Argentine Favorites From Buenos Aires Café

Gnocchi, empanadas, and Patagonia style lamb

Empanadas Argentinas (photo by Richard Castell)

Mother-daughter co-owners Chef Reina Morris and Paola Guerrero-Smith of Buenos Aires Café are celebrating 15 years in business this year by staying busy and cooking the classics.

In addition to being the torchbearer for Argentine cuisine in Austin at their two locations – East Sixth and Hill Country Galleria – the duo has also introduced to their repertoire online classes and cocktail kits to go featuring favorite drinks from their basement speakeasy, Milonga Room.

"My favorite memories have always happened in the kitchen,” says Paola. “We moved to Texas when I was 15 and it was a rough transition for me. I deeply missed Argentina and I looked for ways to stay connected to my roots so I cooked with my mom every evening. The kitchen became my safe place, where I learned to cook and I learned the love and connection to food.”

Here, they share a few favorites from the Buenos Aires kitchen.

Potato Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce

Gnocchi
2 lbs potato (about 1 large potato)
1 to ½ cups all-purpose, unbleached flour 
1 egg 
1 tsp salt

Directions:
Boil water and 1 tbsp salt in a 4 quart pot. (This will be to cook the gnocchi.)

My preferred method is to bake the potato instead of boiling it. Wash the potatoes, salt and poke with a fork a few times on each side, wrap in aluminum foil, and bake at 400° F for about 40 minutes.

Take out and let cool, about 1 hour. Open the aluminum and peel the potatoes, the skin will come out on its own.

Shred the potatoes with a grater, food mill, potato press, or a fork.  The consistency should be smooth, with no lumps.

On your counter form a crown with the puree and in the center place the egg and salt.

With a fork start beating the egg and slowly start introducing the potatoes.  With your fingers, start integrating the rest of the potatoes and the flour. This is the most important part: Do not add all the flour at once; instead slowly add it. You may want to add more, but don’t, or you will be eating pellets instead of gnocchi!

Dust your surface with flour as needed. Once you form the dough, divide into 4 parts rolling each one into a log about ¾ to 1 inch thick. Kneading should be minimal, just enough to integrate your ingredients. We don’t want to develop the gluten.

Once you have the logs formed, cut into 1-inch long parts. If you want, curl the gnocchi with a fork (traditional way) or leave as little fluffy pillows.

Working in batches, drop them in the boiling water. They will begin to get closer to the surface and once they are floating they are ready to be fished out.

Simple Tomato Sauce 
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Thyme sprig
1 medium yellow or white onion, finely chopped
6 mid-sized fresh ripe tomatoes, cut in halves
2 cups water
Basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Pre-heat a sauce pan on medium and add a generous tbsp of olive oil. Wait 1 minute and add the minced garlic and thyme (do not let the garlic get burned).

Add the onions and cook until they are transparent.

Cut a small cross on the skin of each tomato half and place the halves face down and cover with a lid.  Remove the lid after 5 minutes, the skins should be easily removable with a tongs.

Add 2 cups of water and cook for another 15 minutes.  Add the basil leaves and cook for another 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes.

Pour the sauce into a blender or food processor and blend until fully blended.  Pour back into the sauce pan, salt and pepper to taste.  Add more water if it’s too thick or cook longer if you desire a thicker consistency.

Paola suggests making the gnocchi in advance, and sautéeing them on a pan with a little butter before serving.  Once all hot, arrange a handful on a plate and top with the tomato sauce, same basil, and Parmesan cheese.

Empanadas Argentinas

Empanada Filling Ingredients:
1 lb of ground beef (use 80/20 fat mix or less)
1 lb onions chopped
½ lb of red bell peppers chopped
Salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
¼ cup Canola Oil 
2 tbsp Spanish paprika
1 tbsp mild crushed red pepper
1 pinch of cumin
½ cup green olives chopped
½ cup of raisins (previously soaked)
1 tbsp white vinegar
½ cup green onion chopped
2 hard boiled eggs chopped
1 egg beaten to brush on dough

Directions:
Heat the canola oil in a pan. Add the onions and cook until golden. Add the red pepper and cook until soft.

Add the ground beef. Cook until the meat is no longer pink (don’t overcook).

Add the paprika and salt, mix, add the rest of the spices. Remove from heat.

Add the chopped green onion, the olives, raisins and the vinegar. Mix well. Let cool off.

Once cooled add the chopped hard boiled eggs. Mix well.

You must wait until the filling has cooled to make the empanadas. Fill each of the discs and seal.

Place on cookie sheet. Brush the empanadas with the egg.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Dough Ingredients:
4 cups flour
2 cups of warm water 
1 tbsp of Kosher salt 
4 oz of soft butter

Directions:
Dissolve the salt in the warm water. Place flour in a bowl.  Add soft butter working with hands to break butter down. Slowly start adding the warm water.  Make the dough into a ball and let rest, covered. To cut the disks for the empanadas, roll out the dough with a rolling pin and use a disc to cut.  Set aside while you make the filling.


If you don’t quite feel like cooking from scratch, Buenos Aires Café sells their signature empanadas in make-at-home kits that make a dozen (which can be frozen for up to a month). The kits are $30 and can be purchased online and picked up at the 6th St location.


Patagonia Style Lamb

“When we cook an ‘asado’ or barbecue in Argentina, regardless of what type of meats we choose to make, it is a family affair that lasts most of the day,” says Paola. “While the coals are getting ready, family members drink mate, our traditional drink, others play football (soccer), or a game of cards called ‘truco.’ We suggest that whoever attempts to make this dish, involves as many family members as they can to make it a fun and memorable experience.”

Patagonia Style Lamb Ingredients:
1 whole lamb, approx. 70 lb (instructions below)
Chimichurri sauce (recipe to follow)
1 liter of salmuera (recipe to follow)
1  40 lb whole charcoal (no briquettes)

Chimichurri sauce
2 cups finely chopped Italian parsley
½ cup finely fresh chopped garlic
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp crushed pepper
1 teasp white pepper
1 tbsp MILD red pepper flakes
3 tbsp salt 
3 cups canola oil
1 ½ cups white distilled vinegar

Directions:
Mix all dry ingredients.  Add the vinegar.  Then add the oil and mix well.  Salt may be adjusted to personal liking.

Salmuera
8 cups warm water
1/4 cup Kosher salt

Directions:
Dissolve the salt in the warm water. Set aside to cool off.

Cooking the Lamb
Prepare the lamb the night before.  Remove the tendons from the inner legs and the knees. Also separate the ribs from the spine. Flatten the carcass as much as possible. This will prevent the lamb from curling up.

Spread the chimichurri sauce over the outside of the lamb, turn over, and spread over the inside.  Keep overnight in refrigerator.  The next day, very early in the morning, take out of refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for several hours to allow the meat to relax from the cold (meat will be very tender if at room temperature before cooking).

Prepare the coals. Light up the coals aided by pieces of wood.  Once coals are red, transfer to grilling area.  Make sure that you put more coals on the edges and leave the center with less since the center part of the animal is not as meaty as the edges. The fire must be slow and not very hot to cook the meat slowly and evenly.

Cook for 1 ½ hours skin side down. Turn carcass over. Brush the outside skin with salmuera, brush some chimichurri on, and let cook for another 1 ½ hours. Add more coal if needed, keeping the temperature always on the low side.

Once ready, take lamb out of coals, let rest about 10 minutes before slicing/cutting. Arrange on serving platter and serve with a side of chimichurri sauce.

Vegetables
Butternut Squash
Sweet corn
Sweet potatoes

While the lamb cooks, prepare the vegetables. Wash each well, dry, and wrap in foil.  Place under the coal ashes to cook. Turn vegetables over every so often, during the course of the cooking.

Pan de Campo (farm style bread)

Ingredients:
8 cups of all purpose flour
8 oz of soft unsalted butter
Salmuera – 2 cups of warm water and 1 tbsp of Kosher salt

Directions:
Prepare the flour with a well in the center. Add the butter cut in small cubes. Work with hands until mix resembles coarse grains. Add the salmuera slowly while mixing with hands until you have a soft, moist dough. Please remember that you may need more or less salmuera depending on the humidity at the time. Let rest covered, in a bowl, close to the fire to keep warm.

Stretch out the dough and make small balls to form the individual breads.  Flatten by hand and place over the coals to cook. Turn over after 5 minutes.  Let cook for 5 minutes more and remove from coals. Keep warm.

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