Everything has been indecisive this week, as we remain stuck in limbo between seasons. Freezing rain or balmy sunshine? Ski or bike? Bake a lasagna or grill a steak?
Goats ascending a ridge near the Chilean border in Northern Patagonia.
Then I remembered the food of Argentina, which always makes me want to cook, and to eat, no matter what the season. That's how steak won the what's-for-dinner dilemma; I had to grill some steaks, Argentine style, despite the pouring rain.
Carne "jugoso", Argentine style, with a good dousing of salt by Mountain Man.
True Argentine-style steak would be grilled over an open fire, using native hardwoods that instill a distinctive flavor. The beef is mostly grass-fed, and easily overdone in my opinion. Once we learned to order "jugoso", translated roughly as "juicy", all of our steaks were perfectly rare, just the way we like them here in Wyoming.
Jack and Nick enjoying a lakeside asado in Patagonia after a long day of fishing in the 7 Lakes region.
Then there are the sauces, served alongside the meat. A fancy steakhouse like La Cabrera, in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires, makes a true art form of their sauces. But the best chimichurri sauce can sometimes be found at the simplest parrilla, and plopped down like ketchup as your steak is brought out. No two are the same; some are more vinegary, more peppery, or more salty. Most taste of garlic, parsley, and peppers. Sometimes there's a lemony bite, or a dash of cumin.
I noticed that the chimichurri got spicier once I mastered the Argentine accent, and was able to blend in like a local. There seems to be one version for the gringos, and one for the locals, and I preferred the local chimichurri very much.
Steak with all the trimmings at La Cabrera steakhouse in Buenos Aires. So many sauces that I could make a meal out of just dipping my bread.
Nick plays with his food: Gnocchi with a locally-foraged black mushroom sauce in Villa la Langostura, Patagonia.
Let's not even get started in on the pastas of Argentina, as good as any I've had in Italy. "Pasta casera" signs are everywhere, denoting hand-made pasta distinctive to that region, that town and that restaurant. Stuffed pastas are irresistible: ravioli, raviolini, raviolone, sorrentino. Gnocchi are everywhere, some of the best I've ever had. In Argentina, a day without pasta is like a day without steak. Or dulce la leche. Or an alfajore.
Sorrentinos stuffed with leeks and local trout (trucha).
Malfatti de espinaca, con salsa mixta: a spinach gnocchi lighter than air, with a tomato cream sauce. My attempts to recreate this dish have not measured up to the originial....I promise to keep trying.
One of the most unusual pastas: a raviolo abierto (open ravioli) stuffed with trout and ricotta, like a big beautiful crepe.
Dulce la leche, usually made with goat's milk in Argentina, has a permanent place on the breakfast table, for smearing on pan tostada or semilunas (little croissants).
Alfajores may be the official cookie of Argentina. A soft sandwich cookie filled with dulce la leche, and often rolled in coconut or dipped in chocolate, Argentines enjoy alfajores all day long, but especially at breakfast.
Jack with his 5 peso ice cream cone at our favorite chocolate shop, En el Bosque, in Villa la Langostura, in Patagonia. That's $1.25 in US dollars.
Argentina is proud of their chocolates, and artisanal shops can be found on every block. I love the translation; these are actually milk chocolates with rum-soaked raisins.
Not to mention the wines, the gloriously cheap, rich and complex malbecs, that flow like water everywhere you go, and match the food like magic.
I'll stop here, or we'll never have time to whip up a batch of chimichurri sauce, to serve with a grilled rib-eye steak. But stay tuned: I have an "Argentina Night" cooking class coming up, and I'll be sure to blog the highlights.
This sauce is special, not just because it takes us to Argentina, but because it can make use of that herb garden you are no doubt trying to grow, and so it tastes of spring, and the optimism it represents.
My cilantro has so far survived hail, freezing rain, snow and the twin yearling mooses who frequent my yard.
Recipes for chimichurri sauce go something like this: Chop parsley, garlic, fresh oregano and a hot red pepper. Add olive oil, a dash of vinegar, some salt and some pepper. Add cumin or red pepper flakes for heat. A squeeze of lemon, or lime. Cilantro is not traditional in Argentina, but commonly seen farther north.
As you can see, it is a sauce that is meant to be personalized. Use what's in your garden, in your refrigerator, and spice it to match your palate. You will know when you have arrived at the perfect formula when you start dunking everything...hunks of bread, cherry tomatoes, fingers and toes... into your chimichurri sauce.
This little red pepper may look pretty potent, but it is only about 3,000 on the Scoville scale.
Argentine salads, by the way, are a great use of leftovers. Anything is a salad in Argentina; lettuce is optional. Tonight we had leftover corn on the cob (the first of the season!), avocados, a small hunk of Romaine lettuce, and a few cherry tomatoes. Tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt, it is a worthy accompaniment to the main event.
Anything is a salad in Argentina; lettuce is optional.
For a printable version of the recipe, click on the file below it.
This is more of a guideline than a recipe. It is based on my memories of Argentina, what's growing in my garden, and what's in the refrigerator. You can serve this with steak, por supuesto, but it is equally fine with grilled chicken or fish, any kind of kebabs, or as a dip for a vegetable salad. You could also serve it with toast and eggs, but I am not sure what the Argentines would think of that!
The sauce definitely benefits from sitting for a few hours, to let the flavors mingle and marry.
- 2 cups flat leaf Italian parsley, or 1 cup of parsley and 1 cup of cilantro
- 2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped, or 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 3-6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 jalapeno peppers, or 1 serrano pepper, stripped of seeds and finely chopped, or 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, or several glugs of Sriracha sauce
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- freshly ground pepper, to taste
- dash of ground cumin, to taste (more if your peppers are mild)
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- Place minced garlic, finely chopped peppers, and parsley or parsley/cilantro in a food processor or blender. You could also use an immersion blender.
- Process until very smooth, then add the rest of the ingredients. Process until smooth.
- Taste. Adjust salt. Adjust for spiciness and acidity.
- Let sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours, and taste again. Adjust.
- Serve with grilled steak, chicken, pork or fish. Save some for the next day to have with your eggs, on your turkey sandwich, or drizzled on leftover veggies.
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Me encanta Argentina!
Culinary phrase of the week: Scoville scale
The Scoville scale is a measure of a pepper's heat level, by a method invented by Wilbur Scoville back in 1912. At the high end of the scale, pure capsaicin (the chemical in peppers that gives them heat) registers about 15,000,000 heat units. A habanero pepper is considered to be the world's hottest pepper, with a range of 355,000 to 577,000, although there are some challengers from India. A regular jalapeno pepper, like the one I used in the above recipe, rates a mere 2,500 to 8,000.
from The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst