I first had this dish in the southern Alentejo region of Portugal. Though the traditional dish is a happy marriage of pork and clams, the recipe can be modified by using only seafood, such as mussels, scallops or cubes of fish in addition to the clams. It could also be made with chicken added as well as numerous other vegetables in the sauce, including zucchini, celery and carrots. Serve this with a young, chilled Vinho Verde.
4 dozen clams
3 medium Spanish onions, diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut in thin strips
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut in thin strips
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large bay leaf
1 (16-ounce) can tomatoes (do not drain)
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/2 pound smoked ham, cut into small dice
1/4 pound chouriço or mild Italian sausage, cut into small dice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley
6 jumbo shrimp, peeled
Scrub and clean the clams. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Sauté the onions, garlic and peppers in the olive oil, 8 to 10 minutes until soft and golden. Add the bay leaf and tomatoes in their water. Cook slowly for 30 minutes; add the tomato sauce, prosciutto, smoked ham, and pepperoni, re-cover, and cook 30 minutes longer.
To assemble the cataplana, spoon half the tomato mixture into the bottom of a very large cataplana (it should measure about 15 inches across) or into a large heavy Dutch-oven type of kettle, and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Adjust the heat so that the mixture barely boils, arrange the clams on top, spoon in the remaining tomato sauce, cover tight, and cook 10 minutes over moderately low heat — no peeking. Open the cataplana or kettle, pour in the wine, scatter the parsley evenly on top, then toss the clams lightly. Re-cover and cook slowly 15 to 20 minutes longer until the clams open — discard any that do not.
Carry the cataplana or kettle to the table, open, and toss in the shrimp. Let set for several minutes while the shrimp cook and the temperature comes down slightly. Serve in large soup plates. Serve with rough country bread. The top of the cataplana can be used for empty clam shells. If you are using a Dutch oven, have a bowl for the shells.
Makes 4-6 servings.
Adapted from “The Foods of Portugal” by Jean Anderson