Monday, February 1, 2010

no place like home

One of my favorite discoveries in Queens is the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadow Park. I remember the park vividly from my childhood visits to the Worlds Fair, but having lived my entire life in Manhattan I never happened to set foot in the park again until I moved to Queens five years ago. The museum, situated in the middle of the park, looks onto the famous plaza which holds the amazing and massive globe sculpture, truly magnificent up close. There are all sorts of strange architectural fair-ground leftovers dotting the park that are fun to explore as you walk around.

My husband and I love to wander inside the  museum, paricularly on cold winter Sundays. It is generally a sleepy place with a wide range of international exhibits, but on occasion it busts out into party mode.
The Queens Musuem of Art is famous for its Panorama, a model scale replica of every building in New York City built by 1992

Yesterday was one of those party days. The museum was hosting an evening called Ecuadorian Renaissance in New York 2010. There were artists, musicians, installations, paintings, photographs and Argentine wine to be sampled.

The crowd seemed to be largely from Ecuador and the atmosphere was festive, elegant and proud. It seemed that a lot of memories were being stirred. We were invited to write our impressions of the event in a large journal and we hung out to sip wine and listen to some very catchy Ecuadorian hip-hop artists perform. The exhibit that most caught my eye was a video installation recalling a favorite national dish called Locro. The video was silent but I got the general idea that Locro was some kind of a potato cheese soup.
Installation by artists Maria Viteri & Maria Fenanda Moscoso
I was able to piece together the recipe from watching the video.

When I got home I Googled the name of the dish and came upon multiple recipes, each slightly different. Locro is described as a beloved Ecuadorian dish that has as many variations as people who cook it. Inspired, I read over a few recipes and came up with my own version. Aside from the crucial ingredients of potatoes and cheese, there were a few recurring variables to consider.

The inclusion of milk, eggs, annatto oil, cumin and pumpkin, were debated on several sites. I decided to go with the annatto oil and a little bit of milk, and for an American touch I used Cheddar cheese. In no time I had a large pot going. The soup was so good! Really hearty and warming and full of flavor, I could see how this soup could ignite passionate feelings and remind one of home.

I made annatto oil from annatto seeds that I buy in the hispanic section of the supermarket. Add a teaspoon of seeds to 1/4 cup of oil, heat for 2-3 minutes till oil turns bright orange. Turn off heat and allow oil to seep for 15 minutes, then pour oil through a strainer and discard seeds.

One recipe recommended CRACKing the potatoes open with the point of your knife by inserting and twisting, rather than chopping them. I HAD to try this! It worked best when I first cut the potato in half, as I was afraid I would break the tip of my knife off inside the potato. 
I also left some of the peel on the potatoes.

Locro- Ecuadorian Potato Cheese Soup
1 Tbs. Olive oil or Annatto oil
1 onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. salt
3 scallions, minced
3 Tbs chopped parsley
2 lbs potatoes peeled and cut into cubes
4 cups water
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
cayenne pepper or paprika for garnish

Heat oil in large soup pot. Add onions, garlic and salt and cook till golden and softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add the scallions and the parsley and cook for 3 more minutes. Add the potatoes and the water and bring to a simmer. Cook for at least half an hour till potatoes are soft and cooked through.

Add the cheese and the milk and stir, continuing to simmer until the cheese melts. Put half the soup in a food processor or through a food mill to puree. Add the puree back into the soup pot with the rest of the soup. Heat through and serve. Garnish with a pinch of paprika or cayenne pepper and a teaspoon of grated cheese. serves four.

While I sit here contemplating a wine, I must fill you in on the meal I am eating as I write - Deb's Chickpea, quinoa and spinach burger recipe. One word to say - SCRUMPTIOUS! Delightfully crispy on the outside, and just full of flavor all around, I plated mine with fresh crisp greens topped with a soy vinaigrette. A perfect, light, and satisfying dinner. Thanks Deb, for another winner!
As for the Ecuadorian Potato Cheese soup - this is one soup recipe where you can actually go heavier on the wine, especially with the cheddar. And, really red or white would work, depending on your mood. I personally would lean towards red on this one. Malbec is certainly one option, and Argentina is a good source. The wines are dark and juicy with typically mild tannins. In this case, the tannins are fine as the cheddar will soften them. A Malbec would serve to complement the rich creaminess of the soup as well.
One of my favorite producers of Malbec at the moment is Catena, located in the Mendoza region of Argentina. This is such a deep, dark, rich, lush outstanding wine, and can be found for only $16.99. The flavors are complex and layered, with tobacco and spice coming through on the palate. Susana Balbo is another incredibly talented winemaker in Argentina who includes world-class Malbec in her fabulous line-up of wines.
If you are fancying white with this soup, I would go for either a rich, creamy California Chardonnay (not too much oak) or perhaps a white from the South of France - one of my favorite areas for whites. Grape varietals used are usually Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Clairette. If you have not yet tried any whites from the Rhone, please do! Rich, creamy and mouthfilling, the wines display beautiful nuances of honey, peach and almond. Stand-out producers to seek out are Chateau Pesquie, Guigal, Domaine Jean-Luis Chave and Domaine Giraud.  Trust me - these wines are worth seeking out!
For Deb's recipe, it's OK to go with a bigger and bolder wine as mentioned earlier. Just think of the soup's characteristics and translate them into wine. Be sure not to go too light on this wine! Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Hah! That's great that you found a new dish at a museum of all places! Sounds delicious, too.


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