“Hot mazamorra for toothless ladies” was how freedwomen and slaves advertised their dessert for sale in the street at the top of their voices. Or, at any rate, this is the romanticized image we had at school of how these women in wide skirts and a white kerchief covering their hair tried to attract customers.
This was part of almost every pageant we did at school to mark Independence Day or any other national holiday. The scene was more or less the same: a reenactment of the country’s emancipation from Spain in 1810 or that of the declaration of Independence in 1816.
Every social sector was represented: from the rich gentry and merchants to street vendors and soon-to-be-freed slaves. The street vendors were, traditionally, the mazamorra and empanada sellers and chandlers. As a child, mazamorra always intrigued me as we never ate it at home. As children do, I created my own, albeit vague, idea of what it was. I knew it was something sweet and made with white corn and that was that.
Cut to the present. I was recently trying to clean out the pantry before a longish trip when I came across a bag of white hominy, some of which I had used to make locro. There was a recipe on the back: white hominy pudding. It was none other than the mysterious mazamorra of school pageants and history books. I decided to make it so I could finally taste it.
Mazamorra is quite popular in Latin America and its ingredients vary from one country to the other. In Argentina, we make it with white corn, milk, sugar and maybe a cinnamon stick or lemon rind. A very simple yet somewhat labour-intensive dessert. It is very filling and warming, ideal for a winter’s evening.
1/2 pound dry white corn (hominy)
2 litres milk
Soak the corn overnight. Drain and rinse. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Boil until the water starts to evaporate and add the milk, sugar and lemon or cinnamon. Bring to a boil and simmer until the corn is soft and the mixture thickens. If liquid evaporates quickly, add boiling milk. Remove the rind or stick and serve warm.
– I think that this might be our exit but I’m not sure-, I said tentatively. I could never tell whether the signs indicated an exit or a service area. I’m not a very good navigator and Italian road signs got the better of me every time.
– What does the sign say?-, my husband Sean asked.
– Cortona. But it has a petrol pump next to the name so I don’t know if it’s a service area or an exit.
We drove past the sign, which turned out to be the exit we needed to take to get to Avignonesi winery in Montepulciano. The 138 kilometre drive south from our agriturismo in Montespertoli had not gone very smoothly; road works on the autostrada forced us to take many detours and our GPS did not work well, if at all. We had to rely on maps, unclear road signs and sheer good luck. Getting lost was an integral part of our trip. The beauty of the rolling Tuscan hills in early spring, however, didn’t do much to soothe our nerves. This was our honeymoon and, like many newlyweds, we bickered a bit. Except we’d been married for a while.
Naively, we thought that we could drive a bit farther, take an underpass and go back. That was not to be. We had to go on for at least another 25 kilometres and then take inner country roads all the way back to the Cortona exit. Only then did we find the winery.
We were 45 minutes late for the tour. A very sympathetic member of the winery’s staff said that even Italians got lost trying to get there too and that we were not to worry. She kindly offered to take us to the Vinsantaia, the Vin Santo cellar, where we could catch the tail end of the guided tour. We joined the tour party as they were walking into the cellar.
Vin Santo is a dessert wine typical of Tuscany made with Malvasia and Sangiovese grapes. We learned that at Le Capezzine estate, the grapes are carefully harvested, selected and laid out on reed mats. Then they are pressed and the fermented must is stored in 50 litre caratelli (Slavonian oak kegs.) Two litres of mother yeast are added to each caratello and left to age for ten years. This makes the Vin Santo sweet, dense and stable. The cellar smelled of oak, yeast and the love and devotion with which the wine is made.
Afterwards, we were shown to the Foresteria, the light and airy dining room with beautiful views of orchards and rows of vines down the valley. We sat by ourselves in a corner table, away from the slightly noisy German tour party. The waiters were very attentive and knowledgeable. I think they liked us: we got a second pour here and there. It could have been the fact that we were on our belated honeymoon eight years after our wedding that endeared us to them.
This memorable lunch started with un benvenuto dallo chef, the Chef’s welcome: a glass of Il Marzocco Chardonnay Cortona DOC 2013, which woke our taste buds and made them ready for what was to come. For primo, first course, I chose the gnocchi with fresh fava beans and cherry tomatoes. The gnocchi were light and airy and the fava beans provided the right amount of freshness and piquancy. Sean had the pasta with lamb and eggplant sauce. The flavours were simply perfect; the lamb ragú was flavoursome but not overpowering. We washed it all down with an opulent Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOGC 2010 (Sangiovese) and a spicy Grifi Toscana IGT 2010 (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese).
The secondi were just as delicious and enjoyable as the primi: filet of beef, perfectly seared on the outside and rare on the inside, with a wine sauce and a silky chickpea mousse with pecorino cheese sauce. The wines paired with these delectable dishes were a 50&50 Toscana IGT 2006 (Merlot, Sangiovese) and a Riserva Grandi Annate Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG 2007 (phew, that’s a mouthful!) I couldn’t say which wine I enjoyed more.
The star of the meal was the dessert wines, the Vin Santo and the Occhio di Pernice. Each of us chose a different wine so we could try both. The waiter poured a small amount of slightly chilled Vin Santo in a big snifter and tilted it. He told us to roll the glass gently and let the wine coat the sides while the legs formed on the crystal like golden tendrils. The Vin Santo was sweet and dense as it should be. Every small sip was a like a punch of flavor in the face. I had fresh strawberries with whipped mascarpone with it.
The Occhio di Pernice was an experience in itself. The waiter poured what seemed like a few drops that got lost in the snifter. Very slowly, it began to gather at the side of the tilted glass. If the Vin Santo was sweet and dense, the Occhio was even sweeter and denser, almost like molasses, with an intense depth of flavour. A couple of drops were enough to coat my mouth. It was cleverly paired with an assorted platter called Provocazione: fried sage leaves (unexpectedly delicious,) fresh goat cheese with poppy seeds, dried blood orange slices, dark chocolate with ginger, a spoonful of homemade blackberry gelato, a rosemary and walnut biscotto. Every flavor either contrasted or complemented the wine perfectly.
After this memorable experience, I was feeling lethargic and mesmerized by the spectacle of low storm clouds rolling in from above the valley. An espresso put an end to my wine and food induced stupor and gave me the energy I needed to continue exploring the Tuscan countryside. What a wonderful way to celebrate our marriage.
I am not affiliated with the company in any way whatsoever. This is an account of our experience.
My friend Katie from Seashells and Sunflowers threw down the gauntlet and we took it up: an international alfajor challenge. Three Argentinians and three Americans tried different traditional alfajor recipes from Argentina for a group post.
An alfajor is a sweet treat similar to a sandwich cookie. Depending on the regional recipe, the cookie can be more or less moist, like cake, or harder like a biscuit. The filling ranges from dulce de leche to fruit preserve to meringue and they’re covered in chocolate or icing or dusted with confectioner’s sugar.
My mission was to make alfajores de maizena -Maizena is a traditional brand of corn starch and a household name in Argentina,- and since they happen to be my favourite kind of alfajor, I was more than happy to oblige. I made those alfajores for a dinner party my hubby and I threw in our Dallas home and got our American and British friends hooked on those little treats.
What you need
5 oz (150 g) softened butter
7 oz (200 g) sugar
2 egg yolks
3.5 oz (100 g) flour
10.5 oz (300 g) corn starch
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp Cognac
1 jar dulce de leche
How you make them
Beat the softened butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and the egg and beat well.
Sift together the flour, corn starch and baking soda and gradually add to the butter and egg mixture.
Add the lemon zest and liqueur and mix until the dough is smooth.
Sprinkle some flour on a work surface and start rolling out the dough to about ¼ inch thick.
Cut 2 inch rounds of dough and place on a cookie sheet (I did not grease it).
Bake in a preheated 300 ̊F oven for about 12 minutes. Don’t let the cookies turn golden.
Transfer to a cooling rack.
Once they’re cold, sandwich two cookies at a time with a dollop of dulce de leche. Press ever so slightly so that the dulce de leche oozes out and roll each sandwich on shredded coconut.
This recipe yielded 40 alfajores.
I used a jar and a half of store-bought dulce de leche (actually, I smuggled it into the U.S. Shhhh!)
I used some of my hubby’s 1974 Armagnac. Good quality booze equalled tastier treats.
Make sure you check out the other delicious alfajor recipes and photos:
Since I was stuck at Chicago airport on my way to Toronto after a series of unfortunate events too long to tell (American Airlines’ usual self plus weather in Dallas and Chicago), I wanted to eat something that was typical of the city. Keeping this post about Chicago street food in mind, I narrowed the list down to two choices: deep dish pizza and hot dogs.
The pizza pies at Pizza UNO looked old and tired and totally unappetizing. Hot dog it was. I headed to Gold Coast Dogs and ordered a Chicago style hot dog. I must admit I was somewhat hesitant when the guy asked me “Do you want everything on it?” since I wasn’t sure what “everything” entailed, so my answer came out “Yeeeeeees?”
I was handed a rather messy but enjoyable char beef dog on a poppy seed bun with chopped onions, mustard (I have it on good authority that using ketchup is sacrilegious), sliced tomato, a rather suspicious-looking emerald green relish, pickle, celery salt and sports peppers (which I removed because they were too hot for me. I’m a wuss like that.)
This is going to sound nerdy but eating a hot dog in Chicago (albeit at the airport) made me feel closer to VI Warshawski (only those who read Sarah Paretsky know what the heck I’m talking about.)
I have one question that is open to discussion: should street food still be called street food if it’s prepared and eaten elsewhere (like an airport)? Or is it a set category?
I thought I’d join the lunchtime crowd at Nathan Phillips Square (in front of the City Hall) on a busy weekday. Well, busy for them, not for me, so this gave me the illusion I was in a hurry to go somewhere. I pretended I had an important meeting and had just enough time to grab a quick bite: a grilled beef hot dog loaded with mustard, green relish, onions and pickles.
I heard that hot dogs were a Toronto institution. At Nathan Phillips Square there are quite a few carts selling beef or chicken hot dogs, Polish, Italian and German sausages, fries and poutine (fries with gravy and cheese curd.)