The herb garden is greening up with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. When weeding and thinning the plot, the pungent aroma of thyme lingers on the hands and just awhiff is enough to stimulate an appetite for dinner. The Greeks said a person "smelled of thyme" when they displayed an elegant, refined style. Hope some of that finesse rubbed off on me while I worked in the garden!
Sprigs of thyme in our garden
A handful of thyme, a bunch of parsley, a touch of Dijon mustard, some olive oil and balsamic vinegar whirled together with the blade of my hand blender to create a smooth Salsa Verde for our trout dinner. Trout from Patagonia is the most popular variety of fish available in this part of Argentina, and fly-fishing is a major part of the tourist industry. This fish is excellent poached or fried or grilled on the barbecue, but needs delicate cooking to preserve its flavour and moisture. We served our filets on a bed of bulgur wheat and garbanzo beans, accompanied by stir-fried zucchini and mushrooms.
We paired our seafood special with Michel Torino Coleccion Torrontes 2008 from Bodegas La Rosa in the province of Salta. This wine has a distinctive floral nose, a nice balance of fruit and acidity and a grapefruit finish. It is one of the great value, quality wines of Argentina that is exported to Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. We purchased it for 10.25 pesos at Vea supermarket.
It's been hot in San Rafael for the last two days, with temperatures rising well over 30 degrees Celsius. In the middle of a heat wave, one just doesn't feel a strong urge to turn on the oven and start baking pastry. A cool dessert still seems appealing and fortunately it's possible to purchase exquisite European-style cakes and pastries in the ice cream shops and bakeries in the city.
Ripe strawberries combined with chocolate mousse pie from La Delicia to make a grand finale for our dinner last night. Heladeria La Delicia (Av. H. Yrigoyen 591) is where the ex-pats congregate to enjoy a cup of espresso coffee and a pastry while checking e-mail and conducting Skype conversations with family members back home. The restaurant has a strong Wi-Fi signal, over 40 flavours of ice cream and air-conditioning.
We served a white dessert wine, La Consulta Cosecha Tardia from Finca la Celia with the chocolate pie and fresh fruit. The grapes used to produce this wine are harvested late, when reduced water content has concentrated sugars and acids. The result is a natural sweetness - not syrupy, but refreshing - with notes of pears and honey. It has a lovely summery floral nose and a brilliant gold colour. This wine is best served very cold (6 - 8 degrees C.) and benefits from an additional few minutes in the freezer before pouring. It would also be excellent to serve with pate de foie gras or strong cheeses. The cost for a bottle of Cosecha Tardia is 15.83 pesos at Vea supermarket. The chocolate mousse pie was purchased for 10.50 pesos at La Delicia.
Empanadas are a standard appetizer in Argentina, with fillings varying from beef to chicken to tuna. We like to make them for the main course of our meal, and add spices to liven things up. The great thing about empanadas is that they can be cooked quickly outdoors on the grill.
The secret to making a good filling for empanadas is to cut the meat into very fine pieces with a sharp knife, rather than using ground beef. We fry the meat, add chopped onions, olives and raisins to the mixture, and season with several heaping spoonfuls of Madras curry powder. The flavour of the filling is savoury and sweet.
The fun part of making empanadas is the folding of the filled dough circles, and the final sealing and crimping of the edges. The dough circles (tapas) are purchased at the supermarket and come in a package of 12. It's important to use the kind marked "horno" for cooking in the oven or on the barbecue. The empanadas are basted on both sides with vegetable oil in preparation for the asado.
When the wood fire has burned down to a nice bed of coals, the grill is ready for the empanadas. They take about 3 minutes of cooking on each side to brown and crisp the dough. We served these with chimi churri sauce, braised spinach and homemade pickled beets.
Our wine selection for pairing with the spicy empanadas is Finca Flichman Syrah Roble 2008. This full-bodied red has been aged in oak for 3 months and has a strong tannic flavour. The syrah needs air, so let it sit open for a while before tasting. A great wine to accompany any asado, priced at only 16.49 pesos at Vea Supermarket.
Spring is the season for asparagus, that delicate shoot that at its best is sweet-tasting, earthy-smelling and tender. October in San Rafael brings vendors to the streetcorners with their wooden carts full of green bundles tied with string. The man who sells asparagus just outside of the supermarket Vea has the best thin stalks, much nicer than the woody thick ones sold inside the store. The price for a bundle is 4 pesos.
Years ago, when we lived in the Netherlands, the spring season was marked by the harvest of white asparagus and each restaurant featured a special white wine to accompany this delicacy. Served with melted butter, hard-boiled eggs and ham, the white asparagus was a traditional rite of spring in the province of Limburg.
At lunchtime today we decided to recreate the asparagus menu with a distinctive Argentine twist. Our wine selection was a bottle of Jean Rivier Tocai 2008, a white wine made right here in San Rafael from grapes grown in our neighbourhood, Rama Caida. The crisp citrus notes in this wine complemented the asparagus, devilled eggs and jamon crudo we paired with it, without overwhelming the light flavours of the meal.
Bodega Jean Rivier was founded by Swiss-French immigrants in 1956, and has continued under the direction of the Rivier family to the present day. Their artisanal production includes a line of reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) a rose (Malbec) and whites (Tocai, Chenin Blanc). They also produce two interesting blended wines - Malbec/Bonarda and Chenin/Torrontes. We highly recommend the Jean Rivier whites. This bottle was purchased for 14 pesos at Vinoteca wine store on Ballofet.