacho:
1 1 1/2 cups 3/4-inch cubes of day-old rustic white bread, crust removed
1 2/3 cup (3 ounces) unsalted blanched whole almonds
1 small fennel bulb (about
6 ounces), stalks and core removed, bulb chopped; reserve a few of the frilly fronds for garnish
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1/2 seedless English cucumber, peeled and chopped Leaves from 4 fresh oregano sprigs
1 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the crab salad:
1 1 1/2 cups jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over and drained well
1/2 small carrot, peeled and minced
1/2 stalk celery, minced
1 tablespoon brandy or tawny port
1 teaspoon piri-piri sauce, or store-bought hot sauce, or to taste
1/3 cup plain maionese de leite, or more if needed Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups tender baby salad greens (optional)
1. To make the white gazpacho, soak the bread cubes in cold water until softened, about 5 minutes. Squeeze dry with your hands.
2. Toss the almonds into a blender and pulse into a fine powder. Drop in the fennel, onion, cucumber, oregano, and 1 1/2 cups water and buzz on high until liquefied. Add the wet bread, oil, and vinegar and whir again until the mixture is as smooth as possible. Put the blender canister, covered, in the fridge for at least 3 hours, up to 6 hours.
3. Meanwhile, toss together the crab, carrot, celery, brandy and piri-piri sauce in a small bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate.
4. When ready to serve, fold the maionese de leite into the crab mixture and season with salt and pepper. If you want it a bit creamier, plop in another tablespoon or so of the maionese.
5. Whir the gazpacho in the blender for a few seconds to froth it again. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and pour it into a pitcher. Make a small bed of greens in the center of chilled bowls, top with the crab and poke in a bit of fennel frond.