Saturday, February 28, 2009

the Argentine Cannelloni

Italian Cannelloni.. one of my family's most favorite meals! I only make them a few times a year... mostly as our Christmas Eve's dinner- usually accompanied by a garlicy leg of lamb or some kind of salty roasted choice peice of meat. And then again as a annual "birthday favorite-meal request". Preparing these little lasagna-like noodles takes a bit amount of standing over the hot stove...but I am assured they are soo worth it!
This dish was taught to me by my husband's Argentine family..and I do mean all of them, as each had a part in helping me to learn the ways of the Spanish cook-Argentine style. His family had immigrated into the U.S, in the 1960s, and they brought their flair and style of cooking with them. It was this style that dominated the way I fed my husband and my kids for the years to come. I went to work at their family owned delicatessen/ mini-restorante, "Mama Mia's" in the '70's. I took their little precious, grandbaby (nina) everyday, (they even put a make shift playroom with a sofa-bed in the back so she could have her tv, toys and place for a short little nap.) to the deli where she and I would don our aprons and hang out amidst the closeness and collaboration of a family of fast speaking Argentineans! While she grew and was learning Spanish, I was learning the secrets about the ways of their cooking, while acclimating to my life as a wife of an young American/Argentine. Argentina being somewhat of a melting pot of cultures like the United States, I learned a little about the Italian/Spanish/French/Basque cuisine. Mostly, I grew to know the world of the immigrant Argentinean!

Tio QuiQue, 'Nestor', Mike's biological Aunt Elsa's husband ...was the 'cuisinier'! (as he had owned his own pizza deli in the big city of Buenos Aries )..he was the consummate chef who taught me to perfect the cannelloni noodle (pancake or crepe). The balance of milk (or half-n-half), egg, garlic, and flour, the use of the right sized pan, and how to use the even heat on the bottom of the pan. I was an easy study on how to swirl the batter to make the crepe ever so thin! (my German family makes them too) Tio was the master! We now love these little 'dough gods' with "Dulce de Leche" (Carmelized sweet milk) rolled up in them for a decadent late night snack! Yummy!
Because of Tio's Italian heritage he also mastered the flavors of "Melanesa"(an Italian chicken fried steak), the well known "Empanada" (a beef turnover), his wonderful stuffed onion pizza, the prize-winning grilled eggplant dressing....he had them down to a delicate and tasteful art. For years he was making brillantly stuffed "Quesdillas" with peppers, eggs and cheese.. before they were even heard of! And, what a handsome picture he made.... as he enjoyed his cooking! He would sing loudly and then ever so softly, the lyrics to the beautiful Argentine tangos, (he had once recorded an album) while hanging on to his stubby, thick glass of red vino and lighting another cigarette often forgeting he left one lit in the ashtray! He was a splendid Prince.
My husband's tall, blue-eyed blond..mother, 'Nelida', ("Bella" to our kids) ...was the regal matriarch of the family, born to a noble, prestigious Frenchman who had worked for the Argentine Railroad. My husband insisted I try and learn to cook like his "MaaMa".. so she was the one I needed to go to. She officially encouraged me to use more spices beyond the usual basil or oregano.. like saffron, cumin, red pepper flakes, parsley, thyme, and chili powder), and to taste the sauce, and adjust it with a splash of wine or maybe something as simple as a carrot. Allowing my sauces to simmer for hours was always directed as were having wine, garlic and onions as a daily staple in my kitchen. Her best dish was her "Beefas Criolla" made of thin sliced sirlion, sateed in wine,onions and peppers. Her "Arroz Con Pollo" .. aka chicken with rice was one of my husband's favorites as she loved to cook for her only son.... and he knew it!

His grandmother, Yeya, the Queen Mother herself ..was but a fiesty little Spanard lady! We didn't know if she got her spunk from her Italian side or the Spanish! but no one dared mess with her! She always stood up for me in a family that was often talking very rapidly in a different language! She loved me...she would put her two 'pecos' in to make sure my dish would taste even better. She always told me to use sausages (chorizo), leftover pork or beef ribs with the bones to give the sauce more of a intense gravy flavor, then she would sneak in a couple tspns of sugar! (said it made the tomatoes less acidty) Her sweet "Flan" (custard) was so smooth and creamy, (she got me hooked!) but was best when it had a little Dulce de Leche on top! (Argentines..they love their sweets!) She made a tastey "Befas Stofada" (stew) or even better when she used pollo (chicken) and noodles. 'Amada' was a short, stout white haired woman who always carried her "Mate with the Yerba Tea" ready to prepare and share with you. (a ritual of drinking strong tea out of a silver lined cup-like gourd using a silver straw and passing it around for all to share) Everyone had the perfect babysitter when she was around .. because this wonderful old great-grandmother loved to make sure everyone's child was well taken care of...she would snatch your's away and soon..have them eating out of her hands...literally..she was always trying to fatten someone up! even me!

Tia Elsa, I always remember her telling me to take it easy! Don't work so hard! That I really did need help.. too much work for one person! ...sit down for awhile! She'd laugh and ask why we had to be such a big family? But she always told it like it was. Tia was the cook who taught me how to add potatoes to the flour to make the delectable gnucci. (potatoe dumplings) When it became my turn to take over the responsiblitiy to make the family dinners ..such as the cannelloni .. she'd warn me.. Start early! it takes so long to wash all the dirt out of so much spinach! but she was glad she could pass it down to someone younger 'cause she was tired now! She was the Princess of the family. We got along good. She was a soft blond beauty! even with her glass of vermouth and a cigarette hanging out her mouth!

Oh, and I can't forget..Papa... Mike's dad. King of the "Asado" the infamous BBQ! made up of all cuts of meat.. steaks, pork ribs, chicken, organ meats such a sweet breads, tripe, chuchulinnis, chorizos..blood sausages! and possibly some things you don't want to know! Asados are very common in Argentina, using many different meats as available. Bobby Flay has even started to try to mimic some of the style. Papa makes a perfect "chimichurri", the delious parsley, garlic and oil dip that goes ontop of your meat after it is cooked. "Chicho" had the grilling down because he was raised in the NorthWestern part of the country called the "La Pampas" or grasslands. BBQ was one common way the people cooked daily in the vast plains. Much of the cattle that is grass fed is exported from this region. This is the part of the country is where the "Goucho", the Argentine cowboy, with his "boleadorus" ..the rope of the goucho.....was born. This 6ft 4" tall, dark man with his large, soft hands would show me how to knead and roll the dough of the infamous "Empanda", while maybe only saying two words that I could understand!

The Italian Cannelloni is sort of a cross betwen an enchilada and lasagna. Mine are filled with ground chuck ..pan fried with onions, garlic and tomato gravy, mixed with lots of fresh, steamed spinach wrapped in a noodle like crepe. You can use manicotti noodles, if you would like.

After lining the cannelloni side by side in a baking dish......
I pour some of the speggitti gravy that I have been stewing with meat for hours... over the top and........
heat them in a 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes until heated thru.
In the meantime.....
I make my white cheese/sauce (Bechamel Sauce) using butter, white flour and garlic salt and pepper and parsley .......
and then I put in a couple cups of grated parmesan/romano cheese ......After...
..the sauce thickens to the consistency of a gravy.
When the cannelloni are ready to come out of the oven ...
I put more HOT red gravy on top, then I put some of on the HOT white/cheese sauce.
Serve with freshly grated parmesan/romano cheese on top.
I always serve both sauces at the table for more if anyone should want extra.
Don't forget the warm and crusty french bread!


Dreamer said...

Looks good! Thanks for showing us how it's done! As soon as I find a pan, I can try it! Sister Kerry

Trudy said...

I would really love whatever recipes you would share. I know some of them are guarded family secrets. What nice reminiscing down memory lane that was. Many things I didn't know. Very sweet that you have them in your heart.
Love you,