Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Grand Tour via Soup: Argentina for Carbonada and Pan de Chapa breads

My Grand Tour has left the Caribbean island of Cuba and docked in Argentina. This 'Carbonada Criolla' dish is from the North West of Argentina and whilst it is more usually referred to as a stew than a soup the soup/stew distinctions can easily get blurred!  I hope you will not be disappointed by this wonderful dish which is packed with South American ingredients such as potatoes, squash, peppers and sweetcorn; and as we are in Argentina it has to include beef. Traditionally cooked inside a hollowed out pumpkin/squash I took the easier option of cooking mine in a heavy casserole pan.
Time Life Recipe Book Image
I have taken my recipe from a rather old Time Life book in the series 'Foods of the World' and this volume is 'Latin American Cooking' that was published in 1970. You can pick up quite a few issues from this series second hand on Amazon. They were well researched and still provided valuable reference for me today.
Time Life : Latin American Cooking
 The flat breads, or pan de chapa, were cooked on a cast iron stove top griddle but would have been even better if cooked outdoors and thus scented with the aroma of bbq smoke. The name simple means 'hotplate bread',
Argentina has very fertile soil and its vast grasslands were quickly utilised by the early Spanish and Italian settlers to produce beef and lamb. Much of the beef production is now being shifted away from grassland to the cheaper method of feedlot production. I struggle to accept this as progress other than in purely economic terms, but farmers must make a living too. In the North West of Argentina the cuisine reflects more of the native Amerindian culture and this carbonada stew is a happy marriage of indigenous vegetables with European introduced beef and the surprise ingredient that I was not expecting, peaches.

Carbonada Criolla - makes a lot!
750g peeled and seeded winter squash cubed*
30g butter
1tbs olive oil
1 large white onion chopped
1 green pepper seeded and coarsely chopped
1 large clove garlic minced
1 small can chopped tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried oregano
500g sweet potato peeled and cubed*
500g white potato (waxy type) peeled and cubed*
200g sweetcorn kernels (fresh or frozen)
1 courgette cubed (if in season)*
2 fresh or canned peaches (if canned 4 half peaches)
400g beef steak such as rump or flat iron cut into large cubes**

*The vegetables should be prepared in quite large cubes say 2-3cm square in order to make a soup with a fairly chunky texture. Some of my vegetables went down into a puree which was fine for a soup and a lot will depend on the varieties that you use.
** I chose a piece of flat iron steak which offers a good balance of tenderness, flavour and cost. Tougher grades of beef such as braising will need to be cooked a little longer for the initial simmer before adding the main vegetables.

  1. Prepare all of the vegetables and cube the meat.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy based large saucepan such as a dutch oven/ le creuset style cast iron casserole pan,
  3. When the oil is hot add the cubes of beef and fry to lightly brown the meat.
  4. Turn the heat down and remove the meat from the pan placing it into a rimmed dish/plate that will catch any meat juices that run out.
  5. Add the butter to the pan and allow it to melt.
  6. Add the chopped onions and green pepper to the pan and gently cook until the vegetables are soft but not browning.
  7. Add the garlic to the pan and cook gently for a couple of minutes more.
  8. Return the cubes of meat and any juices collected in the dish to the pan along with the chopped tomatoes, bay leaf, oregano and add enough water (or beef/chicken/vegetable stock) to cover the meat. Add salt and pepper unless the stock was already well seasoned.
  9. Gently simmer the meat for 15 minutes**.
  10. Add the cubed squash, sweet potatoes and white potatoes to the pan and again add water/stock to cover. Bring up to a simmer, check for seasoning and continue to cook gently until the vegetables are tender. This may take around 20-30 mins.
  11. Add in the cubed courgettes if using and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes.
  12. Finally add in the sweetcorn and peaches and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  13. Check the seasoning again before serving. You may also wish to cut the meat into smaller pieces if the cubes are not fork tender.
This soup/stew can be prepared ahead and reheated, and it also freezes very well. It makes a very welcome autumn or winter main course soup.
The recipe for the Pan de Chapa comes from food blogger Passports and Pamplemousse. It is very like an English muffin recipe. I would recommend using a very heavy based skillet or frying pan to cook these in. The dough is quite soft and I found the cut pieces a little hard to handle when taking them from the proofing tray to the skillet. I also oiled my dough scaper well before using it to divide up the dough into individual breads.
Take care not to deflate the breads when flipping over to cook the other side.
I would say these breads are not quite as dense as a bought English muffin, the crumb texture is more open. If made ahead they can be refreshed briefly in a hot oven or split and toasted. They also freeze well.
For the next stop of the Grand Tour I am going to trace the path of  the British naturalist Charles Darwin whose second voyage around the world in HMS Beagle took him to Argentina in 1832. The ship's crew were undertaking naval survey work around South America and Darwin was researching the geology and natural history of each of the places visited. By 1834 they were sailing north up the coast of Chile and by 1835 onward up to Peru. The ship then sailed west across to the Galapagos islands before travelling further west again to the island of Tahiti.  It is Tahiti where my Grand Tour makes it's next stop and as Darwin's focus in Tahiti was the coral reefs it seems appropriate that the soup for this stop over should include fish. I am in such awe of these early explorer's abilities to find such relatively small islands and to sustain themselves at sea for so long that in recognition of that I am going to be swapping my usual bread accompaniment for a look at Ship's Biscuits (or hard tack).

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