The fourth in an occasional series of posts about Brazilian food and ingredients we discovered during our recent visit.
On our first morning at the Pousada do Capão, we drank cashew juice and ate homemade granola and fresh, really fresh, mango and pineapple, and we toasted our own bread-and-cheese sandwiches in a cast iron griddle on a fogão a lenha, the freestanding wood stove that is the heart and soul of every kitchen in Minas Gerais.
For me, owner of a six-burner Viking, this simple stove was love at first sight.
Every kitchen we visited had a fogão a lenha, each one sheathed in a different material (wood, tile, stone), like this kitchen in a beautiful old home (now a bed-and-breakfast inn) in Diamantina.
In most kitchens, the wood stove radiates heat and provides a surface for "holding" food, like a giant warming tray. The actual cooking usually takes place on a more efficient, and more energy-conscious, gas burner.
This beautiful red stove anchors the farmhouse kitchen at Cachaça Velha Serrana...
...but the actual cooking happens here, on the gas range.
In another farm kitchen, the wood stove heats water for tea, and beans for lunch.
At the pousada, Peter and Marlene, the wonderful cook who works with him, prepare all of the food for the inn in an oven built into the wall, and on this two-burner gas stove.
A newer gas cooktop has been waiting to get hooked up, so for now, all of the cooking is done on two burners. Food prepared ahead can be kept warm on the wood stove.
On one of our first nights at the pousada, Marlene made this traditional Mineiran meal of beans, rice, polenta and chicken with ora pro nobis, in traditional stone pots called panelas de pedra sabão.
On another evening, Peter baked this dish of squash with dried beef (more like our corned beef) in the wall oven and kept it warm on the wood stove's tiled top.
One winter long ago, Ted and Cousin Martin and I spent a memorable New Year's morning huddled around the Aga range in our friend Peter's (yes, another Peter) 400-year-old farmhouse kitchen in southwest England, trying to keep frostbite at bay.
Although winters in Minas Gerais don't get quite as cold as Cornwall, the warmth from the fogão a lenha took the chill off the air in early Spring, and warmed our spirits.
I wanted to bring one of these wood stoves home with me and put it right next to my Viking range. I really did.
Chicken with ora pro nobis
Another delicious recipe from Peter, chef-owner of Pousada do Capão in Brazil. Ora pro nobis (literally, "pray for us") grows wild in Minas Gerais, and is cultivated in some warmer parts of the United States, where it's known as Sweet Mary or Spanish Gooseberry. Purslane would be an excellent substitute, especially if what you find at the market is as past-its-prime as these leaves we found at the market in Diamantina.
Usually this dish is made with free-range chicken (frango caipira) cut in serving pieces, which takes a lot longer to cook than tender dark meat thighs. Some people use urucum or turmeric for color, and some add peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes, but Peter likes it as is, to let the smoky flavor of the ora pro nobis come through unadulterated. Serves 4; can be doubled.
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, grated coarsely
2 cloves garlic, pounded to a puree in a mortar and pestle or chopped fine
8 skinless chicken thighs
2-3 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium storebought
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
2 cups (packed) ora pro nobis leaves (or purslane)
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions green part only
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy pot. Fry the onion in the hot oil, stirring and regulating the heat to prevent burning. Cook 3-4 minutes or until deep golden brown. Stir in half of the garlic. Add the chicken thighs and sear on both sides in the onions. Skim off any excess oil and reserve.
Add the stock and bring to a boil. Then, reduce to a simmer, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the chicken is tender, 15-20 minutes. If the sauce seems overly thin, continue simmering to reduce to the desired consistency.
Meanwhile, wash and trim the ora pro nobis leaves, and julienne coarsely. Heat the reserved oil in a small frying pan, stir in the remaining garlic and fry 30 seconds, just until it begins to take on color. Add the ora pro nobis and sauté until wilted, adding a bit of stock if it seems too dry. Add the ora pro nobis and half the scallions to the chicken, stirring them into the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Sprinkle the remaining scallion greens over the top and serve with white rice, beans, polenta and sautéed collard greens.
Thanks to cousins Martin, Ben and Sandra for contributing photos to this post.
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