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Getting to know Jean Anderson in the early eighties was one of the most important breaks in my life. The fabulously knowledgeable cookbook author and food and travel writer began to mentor me about 10 minutes after we first met, quickly hiring me as her assistant on foreign assignments to Brazil, Holland, Portugal. Once on the ground, Jean did just about all the work herself. She researched and wrote the articles, found and tested the recipes, styled the food, and shot the photographs. All I had to do was lug around the lights, help with the food styling, soak up the local culture and eat very, very well. It was nice work if you could get it.
I was in Portugal with Jean when I first tasted the brilliant Portuguese equivalent of Surf and Turf, namely clams and pork. The pork in question—either fresh or presunto, an aged pork product like the Italian prosciutto—is combined with wine and clams. The clams open up as they steam, and the liquid that runs out of the shell contributes to the beautiful broth. The sofrito part of the dish is a recipe from our Guatemalan housekeeper, Magda Alcayaga. It is the vegetable and herb base in which she cooks her rice. You will definitely want to have some crusty bread at hand to mop up all the sauce. Add a big salad to the proceedings and you’ve put together a delicious and satisfying meal.
By the way, it was Jean Anderson who wrote The Food of Portugal, the definitive book on that country’s cuisine. I highly recommend it.
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 small tomato, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
One 1/4-inch-thick slice prosciutto, about 1/4 pound, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 cup dry white wine
4 dozen cherrystone clams or 4 pounds cultivated mussels, scrubbed clean
2 scallions, white and 2 inches of the green parts, thinly sliced
Combine the onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomatoes, and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Add 2 tablespoons cold water and process or blend until smooth. You should have about 1 cup sofrito.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Stir in the sofrito and cook until blended and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and the clams or mussels and increase the heat to high. Cover the pan tightly and cook, shaking or stirring often, just until the shells open, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard any that do not open. Turn out into a large serving bowl, squeeze the lemon over them, and sprinkle with the scallions. Serve warm with crusty bread.
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