Monday, February 2, 2009

Gastronomic Synchretism

A "finca" according to my college Spanish, is a farm. So you can imagine my excitement, shortly after arriving in Medellin, to discover that most Paisas like nothing better than to spend a weekend chilling at their family`s finca. Wow, I thought, this is farming county! Well, not exactly. As it turns out, "finca" translates more accurately as "country house" ("granjas" are the places that produce the food), a point which I was speedily apprised of when I started talking about helping with the weeding.

So when Luz Helena (my host mother here in Colombia) invited me to her finca last weekend, I abandoned my dreams of hard labor and contented myself with long walks, slow meals, and a warm fire at night. Medellin, though high enough in the mountains that the climate belies its equatorial location, is still a fairly warm place. The midday temperature is usually around 80° and the nightime low doesn`t go below 60°. Going out to a finca entails a climb higher up into the mountains to cooler weather, and justifies a fire in the fireplace.

Luz Helena`s finca could have been plucked from the happy ending of a fairy tale: it was surrounded by beds of explosively colorful flowers, and a tiny brook cut through the lawn before disappearing into the trees. Daniel, Luz Helena`s 8-year-old grand nephew, volunteered himself as tour guide for Alina and me, and we armed ourselves with umbrellas before venturing into what was surely a dragon-filled forest. Admittedly, the nearest thing to a dragon that we encountered that weekend was a small black chiauaua (Daniel nicknamed him "Rocky"), who followed us through a gauava forest. There, in the shade of the pygmy guava trees, Alina and I ate our fill while Daniel played tug-of-war with Rocky.

The next morning, Luz Helena took us to a local market to give me a lesson in Colombian fruit words. Among the bitayas, guayavas, mangos, bananas, tomatos de arboles and other new foods, I encountered a familiar (though utterly unexpected) sight. Rhubarb. February is the perfect time for rhubarb if you live in England or the southern United States, but I was more than a bit taken aback to find that it grows in Colombia`s temperate climate. Rhubarb in endemic to Siberia, so this plant was as out of place as a mango tree in Antarctica. But that didn`t stop us from buying a few stalks (they were, after all, local) and the following week Alina and I made a pastel de rubarb (as Luz Helena called it) that combined Colombian moras (rather like blackberries) with our exotic interloper. We made our version Alina-friendly by using gluten-free flour, but the original recipe calls for the normal white stuff, which would probably yield a slightly more durable crust. In our case, the pastel looked stunning in the baking dish, but became a rather messy cobbler as soon as we tried to serve it. Hopefully, I will be able to upload some pictures shortly (which will, I think, induce any skeptics to give this recipe a try).

Pastel de Rubarb y Moras

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
3 to 4 tablespoons chilled cream
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups 1/2-inch-thick slices rhubarb
2 1/2 cups moras (raspberries or blackberries would be a good substitute, I think)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 T lemon juice

For crust:
Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor 5 seconds. Using on/off turns, cut in butter until coarse meal forms. Add egg yolk and blend. Add cream if necessary (we didn`t need it). Blend until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball. Press dough into the bottom of a 9x9 inch Pyrex baking dish. Pierce crust all over with fork. Chill at least 2 hours. Bake cold crust until golden brown, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

For streusel:
Cook butter in large skillet over medium heat until golden, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in almonds, sugar, and cinnamon. Add flour and stir until moist clumps form. Cool completely. (Crust and streusel can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and chill.) If you chill the streusel, it will probably be necessary to break it up with a fork when you prepare to use it.

For filling:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Toss all ingredients in bowl to blend. Let stand until filling looks moist, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Spoon filling into warm crust. Crumble streusel over. Bake until filling is bubbling and streusel is crisp and brown, about 1 hour. Cool tart on rack 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Alexandra said...

Sounds delicious!

Lee said...

How were the pitayas? They're a cactus fruit, right? I've only seen them on television - you'll have to let me know what you thought.