Rose’s Mother- Part Two

5 Jun 2011 Blog

Part Two On a cold winter New York day, I arrived at Rose’s house in Tribeca excited to cook with Dona Angelina. I saw ingredients organized like mise en place (a culinary term that refers to everything in place) waiting for us to explore them, indicating that Angelina was ready to go. A native of Santo André, a city that is part of the ABC Paulista in the state of São Paulo (the region’s nickname comes from three booming cities all named after Saints, starting with A for Santo André, B for São Bernardo do Campo, and C for São Caetano do Sul), Angelina Aparecida Masieiro Braz cooks dinner every night of the week for her husband Raul Braz. She lives a peaceful life close to the rest of her family. When she comes to New York to visit Rose, she glues to the grandchildren, but she doesn’t skip the one activity she likes to do the most– cooking.Back in Brazil she has two other grown children – Edilson G. Braz, and Roberta G. Braz, and many grandchildren. Lucky for her, Rose is the only one who decided to fly to faraway lands. Edilson and Roberta live very close by, and the family gets together every Sunday for a big lunch, gracefully prepared by Angelina. “It’s one of my favorite things to do, to cook Sunday lunch for my family. It’s hard to have Rose living so far from us, but it’s also hard to stay away from my family when I come to New York to visit Rose”, she said to me. One of her signature dishes is a classic recipe from the region of São Paulo called Cuscuz Paulista. It has nothing to do with the Moroccan grain couscous. It also has nothing to do with Cuzcuz de Tapioca, a Brazilian dessert prepared with tapioca and coconut. Cuscuz Paulista is in a league of its own. Even when I try to associate it with dishes from other countries, it’s hard to come up with any references.Essentially, Cuscuz Paulista is a mixture of onions, garlic, scallions, corn, peas, tomato sauce, hard-boiled eggs, sardines (or shrimp or both), and cornmeal that is cooked on top of the stove, poured into a tube pan, and in many cases, cooked again in water bath in the oven. In other words, it is a molded savory corn cake with a festive presentation, which is perfect for a Sunday lunch. In Brazil, Dona Angelina uses coarse, almost flaky corn flour, but I had brought Italian polenta. At first she was a little hesitant to proceed; she wasn’t sure the recipe would work with polenta instead of the Brazilian brand of corn flour she is used to. As we headed to the kitchen and Angelina started cooking, deep flavors started to appear from very simple ingredients bought in America. When she added the Italian ingredient to the pan, with care and thoughtfulness observing how fast the polenta would absorb the juices from the previous mixture, I instantly knew that a wise cook was performing. She garnished the pan with hard-boiled eggs and scallions. “ I don’t like to garnish with tomato slices because it releases too much water”, she explained. As she added sardines to the pan, carefully folding the fish to avoid shredding, you could see the smile of satisfaction of a woman who loves to cook for her family. Angelina’s version of Cuscuz Paulista doesn’t call for cooking the molded cake in the oven – everything is prepared on the stovetop, making life just easier. “How do you serve it and with what? “ I asked her. “You can serve it at room temperature, warm, or cold. My family like to cut a piece and then warm it up; we eat with a simple green salad on a side”, she said. Well, so that’s how we’ll do it! On the next entry I will post the recipe for Angelina’s Cuscuz Paulista.

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