Newspaper articles

Pasta magic

Pici alle Bricciole

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

As Federico Fellini once said, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” The word pasta comes from the Italian word for paste, what the dough for making pasta looks like before it is kneaded and formed into its different final shapes. Basically, pasta comes in two types – fresh and dried – both generally easy to find in markets. Dried pasta is usually available in a wide array of shapes, while fresh pastas tend to be more limited in shape.

Because fresh pasta virtually always contains eggs, it is almost always found refrigerated or frozen. It is more delicate than dried, softer, and takes less time to cook. Because it already contains moisture it doesn’t swell much during cooking, it also will not be as al dente, or slightly firm, as it starts out fairly soft, though a pinch of baking soda can add to its texture. It also has a limited “shelf life” – 3-4 days in the refrigerator, maybe 6-8 weeks in the freezer. Because of the eggs it is higher in nutrition than many dried pastas that don’t contain egg, and the fat content of the egg also helps carry flavor better – which is why fresh pastas take so well to the addition of strong flavors like garlic, chilies and herbs.

Dried pasta can be stored pretty much indefinitely, as long as it is in a sealed package (not because it will go stale when opened, but being a wheat based product tends to attract bugs of one sort or another once opened). It does not require refrigeration or freezing. It takes longer to cook, and swells significantly during cooking. Unless completely overcooked, it will maintain an al dente, or firm texture, so works well with heavier sauces that contain meats or vegetables.

At its most basic, pasta is made with flour and water. Eggs, salt, and other additions, or substitutions on the liquid, are common. The type of flour affects both nutritional content and flavor of the pasta. The most common flours used are semolina, unbleached white, and whole wheat. Semolina is ground from a hard durum wheat, has a high gluten content, making the dough very elastic, which lends itself to both ease of shaping and holding a shape, and therefore is used for a lot of dried pastas. Unbleached white flour is ground from red winter wheat and produces a lighter dough that is easy to work with, especially for fresh pastas (here in Buenos Aires this is usually labeled as 000 flour). Whole wheat is more of a health choice, it isn’t particularly a tradition, and produces a nuttier tasting, heavier textured pasta that combines well with rustic flavors like chickpeas, nuts, and mushrooms, or as a nice foil to something like a veal cream sauce.

Today I thought I’d share one of our simplest pasta recipes and a household favorite, Pici alle Briciole, or “pici” (the shape) with breadcrumbs.

220 gm semolina flour
220 gm all-purpose flour (000 or 0000)
260 ml of tepid water (approximately)

Pici, or pinci, is “poor people’s pasta” – it is a thick, irregular, hand rolled strand pasta, usually served with a simple sauce or seasoning.

Mix the flours together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the water a little at a time, stirring with your hands until a dough is formed. You may need more or less water, depending on the humidity in your kitchen, the particular type of flour, etc. Place the dough on a floured work surface and knead it like bread until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. You can, of course, do this in a mixer with a dough hook if you have one. Cover the dough and let it stand for 10 minutes at room temperature.

Roll the dough into long dowels about 1 cm thick. Place the pasta strands between your hands and lightly roll back and forth to create a lightly spiraled, snake-like noodle. Place the pici on a sheet tray that has been dusted with semolina flour, cover with a clean dish towel, and set aside until ready to use. At this point, the pasta can be frozen for several months. This quantity makes 4 main course servings.

When ready to cook, simply boil in salted water for about 4 minutes until they swell up slightly and are al dente when you try them.

4 garlic cloves, chopped
hot peppers, thinly sliced or chopped (traditionally, equal in volume to the garlic)
60 gm breadcrumbs
60 ml olive oil
salt and pepper

Saute the garlic and peppers in the oil until just starting to turn golden. Add the breadcrumbs, continue cooking for another minute. Add the pasta, already cooked, and toss with the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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What’s sauce for the veal is sauce for the eggplant

Eggplant tonnato

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Around the world, anywhere there are Italians, you’re likely to find Vitello tonnato, that classic dish of slices of cold poached veal topped with a creamy tuna sauce. It’s one of those dishes that seems like it must go back in history to some far distant, early epoch. Different regions of Italy claim it as their own. Italian cooking authority (in English), Ada Boni, asserts it as a Lombardian dish but doesn’t delve into it. As best anyone seems to have researched it, the dish goes back to the late 19th century and although it likely graced the tables of fine restaurants in Milan, it also graced those of other regions.

Beyond the combination of veal (and traditionally, we’re talking unweaned calf, milk fed veal, not naturally raised veal) and tuna, all is fair game in both presentation and condiments. Oh, there are traditions, but they are often bent, stretched or ignored – egg yolk, capers or caper berries, lemons, chilies, and more come into play. Some insist the veal be roasted, others braised. Some cook the veal with all its condiments and then turn the juices into the sauce, others keep them separate. Some assert that the sauce be ladled over the veal well in advance to mingle the flavours, others prefer to keep them separate, even to serving them side by side.

Here in Argentina the dish is known as Vitel thoné, (also “toné or tonné”) I’ve found no history as to why it’s called this. Neither word is Spanish, neither word is Italian (where tonno would be the spelling, or tonni in plural). If anything it vaguely stretches to Latin, where “vitel” is the diminutive form the word for “yolk” and is sometimes used to refer to a very young calf; and thoné and its variations, well, your guess is as good as mine. In various languages it could refer to a unit of weight or a clap of thunder.

Having just toddled our way through the holidays, many of us have eaten our fill, not just of this particular dish, but of more meat than we probably should have, despite the carnivorous traditions of this country’s cuisine. One of the nice things about the development of cuisine is that over time, classic sauces, like a tonnato sauce, come to be used for other dishes. And, today, I’ll hit you up with a cold salad that makes a great starter to a light dinner.

If you really want to do this up right, make your own mayonnaise with olive oil, or to go more traditional, blend all the sauce ingredients together with a yolk and then slowly whisk in olive oil until you get the texture you want. It’s summertime, we want quick and easy. Use some olive oil mayo – there are some perfectly good commercial brands available.

Eggplant “Tonnato”

1 large eggplant
16 cherry tomatoes
small baguette, 1-2 days old is best
olive oil

1 170gm can tuna, drained (roughly 120 gm tuna)
100 ml olive oil mayonnaise
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed
2 anchovies
1-2 teaspoons of chili sauce (a sambal or sriracha would be best)
1 green lemon, cut in quarters
chives, chopped
parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Slice the eggplant into 1 cm thick slices, salt and leave to drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Rinse, pat dry. In a skillet over high heat brown the lemon quarters on both exposed sides. Set aside. Add olive oil to the pan and brown the eggplant slices until cooked through.

Meanwhile, place the cherry tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt in the oven and cook until they just start to burst (you can also do this on the stovetop).

Cut the crust off the baguette and cut the bread in cubes, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake in the oven until crisp and golden brown. Let all the ingredients cool to room temperature.

Put the tuna, mayo, capers, anchovies, chili sauce into a blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for about an hour to let the flavors meld.

Toss the eggplant with the chopped parsley and divide up between four serving bowls. Distribute the cherry tomatoes around to look pretty. Spoon the sauce over the top, sprinkle with chives, add in a couple of croutons for some crunch, garnish with the charred lemon wedge. Dig in!

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Pork n’ chocolate

Bistecchine di Chinghiale

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

We joke about the ubiquitousness of dulce de leche here, wondering when the first restaurant is going to offer up a steak or innards with some sort of caramel sweet sauce preparation. But we often don’t think about how much we use sweet ingredients in our own cooking, wherever we may be from. Sometimes it’s fruit, sometimes it’s honey or sugar. It might be a sweet and sour or sweet and spicy sauce – but the Argentines wouldn’t be the first to cross that line in the sugar sand.

Even in my own culinary background the use of chocolate and/or cocoa is not unheard of. A touch of powdered cocoa in pasta, especially with a game or mushroom dish, is not uncommon in Italian cooking. On the American Jewish side we’ve got our version of the classic German pumpernickel, chock-ful of cocoa and molasses to give it that dark, rich color and hint of sweetness and bitterness all in one. South of our border our Mexican neighbors have been adding cocoa or chocolate to dishes for eons, the most famous being some of the varieties of moles on offer.

I have yet, however, to encounter an Argentine recipe making use of either cocoa or chocolate in a savory dish. That’s not to say they don’t exist and I’m up for hearing about them, I just haven’t encountered them. But I could see a bit of either being added to a classic regional stew like a locro or carbonada. Some experimentation is in order, no doubt.

With the New Year holiday coming up this week, I thought I’d trot out a favorite holiday dish from the Sardinian repertoire. Bistecchine di Cinghiale – Wild Boar Steaks in a Sweet-Sour Sauce – is one that goes back to antiquity, in the days when it was its own kingdom. Okay, not really, since cocoa beans weren’t introduced to Europe until well past that period, but it goes back awhile, like maybe the mid-19th century. Now, not all of us have a source of wild boar – jabaliacute; – here, and since I rarely find it, or when I do it’s prohibitively expensive, I make this dish with thick steaks cut from the bondiola – the pork shoulder (or on the American side, called the pork butt). The flavour’s not as intense, nor, obviously, gamey, but it’s delicious nonetheless.

Bistecchine di Cinghiale – Wild Boar Steaks in a Sweet-Sour Sauce

1 kg boar steaks (pork shoulder steaks can be substituted)
6 tablespoons olive oil
250 gm bacon, finely chopped\
salt
4 tablespoons sugar
4 bay leaves
300 ml red wine vinegar
100 gm yellow raisins, seedless if available
100 gm pitted prunes or apricots
100 gm dark chocolate, grated
pinch of cinnamon and/or nutmeg
4 teaspoons flour

Saute the bacon in oil over low heat. Brown the steaks in the olive oil on both sides, sprinkle with the salt and leave to cook gently for 15 minutes.

In a saucepan put the sugar, bay, and 2/3 of the vinegar and cook, stirring, over low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the fruit, chocolate and spice and cook until the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the flour with the remaining vinegar and pour over the steaks, continue cooking 10 more minutes.

Add in the sauce and cook 10 minutes more, turning regularly to keep the steaks well coated. Serves four as a main course.

I recommend serving the dish with a side of gnocchi or, if you want to get more authentic, you could, perhaps, find the classic Sardinian malloreddus pasta – though unlikely, I’ve not seen it here, however, I do see cassareccia pasta here which is pretty similar and will work just fine.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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1 in 7 fishes recommend

Garides Giouvetsi
Baked, Crumb-Crusted Palometa

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Having grown up in a household where Christmas was not celebrated, I had no tradition of particular holiday dishes associated with it. Oh, now and again I was invited to a friend’s house for a Christmas dinner, to be presented with, generally, either turkey, or what euphemistically we all agreed to call “pink chicken”, a classic cured ham, but a tacit agreement not to let my parents know I was eating pork.

As a teen I went to work in a neighbor’s Italian restaurant – our focus was pizza, with a secondary emphasis on pasta, and pretty much that’s what we made for the holidays – there weren’t even any special versions. But, as I continued my career and Italian restaurants figured strongly in the background, I learned about the “seven fishes” – which are sometimes nine or eleven or thirteen or three – but seven seemed a nice number to focus on. And as long as shellfish were included, it was always easy to come up with a septet to present at a Navidad dinner.

Now I suppose, if I’m going to give you a favourite or two for the upcoming Christmas holiday, I should have given you my best latkes and roast chicken with lemon sauce for recently passed Chanukah. But, I didn’t, mea culpa. We’ll have to move forward and focus on the fruits of the sea for this 2000 and something-th birthday celebration.

This dish actually is inspired from the Greek canon, but I’ve never heard anyone object that it didn’t seem Italian to them. Pretty much other than the choice of cheese in the dish, it could fit either cuisine.

Prawns with Feta & Spicy Tomato Sauce

100 ml olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 fresh red chilies
6 tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 medium bunch parsley, chopped
4 Italian frying peppers (ají vinagres), seeded and sliced
1 kg raw prawns or shrimp, peeled and deveined
250 grams feta cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a frying pan, add garlic, tomatoes, parsley, chilies and sweet peppers and simmer 10 minutes over low heat. Add the shrimp and simmer 10 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. How simple is that? Crumble the feta over the top and put it into a hot oven for 15 minutes to melt the cheese and slightly brown it. Serves 4.

I regularly get asked about the whole “deveining” of prawns or shrimp. No, you don’t have to, but keep in mind that that black line running down the back of the critter is, to put it only semi-delicately, its poop-shoot. Your choice if that doesn’t bother you to eat it.
You might not know the pomfret, or, you might not know the pompano, different names for very closely related fish species, depending on which side of the Atlantic pond you live(d) on. Here, it’s called palometa, or often, supposedly as a marketing tactic, atún del mar del plata. It’s not a tuna, trust me.

Baked Pomfret

4 fillets pomfret/pompano
100 gm bacon, diced in small cubes and quickly cooked
12 green olives, chopped
6-8 stalks parsley, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
100 gm breadcrumbs
1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (depending on if you like it spicy)
salt and pepper
olive oil

Place each fillet skin side down on an oiled baking sheet. Make a mixture of the other ingredients except the oil, coat each fillet with a layer, drizzle with olive oil. Broil in a very hot oven. Serves 4.

If you can find dried Italian peperoncino, which sometimes show up in the supermarkets or dieteticas here, they’re even better than the local red pepper flakes – but use a bit more sparingly, they’re much spicier – 3-4 of the little chilies will likely be plenty.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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In a pickle

Watermelon Pickle
Kiwi Relish

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Like many people in the food business I’m often asked what my favourite “X” is, be it a restaurant, a wine, an ingredient, or, pretty much anything, like, say, a “green vegetable”. My response to the last is simple. A good pickle. Closely followed by an olive. I realize that in and of themselves they’re not a green vegetable in natural state, but sometimes a bit of tweaking is needed to bring out the best in even something that Mother Nature provides.

When it comes down to it, I love pickled and brined sorts of things, be they corned beef or cucumbers or, something entirely different. But I’ll bet you didn’t know there’s a whole science behind it. Pickling, brining, corning, are all names for a process that involves preserving food through anaerobic fermentation in brine (i.e., salt dissolved in liquid) to produce lactic acid and/or marinating it in an acidic solution – most often vinegar, though that’s not a prerequisite. The result is some form of pickle with a salty and sour taste.

One particularly important aspect of the process is that the resulting pickle has an acidity level that drops below a pH of 4.6 – not to get too scientific or anything – but what makes that important is that it’s a sufficiently low pH to kill off pretty much any bacteria that are harmful to us human folk.

Rather than give you a recipe for some classic dill, half-sour, garlic-dill, or bread & butter pickle, much as many of us miss those, I thought I’d slip in a couple of favourites that we keep around the house, particularly during the summer as they make great accompaniments to many of the foods we eat during the hot months. And, they’re both really easy to make.

Watermelon Rind Pickle

Rind from half a large watermelon
4 cups sugar
2 cups white vinegar
1 tablespoon each of fennel seed, star anise, szechuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon cloves
2-3 whole cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons coarse salt

This is a great way to use the leftover rind of a watermelon. Basically scoop out the pink flesh almost down to the rind. Peel the outer layer of skin off the rind. Cut in cubes roughly 1½-2 cm. In a pot that’s large enough to accommodate all the cubes of rind, bring the other ingredients to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve all the sugar. Turn off the heat, load in the cubes of rind which should be pretty much level with the liquid – mix well, cover, and leave for 10-12 hours.

Bring the whole potful back up to a boil over high heat, cover again and leave for another 10-12 hours. Repeat once or twice more until the pickles are soft with just a little crunch left – basically this is a two day process. When cooled after the last boiling ladle them into containers and store in the refrigerator. Watermelon rind pickles pair brilliantly well with grilled meats. Try them as something different from the usual accompaniments of salsa criolla and chimichurri.

Kiwi Relish

4 kiwis
1 onion
1 small green bell pepper
1 small red bell pepper
100 grams salt
225 grams sugar
160 ml vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed

Peel and dice the kiwis into a very small dice, about ½ cm. Dice the onion and peppers the same size. Place all the ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, cover, and leave for 6-8 hours before using. Makes a fantastic pairing with fish (amazing with salmon) and chicken – again, right off the grill during the summer is one of our favourites. Also can be used in place of a traditional pickle relish on sandwiches, hot dogs, hamburgers… you name it.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Just be-causa

Tuna Causa

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Apparently all the predictions are holding true. Peruvian cuisine is the “it girl” of the cuisine world and it seems like every time I turn around here there’s another spot offering either home-style Peruvian food or some version of Peruvian or Andean fusion. Most often the latter seem to be a melding of Japanese into the mix, but there are other Asian influences, Mediterranean, and no doubt any moment, something Eastern European will show up. It’s sort of surprising no one’s opened an Argentine-Peruvian fusion spot yet. It’s coming, you heard it here first.

We’re not immune from the phenomenon, though, given that my partner is Peruvian, so there tends to be a lot of experimentation going on around the house. But most of the time we tend to stick with the tried and true for our own dinners – there’s so much to play with, and, let’s face it, the food is good just the way it is.

So, everyone who remembers their mother’s tuna fish casserole, raise your hand. There were a legion of recipes for that icon of 1950s and 1960s norteamericano cuisine. Let’s face it, there was no other possible use for Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup that didn’t involve patching a hole in the drywall. The biggest variation, and cause of many a neighborhood argument, was whether or not it should be topped with crumbled potato chips or French’s fried onion rings. The same argument raged over green bean casseroles, but that was a holiday dish. Tuna casserole was weekly fare.

It turns out that similar arguments were surging throughout Peru. It may actually be that canned tuna is at the root of much evil in global society, and may bear further investigation. The addition of canned tuna to the classic Peruvian mashed potato dish, causa, was no doubt an improvement in the nutritional content of the dish, since prior to that it seems it was not much more than cold seasoned mashed potatoes, but it has also led to arguments amongst the Peruvian foodie community over authenticity and limits on creativity.

Regardless, these days, the tuna causa is ubiquitous throughout the nation, and despite the fancier versions showing up on menus here with shrimp, octopus, chicken, and other proteins, it remains about as classic as it gets without going back to a plain potato dish. Here’s our home staple these days – though we don’t make it every week. My mother might have even been proud to serve this.

Tuna Causa

Potato base:

3 large potatoes
80 ml olive oil
2 tablespoons ají amarillo powder
juice of 1 lemon
salt and white pepper
Boil, peel, and mash the potatoes. Add the olive oil a bit at a time, to taste and until it has a nice smooth consistency. Add the lemon juice. Season with salt, pepper, and the ají amarillo to taste – you could also use chopped or pureed fresh or reconstituted dry peppers – this is a mild yellow pepper (spicier than a bell pepper, but mild). Form it into the base of your presentation on a platter and chill in the refrigerator for ½-1 hour just to firm it up a bit. This dish is generally served cold or room temperature.

Tuna layer:

3 cans of tuna (I like to use the water packed)
1 small red onion, chopped
mayonnaise
salt and white pepper

This is pretty much just a simple tuna salad. Mash the tuna, add the onions and enough mayonnaise just to make it moist and hold together. Season to taste.

Assembly:

Potato base
Tuna salad
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
1 rocoto or other medium hot pepper
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
chopped black olives
chopped parsley and cilantro
juice of 1 lemon

You should have a nice, firm mashed potato base to build on. Top with chopped tomato and herbs. Layer the tuna salad on top of that. Next, the avocado slices sprinkled or brushed with the lemon juice so they don’t brown. Then the hard boiled egg slices (you can hard boil your eggs along with your potatoes above, just don’t leave them in the water the entire time) and the pepper rings. Scatter the chopped olives over the whole thing. Set it on the table, ooh and ahh a little, dig in.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Soup with a chill

Watermelon gazpacho
Chilled green bean sopu

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

Anyone who knows me knows that I’d be perfectly happy to live on soup, day in and day out. Well, and maybe pasta. And sushi. And, well, okay, not so much day in and day out, but I like my soup and am happy to eat it on a regular basis. Here in Argentina soup is not a commonplace menu item. There are rich, hearty stews like locro and lentejas, but a simple bowl of soup, other than the sudden appearance of cream of squash soup that seems to happen every fall, is hard to find.

I blame it on Mafalda, the nationally treasured cartoon character who despite not having been published for going on 40 years seems to maintain a massive influence on people’s attitudes about politics, culture, and, soup. She wasn’t much for the stuff, and it seems that devotees of her are not either. There was even a study done in 1998 that showed a remarkable inverse correlation between those who considered themselves fans of hers and those who considered themselves fans of soup.

When hot weather rolls around we start to think about chilled soups here at home. They make great lunches with a nice bit of fresh bread from the oven, or the bakery, and they also make a great start to an evening’s repast. Here are a couple of favourites, just to start the season. I may get a little more elaborate down the line, we shall see.

Watermelon Gazpacho

1 large wedge of watermelon (enough so that the pulp will pretty much fill a standard blender)
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 onion
1 cucumber
2-3 chilies
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 bunch basil
60 ml good olive oil
60 ml red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Some people like their gazpacho pureed, others like it chunky. I fall somewhere in between. I puree a part of it and leave the rest in small dice. If you’re not a watermelon fan, replace the watermelon with 7-8 plum tomatoes and proceed.

Remove as many seeds as you can from the watermelon and take it off the rind. Pack the flesh into a blender along with the chilies, garlic (start with 1-2 each and work your way up until you get the flavor you like), basil, olive oil and vinegar. Blend until smooth, strain to remove any remaining seeds that you might have missed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Dice the bell peppers, onion and cucumber (peeled or not, your choice) and add to the pureed soup in a large container that will fit in your refrigerator. Chill until it’s quite cold, four or five hours minimum. Serve with a crusty bread loaf and enjoy!

Chilled Green Bean Soup

Everyone makes chilled pea soup, why not do something a little different?

½ kg green beans (either French or Italian – round or flat)
3-4 leeks
1 large potato
2 tablespoons butter
1 liter vegetable stock (from cube or homemade)
1 bunch mint
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon ground cloves
200 ml cream
pea sprouts or watercress to garnish

Clean the leeks well and coarsely chop them. Cook them with the butter over the lowest flame your stove will manage until they’re soft – “sweating” them. Peel and dice the potato and add it to the pot along with the seasonings and the vegetable stock. Turn the heat up, bring to a boil and then simmer until the potato is cooked through.

Meanwhile, “blanch and shock” the green beans and mint. If you ever wondered just what that meant – bring a pot of lightly salted (1 tablespoon/liter, roughly) water to a boil. Add the green beans, trimmed of their ends, and cook until they turn bright green and just soften – about 5 minutes. Add the mint and simmer for just about 10-15 seconds longer. Drain the beans and mint through a colander and then plunge them into very cold, preferably iced, water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color.

When both these components are ready, puree them together in a blender. Add most of the cream, reserve a little for decoration. Chill well, about 4-5 hours. Serve topped with a drizzle of the cream and the fresh pea sprouts or watercress.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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Get your kare on

Chicken Katsu Curry

Buenos Aires Herald
On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine

When most of us think about curry, we think India and southeast Asia, we don’t immediately think, Japan. And when we think Japan, we think sushi and tempura, we don’t immediately think, curry. But interestingly enough, curry has a history in Japan albeit not a long and involved one – dating back just to the late 1800s when it was introduced by the British during their Indian administration years.

Since that time it has developed into a uniquely Japanese style, definitely milder than the more typical southern continental styles, and making use of different ingredients. At the same time, Indian style curry has become popular, and the original “Western style” curry continues apace. It’s reached the point where many Japanese consider curry, or karē to be a national dish.

Like many curries it’s typically served over rice, though ladling it over thick udon noodles is also popular. The meat and vegetable are typically cooked separately either breadcrumb coated and fried or tempura style, while the curry is cooked as a sauce that is then added to the dish after cooking the other elements separately.

One of our home favorites is katsu curry, one of the most traditional of the Japanese styled versions, and it’s a dish that I’ve not seen on Japanese menus here in town, so it’s a treat to whip it up and enjoy. After all, one of the biggest complaints among the expat community here is the lack of range in Asian dishes available here. Let’s add one to your repertoire!

Although I’m going to give you the recipe for our usual version, with chicken, the exact same recipe can be used substituting in another meat – thick slices of pork or beef, fish fillets, or just vegetables, particularly eggplant slices, all work really well.

Chicken Katsu Curry

4 chicken breasts, cut in 2 cm wide strips
flour
1 egg
breadcrumbs (panko if you have them available)
100 ml olive oil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red onion
3 carrots
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon curry powder (as hot as you like)
1 teaspoon garam masala (spice mixture available in many dieteticas)
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
500 ml chicken stock (or vegetable, fish, etc. – match the main ingredient!)
1 bay leaf
salt to taste

2 green onions

Grate the onion, garlic and two of the carrots. Thinly slice the remaining carrot and set it aside. Over low heat, cook the grated vegetables in the oil until they’re very soft. Add the flour and continue to cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes to cook out the “raw” flavor of the flour. Add the remaining sauce ingredients and raise the heat. Bring it up to a simmer, turn the heat back down and cook until thick, stirring regularly. Add salt to taste – probably, given the soy sauce, it will need no more than about a half teaspoon. At this point, you can either leave it as is or puree it completely in a blender – either works – remove the bay leaf if you’re going to puree it.

Separately, cook the thinly sliced carrot that you set aside in boiling salted water until the carrots are just softened. Drain and add to the sauce.

Set-up three bowls, one with some flour, one with the egg, beaten with a splash of water, and one with the breadcrumbs. Dip the chicken pieces first in the flour to lightly coat them, then into the egg, let the excess drip off back into the bowl, and then toss in the breadcrumbs to coat well. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil until quite hot and then fry the coated chicken pieces until golden brown on all sides.

Serve over white rice (or noodles, or whatever strikes your fancy) with a ladleful of the sauce atop. Sprinkle with chopped green onions.

A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.

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