Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Playing Criolla

I played at being Argentine this week, food-wise at least.  The cat played at trying to give Felipe a heart attack (the kitchen sink being at the bottom right of the photo). 
One of the big traditional foods here (generally referred to as comida criolla, native foods) is locro, traditionally eaten on May 25th, the day celebrated as the beginning of Argentina´s revolution.  Locro is stick-to-your-ribs country food, involving hominy and lots of various meat parts.  It´s not exactly pretty but I'm not sure country stews ever really are.  And it's one of those dishes that everyone's grandmother makes the best version of.  One day at my work I started asking around if anyone knew how to make locro.  The general response was "no...lo como con mi familia pero no lo hago nunca..." (no...I eat it with my family but I never make it...) "My mom makes great locro.  I don't really know how but I can get you the recipe," offered Maria Celia.  De una! (Yay, yes please!)  The week after she slipped a piece of paper into my hand, "Here you go! Let me know how it turns out!"  What it turned out was really good.  I brought some into work to get feedback, as the combination of one American and one Colombian making an Argentine recipe doesn't seem to me to lend itself to much authenticity.  I was given the official Argentine seal of approval, though of course the discussion began: ...in my family we put tomatoes in ours, in my family it's spicier, in my family we put white beans in too... 
I have not generally been a big fan of the sweeter side of traditional Argentine cooking, or at least not as it is represented in the bakeries here.  Tarts and cookies tend to be tooth-achingly sweet, and the concept of only selling things made same day doesn´t seem to exist.  A cake you buy could quite possibly have been on the shelf for at least a week, if not two.  One thing I´ve always liked though is the Tarta de Ricota, or Ricotta Cake, and I´d been meaning to try making it at home for quite awhile but only just got around to it now.  As good as it is a bit stale, it´s way better homemade and fresh.
I found the recipe on an Argentinean food blog which has some amazing looking pasta recipes that I´m planning on trying out.  What I realized is that Tarta de Ricota is basically a cheesecake, but with a crust that´s made with a cookieish dough.  I´ve never had Italian ricotta pies but my super high tech research skills (Google) make me think they are very similar, which would make a whole lot of sense given the huge Italian immigration here over the past century and the fact that variations on Italian dishes make up a huge part of traditional Argentinean cuisine (Argentineans have a special day each month to eat gnocchis, the 29th.  I couldn´t make these things up even if I wanted to.) 

     adapted from Maria Celia´s mother

2 c. dry hominy, washed well and soaked overnight
500 g. (18 oz.) skirt steak, cut into 1 in. pieces
100 g. (3.5 oz.) pork skin, cut into 1/2 in. pieces (we used kitchen scissors)
200 g. (7 oz.) fatty tripe, chopped
100 g. (3.5 oz.) smoked pancetta (I forgot what I was supposed to buy at the market and instead of the tripe and pancetta bought 2 chorizos, which worked lovely anyway)
250 g. (8 oz.) winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2 in. cubes
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. sweet or smoked paprika
4 green onions, chopped

Simmer the soaked hominy and the pork skin in 10 c. water until the hominy is tender, about an hour.  Add in the skirt steak, the tripe and the pancetta (or the chorizos).  When the meat is cooked through, about 20 min., add in the squash and bring to a boil.  In a medium skillet, heat the oil, then throw in the green onions and the paprika.  Saute until soft.  Add to the stew and check to see if the squash is tender. The stew should have thickened.  Taste to see if it needs more salt (as pancetta and chorizo already have salt in them it´s best to wait until the end; mine did need quite a bit of salt for the flavors to come through.) My non-traditional addition was a big drizzle of chipotle oil on top, which added a good dose of spice.  Let's just pretend it's what my grandmother would do.

Tarta de Ricota
     adapted from Todo caserito

For the dough:
6 oz. (1 stick and a half or 170 g.) butter, room temp.
2 c. (10.5 oz. or 300 g.) all-purpose flour (000)
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (3.5 oz. or 100 g.) sugar
1 egg, beaten

In the bowl of a food processor, or in a big mixing bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  In the food processor, add in the butter, and process in short bursts until you have a sandy-looking mixture.  If you´re doing it in a mixing bowl (what I used), cut the soft butter into the flour mixture with a knife and fork until it´s sandy-looking.  Add in the egg, either processing or mixing briefly (I use my hands) just until the dough comes together into a ball. Wrap in plastic and leave in the fridge for 30 min. while you make the filling.

For the filling:
17.6 oz. (500 g.) ricotta 
1 c. (8 oz. or 250 ml.) heavy cream
1 c. (7 oz. or 200 g.) sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
zest of one lemon

Process the ricotta in the food processor until smooth, or use a hand blender to get all the lumps out.  One at a time, stirring or processing briefly as you go, add all the rest of the ingredients. Just process enough to mix the ingredients well as you don´t want to incorporate extra air in.

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Grease and flour a 10 in. springform pan.  Roll out the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap into a circle with a 14 in. diameter.  Take off the top layer of plastic wrap and use the bottom one to transfer the dough into the pan.  Keeping the plastic wrap on top of the dough, lightly press the dough into the pan and up the walls, leaving an even layer.  Remove the plastic and fill the crust with the filling.  Bake for 1 hr. and then leave the cake in the turned off oven as it cools down.  Run a knife around the edge of the springform pan to make sure nothing is sticking, and unmold the sides to check.  Return the sides, cover with cake plastic wrap and stick in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours before eating.  To serve, remove the sides.  You can serve it with powdered sugar on top, though we didn´t find it necessary.  Keeps well for at least 3-4 days well-covered in the fridge.  

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