First impressions: A wide, nearly square hardback book with a dust jacket and glossy pages. It's easily propped open, and the type is well set for visibility — with the exception of the ingredient lists, which are set in all caps, and therefore rather difficult to read at a glance. There are many photos; nearly every recipe has a temptingly-photographed image of the dish.
Number of recipes: About 95, split between the usual categories (Fish and Seafood, Vegetables and Rice, Poultry, Meat) with tantalizing extras that include Sundries (Cilantro Paste, Fish Stock, Smoked Paprika Oil) and Sweets and Liqueurs (Rosemary Custard, Sweet Lemon and and Black Olive Wafers, Milk Liqueur).
The angle: David Leite takes the Portuguese cooking of his family, which he was not enthusiastic about as a youth, and marries it to the more progressive and updated takes on modern Portuguese cuisine that he found in his travels there as an adult. He includes less than a hundred recipes. We appreciate that didn't he go for comprehensive coverage as much as an edited guide to the signature flavors of the region. As a result the book feels like one we'd like to cook through from cover to cover — a narrative of Portuguese cuisine, as opposed to an encyclopedia.
The other stuff: A short but helpful introduction that includes a guide to some Portuguese ingredients and cooking terms, with a special section on wine for Portuguese food.
Strengths: A passionate yet lucid approach to Portuguese cooking. There are plenty of recipes that don't call for too many hard-to-find ingredients, and that still have a good flair of something new. We like how Leite took some perhaps complicated dishes and made them friendly and fresh for newcomers to Portuguese cuisine. The photos are wonderful and a big asset to the book.
Recipes for right now: The Sweet Lemon and and Black Olive Wafers pictured above will be on our Christmas cookie plates. Also, we are dying to try the Milk Liqueur. Later today we will share recipes for duck with black olives, as well as an olive risotto. Other recipes to try: Pork Tenderloin in a Port-Prune Sauce, Fried Cornmeal, Spinach with Toasted Bread Crumbs, Salt Cod in a Potato Jacket, and Lemon-Mint Chicken Soup.
Recommended? Yes. It's gorgeous, lucid, and a great introduction to Portuguese cooking.
More 2009 Book Reviews
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• Clean Food by Terry Walters
• On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee
• Secrets from My Tuscan Kitchen by Judy Witts Francini
• The Perfect Fruit by Chip Brantley
• Heard it Through the Grapevine by Matt Skinner
• Big Food by Elissa Altman
• Edible Schoolyard by Alice Waters
• The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
• Milk by Anne Mendelson
• The New Steak by Cree LeFavour
• A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
• Fresh Food From Small Places by R. J. Ruppenthal
• Eat Feed Autumn Winter by Anne Bramley
• Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo
(Images: Clarkson Potter)