Sometimes good things come together in the most fortuitous way. While browsing through the cooking section of a secondhand bookstore in Montevideo, I came across a 1960s copy of the Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook. It's a paperback edition (in English) that served as a gift from New Holland farm equipment dealers to their clients. The back cover offers a message from the company. "To the modern farm wife and mother everywhere, this book is dedicated as a tribute to her contribution to the all-important task of feeding the men who feed the nation." Packed with good old-fashioned recipes, this treasure from rural America was an unexpected gem to find in Uruguay, of all places!
Back home on the finca a few days later, I was sitting on the terrace reading my new cookbook when our neighbour Felipe arrived at the gate, offering a gift of two giant heads of red cabbage. He owns a successful market garden which produces the most beautiful fruits and vegetables in Rama Caida. I knew exactly how to use his generous gift; Pickled Red Cabbage was featured in my vintage cookbook. The method involves shredding the cabbage and salting it in layers in a pail, then weighting the top of the pile with a plate and a brick. The cabbage has to sit for 30 hours, and is then packed into jars and pickled with a hot, spiced apple cider vinegar and sugar syrup. The magic of the process occurs when you pour the pickling syrup over the cabbage. There's an instant transformation from deep purple to bright pink, an event that thrilled me as much as any Pennsylvania Dutch farm kid. The end result is a preserved coleslaw with brilliant colour, zesty flavour and plenty of crunchy nutrition.
We teamed the cabbage with traditional chorizo sausages cooked on the grill. These are 100% pork sausages spiced with hot pepper and nutmeg. They are sold at the local mercadito on a string and cost 12 pesos for 6 fat links. I have tried cooking them on the stove, but found that the grease content is really too high for pan-frying. Chorizo are designed for the outdoor asado and when pierced during cooking, the fat drains off easily into the fire.
The meal needed a bold wine to compete with the strident flavours of pork and cabbage.
We selected Familia Ripa Malbec
, which is produced by bodega La Abeja, the oldest winery in San Rafael. The malbec has juicy plum and blackberry aromas, fleshy volume and rich fruit finish. The history of the local boutique bodega
is outlined on their website. Familia Ripa sells for 10.50 pesos at Vea supermarket.
For Christmas, I presented Felipe with a jar of my pickled red cabbage. It was a modest gift, just a small contribution to the all-important task of feeding the men who feed the nation.
Resourcefulness is a matter of pride for the Argentines. An old can and a stick are not thrown out, but transformed with ingenuity and craftsmanship into the most useful tool in the shed - a tacho used for scooping water from the canal. Tachos are often painted in bright colours and patterns, qualifying them as folk art, as well as functional object.
In the city of San Rafael and in the surrounding countryside, the tacho is used daily to fill pails for watering the garden, for scrubbing the sidewalk and to wet the roadside to keep the dust down around the house. Its long handle allows for easy lifting, without the need for a back-breaking bend over the riego. Indispensable and inexpensive, it represents great vernacular design.
Faced with a fridge full of leftovers, I ask, "What would an Argentine make out of this mess?" The answer, gleaned from a conversation with my neighbour Maria, is a tortilla. With some cornmeal, a bit of flour, an egg, soya milk, water and a spoonful of olive oil one can easily whip up a batter to make a simple crepe-like pancake. The stuffing consists of whatever is leftover from other meals: beef, chicken, tomatoes, beans, zucchini, onions, anything and everything fried together. A sprinkle of grated cheese for the tops of the rolled tortillas and listo!
Served with arugula greens from the garden and some hot sauce on the side, the humble tortilla becomes an elegant lunch. It's an adaptable recipe, as clever and economical as a can on a stick. We served the tortillas with beer instead of wine - a large bottle of Andes pilsener costs 3.80 pesos at Vea supermarket.
We came out of the bank yesterday and there on the corner, much to our delight, was the first sign of summer - the cherry man! Every year at the beginning of December he sets up shop on the sidewalk with nothing more than a wooden cart, a scale hung on a tree, and some plastic bags. He piles the fruit into a red mountain that is sure to catch the eye of every passerby and that's it; open for business in San Rafael.
Cherries bring back memories of another summer, of meals eaten in a small Hungarian restaurant in Toronto, where cold cherry soup was served as an appetizer. The flavour was sour and sweet, and the cherries were unpitted, creating a tasty, slow introduction to dinner. I re-created the soup today, with half a kilo of cherries, rose wine, creme fraiche, sugar and some lemon juice to add a bit of tartness. The cherries,(which I took the time to pit) wine and sugar were boiled and then blended with the cream to a smooth consistency, with a few cherry halves reserved intact and added back to float in the broth. A few hours in the fridge to chill, and that unforgettable summer of '74 soup was served right here, al fresco, in Argentina.
We paired the cold cherry soup with Los Haroldos Malbec Rose 2008, a light summery wine with hints of raspberry, melon and citrus. (This wine also went into the making of the soup.) The bodega's website
gives an overview of a large operation that cultivates grapes on 3,000 hectares of land in Mendoza. Haroldos Malbec Rose sells for 13.50 pesos at Vea supermarket. Cherries cost 13 pesos per kilo, but it's still early in the season and this price will definitely go down once the cherry man is faced with competition on other street corners.
There's a very fine restaurant near our farm that offers the best cuisine and the most serene, scenic environment to be found anywhere in the province of Mendoza. Located in the midst of Algodon Wine Estates, an 825 hectare land development with a golf course, vineyard, bodega, championship tennis courts, and lodge, the restaurant is one of the area's gems.
During the winter, there's a cozy spot by the fire indoors, and in the summer, a terrace with cushioned couches overlooking the olive grove and manicured golf greens. The staff at Algodon is always welcoming and eager to make our dining experience a pleasure.
The menu features regional foods, cooked on the grill and in a traditional clay oven. The ingredients such as olives and tomatoes are grown right on the estate, and we notice the chef slipping out from the kitchen to pick herbs fresh from the garden. We choose "Puro Campo" which is a beef filet grilled to perfection, roasted vegetables, fried potatoes and green salad.
Dessert is nothing less than "Todo Chocolate," a sublime combination of white chocolate sauce, fudge brownie, a dark chocolate cylinder filled with creamy mousse, and a scoop of orange sorbet. The presentation suggests architecture, or perhaps a sculpture installation.
The wine is, of course, Algodon's own label - a Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. The grassy herbal notes of this fruity wine are a pleasant surprise, along with the finishing hints of toast and t0bacco. The estate bodega offers wine-tasting events and tours of their facilities. The American consortium that owns Algodon development has just opened a luxury hotel in a restored mansion in Buenos Aires. The complete story of their land development project in San Rafael is given on their website
The bill for lunch for two at Algodon was 146 pesos.