Friday, November 10, 2006

My 'hood

We ate at our local greasy spoon last night. It is well-known among the locals to be a good neighbourhood joint with very reasonable prices. We go, on average, once every couple of weeks for their set menu.

It is no ordinary set menu; there are 4 or 5 sets starting from just under A$10 to over A$30. These set menus are offered at lunch every weekday as well as dinner (Monday to Thursday). Nothing fancy, just honest grub.

The most basic set gives you a very generous main course which you choose from a large selection like roast chicken, merluza/hake (two sizeable fillets in one portion), a chunky meat stew, squid braised in red wine, pork chops (two thick chops in one portion), etc. Each dish comes with a side dish of vegetables, potato/pumpkin puree, fries, or salad of your choice – these portions are also very generous (ample for two persons). It also comes with drinks and bread; you can choose any soft drink, mineral water or a carafe of house wine which then comes with a sifon of water. Last but not least, you can choose between pudding from a good selection or coffee. All that for A$10! This makes getting a Big Mac an even bigger joke than just how bad it is.

The more expensive menus give customers choices of bife de chorizo (sirloin) or other parilla items (grilled meats), a selection of branded wines, coffee as well as pudding.

Their set up is clean and bright, definitely not the type of place which attracts tourists. For a long time, I was the only foreigner among the regulars. You can imagine it is the kind of place full of regular folks from our aging neighbourhood. There are more than a few senior customers who are on first name basis with not only the waiters but the other senior customers.

However, things are changing. No, not the offers; the clientele. While Guillermo and I were talking about the lunch we are hosting for La Familia, I noticed a neighbouring table of four, all from the U.S. They may be travellers who live here, tourists who come for tango (our neighbourhood offers a number of milonga halls); it doesn't matter. The point is our very local greasy spoon is getting noticed! Our favourite waiter, Carlos, was a little shy serving his new clients but he did a great job.

I appreciate my neighbourhood more each day. Most importantly, it is not touristy; well, it has the potential but not just yet – a sleepy neighbourhood oblivious to the tourist boom. It is close to Recoleta, Barrio Norte (we always walk it) and not far from San Telmo. A walk in a different direction takes me to shops which offer wholesale prices.

I came back yesterday with 3 small loaf tins and 2 large oblong tart tins with removable bottoms (the type favoured by food stylists, especially Donna Hay); the loaf tins were a steal at A$4.50 each; exactly the same ones at Geo would set you back more than double.

To "inaugurate" my trendy tart tins, I'm going to use apricots which are in season now to make a frangipane based tart. The original Donna Hay recipe was for a nectarine tart; I have adapted it by cutting down significantly on the quantity of sugar, triming down on the required butter and swapping lemon zest for orange. The end result is a fantastically moist and not overly sweet tart in which the stone fruits and orange work their alchemy.

Apricot Tart with Orange Syrup

6 fresh apricot halves (depending on size)
1/4 cup caster sugar
70g butter, softened
1/3 cup caster sugar, extra
2 eggs
1 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup plain flour
zest from 1 orange
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
orange syrup:
1 cup orange juice
¼ cup Cointreau, optional

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the nectarine halves with the 1/4 cup of sugar and cook cut-side down for 2–3 minutes or until the sugar is melted and golden. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F).

Place the butter and extra sugar in a food processor and process until just combined. Add the eggs, ground almonds, flour, lemon rind and baking powder and process until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased 12 x 35cm rectangular loose bottom tart tin. Press the nectarines into the mixture and bake for 30 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer.
To make the orange syrup, place the orange juice and Cointreau in a small saucepan over high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10–12 minutes or until the mixture thickens. Set aside and allow to cool and serve it with the tart. Alternatively, just squeeze orange juice over the tart as soon as it comes out of the oven.

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