04 November 2009

Benito vs. Peru: Tallarin Verde con Bistec y Pisco Sour

I stared at a group of random ingredients in the kitchen and thought, "I could make a Peruvian Dinner with this." It was a rare flash of inspiration, as opposed to the usual observations of "that lettuce has gone sideways", "I need to write about those sardines eventually", and "why do I own so much mustard?"

This dinner needed an authentic cocktail, and the Pisco Sour was an easy choice. While I didn't like it as much as some other egg white cocktails, it was an interesting alternative and one that I had to eventually cross off my list.

Pisco Sour
2 oz. Pisco
1 oz. fresh lime juice
¾ oz. simple syrup
1 egg white
Angostura bitters

Combine everything but the bitters in a shaker with ice cubes, and shake until the beverage starts making dull thudding noises and it's become so cold that you can't feel your hands anymore. Pour into tumblers and dash a few drops of bitters on top of the foam. It's tangy, creamy, and yes, sour.

The Don César Pisco Puro is widely available in the United States, and I grabbed a bottle months ago. As often happens, other interests and commitments got in the way, and I sort of forgot it was there. I also have a large Civil War atlas and a cheap Mexican cookbook written by a Brit, and I don't know where those came from. I think the ephemera of my life is beginning to crossbreed during the late night hours, producing new and wondrous items.

Pisco is a clear brandy distilled from grapes invented in South America over 400 years ago. Which grapes? This was probably made from Muscatel. And while my Pisco came from Peru, others are made in Chile. The two nations fight over which truly owns the name. No comment on that disagreement here, but the Don César has a sort of grainy, wheatish aroma with a background of raisins. On its own, you can feel the pisco travel down your esophagus with the curious aftertaste of, again, raisins. I guess the best way to describe it would be to imagine white rum dosed with a bit of Muscat wine.

With my pile of odd ingredients I decided to make tallarin verde con bistec. Often translated as "green spaghetti", it's usually made with flatter noodles like fettuccine. There are lots of different recetas out there, but it couldn't be simpler. Take your favorite basil pesto recipe or pre-made variety. Add in a few handfuls of baby spinach leaves (or even a full bag if you wish), half a cup of evaporated milk, blend it all together, and slowly warm it on the stove. Toss it with the cooked pasta and you're done. It's about as complicated as Hamburger Helper®. It's often served with some bit of meat, and I settled on spicy broiled cube steaks (hence con bistec). Grilled flank steak would have been better, but the New York Times informs me that cube steak is trendy again, and I didn't want to be behind the Times.

The pasta was unique; not even remotely Italian-tasting, but the ingredients are all available in Italy. It's creamy and vegetal without being gloopy or bitter. Something about the evaporated milk gives it a lovely texture without the weight of cream, and the color is an almost otherworldly green. The cube steak was simply seasoned and broiled, and while not terribly attractive in the photo, it was tasty enough and well-received by my fellow diners.

We skipped the wine on this dinner--it was more of a beer occasion. And when it comes to Peruvian food served in the United States, the most logical choice was a hoppy Czech pilsner brewed in Mexico: Bohemia. Crisp, cold, bitter, and great for washing down a load of protein and carbs.


fredric koeppel said...

i was in Chile about 10 years ago, and just as there are roadside espresso stands along the expressway between Seattle and Portland, there on roadside pisco stands on the highways that lead to Santiago.

Benito said...


I don't support drinking and driving, but a straight shot of pisco will definitely open up your eyes.


Mark said...

I haven't been able to find a really good Pisco Sour yet in the states(have family in Peru). I think it is something that could catch on here when people get accustomed to it.