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Spain – Mixed Paella

Football:

Finally, we reach number 1 in the World Cup countdown and instead of talking about Spain in the semi-finals, something its ranking would have made most of us predict, I am trying to remember them actually being in the World Cup elimination was so far back. It’s incredible to think that the lowest (Australia) and highest ranked teams were the first to be eliminated from the competition. As the current holders of the World Cup and Euros, a lot was expected of Spain. Maybe a little bit of complacency set in and also because Barcelona and Real Madrid -where many players ply their trade – had very long seasons players’ tiredness may have contributed to their below par performance.

A couple of days ago I talked about the Portuguese player Eusébio. Today I am going to mention another incredible player from the past, an Argentinian-born striker that was the heart of a great Real Madrid team, and an international for Spain. His name was Alfredo Di Stefano and he passed away on Saturday at the age of 88. Alfredo was nicknamed ‘La Saeta Rubia’ – the blond arrow – and his goal scoring record for Real Madrid was phenomenal with 307 goals during an 11-season period; a period when Real Madrid dominated the European game. He had great skill and presence on the field and even recently was quoted as saying that Zinedine Zidane was the modern-day player most like him in his prime.

He actually never got to play at a World Cup but did play for three international teams; Columbia (which FIFA never recognised), Argentina and Spain (once his Spanish citizenship had come through). He was revered throughout the footballing world and in the words of Brasil legend Pele:

He was a trailblazer, and most of all, he was a legend of the game. God rest his soul.

 

Dish:

Tortilla da patatas or potato omelette was going to be the final dish of this magical World Cup food project. However, a last minute rethink suggested that I throw off the shackles of caution and go for something big, something luxuriant and something so synonymously Spanish that one can almost be forgiven in thinking that it preceded the creation of the country; of course it is paella. And just like how I started this World Cup food countdown with the controversial selection of Pavlova for Australia (ask a Kiwi where it originated) I know that my paella will ruffle some feathers amongst the purists and aficionados.

In researching paella I have seen so many aggressive arguments in forums and recipe websites slamming anybody that dare call a version of paella true paella. You should have seen it go off when someone suggested adding chorizo to paella. I think that taking tradition as an absolute can hold back the evolution of food. What gets me is that even a traditional dish came from somewhere, usually from the evolution of eating practices at the time. I am happy to call a dish a traditional one, or an evolution of a traditional one, if there are components within that dish that others can identify as congruous with that original dish. I think the magic in traditional food is the story of how it came to be.

My paella is a paella, but it may or may not (even I am not quite sure) fit in with a purist’s definition. But alas, I cook food for pleasure and nutrition and so whether it is or isn’t doesn’t matter that much to me. What does matter is that as I bring this World Cup project to an end I can strut forth and declare this dish for Spain as one big knees-up celebration of its cuisine and what has been so far an incredibly exhilarating FIFA World Cup.

 

Serves: 4-6   |   Preparation: 20 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 50-60 minutes

 

Ingredients:

10 Raw king prawns |
2 tbsp. Olive oil |
1 medium Garlic clove | finely diced.
1 medium Squid tube | Cut open, scored diagonally and cut into 1cm strips.
8 large Scallops | Roe removed.
1 Chicken breast | Cut into bite-sized pieces.
1 large  Red onion | Finely diced.
2 medium Garlic cloves | Finely sliced.
½ Red pepper | Diced. Also known as capsicum.
½ Green pepper | Diced. Also known as capsicum.
4 medium Ripe tomatoes | Peeled and diced.
~20 Broad beans | Blanched for 30 seconds in boiling water.
500g Paella rice |
100ml White wine |
600ml Chicken stock |
2 Pinches Saffron strands | Soaked in 50ml of hot water.
850ml Hot water |
Seasoning Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper |

 

How to:

Firstly devein the prawns by cutting down the back shell of the prawn from the base of the head to the tail. Next using a small sharp knife cut through the back flesh of the prawn, deep enough to reveal the vein. With the end of the small knife pick out the vein and then very carefully pull it out of the prawn – this way you can keep the whole shell on the prawn.

In a large paella dish heat the olive oil until very hot and then add the prawns and the finely diced garlic. Sauté for a minute each side and then remove and set the prawns aside. Now add the squid and sauté for a minute or so on high heat and then set aside. Now repeat for the scallops and then the chicken breast pieces.

Reduce the heat to low-medium and add the onion, sliced garlic cloves and red and green peppers to the paella dish. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until soft and fragrant. Now add the tomatoes and cook for a further two minutes. Add the broad beans and rice, turn the heat to high and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the white wine, chicken stock, hot water, the saffron and hot water and seasoning and bring to the boil. Now turn the heat to low, cover the dish and cook for 30 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed – stir occasionally. Let the paella rest, covered, for 5 minutes once the heat has been turned off.

Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon.

Germany – Currywurst

Football:

It doesn’t matter how well or how poorly the German football team is performing prior to a World Cup, during a World Cup itself they have a phenomenal record of doing well. The German game is a very technical one, relying more on efficiency and clearly defined roles rather than the sexiness and unpredictability of Brasilian football. At times it can be a little on the dour side to watch, but more often than not when it is in full swing there is no better team to watch in terms of fast, precise and powerful football. Over the years there have been some amazing players that have worn the West German/ German shirt; Franz Beckenbauer the ultimate leader with the air of elegance; Gerd Müller one of the greatest goal scorers of all time; Karl Heinz-Rummenigge another potent striker with amazing athletic abilities (one of my favourite players of all time); Jürgen Klinsmann yet another prolific scorer who was prone to a touch of the old acrobatics; Lothar Matthäus the dynamic box-to-box midfielder who is the most capped player of all time for Germany; and for the modern touch Mesut Özil, Lukas Podolski and Germany’s most prolific scorer Miroslav Klose. In fact I believe that Klose is joint top with Ronaldo as the leading World Cup scorer of all time.

Germany now faces Brasil in the semi-final after a mixed bag of results, ranging from the 4-0 drubbing of Portugal to the skin-of-their-teeth nail biter against Algeria, an opponent they were expected to brush aside. I think if Germany sticks to its efficient and technical football the midfield can control the game. Brasil will be without the injured Neymar and for that I would put Germany as slight favourites on paper. However, Brasil will have the incredible crowd with it as it did against Colombia and sometimes that can, to coin a phrase, act as a twelfth man.

 

Dish:

I am sure you would agree that it would be sacrilege to talk about German cuisine and not mention the sausage.

On June 30, 2013 Google released one of its now famous doodles on its home screen in Germany. It was to celebrate the 100th birthday of Herta Heuwer, the recognised inventor of a German night-time delicacy, currywurst. There are always stories and counter-stories about by whom and how food was first created. I am going for the one about Heuwer, the enterprising housewife in post-war Germany in 1949 who one day, or night, managed to procure some Indian (English) curry powder, Ketchup and Worcestershire sauce from a group of British soldiers in return for some alcoholic beverages. Mixing these rare ingredients, as they were at the time, in a ratio that apparently she took to the grave with her, she produced a sauce that was then slathered all over some chopped grilled sausage. In an instant it became a hit at her modest stall in the outskirts of a ruinous Berlin. The concoction was loved by the local builders and labourers during the restoration of the city, so much so that Huewer was to open up a small restaurant as a result. This was the birth of currywurst.

Today it has morphed in to many different versions, some heavy with the original curry powder, others with the fiery heat of chilli and even those with influences from Thailand. I am sure you will really like the one I have cooked for the World Cup dish for Germany; the tomato sauce is more of a pasta type with some heat and plenty of curry powder. It is then dolloped on a really good pork sausage (chopped up of course) and served with homemade chips. Wash it down with a crisp German beer and Guten Appetit!

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 15 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 40 minutes

 

Ingredients:

8 Juniper berries |
8 Black peppercorns |
1 Brown onion | Peeled and sliced.
1 Red onion | Peeled and sliced.
2 tbsp. Grapeseed oil |
1 tsp. Hot paprika |
2 tbsp. Curry powder |
2x400g tins Chopped tomatoes |
85g White sugar |
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce |
80ml Red wine vinegar |
Seasoning Sea salt and black pepper |

8 Good quality pork sausages |

 

How to: tie the juniper berries and black peppercorns in a small muslin pouch. Heat the grapeseed oil in a large deep frying pan and add the sliced brown and red onion and the juniper and black pepper pouch. Put the heat on low-medium and sweat the onion until is soft and translucent. Add the paprika and curry powder, stir and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and seasoning and bring to the boil whilst stirring. Turn the heat to low and cook for 25 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Remove the juniper and pepper pouch and pour the sauce in to a food processor. Blend until smooth and then push the sauce through a fine sieve to remove any pulp, skin and seeds. Set the sauce aside.

Grill the pork sausages so they are cooked through and nicely browned. Cut in to 2cm pieces. Warm the curry tomato sauce before serving and pour it over the hot sausage pieces. Serve with chips or a hearty roll. If you are doing it German style then stagger around the house after a stein or two of fine beer and eat the currywurst from a small box with a toothpick.

Portugal – Piri Piri Chicken

Football:

Many years before Ronaldo was bamboozling the opposition with mazy runs and infinite step-overs there was a player who is considered as one of the greatest players to ever play the game; Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, or Eusébio for short. He was a player that was way ahead of his time; very athletic (he could run a sub 11-second 100m), an amazing dribbler that could easily beat defenders, and he had a devastating prowess in front of goal. In fact, his goal scoring record for Benfica, where he played a majority of his career, was 473 goals in 440 competitive games – a phenomenal achievement and statistic.

The only time he competed in the World Cup was in 1966 in England. He won the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer and is remembered for rescuing Portugal when it was 3-0 down against North Korea by scoring 4 goals which led to a 5-3 victory. He was also an incredible sport, often congratulating opposition goalkeepers for wonderful saves against him. Portugal was eventually beaten 2-1 by England in the semi-final, with Eusébio scoring Portugal’s goal. He was devastated at the end and was consoled by both Portuguese and English players as he left the field in tears.

Eusébio passed away earlier this year at the age of 71, and such was the respect and adoration for this national hero that the Portuguese government declared 3 days of national mourning.

Unfortunately, Portugal suffered an early exit in Brasil, the devastating opening 4-0 loss to Germany making it difficult to come back from. Often, with Ronaldo in the side the air of expectation is higher than it really should be. However, with Portugal being ranked #3 in the world before the World Cup started I did expect a bit more of a fight.

 

Dish:

I remember the best octopus I have ever had was in a restaurant just outside of Lisbon in Portugal. It was a whole one that exuded garlic and was incredibly tender, and I distinctly remember it being presented with its tentacles hugging some saffron rice. I also remember eating the synonymous street food piri piri chicken on the streets of Lisbon. It was tender barbecued chicken with a fiery coating of chilli oil and chilli (piri piri). It was some of the simplest food I have eaten but the wonder of it has stayed with me since; and we are talking a few years ago.

It’s the middle of winter here in Melbourne but the lure and temptation of barbecued piri piri chicken on the day that I am writing and cooking about Portugal was too much to resist. I feel piri piri chicken has somewhat been bastardised by certain fast food chains around the world, so today was about bringing some good old pzazz back in to this Portuguese classic. We’ve got bags of fire with some bird’s-eye chillies and some deep intense flavour with roasted bay leaves, a little oregano and paprika and a good aged red wine vinegar. And of course to add authenticity it needs to be done over a barbecue with the fat from the chicken dripping to create pockets of fire that add a great charcoal flavour and texture to the marinated chicken skin. Surely, some of the ultimate football watching food.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 15 minutes + 2 hours marinating   |   Cooking Time: 40 minutes

 

Ingredients:

1.6kg Whole chicken |
10 Bird’s-eye chillies | Tops removed.
10 Fresh bay leaves |
1 tsp. Garlic powder |
1 tsp. Dried oregano |
1 tsp. Sea salt |
2 tsp. Sweet paprika |
50ml Red wine vinegar | I used an aged variety.
100ml Grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil

 

How to:

Preheat an oven to 180°C (360°F).

To make the marinade: put the chillies and bay leaves on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and roughly chop. Put the garlic powder, oregano, salt, paprika, vinegar, oil and roasted chilli and bay leaves in a saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Allow the marinade to cool and then blitz in a mini-food processor (or using a hand blender) to a purée.

Spatchcock the chicken: to do this cut along one side of the back bone and repeat for the other side to remove the backbone. Place the chicken breast side up and with the palm of your hand gentle press down to flatten the chicken. Skewer the chicken through one breast and the opposite thigh, and then repeat with another skewer for the other side. Rub half the marinade into the whole of the chicken and then seal the chicken in a plastic bag and leave in the fridge to marinate for 2 hours.

Turn on a barbecue and heat to medium. Cook the chicken on the barbecue flipping frequently to ensure even cooking. Baste the chicken with the other half of the marinade during cooking. The bird should be ready in about half an hour. You can cut through one breast to the middle of the chicken to see of it is cooked the whole way through.

Cut the chicken in to portions and serve with chips and a light salad.

Brasil – Acarajé

Football:

Where to start with Brasil? 5 times World Cup winners, the darlings of nearly every neutral supporter in the world, sexy football that entertains and at times seizes ones breath, and home to the caipirinha – which has nothing to do with football but I thought I’d throw it in anyway.

Talking about Brasil instantly takes me back to Spain in 1982 and in particular one player that I admired and affectionately remember; a 6ft 4in bearded midfield genius by the name of Sócrates. Sócrates was the footballing maestro in midfield in a team that for me was the true essence of Brasilian football – flair, devastating attacks and scoring goals that must look good. He had an innate ability for accurate and defence splitting passing and had a finish to rival any – I remember the thunderbolt he scored against USSR in that 1982 World Cup. But alas in two attempts (1982 and 1986) Sócrates was never to win a World Cup winner’s medal, something which his younger brother did achieve in 1994. Unfortunately Sócrates’ life was brought to a premature end in 2011 at the age of 57, allegedly from food poisoning. Sócrates will always be Brasil to me and I will always remember him dazzling a wet behind ears 10-year old sat in his bedroom in a little house in Yorkshire back in 1982.

Brasil is now only one game away from the final after a tense and energetic win over Colombia yesterday. Germany is next and I think the winner of this may just win the World Cup.

 

Dish:

The bean is an incredibly important part of Brasilian cuisine and nutrition.Take the widely respected national dish of feijoada; a stew of beans with pork and beef; the black bean being the legume in use. In fact the black bean is the most common one to be used in Rio di Janeiro whereas it is only used for feijoada in the rest of the country. The most popular bean throughout Brasil is the feijão carioca which is similar to the pinto bean. After this is a list of really exotic sounding ones in use: Jalo, rosinha, bolinha, fradinho, verde, branco, azuki and roxinho.

With respect to peas, I have never cooked the black-eyed pea before, a staple in the northern region of Brasil. Its origins are in Africa and it is related to the Chinese mung-bean. It is one of the traditional seed-foods that is said to bring 12 months of luck if eaten on the first day of the New Year. Black-eyed peas are versatile in that they don’t require any preliminary soaking in order to be cooked to tenderness within 40 minutes. Saying that, the dish I have cooked requires a good old soaking of that there black-eyed pea – it is the iconic street food of acarajé. Acarajé is a deep fried fritter of the aforementioned pea, flavoured with onion and dried shrimp. I have served it with chilli garlic sauce, but traditionally it is served with pimenta malagueta, a Brazilian pepper sauce. As it takes a month to mature I didn’t have time to make it, however, I have included the recipe.

The recipe for my chilli garlic is here. These also go well with chimichurri.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 30 minutes + overnight soaking   |   Cooking Time: 15-20 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the pimento malagueta:
500g Bird’s-eye chillies | Or even better, malagueta peppers.
250ml White rum or vodka | An inexpensive one as it is used to rinse.
300ml Olive oil |
150ml White wine vinegar |

For the acarajé:
250g Black-eyed peas | Picked through and soaked overnight.
1 Brown onion | Finely chopped.
2 tbsp. Dried shrimp | Brasilian or Chinese – Brasilian shrimp tends to be more salty.
1 pinch Sea salt | If using Brasilian dried shrimp. 2-3 pinches if using Chinese dried shrimp.

Dende oil for frying | Dende is a red oil used in Brasilian cooking (derived from the seed fruit of a dende plant). I used a palm oil with carotene to get the red colour. Plain vegetable oil will also be ok.

 

How to:

For the pimento malagueta: pick through the chillies to ensure there are no bad ones or ones with blemishes. Rinse the chillies with the white spirit and shake them dry – using alcohol cleans the chillies and eliminates surface water which can cause the chilli to rot over time. Pack the chillies in to a sterilised wine bottle or similar container. Pour the oil and vinegar in to the bottle to completely submerge the chillies. The proportion of oil to vinegar should be 2:1, so just maintain that proportion if you need less or more of either. Stopper the bottle and leave for a month to mature. The pepper sauce keeps indefinitely.

For the acarajé: once the black-eyed peas have soaked pick through and remove all of the skins. This is a finicky and time consuming job, but very much worth the effort. Most skins will fall off effortlessly after the soaking.

Heat the dende oil (about 2 inch deep) in a deep frying pan to 180°C.

Put the black-eyed peas, onion, dried shrimp and sea salt in food processor and blend until you have a smooth paste like consistency. Drop a few walnut size balls of batter in to the oil and fry for about 2-3 minutes. Turn over and fry for a further minute. Remove the acarajé from the oil and drain on kitchen towel. Repeat for the rest of the batter. Serve with the garlic chilli, chimichurri or if you have it the pimenta malagueta to be truly Brasilian.

Colombia – Carne Asada Sobre Arepas (Steak and Arepas)

Football:

I couldn’t write about Colombian football with talking about two of the most famous players to play for the country during the golden years of the early 1990s. I am sure every Colombian reading this will immediately think Carlos Valderama and René Higuita; you’d be absolutely right.

Carlos was unmistakable with the big blond afro that used to grace a football field. He was the lynchpin of that great Colombian side and I distinctly remember him excelling in the playmaker role with the number 10 emblazoned on the back of his shirt. He had an incredible footballing brain that was matched by his unerring ability to accurately pass the ball, often creating goal scoring chances. There are some players that just have that ability to make the game look effortless and he did it in spades.

The second player René was the ultimate footballing character. Although a great goalkeeper, his nickname was El Loco (the Mad Man) after a risky and ultimately costly bit of play in Italia 90 where he dribbled the ball to the half way line and was then tackled by Roger Milla of Cameroon, who consequently went on to score and knock Colombia out of the cup. I will always remember him for his entertainment value and eccentricity on the pitch. The most famous being in a friendly against England at Wembley when the ball was hit looping and long towards his goal and he scorpion kicked it out (imagine standing facing the ball, allowing the ball to go over your head and then flipping your body forwards so that the back of your heels kick the ball). He also scored 41 goals for Colombia as the set-piece specialist.

Colombia is flying in this World Cup with 4 straight wins and for me looking favourites to beat Brazil in the quarter-finals. It really seems to be playing as a solid unit and who can believe how brilliant the Monaco player, James Rodríguez is. The young lad seems to have everything in his game; speed on the wing, playmaking skills akin to a certain Mr Valderama and a deadly finish. The goal against Uruguay is up there with Tim Cahill’s for Australia.

 

Dish:

The variety of food from Colombia is staggering, ranging from the classic corn pancakes (arepas) to marinated meat, punchy salsas and sauces and delicious seafood. Given its location it is clear to understand why food here is so eclectic. In the Pacific coast region the cooking is more pure with influences from Africa and includes many fried and dough based foods; the Andean region is more influenced by the flamboyant preparations of Spain; and the Caribbean coastal areas are awash with great seafood, and as a result of passing trade the cuisine is influenced by the rest of the world. So, what to choose for this dish?

I have a Colombian friend in Australia and she very kindly bought me a Colombian cook book – the recipes are straight from the heart of Colombia. Having cooked French for her on a previous occasion, the real test the next time she came round for dinner was how good my Colombian cooking skills were. In reality we ended up making arepas together and she gave me some tips on how they make them in Colombian homes. The dish I (we) cooked that night is the one I have cooked for this World Cup project; carne asada sobre arepas – steak and arepas. The meat is marinated overnight, a similar preparation to what is sold in the asaderos all around Colombia. It is served with the classic chimichurri, a sauce prevalent throughout Latin America.

 

Serves: 4   |   Preparation: 20 minutes + overnight marinating   |   Cooking Time: 30 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the steak:
1kg Beef steak | Ideally flank steak or fillet.
2 tbsp. Red wine |
2 large Garlic cloves | Crushed.
1 tsp. Dijon mustard |
Pinch Ground black pepper |
Pinch Sea salt |
Oil for frying

For the arepas:
240g Pre-cooked white corn meal |
20g Unsalted butter |
500ml Warm water |
Good pinch Sea salt |
4 tbsp. Butter | For frying.

For the chimichurri:
2 large Garlic cloves | Roughly chopped.
5 Spring onions | Sliced – white and green parts.
2 handfuls Flat leaf parsley | Roughly torn.
1 handful Coriander | Roughly torn.
½ lime Lime juice |
1 tbsp. Cider vinegar | Or red wine vinegar.
1 pinch Sea salt |
1 pinch Ground black pepper |
130g Grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil.
1 medium Ripe tomato | Finely diced.

 

How to:

For the steak: Cut the steak in to 4 portions. Combine the wine, garlic, mustard, pepper and salt in a bowl and mix well. Rub the marinade over each piece of beef then put the beef in the bowl. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.

For the chimichurri: Add the garlic, spring onions, parsley and coriander to a food processor. Process until finely chopped. Add the lime juice, vinegar, salt, pepper and oil and process until smooth, but the herbs are not puréed.

Put the chimichurri in to a non-reactive bowl and gently mix in the diced tomato. Set aside.

To cook the steak put a heavy based frying pan or griddle pan on high heat. Add a little oil and cook each steak piece, flipping every 20 seconds to ensure even cooking. The cooking times depend on how rare or well-done you like your steak; approximately 4 minutes for medium-rare and up to 8-10 minutes for well-done. When cooked put a on a wire rack over a tray to rest and cover with foil to keep warm.

For the arepas: to a bowl add the corn meal, butter, water and salt and mix with your hands until an even paste is formed. Leave the paste to rest for 5 minutes and then bring it together and knead it in to a dough. Melt the butter in a heavy based frying pan over medium heat. Form thin 15 cm diameter discs with the cornmeal dough (you should get about 8 arepas) and fry both sides until golden – about 2-3 minutes each side.

Slice each portion of steak and serve with the hot arepas and lashings of chimichurri.

Uruguay – Alfajores with Dulce de Leche

Football:

The first ever World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930, after it was chosen as the preferred hosting nation because not only had it won the Olympic football tournaments in 1924 and 1928, 1930 celebrated Uruguay’s 100 years of independence. There was also the small matter of Uruguay willing to finance the whole tournament, something that certainly wouldn’t sway FIFA today, would it?

Uruguay went on to win the tournament 4-2 against arch rivals Argentina. However, the World Cup is never short of controversy and 1930 was no different. The point of disagreement was in the final and it centred on whose ball to use. A decision was reached whereby Argentina’s ball was used in the first half and Uruguay’s in the second half. Good job that this doesn’t happen these days or I could see a Mr Suarez picking his ball up and taking it home.

And that nicely brings me on to Brasil 2014 and a certain Mr Suarez. There is no doubt in my mind that Uruguay without Suarez is a much poorer team, evident by the two losses that Uruguay suffered when Suarez wasn’t playing. He really is a Jekyll and Hyde character. On form and behaving he most certainly is one of the best strikers in the world without doubt. We all know what happens on the obverse side of that coin. Personally, I hope he can sort out his hunger issues because this beautiful game needs players of his calibre.

 

Dish:

Originally I had chivito al pan pencilled in as the food to cook for Uruguay. This is considered its national speciality and consists of a mayonnaise slathered bap containing layers of grilled steak, ham, bacon, fried or boiled egg, and mozzarella cheese; there may be some token vegetables thrown in. The word chivito refers to goat which is quite odd as the sandwich contains no goat. The story goes that a restaurant owner by the name of Antonio Carbonaro was approached by a woman who asked for some grilled goat. Completely goatless señor Carbonaro improvised by grilling some steak and adding other tasty ingredients. The combination worked so well that word spread and the sandwich became a huge success. Ultimately, it never contained goat but the name chivito endures as an incongruous reference to its beginnings.

After all that you’re thinking why haven’t I gone with this magnificent sandwich. It’s only because yesterday was Argentina which was the choripán, another sandwich containing deliciously fatty chorizo with chimichurri, and I thought that two in a row was just a tad too much. However, for Uruguay’s tasty comestible I have made alfajores filled with dulce de leche; Spanish style biscuits filled with a sweet caramelised milk. Dulce de leche is unquestionably the best-loved of all Latin American desserts, in particular in Uruguay.

 

Serves: 12 biscuits |   Preparation: 15 minutes + 1 hour standing   |   Cooking Time: 45 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the dulce de leche:
395g Can sweetened condensed milk | About 14oz.
375ml Can evaporated milk | About 410g or 14.5oz.

For the alfajores (biscuit):
75g Cornflour |
225g Plain flour |
55g Icing sugar | Also known as powdered sugar.
200g Cold butter | Cubed.
2 large Egg yolks |
¼ tsp. Ground cinnamon |
½ tsp. Vanilla extract |

Lightly toasted desiccated coconut.

 

How to:

For the ducle de leche: To a heavy based medium saucepan add the sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. Bring to a simmer and then continue to simmer gently over a medium heat whilst constantly stirring. After about 20-30 minutes you will have a milk that will be thick and lightly caramelised. The longer you cook it the darker it will become.

For the alfajores: To a food processor add the cornflour, flour, icing sugar and butter. Process until the mix looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks, cinnamon and vanilla extract and process until dough-like. Briefly knead the dough on a work surface and form a ball. Wrap it in cling film and put it in a fridge to rest for an hour.

Preheat an oven to 180°C (360°F).

Roll the dough to 1 cm thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut out biscuit shapes with a biscuit cutter and put on a baking parchment lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 14-16 minutes, or until they attain a slight brown colour with crispy edges. Cool on a wire rack.

Sandwich a heaped teaspoon of dulce de leche between two biscuits being careful not to break them. Roll the biscuit in toasted coconut so that it sticks to the filling.

Argentina – Choripán

Football:

Argentina is a montage of many memories for me; the most however are from the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

One of the quarter-finals that year was between England and Argentina and the tension between the countries and the supporters was electric, in part due to previous intense rivalry, but mainly because of the Falklands conflict that had occurred 4 years previously between the two countries. I remember watching on the television at home as a young teenager and just sensing the feeling in the stadium. The game itself was nothing short of sensational and mostly due to the maestro that was Maradonna. He was one of the most gifted footballers ever to live, but most English supporters will remember him for ‘the hand of God’ – the infamous goal where supposedly a 5’5″ player (Maradonna) out-jumped a goalkeeper (Peter Shilton) of 6’1″ to ‘head’ the ball in to the net – one of most glaring mistakes by a referee at a World Cup. On the other hand, not long after this incident, was the sublime goal he scored, beating 5 or 6 England players to score what I think is the best World Cup goal ever scored in my lifetime. This made it 2-0 and England was dead and buried. But the World Cup wouldn’t be the World Cup without any drama and England started to press Argentina and got a goal back late on through Gary Lineker (who won the Golden Boot for top scorer). I remember shaking on the edge of the sofa willing England to equalise, and they nearly did right at the end when a cross came over and, I think it was, John Barnes headed just wide of the goal. Argentina went on to win the game 2-1 and Maradonna continued to dazzle as he almost single-handedly helped Argentina win the World Cup.

In this World Cup, Argentina has their modern day Maradonna in Lionel Messi. Having not previously managed to perform as well for the national side as he does for Barcelona, he is now coming good for them. They beat Switzerland last night in a very tight game and will find it tough against Belgium in the quarter-finals. It should be a belter of a game.

Just as an addendum I saw the current coach of Argentina Alejandro Javier Sabella (known as Alex Sabella) play for my team Leeds United in the early eighties. So there is a little bit of sentiment there for me.

 

Dish:

I have always considered Argentinian cuisine to be about meat; in particular beef. This started the time I once overheard a conversation at an English football match, of all places, where the rather salubrious lady – ok it was in corporate box – said

Oh, I only ever eat steak in Buenos Aires; wouldn’t touch it anywhere else.

I thought it’s ok for some. But in retrospect I have read much about Argentinian cuisine over the years and I have to say beef seems pretty popular. Cows were introduced to Argentina by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century and the favourable conditions meant they bred well and multiplied quickly. Over time the beef market has become part of Argentine culture, often with careful cross breeding of cows to create higher quality beef. Given Argentina is in the Southern hemisphere the export market grew because during the months of the year it was plentiful in Argentina, beef was less on hand in countries in the Northern hemisphere.

I have yet to try steak in Buenos Aires but it is on my bucket list of things to do, for sure. In fact, I have always wanted to go and see some club football in South America, in particular Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires. I have therefore saved the beef until I am there and decided to go the Chorizo route for my dish for Argentina. Choripán is as iconic as you will get; grilled chorizo in a fresh French baguette topped with the exciting flavours of chimichurri. This sandwich is a classic at Argentinian football matches, where fans wolf down the choripán at half-time. I decided to go ahead and make my own baguettes just to capture as much freshness and flavour as possible. The chorizo is from my local Latin American deli and is nothing short of amazing – remember to use fresh chorizo and not the cured version.

 

Serves: 4 |   Preparation: 30 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 25 minutes + 2 hours resting

 

Ingredients:

For the baguette:
1½ tsp. Dry active yeast |
½ tsp. White sugar |
50ml Warm water |
500g Plain flour |
2 pinches Sea salt |
300ml Cold water |

For the chimichurri:
2 large Garlic cloves | Roughly chopped.
5 Spring onions | Sliced – white and green parts.
2 handfuls Flat leaf parsley | Roughly torn.
1 handful Coriander | Roughly torn.
½ lime Lime juice |
1 tbsp. Cider vinegar | Or red wine vinegar.
1 pinch Sea salt |
1 pinch Ground black pepper |
130g Grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil.
1 medium Ripe tomato | Finely diced.

4 Fresh chorizo sausages | By fresh I mean uncooked (not cured).
1 medium Red onion | Peeled and sliced.
1 tbsp. Grapeseed oil |

 

How to:

For the baguette: To a small bowl add the warm water, yeast and sugar and whisk. Leave to rest for 5 minutes to allow the mix to froth. To a large bowl add the flour and salt and make a well in the middle. Pour in the cold water and yeast mix and using a bowl scraper (or cold hands) incorporate the flour in to the liquid and bring it together as a dough.

Put the sticky dough on to a very lightly floured kitchen surface and using a dough scraper and your hands work the dough until it is smooth and elastic – this takes about 10 minutes. Form the dough in to a ball. Lightly oil a large bowl, put the dough in and a place a damp tea towel over the bowl. Leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.

After the hour, remove the dough from the bowl and cut in to two portions. Take the first one and gently form a rectangle. Fold one edge of the rectangle into the middle, and then the other edge in to the middle. Then fold the dough in half along the crease. Now stretch and roll the dough in to a baguette shape, tapering the ends. With a blade or sharp knife slit the top of the baguette diagonally 4 or 5 times and place on some floured baking parchment on a baking sheet. Repeat for the other dough ball. Place the second baguette next to the first on the baking sheet. Cover with a floured tea towel tucking the towel between the baguettes to stop them touching when rising. Leave for an hour in a warm place.

Pre-heat an oven to 230°C (450°F).

For the chimichurri: Add the garlic, spring onions, parsley and coriander to a food processor. Process until finely chopped. Add the lime juice, vinegar, salt, pepper and oil and process until smooth, but the herbs are not completely puréed.

Put the chimichurri in to a non-reactive bowl and gently mix in the diced tomato. Set aside.

Remove the tea towel from the baguettes. Put the baguettes in the oven and bake for 12-16 minutes, or until browned. To add crispiness to the outer of the baguettes put a bowl (oven-safe) of hot water on the bottom shelf of the oven.

Put a griddle pan on medium to high heat, add the oil and then put in the chorizo and sliced onion. Keep turning the chorizo to ensure even cooking. Keep agitating the onion so it doesn’t burn. Remove from the pan when cooked.

To serve, take a hot baguette, cut it in to two pieces and then cut each lengthways to open them up. Place 1 chorizo sausage in each baguette piece and spoon over some cooked onion and chimichurri. Repeat for the other baguette and chorizos.

Switzerland – Rösti Valaisanne

Football:

Switzerland is like a footballing ninja. You only notice it once it has sneaked up on you and is tanning your hide. As I was compiling the dishes for this World Cup project and sorting the order by FIFA ranking, low and behold I see that Switzerland are lying in 8th (now they are up to 6th). I still assumed that they were one of the lower ranked teams, as has been the occasion quite often. But looking backing they seem to come on strong and then fall away in to obscurity. In fact they were ranked as the third best team in the world in 1993 and then ranked 83rd best in 1998.

Much of Switzerland’s current squad ply their trade in the top leagues in Europe, notably the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy and the Swiss Super League (I always remember looking out for European results in football magazines as a kid and used to find great hilarity when the two top teams in Switzerland played: Young Boys vs Grasshoppers.). There is quite a pool of talent with the stand out players being Ricardo Rodríguez, Grant Xhaka and the glamour boy Xheredan Shaqiri, who is affectionately known as the ‘Alpine Messi’. The Swiss like to play on the counter attack, but have recently changed their rigid 4-4-2 formation to a more fluid 4-2-3-1.

Up next is Argentina which should be a cracking match. Switzerland’s best performance in a world cup was the quarter finals some 60 years ago. They are going to have to play out of their skins to equal that record in Brasil…but with the Alpine Messi anything is possible.

 

Dish:

Given its location the food of Switzerland is heavily influenced by neighbouring Germany, France and Italy. However, I can think of no bigger impact on 50s, 60s and 70s Western cuisine than that of the iconic Swiss dish, fondue. The idea of dipping morsels of bread and other things in to a pot of melted cheese sauce caught the imagination of many. And to be honest it’s pretty darn good.

I have fond memories of a eating a different Swiss dish (I’ve just figured out if you swap the last two letters of each word in Swiss dish you get a rather smart put-down) with magnificent mountains in front of me. The dish wasn’t great but in my hour of need it was fantastic, and the view made it sensational. The twist is that I wasn’t in the Alps, or even in Switzerland for that matter. I was on the Himalaya trail and trekking around one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, Ama Dablam. I was on my way back to a place called Lukhla during a 21 day trek to near Everest base camp and I had subsisted on dal bhat (lentil soup and rice) for much of the trek. This particular day I stopped at a small shack to make a lunch-time pit stop and on the menu was Swiss rösti, all buttered up and covered in melted Yak cheese. Eating this lunch in the middle of the Nepalese Himalayas staring out at the most incredible view I had ever seen, was for me the pinnacle of travelling. And to be able to tuck in to some real sustenance made me a very happy chap indeed.

So, in honour of wonderful trekking memories and my love for fried potato, Swiss cheese and bacon, todays dish for Switzerland is rösti Valaisanne. Normally when frying potatoes a non-waxy one is required, as waxy potatoes tend to have less matter and more moisture than floury ones and this moisture is not conducive to frying. However, with a rösti the Swiss use a potato which is more on the waxy side. Also, some use the potato raw and some parboil the potato first. For me this has been about experimentation with the goal of having the potato brown and crispy on the outside and soft in the inside.

 

Serves: 2 |   Preparation: 10 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 45 minutes + 3 hours cooling

 

Ingredients:

For the rösti:
3 Medium Waxy potatoes | Leave the skin on. I use desiree potatoes but Yukon golds are also good to use.
Seasoning Sea salt and black pepper |
2 tbsp. Butter |
2 tbsp. Duck fat |
Topping Swiss cheese | Thinly sliced. Ideally use Raclette (from Valais); Gruyere or Jarlsberg is good as a substitute.

For the bacon:
4 rashers Long middle bacon | Halved width ways.

Pickles to serve

 

How to:

Ensure your potatoes are clean. Add them to a pan of cold water with a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Parboil until the potatoes are a little tender but not soft. Drain and put them in the fridge for 3 hours to cool.

Preheat an oven to 180°C. This method of cooking bacon is optional, but I like it because it gives a very even cook and the bacon remains flat. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Lay your bacon on the parchment and then cover with another piece. Place a second baking sheet on to top of the covered bacon. Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes.

To cook the rösti: remove the potatoes from the fridge and coarsely grate. Add some seasoning. In a small frying pan melt ½ a tablespoon each of the butter and duck fat. When melted and bubbling add half of the grated potato. Allow to fry for a couple of minutes and then with the back of a spatula compress the potato in to a round cake. Fry for a further 10 minutes on a low-medium heat. Now place a plate over the frying pan and turn out the half cooked rösti. Put another ½ a tablespoon each of the butter and duck fat in to the frying pan and return the rösti to the pan, uncooked side down. Place slices of cheese on top of the rösti and cook for a further 8-10 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown. Repeat for the other rösti. (Ideally, if you have two pans do them concurrently).

Serve the cheesy rösti hot with the bacon and a selection of your preferred pickles.

Italy – Gnocchi with Exotic Mushrooms in Butter and Sage

Football:

The Golden Boot is the award for the top scorer in a World Cup tournament. There have been some amazing winners throughout the years: Eusébio, Fontaine, Müller, Lineker, Šuker and Ronaldo, but the one that sticks in my mind was that of Paolo Rossi back in the 1982 World Cup in Spain. The mere presence of Rossi in the tournament was a bone of contention for many. Rossi was banned from playing football for 3 years (later reduced to 2 years) in 1980 for allegedly being part of a betting scandal whilst playing for Perugia. He always claimed his innocence, but the ban stood. He returned to football just in time for the World Cup, out of shape and looking aimless in his first couple of games. What I will always remember though was the game against Brazil, where Rossi came to life and plundered a hat-trick against what was declared as the best ever Brazil team not to win the World Cup. Italy won a memorable game 3-2 and went on to win the cup, with Rossi scoring again in the final. Rossi finished with 6 goals and claimed the Golden Boot.

I also have great memories of Italia 90, the closest England came to winning the trophy since 1966. That football tournament in Italy, for me, had the equivalent glamour, flair and passion as it does in Brasil this year. And who could forget the enchanting Nessun Dorma by Pavarotti as the tournament’s theme.

After beating England in a close game in the first match of Brazil 2014, Italy somehow imploded and followed up the win with two defeats, eliminating it from the tournament. It’s always tough for European teams to acclimatise to South American conditions, but I did expect Italy to go further.

 

Dish:

Italy is home to some of the world’s finest ingredients. To cook Italian, in my mind, is to keep it simple by treating these ingredients with the utmost respect. Mushrooms should be wiped not washed to retain those under the skin nutrients and flavours; pasta should be gently cajoled by making it on a work surface not in a mechanical device; olive oil should be drizzled naturally not cooked; a tomato sauce should be full of flavour and acidity by cooking it lightly and for a short period of time; onions should be translucent and sweet in soffrito; and squid should griddled quickly on a roaring heat with a little salt and pepper. I don’t stick to this rigidity all the time, but when I do I notice a marked improvement in flavour and texture.

From an incredible range of Italian cuisine I have opted for one dish that I simply find amazing. Light potato gnocchi with exotic mushrooms in butter and sage finished with truffle oil and a deep fried sage leaf.

This may seem a simple recipe but the key to a really light gnocchi is in the detail and understanding what is happening. We need to keep the starch in the potato to help the binding process, so I bake the potatoes (also imparts a wonderful baked flavour). It’s also imperative not to let the potato continue to cook with its residual heat once passed through a fine drum sieve, otherwise the potato may go gluey. On the other hand if it cools too quickly it can dry leaving undesirable bits in the gnocchi. To keep the gnocchi light work the dough very gently. And when cooking in boiling water do not stir; the gnocchi will tell you when they are cooked by rising to the surface. Keep to this and you will please any Italian.

 

Serves: 4 |   Preparation: 30-40 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 1½-1¾ hours

 

Ingredients:

For the gnocchi:
5 small-medium Baking potatoes | I use Sebago, but any non-waxy potatoes like Maris Piper or King Edwards are great.
20-30g Sea salt | For rolling the potatoes in.
300-400g Plain flour | You may not need to use it all.
2 large Eggs |
Pinch Salt |

For the sage leaf:
100-200ml Grapeseed oil | Quantity depends on the size of your pan.
4 large Sage leaves |

For the mushrooms:
125g Unsalted butter | A good quality one is imperative.
1 large garlic clove | Finely diced.
A medley Exotic mushrooms | Thickly sliced. I used: 1 pine, 3 shiitake, 4 oyster and 3 bunches of enoki (separated, not sliced) mushrooms.
10 large Sage leaves | Roughly torn.
Seasoning Sea Salt |
A drizzle of truffle oil.

 

How to:

Preheat an oven to 220°C (430°F). Wash the potatoes and dry well. Put the sea salt on a bench top and roll each potato in it so the salt sticks. Put the potatoes straight on to the oven shelf and bake for 1¼-1½ hours. The skin should be crispy and the inside like mashed potato.

For the sage leaves: Heat the cooking oil in a very small frying pan or saucepan until it reaches 180°C (360°F) . Drop in one sage leaf and when it stops bubbling remove it from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat for the other 3 sage leaves. Put aside.

For the gnocchi: take the hot potatoes and cut each in half. On a fine drum sieve place a potato half flesh down. Now protecting your hand from the heat with some folded up kitchen towel push the potato through the sieve on to a kitchen work top. Do this for all the potato halves. Alternatively scoop the potato from each skin and push through a potato ricer. The aim is to have a very fine potato. (The skins can be kept for later as a deep fried snack with sour cream.)

Bring a large pan of water, with a little salt, to the boil.

Spread out the potato so it is about 2-3cm thick. Sprinkle half of the flour (about 200g) over the potato and then crack two eggs over the flour with a pinch of salt. Using a dough scraper start to scoop and cut the flour, egg and potato together until it becomes doughy. Add more flour as required. Bring the dough together and very gently knead it until smooth. Do not overwork the dough or else the gnocchi will become dense. Flour the surface with some of the remaining flour and break off a portion of the dough. Roll it to a thin even sausage shape (about 2-3 cm in diameter) and then on an angle cut it in to 4cm pieces. Gently squeeze each piece to give it a rustic appearance and put on a floured baking tray loosely covered with cling film. Repeat for the rest of the dough.

For the mushrooms: to a medium frying pan add the butter and over a medium heat cook it until it starts to gain a light brown colour. Now add the garlic, fry for about 30 seconds and then add the mushrooms and torn sage leaves. Cook until the mushrooms have just softened. Add salt to season to your taste.

Drop some gnocchi into the boiling water – don’t overcrowd the pan. When they have risen to the surface remove immediately with a slotted spoon. Repeat for all the gnocchi.

To serve, place some gnocchi pieces in a bowl. Spoon a quarter of the mushrooms and butter over the gnocchi, drizzle over a little truffle oil and garnish with a deep-fried sage leaf. Repeat for the other 3 bowls. My other half has been waiting for this one in particular, and to quote her “wow, that is just amazing!”

Greece – Gyros and Tzatziki

Football:

There is a saying that goes along the lines of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts’. For me this summed up Greece in the Euro 2004 championships. A rank outsider, Greece went on to do what some considered impossible at the time – they won the competition. Having got through the group stage they then went on to beat France, the Czech Republic and then a hotly fancied Portugal in the final. I currently live in Melbourne which has the biggest Greek population for a city outside of Athens (in 2006 Greece played a friendly with Australia in Melbourne and over 95,000 fans attended). The celebrating here was incredible, partly under a cloud of disbelief, but mainly with praise and adulation for a team that on paper was going to struggle to qualify. The owner of my local deli here still has the ‘Greece Euro Champions 2004’ stuck to the wall, ten years later.

This time round Greece has qualified by the skin of its teeth for the second round. Needing to beat Côte d’Ivoire it was level at 1-1 when in the dying seconds of injury time Greece were awarded a penalty. Can you imagine the pressure on Samaris, the Greek player who was taking the penalty? Not only was the weight of hope of a whole nation on his shoulders, but there was the little consideration of a global audience of a couple of billion people. Coolly he stepped up and scored and in the same breath took Greece in to the second round of a World Cup for the first time in its history.

Next it faces Costa Rica, another unfancied team that has blown its group away. On paper the Central Americans should get through, but with 2004 as inspiration who would bet against Greece doing it again.

 

Dish:

When it is Greek New Year our neighbour usually has a whole lamb on a spit, and the smell is just amazing – and for me that sums up Greek food; it’s real comfort food that celebrates Greek ingredients. I love dolmades for their vine leaves, spanakopita for its harmony of spinach and feta in crunchy filo, lamb slowly cooked in olive oil, crunchy and salty whitebait, pickled octopus and one of my all-time favourites, a bowl of warm chilli marinated Kalamata olives.

Today, I have attempted a classic Greek dish that really should only belong in a place that has a rotisserie and time to produce the succulent and fatty meat that the dish is synonymous with. But alas, I am sucker for that tasty marinated meat with garlicky tzatziki in a warm dough flat bread wrap and so I have attempted to recreate at home, the gyros. I admit that it is not like the real gyros, but it is still a beautiful version of it.

There is also somewhat of a sentimental reason in making it. My first memorable trip to London was during my very early teenage years and it was during this visit my flavour sensors were awoken with something very close to gyros; a Turkish kebab. Being from Yorkshire I was brought up on homely and traditional food, so I had never tasted anything so exotic before; slow grilled meat, sauce with a punchy garlic kick all set off with zingy lemony tomato. To me it was an awakening and I fell in love with those flavours, and this gyros captures those flavours.

 

Serves: 4 |   Preparation: 20 minutes + 2 hours marinating   |   Cooking Time: 20 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the meat:
1kg Boneless pork loin |
2 tsp. Sweet paprika |
1½ tsp. Sea salt |
1 tsp. Dried oregano |
2-3 tbsp. White wine vinegar|

For the tzatziki sauce:
1 Lebanese cucumber | Deseeded and diced. Lebanese cucumbers are smaller than continental cucumbers.
1 large Garlic clove | Chopped.
½ lemon Lemon juice |
1 tbsp. Fresh dill |
200g Greek yoghurt |
Pinch Sea salt |
Grapeseed oil for frying

To serve Warm doughy flat bread |
To serve Thick slices of ripened tomato |
To serve Red onion | sliced (optional)

 

How to:

For the meat: create the marinade by grinding together the sweet paprika, sea salt and oregano. Slice the pork in to thin strips. Now using a rolling pin or meat mallet bash each strip so it’s about ½cm thick. In a large flat bottomed dish put a layer of the flattened pork. Now sprinkle over some of the marinade and a little drizzle of white wine vinegar. Repeat the process for the rest of the pork and marinade building up the layers of meat. Cover the dish and leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours to marinate.

For the tzatziki: add the cucumber, garlic, lemon juice and dill to a food processor and blend to a puree. Mix the puree and sea salt in to the Greek yoghurt and leave in the fridge until ready to use.

Once marinated cut the pork in to 1cm wide strips. To cook the meat put a large non-stick frying pan over high heat. When really hot add a teaspoon of cooking oil and a handful of the pork strips. Cook the pork until it goes a golden and deep brown allowing some of the edges to crisp a little. Put the meat in bowl and keep warm whilst you cook the rest, using a little cooking oil each time.

To serve, warm your bread and spread over a generous spoon or two of the tzatziki sauce. Lay down some slices of ripe tomato and a good serving of that beautiful pork. Spoon over some more tzatziki sauce, fold over the bread and eat hot.