Friday, 19 August 2016

Pastel de Choclo

Well I hate to sound ungrateful but it can stop raining any time now. We're rapidly heading for 4 inches of rain in the last week, which would have been lovely if it had been spread out over the summer. I had been consoling myself about it being so hot and dry with the idea that at least my tomatoes and melons would be fabulous. I am now watching them all nervously for signs of splitting, and don't expect great things from them.

I did get a few tomatoes picked before the deluge, and served some of them with this, which is a traditional northern South American dish. You know what I mean. It's usually regarded as Chilean, but perhaps not entirely; and it is also popular in Peru and Bolivia. Whatever its origins, it's an easy if a little time consuming casserole which makes great use of seasonal vegetables.

The Chilean corn used for this is apparently less sweet and more starchy than ours, so this is a great way to use corn that's a little over-mature. I've still omitted most of the sugar that many recipes call for, and between the corn and the raisins we thought it was plenty sweet. I've also omitted the milk usually called for, and the chicken. Chicken is an ingredient that only shows up sometimes in Pastel de Choclo recipes. If I happened to have some leftover cooked chicken on hand I would add some to the filling before the final topping goes on, but it is an elegant sufficiency without it.

4 to 6 servings
2 hours - 1 hour prep time

Pastel de Choclo with Tomato Salad

Prepare the Seasonings & Get Organized:
2 large tomatoes
3 large eggs
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 teaspoons cumin seed, ground
2 teaspoons sweet Spanish or Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put a pot of water on to boil, into which you can fit the tomatoes. Blanch them for one minute then rinse them in cold water and peel them. Chop them and set them aside, with their juices, in a bowl.

Meanwhile, put the eggs in a pot with water to cover. Bring them to a boil and boil them for 1 minute. Remove them from the heat but leave them in the pot of water with the lid on for 10 minutes. Rinse them in cold water until cool and set them aside as well. 

Peel and mince the garlic, and grind the cumin seeds. Put them aside, with the remaining seasonings, in a small bowl.

Prepare the Filling:
2 large onions
1 medium red pepper
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
500 grams (1 pound) ground beef
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup olives

Peel and chop the onions. Wash, core, and chop the red pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the onions and pepper until softened. Crumble in the beef and cook, stirring regularly, until the beef is cooked and starting to brown in spots.

Add the garlic and other seasonings, mix in well, and cook for another minute or so. Add the tomatoes and their juice and mix in well. Cook, stirring regularly, for 10 or 15 minutes until the filling is still moist but the tomatoes have cooked down and their juice has been absorbed into the filling.

Remove it from the heat and mix in the raisins and the olives; the olives should be pitted and may be chopped if you like. They can be black, green, or stuffed - your choice.

Prepare the Corn Topping & Finish:
6 large cobs of corn
1 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons corn starch or flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon sugar

Husk the corn, and cut the kernals from the cobs with a sharp knife. Put the kernals from 2 cobs aside. The rest of them go into a food processor. Scrape the cobs and put the scrapings in a large pot.

Add the chicken stock, cornmeal, cornstarch, and salt to the corn in the food processor. Process until everything is well blended and fairly smooth. You can add the basil to the food processor or add it later, chopped by hand if you prefer.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Heat the butter in the large pot (along with the cob scrapings) and add the contents of the food processor once the butter is mostly melted. Mix well and cook, stirring frequently, until it thickens.

Spread about 1/3 of the corn mixture evenly in the bottom of a 9" x 13" pan. (I used my 8" x 10" pan, and it all went in and was okay, but it was fullllllll, so a larger pan might be better.)  Spread the meat filling evenly over that. Peel the hard boiled eggs and cut them in slices, and arrange them over the meat filling. Top with the remaining corn mixture, also spread out - you guessed it - evenly.

Bake the pastel for 35 to 40 minutes, until bubbling around the edges. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the top of the pastel, and put it under the broiler for another 5 minutes or so - but WATCH it! - until the sugar browns. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before you serve it.

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