Guest post by Peter in Brazil, chef and co-owner of Pousada do Capão.
For several months I’ve been meaning to write about hearts of palm, so Lydia’s recent visit to our inn provided the perfect opportunity to kill three birds with one stone: I could cook with her; test the recipe for my hearts of palm, shrimp, and requeijão pizza; and photograph the results.
In my Boston and Rhode Island pantries, a can of hearts of palm was what Lydia would classify as a “pantry special” -- not a staple, but something purchased for curiosity’s sake, on impulse, or for a particular recipe.
Here in my Brazilian pantry, I always keep a jar or a can or two on hand. While they don’t hold a candle to fresh hearts of palm, in a pinch they add texture to a salad or a jardinière, depth and crunch to empadinha filling, body to a soufflé, or interest to a pizza, and they are a pretty decent substitute for artichoke hearts, which are completely unknown in these parts.
Heart of palm is the crunchy, creamy, ivory-colored inner core of the terminal leaf bud of any of up to twenty species of palm trees. It is an ancient food, eaten for centuries by indigenous populations of the tropics.
There is a down side, though: harvesting the heart of single-trunk palms (which of course are the most delicious) kills the tree. With the heart removed, the tree will not regenerate. This wasn’t such a problem until hearts of palm became a gourmet commodity (no surprise that the world’s largest importer of palmitos is France).
Native populations in Central and South America made use of the whole plant –- leaves, bark, wood, nuts, oil, as well as the delicious heart –- and their consumption was in balance with nature’s bounty. But exploitation and irresponsible harvesting of wild palms, without concern for sustainability, have taken their toll on many of South America’s once vast native palm stands.
Efforts to cultivate palms have had some success, and environmental laws are in place to protect the endangered wild palms, but as with so many things, the forbidden fruits are the best!
Hearts of palm, shrimp and requeijão pizza
This combination of ingredients is delicious! Use your favorite homemade or store-bought pizza dough to make this 14-inch round, freeform, or 9x13-inch rectangular white pizza. Requeijão cremoso is a type of goopy, Brazilian-style cream cheese usually sold in glasses or plastic cups in the dairy case of many supermarkets, especially in neighborhoods with Portuguese-speaking residents. (I always found it at Seabra Markets in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.) In a pinch, you can substitute four ounces of cream cheese melted over very low heat with four ounces of grated Muenster, stirring until smooth. This can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. Serves 6.
1 batch of pizza dough, rolled out to desired shape and size
1 14-oz can or jar of hearts of palm, cut into rounds or 1/4-inch dice
1 lb large (26-30 size) shrimp, shelled, sautéed in olive oil until pink, and sliced in half lengthwise
1 jar of requeijão cremoso (approximately 8 oz), or softened cream cheese
1/2 cup sliced scallion greens
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Prebake the crust on a cookie sheet or pizza stone until just beginning to brown, 10 minutes or more. Remove from oven, flip over so that the bottom side is now on top, and spread the requeijão cremoso all over the crust (it will melt and be runny), leaving a 1/2” border around the outside edges. Sprinkle with fresh ground black pepper. Scatter hearts of palm pieces evenly over the requeijão, then scatter the shrimp on top, filling in the spaces. Finally, scatter the scallion greens and shredded cheeses evenly over the pizza.
Bake until the crust is fully cooked and the cheeses are bubbly and beginning to take on a little color, approximately 15-20 minutes. Then, be patient. I hate it when I burn the roof of my mouth, but I always do with pizza fresh from the oven. Let it cool a bit, and serve with beer or a cold, light white wine.
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