Monday, January 24, 2011

Solving the Mystery of Argentine Pie

In visiting and also living in other countries such as Spain, Portugal, and England, the one thing I’ve learned is that the aromas one encounters on almost every street corner in each country, whether a small village or large city, are literally breathtaking and tongue-drooling. In other words bakeries and pastry shops abound and the choices are mind-boggling.

When my companion and I arrived in Cádiz, Spain, we naturally had to search for local cuisine. It was in Cádiz that I sampled my first real paella and for as long as we were in Andalucía I ate paella almost daily.

However, this little tale has more to do with tapas and empanadas—the kinds one might find in pastelerías or pastry shops all over Spain—than with rice and seafood. On our second day in Cádiz after eating a mid-day meal of soup topped with fried bread accompanied by paella at an outdoor café, we walked around the streets of the old part of Cádiz. By midafternoon I realized that hunger struck me whenever we passed a pastelería—the aromas seemed to be hunger-inducing. My companion was not as interested in these establishments as I was and I almost always entered them alone. Her problem was that she was trying to lose weight and did not want to be tempted.

Now, I must tell you that if you want to lose weight then don’t go to Europe, even if you spend a lot of time walking as we did—five to seven miles everyday. The fun of all that walking besides seeing the sights and meeting the people is sampling the local cuisine. Nonetheless, I found myself alone whenever I wanted to try a new dish or pastry. My friend bought fresh fruit and vegetables and freshly baked bread everyday in the local markets and except for the occasional dining out that was what she lived on. Not me. I could never abandon an enticing pastry shop.

And finally as we passed one with all kinds of empanadas (meat pies) in the window I just had to go in and buy one. I pointed one out to the proprietor—one that looked particularly good and bought it. Stepping outside I bit into it and was instantly reminded of something that I had tasted many years before—the Argentine pie from a Cuban bakery in Puerto Rico. I had always thought that the meat was a combination of shredded chicken and pork. To be certain I re-entered the shop and asked the proprietor what kind of meat was in the empanada.

He replied simply enough, “Atún.”

Good grief! I was flabbergasted. How could that be? How could anyone make tuna taste that good? Now, I had to rethink my whole take on that Argentine pie. For many years I had made my own version, never quite getting the seasonings right. Could it be that all I needed was to substitute tuna for chicken and pork?

Several years later back home in Texas I found a Spanish Tapas cookbook in a local bookstore. It was that cookbook that fully explained tapas to me and I realized all the mistakes my companion and I had made while in Spain regarding eating customs. But my greatest discovery was the recipe for empanadas de atún—mixing the tuna with sautéed chopped sweet onions and lots and lots of Spanish paprika.

I now know how to make delicious Spanish empanadas de atún but I can also make an Argentine pie similar to the one I sampled from that Cuban bakery in Puerto Rico. However, I call it Palmaltas Pizza and it has appeared in my novel A Caribbean Summer.

And now it is time to return to México where all my travel adventures began and the fantastic discovery of just what a Mexican cook really eats.

To be continued . . .

No comments: