Coming off of two relatively dull posts and some extra time away from the blog, I knew I had to come back from my trip with an extra interesting post. That's a particular challenge given the cabbage and plum tomatoes I had to work with. Not the most congenial ingredients for something impressive.
But, I think what I've got here just might fit the bill. Bacalhau a Mineira is a salt cod dish from the Minas Gerais state of Brazil. It's one of those dishes where every village has its own variation and the only proper one is the way your mother made it. I found a recipe in English on recipehound.com that was taken from the Book of Latin American Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, but when I looked for other versions, I had to Babel-fish translate them from Portuguese. I may not be getting everything quite right, but at least I know they're authentic.
Almost every version I found, with the exception of Ms. Ortiz's oddly, was a casserole layered with pre-cooked vegetables, heavy on the potatoes. So, I started with a pot of salted water where I boiled two thickly sliced medium red potatoes until just tender. I removed those and then blanched three plum tomatoes to make them easier to peel. Removed them, lowered the heat and coddled two eggs.
Meanwhile, in a medium cast iron pan, I sautéed sliced onion, garlic and red and green peppers until softened. Then I added about three quarters of a pound of sliced cabbage which I sautéed over rather high heat until nicely wilted. To that I added the tomatoes, peeled and chopped, and a half cup of white wine. I reduced the heat, cooked until the tomatoes started to fall apart and then removed all of that to a bowl, leaving the accumulated juices in the pan.
Into those juices went three quarters of a pound of salt cod that I had soaked overnight in a few changes of water to desalinify (so why I didn't just use fresh cod, I dunno). I cooked the cod until it started getting fragrant and flaky and then removed it to another bowl.
Now it was time to start building the casserole. Since the pan was oven safe I just used it instead of a baking dish. First a layer of the cabbage mixture, then some potato slices, then some cod, sprinkled with parsley, green and black olives and, god help us all, raisins. I repeated that two more times, each layer well-lubricated with olive oil.
On top I nestled in my halved beautifully mollet-cooked and then topped with shredded queijo Minas. At least that's what the recipe called for. I asked for a substitute at Whole Foods, but the cheese expert (from Brazil fortunately enough) got called away and a couple yahoos attempted to help. I ended up with a queso blanco that was a) a bit too salty and b) didn't melt the way queijo Minas is supposed to. Ah well.
But I only learned that latter part after 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
And here's the result:
That pile really ought to be at least partially held together with melted cheese. One recipe I saw shredded the potatoes and mixed it and shredded cheese in with the other ingredients. Maybe I should have done that.
Hmm...this is an interesting combination of flavors. I wouldn't have thought raisins and cod would work, but they do. It's not really melding though. It's a lot of individual elements that aren't actively clashing, but not building to anything either. Maybe the cheese is supposed to hold it together more than just physically. Now that it's cooled a bit, the cabbage, potato and cod flavors are working well together, the earthy melange punctuated by the bright saltiness of the olives emphasizing the cod and raisins bringing out the cabbage's sweetness. The tomatoes don't do much, but these aren't the world's most flavorful tomatoes. Still, I think I'm starting to get how it's supposed to work and I think I can say I actually like this now. Good thing since I've got about five meal's worth left over.