Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Palmito´s way


I never look a gift horse in the mouth and as a result I sometimes acquire items that I have not got a clue what to do with.I have had a large jar of heart of palm sitting expectantly on the store cupboard shelf for a while now, and so decided to ask a Portuguese partaker of the Casa Rosada cookery workshop what I should do with it.She said open it and it wont get as far as the kitchen counter, you will start eating it from the jar and not stop until its all gone. She was spot on. It tastes like artichoke heart dressed up to look like white asparagus. I started to eat it from the jar but had to pull in the reins as I needed to try various ways of serving it.
First and foremost, to enjoy this Latin American delicacy one must be absolutely sure of its provenance, and therefore that the product has been organically or biologically farmed.
Heart of palm, also called  palmito or "burglar´s thigh", is  a vegetable harvested from the inner core of certain palm trees.Brazil was the highest producer of uncultivated hearts of palm, but in the 1990s its quality went down - mostly because of unsustainable poaching for stems (called colete, Portuguese for "vest") of the main producing species. The harvesting of many non-cultivated or wild single-stemmed palms results in palm tree death since their apical meristem (tissue whose cells divide indefinitely, giving rise to new cells that enable plant growth) is eliminated. An alternative to harvesting wild heart of palm are palm varieties which have undergone a process of adaptation to become a domesticated farm species.The King of Palms, the product I tested comes from the palm variety Euterpe Olerecea, best known for Acai. In English this is called the peach palm.This variety is the most widely used for canning and bottling. Peach palms are self-suckering and produce multiple stems, up to 40 on one plant, so harvesting several stems from a plant is not so expensive and also sustainable because the plant can live on.Thus, even with its introduction to cultivation, extraction of the palm heart in its natural habitat has endangered species of which is acquired, especially the species Euterpe edulis, the most popular.  To mitigate the threat of extinction, the cultivation and harvesting of the acai and peach palm is now encouraged.The harvesting takes place in a sustainable manner and is fertilized naturally from the richness of plants and nutrients in the soil from the land flanking the Amazon river provides. No pesticides are used and the manual cutting of the palm preserves the ecosytem, contributing to the future development of the palms.In the additional production and bottling process no chemical additives are used.

Palm heart and requeijao risotto
A delicious risotto of palm and cheese, with a subtle flavour
Serves 4

350g(12oz) Arborio rice 
60 g butter  
50 ml extra virgin olive oil   
6 shallots peeled and chopped finely 
2 bay leaves  
1 / 2 cup dry white wine  
250g requeijao curd cheese ( you can substitute ricotta)  
1 litre vegetable stock   
2 sticks of palm heart, chopped  
Grated Parmesan cheese  
salt and pepper to taste




    Saute the onion with the butter and olive oil and add the rice (stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to get a good coating on the rice) Add the bay leaves and wine. Add hot vegetable stock gradually stirring gently and adding more stock as needed  (about 20 minutes).  When the rice is al dente but still has a slight bite to it  remove from heat and stir in the cream cheese, chopped hearts of palm, Parmesan cheese and seasoning to taste.  Mix well and let stand a few minutes before serving. garnish with fresh parsley

      Variations on a theme of palmito
      Palmito vinaigrette
      Creamed palm heart canapé with bacon
      Palm heart salad with fresh mango and prawn

      The palm heart is low in calories and fats, rich in minerals such as calcium, iron and phosphorus. It is also a good source of vitamin C, and smaller amounts of complex B.






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