Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Week 37: A Journey to Poland

When I planned this year’s weekly schedule to include Polish cuisine, I was thinking of my friend Tony and his family.  His parents were born in Poland, and every time they visit, we have kielbasa from their favorite Polish deli in Chicago, and his mom makes a casserole similar to cabbage rolls that she layers like lasagna with cabbage and ground beef.  To say the least, we are always happy to see them, and I knew they would enthusiastically offer guidance for a week of Polish cuisine.  To read about Polish cuisine is to be overwhelmed (or maybe underwhelmed) by dishes of meat, cabbage, and potatoes, but to sit on the couch with the Pogorzelskis and talk about Polish cuisine is another matter entirely.  As I considered this week’s plan, I selected menus that represented a range of dishes familiar to me, new to me, and beloved by Tony and his family.

Pierogi are dumplings traditionally filled with potato, sauerkraut, ground meat, cheese, mushrooms, or even fruit.  Although their likely influence is the Far East, the actual name pierogi has roots in early Slavic populations, and the dish is a staple of Eastern European cuisine even today. 

wild mushroom pierogi
tossed in onions and butter
When selecting a filling for my pierogi, I ventured outside the realm of potatoes, but sought out a filling with Polish roots.  I discovered that mushrooms appear in so many Polish dishes because they grow prolifically in Poland, and mushroom foraging is a beloved Polish hobby dating back centuries.  It is even referenced in what is considered Poland’s national epic poem, Pan Tadeusz, written by Adam Mickiewicz.  Interestingly, when I saw Tony’s parents last weekend, they had sweet, plump mushrooms that his dad picked in Colorado over the summer lightly preserved in vinegar.  That was a delicious treat!  Even better, it illustrated the significance of mushrooms in Polish communities.
For my first night of Polish cuisine, I made Wild Mushroom Pierogi using a recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook, and I must say it was absolutely delicious.  I was surprised to discover how simple it is to make fresh pierogi.  The dough of all purpose flour, cake flour, egg, and water rolled out easily and the seams sealed without any issues.  The filling of porcini and cremini mushrooms, onion, garlic, butter, and parsley had a rich, earthy flavor.  After boiling the pierogi, I tossed them with onions sautéed in butter.  I could eat this dish any night of the week and be happy. 
strawberry pierogi
Before this week’s project, I was familiar with savory versions of pierogi, but I had never heard of dessert pierogi.  When I told Tony about my Wild Mushroom Pierogi, he immediately responded that I had to make strawberry pierogi like his mom’s.  When I asked her how to make it, she said to just cut strawberries in half, dip them in sugar, wrap the dough around them, and boil them.  That’s it.  Also, she serves them with sweetened sour cream spiced with cinnamon.  I followed her instructions and made a delicious strawberry dessert pierogi.  My only issue was that I should have cut the dough into larger rounds, because I couldn’t fit an entire half of a strawberry in my dumplings.  That aside, the dish turned out brilliantly!
I must admit that when I read about pyzy, I did not immediately add it to my list of dishes for the week, but when I asked Tony’s mom to tell me about traditional dishes, the whole family joined in when she explained how to make pyzy.  Everyone agreed that I had to include this in my plans for the week, and when she explained that the final step for the dish required me to toss the dumplings in a mixture of bacon and onions, I knew I had to try it.

Pyzy is a dumpling of potato “dough” filled with seasoned ground meat and tossed in bacon and onions.  The potato dough includes mashed, cooked potatoes and finely grated raw potato squeezed in a tea towel to remove its liquid.  Egg, flour, and water are added to the potatoes to create the “dough” texture.  The filling is generally made with ground pork or ground beef (I used pork) and seasoned with breadcrumbs, onion, salt, and pepper.  To make the dumplings, I rolled out balls of the dough, flattened them, and wrapped them around a teaspoon of the filling....this was not an easy task.  The dough is extremely sticky, and I added quite a bit of flour to it so that I could work with it.  I thought for a minute that I was going to be throwing it all away and calling for takeout, but I finally got the hang of it.  When the dumplings were made, I boiled them in water.  To finish the dish, I cooked bacon and onions together and tossed in the dumplings to season them.  For me, the best part of the dish is the bacon and onion mixture.  My dumplings were heavy and a bit gummy, but I think that’s the way they are supposed to be.  For me, this dish wasn’t as good as I had hoped, but the fact that it holds such a special place in the hearts of the Pogorzelskis made me love it.


The hubs loves kielbasa and sauerkraut, so when I read about bigos, Poland’s most heralded National Dish, a stew of meat, cabbage, and sauerkraut, I knew I had to make it.  More commonly called Hunter’s Stew, the dish was originally a dish saved for Polish aristocracy, because a peasant could never afford the large quantities of meat required for the dish.  Its modern iterations include kielbasa, chicken, and beef, but the dish traditionally included wild game, such as venison, pheasant, and wild boar.  A set recipe for bigos doesn’t really exist, because its ingredients vary based on families and geography; however, I discovered a few key points that distinguish bigos from other similar dishes.  One distinction is the fact that bigos includes more meat than cabbage.  Another is the fact that bigos is never eaten on the same day it is cooked.  Although its ingredients provide rich flavors, a proper bigos does not reach its full and proper flavor profile until it rests for at least two days so that the flavors of the sauerkraut and meats have permeated the full dish.

Like mushrooms, bigos represents a strong tradition in Polish cuisine and is also immortalized in Adam Mickiewicz’s epic Pan Tadeusz:

Bigos is no ordinary dish,
For it is aptly framed to meet your wish.
Founded upon good cabbage, sliced and sour,
Which, as men say, by its own zest and power
Melts in one's mouth, it settles in a pot
And its dewy bosom folds a lot
Of the best portions of selected meats;
Scullions parboil it then, until heat
Draws from its substance all the living juices,
And from the pot's edge, boiling fluid sluices
And all the air is fragrant with its scent."

I opted to make a bigos with kielbasa and beef chuck roast.  I stewed it on the stovetop for over an hour, and then I refrigerated it for three days.  I slowly brought it back to temperature over low heat in a dutch oven.  Wow!  I could not believe the bold, comforting flavor of this dish!  I mean, all of the elements for greatness were there, but it also seemed like the type of dish that sounds so great until you taste it and find it to be heavy and bland.  Not the case at all!  We ate almost the whole pot.  I loved it!  This would be the perfect dish for a cold wintry evening.

In retrospect, I enjoyed this week’s Polish dishes much more than I expected.  The flavors of the wild mushroom pierogi and bigos really surprised me, and the strawberry pierogi offered a sweet twist on an old savory favorite.  In addition to great food, this week offered a fantastic time to learn about a country’s traditions from a family I have grown to love over the last few years.  All in all, a spectacular week of food and friends!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Week 36: A Journey to Greece

For weeks, I’ve looked forward to Greek Week at Taverna Y’all Taste This.  As tempting as it was to just spend the entire week cooking my favorite Greek dishes, I allowed myself one day of what I call “Greek Comfort Foods” and then I challenged myself to try new dishes on other days.  Defining Greek cuisine poses an interesting challenge, because many of the dishes that Americans consider Greek originated from the Ottoman Empire and could be considered Turkish, Persian, or Arabic.  Greek cuisine almost always includes olive oil, and its distinct flavor comes from the use of oregano, mint, garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves. In addition to olive oil, popular ingredients include olives, eggplant, zucchini, green peppers, onions, feta cheese, and yogurt.  Lamb and goat are the most popular meats eaten in Greece, but in the coastal areas, fish dishes are more common and range from inexpensive sardines, anchovies, mackerel, squid, and octopus, to pricier swordfish, red porgy, sea bass, and lobster.  As with all societies, bread plays an integral role in Greek cuisine, and despite the fact that most Greek restaurants in America focus on pita bread, Greek meals are often eaten with a loaf of fresh-baked country bread.  Greek desserts are almost exclusively based around nuts, including walnuts, almonds, and pistachios.  In addition, honey is often used to sweeten their desserts.  Cinnamon is another common flavor found in Greek desserts, and sometimes rose or orange blossom waters are incorporated into syrups for a floral flavor.  For this week’s menus, I explored these themes in Greek cuisine, and although many of the dishes were familiar, I approached each one as if I had never tasted it to ensure an authentic presentation.

My Day of Greek Comfort Foods

I began my quest for comfort by making a full pan of Spanakopita, or spinach and cheese pie.  The dish’s key elements are spinach, feta cheese, and flaky layers of phyllo, although I was surprised to learn that the crust is also sometimes made from a flour and water dough, similar to pizza dough, in the Greek Islands.  It may be made in a large pan and cut into slices similar to lasagna, or the spinach and cheese filling may be enclosed in pieces of phyllo that are rolled into triangle shapes.  The dish is often thought of as a snack or quick lunch at a local fast food joint.  For the most part, traditional recipes incorporate scallions with the spinach to add flavor, and the layer of cheese can be crumbled fresh feta or ricotta cheese mixed with eggs.  I also found that the addition of pine nuts or golden raisins is common.  For my presentation, I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe in The Best Recipes in the World because it incorporated the basic tenets of the numerous recipes I read.  I sautéed fresh spinach, scallions, salt, and pepper for the spinach filling and added pine nuts to the mixture after it was cooked.  For the cheese layer, I used fresh feta, eggs, and freshly grated nutmeg.  I baked the dish for over an hour, and the phyllo dough still hadn’t turned as golden brown as I would’ve liked.  I decided that I was too hungry to wait any longer so I pulled it out of the oven and decided that “almost golden” would be good enough.  I must say that this version was the best I have ever tasted.  I was curious to see if using fresh spinach, instead of frozen, would make a difference in the flavor, but I don’t think it did; however, I did find that the spinach mixture had a much fresher flavor than usual, which I attribute to the scallions.  Most notably, I loved the slight crunch of the buttery pine nuts.  All in all, a great way to start my day of Greek comfort food.

Next on my list to conquer:  Baklava.  This is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and the first Greek dish I ever tasted.  I still remember the first time I tasted it.  I was in Mrs. Parker’s Freshman Honors English Class, and during our Greek literature studies, she assigned us various Greek-related projects.  I have no idea what my assignment was, but I can tell you that Brianna Carter’s assignment was to make baklava.  She brought a huge pan of baklava to class and explained that Mrs. Parker’s neighbors who owned The Mad Greek restaurant gave her the recipe.  I was hooked!  I had never tasted anything like it, and in my Southern world of cakes and pies, the idea of layering thin pieces of dough with butter, cinnamon, sugar, and nuts was absolutely foreign to me.  To this day, I never eat a piece of baklava without thinking of Antigone or Oedipus Rex

full pan of baklava

Baklava is popular throughout the Middle East, and many ethnic groups claim to be its originator.  Examples of layering thin dough with nuts and honey are found as far back as the eighth century, B.C., which explains why there are so many variations throughout the Middle East.  Variations can be as basic as a preference between walnuts and pistachios, or they may include more specific flavor changes, such as the addition of rose water to the sugar syrup. 

I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from The Best Recipes in the World for this dish, because it included the same basic instructions as most recipes but with a full explanation of the task.  I found that my roasting pan was the perfect size for making baklava, because it was large enough to hold the full phyllo sheets and didn’t require me to cut them.  The most interesting part of this task was learning the proper techniques for making baklava.  Chopping the nuts by hand (I used walnuts) ensures that they maintain their oil and results in a richer dessert with the full flavor of the nuts.  (When using a food processor, even on pulse, some of the oil cakes onto the blade.)  Also, I didn’t realize that the “formula” for a crisp, flaky top layer is related to the differences in temperature between the syrup and pastry.  I made the syrup early in the morning and chilled it in the refrigerator so that it would be cold when I poured it over the hot baklava fresh from the oven.  I had read that the clue to knowing you achieved the proper cold/hot ratio is that the hot pastry makes a crackling sound as you pour the cold syrup over it, and sure enough, it sounded like pouring milk over a bowl of Rice Krispies…snap, crackle, pop.  Finally, the last lesson I learned in my baklava-making afternoon is the importance of the honey in flavoring the dish.  The syrup poured over the pastry is a combination of honey, sugar, fresh lemon juice, and water.  The flavor of the honey significantly affects the flavor of the dessert.  Fortunately for me, my sister and brother-in-law started beekeeping a few months ago, and I had a quart of fresh honey in my cabinet.  I am 100% convinced that this honey is the reason my baklava was so rich and delicious.  It was honestly the best baklava I’ve ever tasted.

avgolemono soup
My friends and co-workers, Alison and Teresa, introduced me to Avgolemono Soup (Egg and Lemon Soup) at Nabeel’s Café in Homewood, Alabama, and I have adored it ever since.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that I probably had avgolemono soup at least once a week for two years.  Oddly enough, as much as I always loved it, I never tried making it at home.  This week, I discovered that it is really easy to make at home, and its texture is even more luxurious when homemade. 

Like most simple dishes, the key is quality ingredients.  The basic recipe for making the soup is to simmer chicken stock with chopped carrots, celery, and rice or orzo for about twenty minutes.  Then, a mixture of lemon juice and eggs is added to the broth as a thickener and flavor enhancer.  The consistency of the soup varies depending on the ratio of broth to eggs.  (I halved Mark Bittman’s recipe, and the ratio was about 2 ½ cups of broth to one egg.)  I was in awe of the soup’s texture and depth of flavor compared to any I’ve ever ordered in a restaurant.  My guess is that when made in large batches for restaurants, less eggs are incorporated to ensure that there is a smaller chance of “scrambling” them and also because it would likely give the soup a shorter shelf life.  I will definitely make this soup again, and next time, I will make the whole recipe (forget about half batches) and add shredded chicken to it for a meal. 

Moussaka is without a doubt my favorite Greek comfort food.  Yes, I’ve made it before, but how could I not make it again?  Like so many of my favorite “Greek” dishes, the true origin of this dish is more likely Egypt as the word moussaka is derived from Arabic and similar dishes are found throughout the Middle East.  The basic version I know from Greek restaurants is a casserole layered with grilled or fried eggplant and a mixture of lamb, onion, garlic, and tomato sauce.  Then, the layers are topped with béchamel custard and baked.  Throughout the Middle East, and even Greece, variations including zucchini, potatoes, and even grape leaves exist.

moussaka layers
I selected a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, the tattered-splattered-faded yellow hardcover Gourmet Cookbook, because it included a few nuances that differentiated it from recipes I have previously used, and those nuances appeared to be interesting twists to the classic that stayed true to traditional Greek ingredients.  In this recipe, the lamb and tomato mixture included dried mint for seasoning.  Also, instead of a thick, béchamel custard, which is a distinctly Greek element, the casserole was topped with a feta cheese mornay sauce (white sauce with cheese).  While I’ve made mornay sauces with milder cheeses, such as gruyere or cheddar, I had never considered adding a fresh, salty cheese like feta to a béchamel.  It seemed a perfectly acceptable variation, so I tried it out.  The sharp flavor of the feta cheese sauce provided a nice balance to the rich lamb mixture, and the dried mint used to season the lamb mixture certainly brightened its flavor without overpowering it.  All in all, it was a great dish, but then again, I knew that before I made it!

Grilled Octopus, Mashed White Beans, Cold Lemony Greens, and Grilled Bread
grilled octopus, mashed white
beans, cold lemony greens,
grilled bread
After a day of comfort foods, I jumped into a world of unknowns.  Despite my love of perfectly cooked, tender, sweet octopus, I had never felt comfortable enough to try it at home.  Grilled Octopus is one of the most popular dishes found in Greece’s coastal communities, and with the help of Steven Raichlen’s Planet BBQ, I accepted the challenge of grilling octopus at home.  I began by marinating octopus tentacles in olive oil, red wine, onion, garlic, lemon juice, oregano, and red pepper flakes overnight.  When we were ready to grill the octopus, we simply threw some dried oregano on the coals, and then layered the tentacles over direct heat.  As quickly as we put them on the grill, they were ready to be turned over and then taken off.  The final result was delicious, sweet octopus with a great hint of the lemon, red pepper flake, garlic, and oregano from the marinade.  In all honesty, we probably cooked the octopus for about thirty seconds longer than we should have, but for a first try, I felt good about it.

I tried to imagine living on the Mediterranean Sea when I selected the side dishes to serve alongside the grilled octopus.  I opted with nice light dishes, such as cold, lemony greens and mashed white beans infused with olive oil and garlic.  We also added a few thick, hunks of bread slathered in olive oil to the grill for good measure.  I was really proud of this meal.  I felt like I captured the essence of a Greek dinner by the sea.

When the hubs lived in Cincinnati, I never missed an opportunity for Cincinnati chili when I visited him.  Admittedly, the first time I tried it, I couldn’t figure out why everyone made such a big deal about it.  It’s basically just beef chili seasoned with cinnamon and other “warm” spices served over spaghetti and topped with cheese, onions, and black beans.  Then, about a week later, I started craving it.  Something about that combination of the meat, onions, and cinnamon stayed with me.  I still love it, and on the rare occasion that we have a cool night during our Miami winters, I often make a big pot of it. 

stifado over rice

Just in case you are wondering what Cincinnati chili has to do with Greek Cuisine, I’m getting there.  It seems that its origins date back to the 1920s when Macedonian immigrants modified a traditional Middle Eastern stew to a chili and began serving it over hot dogs and spaghetti.  In 1949, Nicholas Lambrinides, a Greek immigrant, adapted a similar recipe based on his mother’s stews and began Skyline Chili, the most popular and franchised Cincinnati chili parlor with over 250 locations.  I hadn’t even thought about the connection of Cincinnati chili to Greek Cuisine until I found a recipe for Stifado, and I knew that this must be the traditional stew that was adapted. 

Traditionally, stifado is a rabbit stew seasoned with pearl onions, vinegar, red wine, and cinnamon.  It may be served over rice or buttered wide noodles.  I had to try this out!  I made it with beef and served it over rice.  The flavors are reminiscent of Cincinnati chili, and the sweet pearl onions are a perfect accompaniment to the deep, rich flavors from the beef and red wine. 

My week of Greek Cuisine was one of the most enjoyable weeks I’ve experienced in a while.  The day of comfort foods taught me so much about familiar dishes, and as always, prompted a great appreciation for the time and case necessary to present such simple, delicious, and authentic dishes.  I’m still bragging to friends and family that I successfully grilled octopus, and I am excited to try it again and improve my techniques.  All in all, a wonderful time of good food and reminiscing!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Week 35: A Journey to Argentina

My week of Argentine cuisine enlightened me to the broad scope of dishes represented by this region.  I expected to find numerous examples of meats cooked on asodos (grills) and served with chimichurri.  While I knew that Argentina’s population is primarily of European descent, I had not considered how dishes from their native countries would evolve in such interesting ways.  Most notably, I was fascinated by the Italian influence in Argentine cuisine, which is why many of this week’s menus include them.  

Argentine Pionono
pionono filled with ham,
cheese, roasted red pepper,
hard-boiled egg, & green olives
The pionono originated in Spain as a small, cake roll (similar to the size of a cupcake) soaked in syrups and topped with toasted cream.  From there, this dish and its Spanish influence found new iterations in many other countries.  The Filipino version is a jelly roll cake often filled with sweetened margarine or jelly.  In Puerto Rico, the “cake layer” is actually made with plantains and filled with seasoned beef or sometimes even shrimp and lobster, and each slice is deep fried to make a sandwich.  The pionono is popular in many South American countries, especially in Argentina.  There, the fillings inside the rolled sponge cake vary from sweet dulce de leche to savory meats and cheeses. 

pionono filling before
the roll

Of course, I knew Argentina’s pionono filled with dulce de leche would be a delicious version of one of my favorite desserts, caramel cake.  As much as I wanted to make that dish, I found the idea of yellow sponge cake as the “bread” layer to a sandwich intriguing, and I just had to try it out.  The From Argentina with Love blog includes several ideas for savory fillings and notes that a traditional Argentine filling includes ham, cheese, hard-boiled egg, roasted red peppers, and green olives.  So, I tried it out, and I must say that it was quite delicious.  The only thing I would change in the future is to add a thin layer of mayonnaise to the cake for moisture.  On its own, the cake and filling was a little dry.  I read other examples of fillings which included artichoke dip or ham with a cream cheese and Roquefort spread, which would seem to present a moister roll.  This is a perfect party dish, and I will definitely add it to my hors d’oeuvre repertoire.

Fainà and Argentine-Style Pizza
Fainà is a flatbread made with chickpea flour that is served as an appetizer in Argentina.  Another common way of serving fainà is on top of a pizza slice, referred to as pizza a caballo.  The batter includes chickpea flour, parmesan cheese, salt, freshly grated black pepper, olive oil, and water.  It is poured onto a hot pizza pan covered in olive oil and baked in a thin layer until golden and crispy.  While I enjoyed its peppery flavor, I found it to be very heavy.  I certainly cannot imagine eating large quantities of this as an appetizer before a meal.

Argentine-style pizza
Pizza is one of Argentina’s most popular dishes, and it is a bit different from the traditional Italian or even American versions.  The dough is a thin batter that rises into a thicker crust.  Ingredients can vary from that of a simple cheese and tomato sauce to a more elaborate sardine and hard-boiled egg version.  I made the dough and tomato sauce recipes on the From Argentina with Love blog, and I topped the pizza with mozzarella, homemade ricotta, and fresh basil.  Although I usually prefer a thin crust, I enjoyed the texture and flavor of this dough.  It was very “bready” and reminded me of an “open face calzone” more than a slice of pizza.

pizza a caballo
Of course, I had to try out pizza a caballo.  It still didn’t do it for me. Maybe my fainà was too thick or not crispy enough, but I just could not imagine eating multiple slices of that thick-crusted pizza with the heavy fainà.  It was just too much.

Happy National Gnocchi Day
In Argentina, as well as other Italian-influenced South American countries, the 29th of every month is celebrated as Dia de Ňoquis, National Gnocchi Day.  What a brilliant idea for a monthly holiday!  The holiday’s origin was born of necessity as families reaching the end of the previous month’s paycheck began the tradition of joining together for an inexpensive dish (basically just potatoes and flour) that was so delicious it felt like a royal feast.  Another tradition associated with this holiday is placing a peso under each plate for good luck and prosperity.  I could not resist the idea, so I invited over some girlfriends to celebrate on August 29.
making gnocchi
Having never made gnocchi, I set out to study up on the intricacies of creating light, fluffy, and of course, mouth-wateringly delicious, gnocchi.  After reviewing at least twenty different sets of instructions, I found Lidia Bastianich’s recipe on Epicurious, which includes explicit instructions for adding just enough flour, the necessary time needed to ensure the dough is not overworked, and how to drag the dumplings over the tines of a fork to make the perfect little gnocchi.  (Interestingly, this recipe includes more details that the one posted on her own website.)  While the rest of South Florida hunkered down for Tropical Storm Isaac, I set out to make gnocchi.  I made Lidia Bastianich’s recipe for regular potato gnocchi, and I made Melissa Roberts’ recipe for sweet potato gnocchi (following Lidia’s detailed instructions for making them and Melissa’s ingredient list).  Most recipes offer the option of either boiling or baking the potatoes to cook them.  Because I read that the reason for pressing the cooked potatoes through a ricer and spreading them into a thin layer is as much for cooling as it is to dry out the potatoes, I chose to bake the potatoes to reduce the moisture content.  The entire task of making the two batches of gnocchi took two or three hours, but it was definitely worth the effort.  Even after a big dinner with my friends, we have enough gnocchi in the freezer for at least two more meals.

sweet potato gnocchi
with fried sage
and chestnuts
For the sweet potato gnocchi, I made Melissa Roberts’ recipe for Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Fried Sage and Shaved Chestnuts, and yes….it was as good as it sounds.  Before I cooked the gnocchi, I fried fresh sage leaves and roasted chestnut slivers in some olive oil.  When the gnocchi finished cooking, I simply added it to melted butter, stirred in the sage leaves and chestnuts, and topped it with fresh Pecorino Romano cheese and freshly ground black pepper.  It made a stunningly beautiful platter!

gnocchi with tomato,
basil, and olives
For the regular gnocchi, I chose a tomato, basil, and olive sauce from Lidia Bastianich.  I couldn’t believe the complex flavors of such a simple set of ingredients:  butter, green olives, tomato sauce, Pecorino Romano cheese, and fresh basil.  The preparation of the olives is the key element to creating such a boldly flavored sauce.  The olives are cooked in the butter for a few minutes before the tomato sauce is added, and with that quick sauté, the olive flavor permeates the butter and sauce in the most interesting way.  After the sauce simmers, the cheese, fresh basil, salt, and freshly ground pepper are added.  Amazing!  I loved this sauce, and with so many basic, pantry ingredients, I think it will become a new standard for nights that I really don’t feel like going to great efforts to cook a delicious meal.  I’m thinking it would be really nice with orecchiette. 

pasta frola
For dessert, I turned again to the From Argentina with Love blog for the author’s Argentinean mother-in-law’s recipe for Pasta Frola, a pastry with dough similar to shortbread and jam filling.   I used the traditional filling of quince jam, and I was so surprised that such a simple dessert could be so delightful.  It reminded me of the best, freshest homemade Fig Newton imaginable.  (As a matter of fact, if the dish was made with fig jam, it would taste identical to one.)  The subtle floral quality of the quince added an interesting flavor to the dessert, and I liked that it was not overly sweet.  Another wonderful Italian-influenced dish.

Skirt Steak with Chimichurri & Burnt Carrots served with Fresh Greens, Goat Cheese, and Garlic Chips
skirt steak with chimichurri
I would be remiss if I didn’t grill a steak at least one night during a week of Argentine cuisine.  We set up our backyard asodo and set out to create an Argentine-themed dinner from the grill.  For the steak, we simply seasoned it with salt and pepper, grilled it to medium rare, and served it with a homemade chimichurri.  I found so many recipes for chimichurris that choosing one was a bit daunting.  All similar, but with slight nuances.  Some prefer vinegars, and other think it should never be included.  Adding chiles can make the “perfect” sauce, but it can also be a disgrace.  Who knows?  I opened up my copy of Michelle Bernstein’s Cuisine à Latina and made her recipe for Traditional Chimichurri Sauce, which included fresh parsley, red wine vinegar, garlic, fresh oregano, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil.  It was the best chimichurri I’ve ever tasted…fresh, piquant, spicy.  A perfect accompaniment to our steak. 

burnt carrots with fresh greens
I wanted to find an interesting side dish in the spirit of Argentine grill masters, which is why I was so excited to find Francis Mallmann’s recipe for Burnt Carrots with Goat Cheese, Parsley, Arugula, and Crispy Garlic Chips from his Seven Fires:  Grilling the Argentine Way in one of my “Best of Food and Wine” compilation cookbooks.  I didn’t make it exactly as he directed, but I certainly followed his instructions for the star of the dish, the burnt carrots.  Basically, you just coat carrots in olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, and then you grill them on both sides until they are charred and cooked through.  I served the carrots over fresh mixed greens and parsley tossed in vinaigrette, and I topped the salad with fresh goat cheese and fried garlic slivers.  (Mallmann provides instructions for “frying” the goat cheese, but when I tried it, I made a huge mess.  That’s why my version simply includes fresh goat cheese.)  My favorite thing about this side item is that it felt like we were actually eating a healthy meal, and I loved the fact that we incorporated the smoky flavors from the grill into both dishes. 

My week of Argentine cuisine surpassed my expectations.  I didn’t have any idea how many delicious, Italian-inspired dishes existed in Argentina, and I loved experiencing the Argentine versions of familiar recipes.  As an added bonus, this week offered me an opportunity to make homemade gnocchi for the first time, and I am thrilled to discover that I can make it well!  I am confident that we will celebrate Dia de Ňoquis more often.  All in all, another week of great dishes!