Carla is food passionate. Born in Toronto to parents of Italian origin who encouraged and supported her childhood interest in preparing dishes of different cuisines Carla learned at a very young age that food preparation was not just nourishment but could also be the source of enormous pleasure and cultural pride.
An elementary school teacher with degrees from The University of Toronto (psychology/education), York University (Teacher’s College) and an interest in students with special needs Carla is also a graduate of the Chef Training program at George Brown College.
After meeting her husband Antonio she was exposed to home-cooked Portuguese food. Combining her degree in journalism from Ryerson, her chef’s training, and her passion for food, Carla authored the best selling “Uma Casa Portuguesa – Portuguese Home Cooking”.
Carla taught Portuguese Cooking at the Toronto District School Board and the Ontario Science Centre. Carla has appeared onBreakfast TV, Canadian Living TV, OMNI TV, and her work with Portuguese food preparation has been featured in articles in theToronto Star, Canadian Living, Sol Portugues, and Chatelaine.
Carla lives in Toronto with her husband Antonio and her two children who she has infused with her wonderful food passion.
Carla Azevedo has just released her second Portuguese cookbook, Pimentos & Piri Piri: Portuguese Comfort Cooking (Whitecap Books, $39.95). While she covers many traditional Portuguese dishes, including caldo verde (creamy potato purée and greens), bacalhau com natas (salt cod in cream sauce) and carne de porco a Alentejana (pork and clams Alentejo-style), Azevedo wasn’t born into this cuisine. The Toronto-based teacher and writer is from an Italian-Canadian family, and she was introduced to the foods of Portugal when she met her husband, Antonio Azevedo.
According to Azevedo, this approach has its advantages. “There’s something to be said about someone outside the culture coming in, experiencing the food and saying, ‘Wow, this is amazing,'” says Azevedo, during a phone interview with the Winnipeg Free Press. “While maybe people who are in the culture, who are eating it every day, don’t think it’s such a big deal.”
Azevedo was drawn to the cuisine’s global influences. “The Portuguese were explorers,” she explains. “They did a lot of travelling, went off to Africa, India, lots of different places. And they weren’t shy about picking up from other cultures.”
Piri piri, for example, often made into a spicy Portuguese sauce, is a hot pepper (of complex and sometimes disputed origin) found in Mozambique. “It’s always by the table,” according to Azevedo.
Asian and eastern Mediterranean spices like saffron, cinnamon and cumin show up in soups and stews, while many desserts pick up tropical flavours like coconut and orange.
And of course, there’s cod, which the Portuguese brought back from Canada, often in dried, salted form.
Azevedo emphasizes that while her cookbook is inspired by traditional Portuguese dishes, the recipes have been adapted to today’s North American kitchens. Many of the ingredients can be found at any supermarket. “A dish like caldo verde, it’s typically made with collard greens, but don’t feel uncomfortable about substituting other greens,” she advises. “Don’t be afraid to substitute and simplify as much as possible.”
Other ingredients, such as chouriço, a smoked and seasoned pork sausage, are worth seeking out, Avezedo suggests. She recommends getting out and exploring your city’s Portuguese grocery stores. Here in Winnipeg, Viena Do Castelo is a favourite of Free Press food critic Marion Warhaft. The Sargent Avenue store offers a small eat-in section as well as takeout prepared foods and Portuguese specialty products like pimento paste.
When it came to preparing these wonderful ingredients, Azevedo drew on her training as a chef as well as her degree in journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto. Sometimes, she says, her research involved going up to ladies at Portuguese grocery stores and asking them how they planned to prepare their fish.
She also learned from friends and family, watching as they cooked old favourites. The recipes weren’t always standardized, Azevedo soon found out. “Often people would say, ‘Oh, it’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that.'” Pinning quantities down could be difficult. “But in the end that’s not a bad thing,” points out Azevedo, “because ultimately you have to taste it.”
“Trust your instincts and your taste buds,” Azevedo counsels.
I decided to take her advice and jump into some Portuguese recipes. I started by making garlicky lemon pork cubes. Called torresmos in the Azorean islands and rojµes in mainland Portugal, these are often served in big platters right before Lent, sometimes with sweet potatoes or taro root and cornbread.
I also tried a tart in which thin slices of pear are covered by creamy custard. The buttery crust gets the unusual addition of port wine, which hails from the northern city of Porto. In Portugal, this tart is more commonly made with apples, but Azevedo happened to have some pears on hand one day and liked the result. Since the pastry recipe makes enough for two pies, she recommends making up one apple and one pear version and deciding which you like best.