Saturday, June 17, 2006

Cous Cous, not Pasta

I had spent much time in England and Australia, and often heard that there was some Irish blood in everyone – obviously the speakers were not including me or my fellow Orientals in their hypothesis. All in all, they didn't seem to be far from the truth, speaking from where they were.

However, since coming to Buenos Aires, I can safely say that such guesstimate also applies to the Italians. Our cous cous night was a case in point. There were six of us; 1 full blooded Italian, 1 Irish-Italian, 2 Argentines who don't have to trace far for their Italian heritage (both could name instantly the town their grandparents came from; I bet if they go to their respective Commune (the equivalent of Town Hall in each Italian township) today, they would probably find personal details of their ancestors written in ink in the same huge leather-bound ledger that is currently in use- yes, still modus operandi in 2006), and last but not least, 2 who bear Italian married names.

If I care to look around, the Italian legacy is everywhere...our housekeeper, whose chiselled cheekbones, natural light blonde hair and clear blue eyes would make her a model Frau Schmidt, is Señora Libutti. In fact, I don't have to look further than myself; I even have the "SuSANNa con doble n-ne" to mislead people.

I pragmatically served up couscous so not to risk being compared to someone's mama or nonna/ abuela (grandmother). I made a tagine of osso buco (see previous posting) to go with it; this time, however, I toned down the heat factor for our guests. The absence of chilli was compensated by lemon zest, loads of it. I had meant to preserve lemons as it is a key ingredient in Moroccan cooking but each time I saw a bowl of lemons in the kitchen, my mind turned to lemon curd and baking...

Was it a stroke of genius or just plain desperation? Anyway, I experimented with fresh lemon zest. Bill, as in Granger, may not approve but the result was convincing. I actually preferred it to preserved lemon because the tagine was exceedingly rich, the scent and acidity of fresh lemon gave the thick sauce a much needed lift – equivalent to “10 years younger” so you get my drift.

When it came to the couscous, I applied my new trick again: another generous sprinkling of lemon zest before I forked through the grains so they were not claggy. The toasted pistachios, the crowning glory, were added last so they retained some crunch.

I had little energy to deal with Filo pastry so I made some fried zucchini cakes as appetiser. The "fresh" coriander in Barrio Chino (Chinatown; one of a handful places where I could find a limited selection of passable fresh herbs) didn't smell of anything and there was no mint in stock; I had to improvise grated zucchini and par boiled potatoes, I added juliennes of spring onion, chopped parsley, ground coriander and crumbled feta cheese. Eggs and a pinch of flour were added to bind the mixture. I fried them in a non-stick pan because my test batch of baked ones was really too ugly for words. They went down a treat with Guillermo and our guests. I'll definitely make them again; they would make an excellent lunch or light dinner.

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