On the Argentine Christmas Table: Pionono

(Photo by From Argentina With Love)

The Argentine Christmas cuisine has, as much of its culinary traditions, a lot of European influence. However, in Argentina Christmas takes place in the Summer, which means hot stuffed turkey is often out of the question. Asados, as could only be expected, are quite common, and especially welcome by the poolside, and otherwise many of the dishes for this festivity, including the famous Vitel Thoné and stuffed tomatoes, are served cold. One of the seasonal favorites are piononos which are special rolls made from a sweet dough and filled with either sweet or savory ingredients. Sweet version include dulce de leche piononos (of course!) and strawberry and cream piononos, and savory versions vary and may include ham and cheese, roquefort, tuna or chicken. The cake like dough, which is spread thin on a flat backing sheet to ensure its perfect-for-rolling rectangular shape, is what makes it distinctive.

The original pionono was actually a cylindrical shaped cake that originated in Granada in Spain, designed to resemble Pope Pio IX (hence the name). Although the Argie version is nothing like the original, it will surely be very present this Christmas given its papal undertone. Find a recipe of pionono here.

 

On The Argentine Christmas Table: Vitel Thoné

(Photo by Mario Carvajal)

The Argentine Christmas menu is varied, sometimes it includes asado and others a broad selection of cold dishes such as chicken, stuffed tomatoes, deviled eggs, piononos, palm hearts, salads and more.  Most often it is a combination of the two. What is almost never missing is a Piedmontese dish called Vitel Thoné, which consists of cold sliced meat coated by a sauce of egg, tuna, capers, olive oil, cream and anchovies. Below we share the recipe in case you want to bring it to your own Christmas table:

Ingredients:

–  1-11/2 Kg of round stake/silverside

–  Onion, carrot, bay leaf, and garlic for the broth

–  8 hard-boiled eggs

–  1 cup of olive oil

–  10-12 anchovies

–  2 cans of tuna fish (in brine or oil)

–  1 cup of cream or 1 cup of mayonnaise

–  2 teaspoons of  dijon mustard

–  2 teaspoons of capers

–  Salt and pepper to taste.

Instructions:

– Clean the steak from fat or covering membrane.

– Place steak with salt and vegetables for broth in a large pot of water and boil for approximately an hour or an hour and a half (until it is tender).

– Let cool in the broth.

– Slice into thin pieces.

– In a blender combine the yolks of the 8 hard-boiled eggs, the tuna and the olive oil until a paste is formed.

– Add approximately one cup of broth.

– Add anchovies, mustard, salt and a generous amount of pepper.

– Add the cream/mayonnaise.

– If the sauce is too thick then add a bit more broth.

– Layer the steak slices in a deep dish and cover each layer with the sauce. Sprinkle the capers on top.

– Refrigerate for a few hours to enhance the flavor.

Top 5 Argentine Desserts

(Photo by Manu Contreras)

Most Argentine desserts were influenced by different immigrant groups who populated the country.  A few ingredients however, including the famous dulce de leche and quince, sweet potato, fig and chayote jams, have given them a unique local flavor. Below is a list of top five typical Argentine desserts.

Vigilante: This is probably the most emblematic Argentine dessert and is rumored o have been Borges’ favorite. It consists of a slice of solid quince or sweet potato jam (in Salta it is also served with chayote and fig jam) over a slice of Port Salut type cheese.

Flan con dulce de leche: Flan is a dessert that was adopted locally from different immigrant influences. The delicious creamy egg based treat is typically eaten with dulce de leche or with dulce de leche and whipped cream (flan mixto). Another similar dessert from Colonial times is Ambrosia, which is said to have been Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s top choice.

Budin de pan: Commonly known in English as bread pudding this dessert has many variations around the world. The Argentine version consists of a smooth dessert (no chunks) with raisins and like flan is also served with dulce de leche and whipped cream.

Arroz con leche: Rice pudding is another international dessert that has become a typical local delicacy. The sweet rice concoction was very popular amongst the gauchos and in the north of the country there is a similar dessert prepared with white corn instead of rice called Mazamorra.

Panqueque con dulce de leche : The French crepe was quickly adopted by the locals and transformed into a typical delicacy with a warm gooey dulce de leche filling. A delicious sweet treat that no DDL lover should miss.

Those who have perfected their own versions of local delicacies (sweet or salty) can’t miss Seashells & Sunflowers 2012 Argentine Recipe Contest.

Medialunas

(Photo by Real Distan)

Anyone who has spent at least a day in Buenos Aires has probably come across the medialuna, a pastry commonly known around the world as a croissant, with its own local flair of course. This starchy staple is as important for Porteños as bagels seem to be for New Yorkers, and are the pillar of many a café breakfast or afternoon snack.

There are two types of medialunas; de grasa (made from lard) are thinner and crunchier, and de manteca (made from butter) are fluffy and soft.  Bakeries also sell facturas, which are sisters to the medialunas and traditionally feature dulce de leche, confectioner´s cream and quince jam fillings.

While you’re in the city, stopping at one of the traditional city cafés is a must and a coffee with medialunas, mandatory.

Those back home who got hooked on their trip, can try the following recipe for Medialunas de Manteca:

Ingredients:

(makes 3 dozen)

4 ¾ cups of Pastry Flour

1 ¼ cups Milk

¼ cup  Sugar

2 TBSP Honey

1 ½ TBSP fresh yeast

1 Egg

A pinch of Salt

7 Oz. Butter

Instructions:

1- Place ¾ cup of  pastry flour on a counter or table you can knead comfortably on. Work in the butter until the flour is absorbed.

2- Mold the flour and butter mixture into a stick of butter, wrap it in a bag or cling-wrap and place it in the refrigerator.

3- Warm up the milk and  1 tsp. of sugar until it`s lukewarm and mix in the yeast.

4- Make a mound with the remaining flour on counter or tabletop you´re working on. Mark a hole in the center and in it place the salt, remaining sugar, egg and honey. Knead very well.

5- Add the milk and yeast mixture and continue kneading. The dough should be soft and sticky.

6- Knead and bang the dough on the counter until it is very smooth.

7- Place the dough in a bowl and cover it for approximately an hour (the dough should double). Keep in mind that yeast needs a relatively warm environment to rise so in winter make sure to have the heating in the kitchen on.

8- Once the dough has risen take out the butter/flour from the refrigerator and roll it out into a thin rectangle.

9- Roll out the dough until is thin and place the butter rectangle in the center,  on top of the dough rectangle.

10- Fold the rectangles until the dough covers the butter. Refrigerate for an hour. Fold again and refrigerate for another hour.

11- Roll out the dough until it is approximately a 0.5 inches thick. Cut into triangles and chill for 20 minutes.

12- Roll the triangles from the base to the tip. Place on buttered baking trays and allow to rise until they double their size.

13-  Whip an egg yolk with some milk and paint onto the medialunas.

14- Bake for approximately 15 minutes at 410 ° F.

Matambre

(Photo by maggiemason)

Matambre is a typical and savory Argentine staple consisting of flank steak (beef, or pork)  prepared on the grill, in the oven, or boiled and stuffed with egg and vegetables.  Matambre actually comes from the word mata (kills) and hambre (hunger) and got its name because it is a fast cooking meat that Argies peck at while the rest of the slow cooking asado sizzles on the grill.

This local delicacy is well worth trying. The stuffed version (Matambre arrollado), available at any deli store (fiambreria), works very well as sandwich meat, a good picnic alternative.

You can also share this typical Argentine food with friends and family by making your own! See the Matambre Arrollado recipe below.

Matambre Arrollado- or  Stuffed Hungerkill 🙂

Marinade:

1 veal flank steak

1 liter of milk  (or ½ a cup of white wine and ½ a cup of vinegar)

1 garlic clove

1 tsp. thyme

2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper to taste

For the filling:

A few slices of bacon

6 Hard-boiled eggs (or as needed, this will depend on the size of the flank steak)

200 grams of spinach

2 carrots

1 clove of garlic

Finely chopped parsley

Flavorless gelatin or 2 beaten eggs with parmesan cheese.

Salt and pepper as needed.

Mustard- optional

Putting it together:

1- Remove the fat from the fatty side of the flank steak

2- Combine the marinade ingredients in a deep dish and  allow the flank steak to sit in the marinade overnight if it’s made with milk, or for a few hours if done with the vinegar and wine.

3- Boil the eggs, grate the carrots, and finely chop the garlic and the parsley.

4- If you choose to oven bake then spread the flank on a large piece of foil with the fatty side up, if you’re going to boil then skip the foil.

5- Spread with mustard (optional), sprinkle with salt and cover with garlic and parsley.

6- Place the spinach leaves along the flank.

7- Cover the spinach with the bacon.

8- Spread the grated carrot on top.

9-  Place the eggs in a long side row at around 4 cm from the border of the flank.

10- Sprinkle with the gelatin powder or cover with the egg and parmesan mixture (this is to hold the filling together).

11- Roll up the flank. If you’re baking then roll it with the foil and secure the ends well with toothpicks and bake in the oven for approximately 1 hour per flank kilo. If you’re boiling sew the all the edges with a needle and thread.

12-  Wrap the flank roll in a light cotton cloth and tie up with cotton string.

13-  Boil the roll in salted water for approximately 1hour per kilo of flank (the flank you choose should weigh around 2kgs).

14- Remove from the water and place a cutting board and something heavy on top whilst it cools for approximately 5 hours.

15-  Remove the cloth and strings and serve sliced.

Argentina Christmas Cuisine

The  local Christmas menu has incorporated recipes from many of its different immigrants. Because it is summer in Argentine during the holiday season, there is usually a spread of cold cuts (including cold chicken and turkey, cooked the day before) and salads, whilst asados are also very popular. The midnight toast is traditionally done with cider and accompanied by sweets.  Below is a description of the most typical local Christmas dishes.

Asado: Alright, saying that asado is a typical Christmas staple might be an overstatement considering asado is a local staple period! But on Christmas Eve,  the parrillas get going and the city streets are filled with the sizzling aroma of the Argentine barbeque. Additionally, the Christmas asado is often more elaborate than the usual and it is common to find roast suckling pig on the menu.

Vitel Thoné: This is probably THE most typical holiday platter in Argentina and is predictably an imported recipe from Italy. The cold dish consists of  sliced veal covered in a sauce made from anchovies, tuna, mayonnaise, cream and capers. Recipe here.

(Photo by manusmenu)

Piononos: The origin of this dish is not quite clear although there is a sweet version of pionono in Spain. In Argentina they are made in both sweet and salty variations and consist of a thin flat sponge cake which is filled with ham, palm heart, mayonnaise, and other variations for salty versions (with the contrast of the sweet dough), and with dulce de leche (what did you expect?) and fruits and whipped  cream for sweet versions.  Once the ingredients are layered on the sponge cake it is rolled up and voila! Recipe here.

(Photo by From Argentina with Love)

Pan Dulce: Like Vitel Thoné, Pan Dulce is another really typical holiday staple that was also imported by the Italian immigrants. The brioche like high-rise dough filled with dried fruits and nuts is the perfect complement to the sweet cider brought out at midnight on Christmas Eve.  Recipe hereand add some drops of orange blossom water to that for the special local flavor!

(Photo by Gabriela Sellart)

Turrón: The popular Spanish Christmas specialty was incorporated into the local traditions, where it is common to serve peanut and honey turron with the pan dulce at midnight.

(Photo by formalfallacy)

The History of Empanadas

(Photo by cheeseweese)

When one thinks of local Argentine food there are two immediate images that come to mind;  one is ‘asado’ and the other, the empanada.

However, as almost everything local, the delectable empanada was not born in Argentina but brought here by the Spanish. The Spanish in turn had incorporated these delicacies from the Arabs.  who prepared them with lamb, bulgur and spices and called them ‘esfigha’ and ‘fatay’.  Further back, the empanada can be traced to the Greeks who had come up with phillo dough and to what was once Persia, where there was a similar dish centuries before Christ.

In Latin America this tasty pastry filled with different combinations of meats and vegetables became very popular and in Argentina it acquired its own identity with regional variations.  In Salta for example, the meat filling is cut in cubes and previously boiled, then mixed with potato, egg, scallion, cumin and cayenne pepper.  In Tucuman they incorporate raisins to the filling whilst in Cordoba they are coated with egg and sugar.  This way each place makes its own variation imprinting it with the local identity.

 

More information on where to try the best empanadas in Buenos Aires here.

To make your own, we suggest you try our chef Hernán Gipponi´s recipe for rabbit empanadas, available here.  (Don´t forget to order some while you´re at the hotel!)