November 16, 2010
In the small Patagonian villages of San Carlos de Bariloche and Villa la Angostura, gnomes abound. Yes, gnomes. Shops all over town sell carved garden-style gnomes of all sizes, engaged in all sorts of activities. They grace 'welcome' plaques, are fashioned into door-stoppers, or are figurines 'caught in the act' of everyday gnomish life. Indeed, they are something of a town mascot.
The area, with its wooded lakeshore, charming alpine architecture, and quaint tea shops completely lends itself to that fantasy; it's easy to imagine a little gnome house deep in a thicket, under a giant red toadstool, or inside of a moss-covered log.
As a child, I was completely taken with the book Gnomes, and could spend hours poring over the delightful illustrations, my imagination running wild, full of the magic and fantasy only a little girl could know. The area of Argentinean Patagonia in question was settled in large part by Welsh settlers, as well as Germans, Austrians, and Slavs. Log cabins cover the mountainous terrain, menus serve tea and scones with clotted cream, and city centers resemble Swiss hamlets.
They say that Pastel de Papas is a completely Argentinean invention. But to me it has a definite connection to English Cottage or Shepherd's Pies. French and French Canadian folks call their version Tourtiere, and of course, the Chileans on the other side of the Andes claim Pastel de Papas belongs to them.
Whichever version you choose to believe, the outcome is delicious. It's just the sort of 'stick-to-your-ribs' recipe that is perfect when prepared on a cold night. Even though Gnomes clearly states that the little woodland creatures eat no meat, I can imagine the little gnome family sitting around their simple farm-style table with its ornately carved chairs and ever-present holly and candle centerpiece, tucking into this pie before relaxing in front of their brightly-painted hearth. This comforting dish draws people together, like gnomes around a hearth fire–enjoying the warmth of family, of a filling meal, a cozy home.
Every family has their own variation of this pie, mine was inspired by my mother-in-law, Florencia's recipe, and also by our friend, Patricia Maccari's version. Patricia's recipe uses a pie crust on the bottom and potato crust on top, my mother-in-law's uses potato top and bottom. Patricia's family are the brewers of Cerveza Jerome, which incidentally, would be the perfect companion to this dish (even better if you can serve it in a German-style beer stein!!). Gracias a los dos!
Find me on facebook: Rebecca Caro or From Argentina With Love, on twitter: @RebeccaCaro, I can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Pastel de Papas
Argentinean Shepherd's Pie
It almost goes without saying that this dish is the perfect way to use up leftover mashed potatoes, say, after Thanksgiving or another big holiday meal. It's also fairly budget-friendly–the main components are meat and potatoes. Mashed sweet potatoes may be used as a variation, or a pie crust may be used on the bottom, Parmesan may also be used in place of the mozzarella.
6 large russet potatoes (or about 6 cups leftover mashed potatoes)
1 stick butter
1 cup milk
salt, to taste
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablepoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 eggs, hard-boiled
1/4 cup Greek green or black olives, chopped
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
To make mashed potatoes: Peel and rinse the potatoes. Chop into 1 inch dice, and put in a large pan covered with one inch of water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, stirring to prevent sticking. Lower heat, but only enough to maintain boiling. Boil for 20-25 minutes, or until potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes in a colander, and using a ricer, rice the potatoes back into the pot. Meanwhile, melt the butter. Add the butter to the riced potatoes, and stir until incorporated. Stir in the milk a little at a time. Taste for salt, and add as desired.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, and add the onion. Saute the onion until translucent but not brown. Add the beef, and shop with a flat spatula until broken up in small pieces and until the beef has cooked through, about 7 minutes. Add in the spices about halfway through. Taste for salt and add as desired. Stir in the chopped olives.
Slice the hard-boiled egg into rounds.
Coat a 9 by 9 casserole dish with cooking spray. Take a large scoop of mashed potatoes, and, using a rubber spatula, spread an even layer about a half inch thick across the bottom of the dish, covering the bottom. Use more mashed potatoes as needed. Do the same with the sides of the dish.
Next, add in half of the meat filling, making an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of egg rounds over the meat, reserving half for the next layer. Layer with 1/4 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Top with the remaining meat mixture, then repeat with the remaining egg. Top with the rest of the mashed potatoes, using a spoon to create a scalloped design, if desired. Top with the remaining cheese.
Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the cheese on top has melted and browned to a dark brown crusty color.
Let cool a few minutes and serve.