In an interview on The Splendid Table for his book The New Portuguese Table, David Leite was asked what one flavor or ingredient makes Portuguese food distinctly Portuguese. Without hesitation, he answered, "Massa de pimentão."
Leite says that this spice is made from red bell peppers that have been salted, cured, and then ground into a paste. The flavor is simultaneously salty and sweet, full of that peppery flavor, but not especially spicy. One bite of a dish seasoned with this paste and Leite says he's transported right back to his family's table.
This paste is often slathered over meat and used as a marinade before roasting or grilling, though it can also be used on vegetables like potatoes or even mixed with eggs in an omelet. As Splendid Table host Lynne Rossetto Kasper says, "Sweet peppers...salted, then crushed, and then browned in a pan? That has got to be outrageous!"
Leite's homemade version of massa de pimentão combines the crushed red peppers with other signature Portuguese flavors like red wine, lemon, and garlic. You can hear the full interview and get the recipes on The Splendid Table website:
Have you ever cooked with this seasoning?
(Image: Emma Christensen)