To pass an autumn like this in Buenos Aires is to truly know that you live in God’s Country. Two months in and we have had four days of rain (albeit torrential and in La Plata lethal), one day of cold and fifty or so of clear, warm, sunny, low humidity days, reminiscent of the best alpine weather without the inconvenient evening temperature drop or the unpleasantness of sliding around on all that white stuff.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise of course. We have lived with Maradona, “The Hand of God” for decades now. Messi is at the very least the illegitimate Son of God. Where else could such talent come from? We have not one but two queens, the glorious Christina whose empathy and oration would be far more appreciated if she stuck to her royal duties rather than trying to run the country and the ravishing Maxima, although she had to decamp to a flat, watery country, to establish her regal position. And now we have Francis, an Argentine Pope and the ultimate recognition that, whatever the Brazilians claim, God himself was probably Argentine.
Anyway, I’m still doing my Chef’s course and we are working our way through all the classics. I’d forgotten the delight of creamy, lightly garlic and thyme infused, Potato Dauphinoise. So when I decided to knock up a bit of pork (marinated in sherry, a pinch or two of curry powder and some nice smoked paprika, browned and then braised in a dark stock) with a few caramelised baby onions, I thought that good old pomme dauphinoise might make a nice accompaniment. But then I thought, what would the Pope eat? Well there is little doubt that he is an archetypal Argentine. Rumour has it that he has already installed a parilla on the papal balcony and is discreetly grilling chorizos while waving at the crowds. So, one meat wouldn’t be enough. At the very least he would want a bit of jamon, possibly a morcilla as well. Then he might like a bit of local Sardo cheese to finish.
I decided to incorporate the above into my Pomme Dauphinoise, rapidly renamed as Papas del Papa. And while the result wasn’t perfectly balanced, I know what changes need to be made, so confidently present the recipe to you. I need to warn you that it’s rich and strongly flavoured, but with flavours that Argentines will recognize and like. It’s also filling so will halve the amount of meat you need to feed these carnivores, without them feeling hard done by. Best of all, it couldn’t be easier and just telling them you are serving the Pope’s Potatoes will tickle their jingoistic taste buds.
So here goes. This will feed between 6 – 8 as an accompaniment.
Cut a kilo of potatoes in large rounds, as thin as you can. Don’t bother peeling first, the skins add flavour (though discard the sides with lots of skin), and don’t stress about your knife skills. If the slices aren’t paper-thin you just need to cook lower and slower.
To accompany pork, do the same to a couple of apples. If you want a more appley flavour, squeeze a generous amount of lemon juice over them, otherwise stick with 100% spuds.
Cut the small amount of Serrano style or jamon crudo you have lurking in your fridge for a late night sandwich emergency, into thin strands to sprinkle. 20 to 30 grams is quite adequate.
Gut a morcilla, discarding the skin and chop up into crumbly bits.
Heat half a litre of cream on a low heat and bash a couple of cloves of garlic, throw them in, add a couple of sprigs of thyme (not so important) or a clove or a star anise, or nothing if you don’t have the previous. Don’t let it boil. The longer you can keep it slow and low the more flavour infuses. Take the solids out before use.
Butter some suitable ovenproof receptacle. A tip is to run its reverse side under very hot water, before rubbing the butter round it to create an even finish, then let cool.
Layer with partially overlapping slices of potato. It’s vaguely important that the bottom is neatly covered; for the other layers don’t stress. Alternate apple slices every two layers, sprinkle the ham 2 layers up, sprinkle the morcilla another 2 layers up, make sure the last layer is spud, pour over the infused hot cream and then (optionally) a sprinkle of choppedfine Sardo or anything else you have to hand (or nothing other than a good grind of pepper if you don’t). You don’t need much salt between the layers (if any), as the ham and cheese will provide that. The morcilla will provide a subtly feral, visceral dimension as well.
Into a medium oven for an hour or more y listo! If your knife slides easily into it and the top is nice and brown it’s ready. If not, turn the oven up!
It may not feed the five thousand, but it should demonstrate your argyphile reverence and deep respect for la/el papa (your choice) while tasting damn good!
Ugly, but you know you want to eat it!