Friday, 3 February 2012
Winter food: pastel de polenta y carne (beef and polenta pie)
The temperatures have dropped considerably during the last couple of days here in the Netherlands and out there it finally feels like a real winter.
So, when the cold winter blows, the thermometre drops several lines below the 0°C mark, and you get home chilled to the bone from the street, you certainly want nourishment that is hearty, filling and tasty; comfort food for body and soul.
If there is a dish that shouts out winter to me, that is the pastel de polenta y carne - beef and polenta pie, a dish that we used to prepare quite often back home in Argentina.
Polenta (a word borrowed from the Italian that refers to cooked ground cornmeal) is a staple that is used in many dishes across Argentina and Uruguay. Though the corn that it's made from hails originally from the Americas, it was actually the Italian inmigrants that introduced polenta into the Río de la Plata during the big immigration wave of the 19th and 20th centuries.
To prepare this dish you can use regular white or yellow polenta. In Argentina we can get instant polenta that is ready in about 1 minute; quite handy if you are pressed for time. However, I haven't yet been able to find 1-minute polenta here in the Netherlands, so I normally use the regular kind that takes about 20/30 minutes to cook.
You can also replace the polenta for a potato mash. I usually add either milk and butter, or cream to the mash to make it creamier and tastier.
As for the beef, you can use minced meat if you want, it'll make the whole process a lot easier. If I were in Argentina I would go to my butcher's, ask him for a nice cut and ask him to mince it for me right there and then. This is not possible where I live now and I don't trust the minced meat I see in the supermarkets, so I normally buy a piece I think looks ok and I cut it finely myself. But hey, that's crazy me!
Here is what you have to do to prepare the pastel.
(this recipe will serve 4 people)
For the base or filling you will need:
1 tablespoon of olive oil
400g of beef, diced
1 onion, chopped
1 tomato, diced
1 teaspoon of parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of paprika powder
1 tablesppon of raisins (no seeds)
2 tablespoons of pitted olives, sliced
salt and pepper
This is what you want to make the polenta:
300g of yellow or white polenta (regular, or if you can get it, instant)
enough water to boil the polenta - you can also use milk, about 1l.
100g of Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
optional: a knob of butter to make the polenta creamier.
For the topping:
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced or chopped (optional, I don't normally add them)
400g mozzarella cheese or similar (a cheese that melts and is gooey), cut in cubes or stripes
1 red pepper, cut in strips to decorate
a tea spoon of chopped parsley
You can start by making the filling. For that, heat up the olive oil in a pan and soften the chopped onion. This might take around 5 minutes. Then, add the beef and cook it until light brown.
Now you can add the diced tomato, the chopped parsley and the paprika powder; cook for about 5 more minutes. At the end of the process add the raisins and olives, season to taste and set aside while you make the polenta.
Making polenta is not difficult but it demands your full attention. Use a pan with a lid so that you can cover it when it starts to boil, for it will blip and spatter as if there was no tomorrow and you might get burnt.
First, bring a pan of salted water to the boil and slowly whisk in the polenta with a wooden spoon. This is where it gets a bit dangerous, so put the lid on and leave it a bit ajar. Once the polenta thickens, it sets and no longer blips so hard. Now you can add a bit of milk if you want and give it a stir every few minutes getting right into the sides of the pan to avoid it from sticking.
Once it's done, take away from the gas and add the Parmesan cheese, and if you feel like it, a knob of butter to get a creamier texture. Mix well with the wooden spoon. Season to taste with some salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Making the pie:
Preheat the oven to 180°/190°C.
In an oven dish spread half of the polenta covering the entire base.On top of this layer of polenta, pour your beef filling and spread well. Here you can add the sliced or chopped eggs if you want them.Then cover again with a layer of polenta and add the toppings: your bits of mozzarella cheese, the red pepper strips and the chopped parsley.
Take the polenta pie to the oven and cook for about 40/45 minutes. Check from time to time that the top doesn't get too brown too soon and if it does, turn the temperature down. When you take it out of the oven it should be golden brown and bubbling.
Let it rest for a few minutes before serving to allow the juices to set.
You can accompany the polenta pie with a nice glass of Argentine malbec wine.
Buen provecho y salud!
Also recommended for winter weather, check out this carbonada criolla recipe by my friend Elena.