On the farm, everyone works to eat, even the guests. A lot can be accomplished and nothing goes to waste.
Five hours outside the busy streets of Buenos Aires, we spent 48 hours on the Valsecchi’s family farm. With the animals already butchered and well displayed on hooks, there was no work for us to do the first evening. The hardest decisions of the night were which part of the animal to eat and which wine to drink.
Practicing barrel fermentation with small-production output, our friend Diego Valsecchi produces so little of his wine, there was hardly enough to go around, but he shared with everyone. If you’re lucky, his wine can be found under the following labels: Desafio and Altoandino, produced at his winery in Salta, Argentina.
It became a game of “Where’s Diego’s wine glass?” because everybody wanted what he was drinking.
Our first full day was all about cutting and sorting the different cuts of meat. There were two tables: one for prepping vegetables and one for trimming fat from the meat. Five or six people at a time were trimming the cow meat to select the best cuts, and the rest of the meat would be used for the sausage production that would follow.
Nothing could be done nor completed without a few rounds of yerba mate, a wild plant that is dried and drunk like tea in a squash-shaped cup with a metal straw. Widespread through Argentina, Uruguay, and some other South American nations, yerba mate was unavoidable.
After the cow meat was trimmed and separated, the group organized at the kitchen table to cut all the pork fat in little cubes to be used in our chorizo. Beautifully split and placed on the table, we had ground pork, ground beef, pork fat, flavors, and spices.
It was all mixed together in a big trough, then put through a sausage machine using the cow’s intestine as a casing.
Simultaneously, we were boiling the pig’s head, legs, and other portions with meat that was hard to get at.
Once these parts were boiled, the meat stripped right off, and we put it in a bucket to make Morcilla, a.k.a. blood sausage. Though many spices may be used to make Morcilla, its defining characteristic is pig’s blood, which is encapsulated in the sausage and serves to congeal it. For this reason, the filling of Morcilla is moist, with a distinct flavor that sets it apart from other sausage.
After a day of work, dinner seemed so simple. Butterfly a lamb, cook it whole over the fire, and enjoy it at your leisure.
It was a much-needed evening of food-and-wine-filled relaxation to gear us up for chipa and empanada. “Where’s Diego’s wine glass?”
Chipa, a traditional Argentine dish, is fairly straightforward and simple, but it is the ultimate snack. I suggest serving it at your next dinner party as little bites, or a pre-dinner snack. When consumed hot from the oven, the dough and cheese melt in your mouth. Here is the recipe:
Chipa (serves 15-20 people)
8 3/4 cups of cassava flour
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 sticks of butter
2 pounds total of various cheeses, cut in small pieces or shredded: use Mozzarella, Parmesan, Queso Fresco, and Pategras (which is similar to Swiss)
3 cups of warm milk
Salt to taste
1) Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and use a cooking stone if you have one.
2) Heat the milk and butter on low heat until the butter melts.
3) Place all the cassava flour on the table with a well in the middle. Place the cheese into the well in the cassava flour.
4) Pour eggs and salt over the cheese and mix it into the cassava flour.
5) Gradually incorporate the warm milk, and mix the flour so that the dough does not stick to the table.
6) Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place them on a greased pan.
7) Bake at high heat for no more than 10 minutes, or until outside turns golden brown.
After Chipa came the empanadas. There are so many recipes for empanadas, which are essentially meat turnovers. The dough, style, and filling of empanadas can change based on country, region, and nationality. Presented here are the Argentine recipe for the dough, and one option for the filling. An intricate filling recipe isn’t always necessary because you could easily dice some ham, onion, and cheese (for example) and you’d have a quick and delicious version. It’s as simple or as complex as you want.
Dough for Empanadas (makes 5 dozen)
8 3/4 cups of flour (approximately 14 cups)
2 1/2 sticks of butter or 4 cups and 3 tablespoons of beef fat, melted
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups of water (more if needed)
1) Preheat the oven to 385 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Make of volcano of flour on the table and sprinkle with salt.
3) Place the beef fat or butter in the middle and begin to mix together with your hands. Start adding water to bind the ingredients and knead until the dough is stiff.
4) Roll out dough to 1/8″ thickness and cut into circles 4 inches in diameter. You can start stacking the discs on top of one another: to prevent sticking, add more flour on the outside of the circles or separate them with plastic.
5) Add 1 spoonful of filling and perform “repulge.” (Repulge is the art of sealing the empanada: first, fold the circle of dough in half over the filling, firmly sealing the outside. Second, starting from the top corner,
fold the sealed portion of the dough over, creating a ribbon-like design around the exterior of the dough until you reach the other corner.) This is how the empanada stays sealed.
6) Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the outside turns golden brown.
For a great filling recipe for empanadas, see these posts from The Gourmand & The Peasant (steps 1-6).
Three animals and 48 hours of feasting and drinking later (not to mention two stone heavier), we made our way back to the city life of Buenos Aires, where the true essences of the Argentine farmer can only be captured on a plate in restaurants. Missing is the feel of a family farm, their hospitality, and their willingness to share and create a balanced environment of work and – most of all – enjoyment.