School is about to start, and children everywhere are going to be asked to speak or write about what they did on their holidays. Why should I be any exception?
The difference is that I’m not going to go on at length about what I did, but what I learned.
I spent the first couple of weeks of July in Italy. Aside from negotiating the minefield of gastronomical etiquette which leaves many a foreigner in a state of befuddled inadequacy (antipasti, primo piatto, sigundo piatto…) I was lucky enough to stay with friends, one of whom turned out to be an Italian chef.
As well as working in his own restaurant, the chef would make the family midday meal at home most days. I observed and took copious mental notes.
Another tip from my sister (who is neither Italian nor a chef) is that ground black pepper added when cooking can go bitter, at least in tomato sauce and other tomato-based dishes like gazpacho. For this reason it is best to leave it up to each person to add pepper to taste.
Home-made tomato sauce: My method was always to make a ‘sofrito’ type base of onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil, and then to add the skinned tomatoes, herbs and seasoning. The chef’s method was easier, healthier and much tastier. He simply blended skinned tomatoes and garlic, and cooked them for however long it takes, and once it was ready, poured in some olive oil. In this way you get the benefits of raw olive oil, which loses its nutritional properties if you cook it. Then you add salt and fresh/dried herbs like basil or oregano. It is always good to add some sugar or tomato ketchup to the sauce to offset the acidity of the tomatoes, by the way.
The tomato sauce we used for this dish is my own version.
This is a dish that, like kipes, tipili and arroz con fideos, is a Dominican adaptation of Middle Eastern dishes brought over by immigrants from the area in the 19th century. This is the Dominican version of the Egyptian malfouf mahshi.
Niño Envuelto, which means "wrapped baby" translated word for word, is a very delicious hors d'oeuvre that can be used as main course in your Dominican meal.
- 1 large cabbage (pick one with thin outer layers)
- 3 cups of white rice
- 1 lb of ground meat
- 1 small red onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/2 cup of tomato sauce
- 8 basil leaves
- 1 bell pepper
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 cups of tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- A teaspoon of sugar
- Separate the outermost leaves of the cabbage. Try not to break them.
- Soak in boiling-hot water cooking over low heat until they are tender but firm.
- Soak in ice cold water until it cools to room temperature. Remove from the water and reserve.
- Pulse pepper, garlic, basil, onion, a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper in the food processor until you obtain a coarse paste.
- Mix this paste with the ground beef and mix well.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the ground beef and brown.
- Add two tablespoons of water and the tomato paste.
- Simmer covered until the meat is cooked through and the juices have evaporated.
- Mix the rice with the meat and remove from the heat.
- Cool to room temperature and reserve.
- Heat a tablespoon of olive oil over low heat.
- Add the tomatoes and garlic.
- Cover and simmer until the tomatoes are cooked through, mash them with a potato masher.
- Add a teaspoon of oregano, sugar and salt and pepper to taste.
- Preheat oven to 400 ºF (200 ºC)
- Put 2 tablespoons of the rice and beef mixture in the center of one of the leaves. Wrap tightly (using more leaves if necessary) securing the bundle with a toothpick if necessary.
- Place the pockets in a baking pan and cover with the sauce. Bake for 15 minutes.
- Remove the toothpicks, if you used any, and serve immediately.
I have to say that I'm not very fond of making this dish, working with the cabbage leaves is kind of messy, so I don't have any advice on how to do it, just wing it.