Yours in good taste,
Corn, beans, chile peppers, potatoes, squash. Who would guess that these favorite and familiar “American” foods are all native to Latin America? Or that they were cultivated here in sophisticated civilizations eons before the 16th century when the first Spanish conquistadors arrived in the New World?
Spin a globe to locate the true geographical source of these foods and the zesty dishes we associate with Latin cuisine and you’ll be looking at 18 major countries lying below the US. Start by crossing the border into Mexico, and continue south to arrive in Central America, the skinny stretch between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Next comes that big, bulging continent—the fourth largest in the world—called South America. That covers a lot of places, each with its own exciting cuisine mixing local ingredients with those from Spain or Portugal, in the case of Brazil, and in some places, Africa.
Diverse yet similar. That’s the key for Latin cuisine. You’ll find a rich mix of native foods mingling with European and African influences, such as rice, beef and pork (although pork has long been popular, dating to the days of hunting wild boar in the Caribbean regions of Latin America). Even so, the region’s defining elements remain corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, and squash. Tamales or filled corn packages, for example, are found throughout South America but by different names. Roasting meats over open-air wood fires, a tradition introduced from Spain, is also common, especially at festive events, as is serving meat with rice and sauces such as Mexico’s moles, adobo and chimichurri sauces. Fruits are used extensively too, as desserts and as syrups to flavor beverages. There’s also jicama, a funny root vegetable that can be either cooked or served raw (see more about that with our recipe), pineapple, peppers, and citrus of all kinds. You’ll find a variety of seafood, some marinated with citrus to create ceviche - a centuries old method of cooking by contact with the acidic juice of citrus instead of heat.
From Mexico to the pampas of Argentina, from the Andes Mountains to the Amazon, we’ve tapped South and Central America’s rich culinary heritage – focusing on the best of the best representing the likes of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela - and its dynamic blend of New World-Old World ingredients to create new Pasta & Co dishes with authentic Latin flavors. Read on for more details!
Bold, deep flavors and complex tastes. Intriguing and just plain good to eat. We had a great time exploring traditional Latin flavors and ingredients for our new spring dishes. We adapted the best for Pasta & Co so you can enjoy expanding your culinary horizons and take home a hearty meal. Start with CREAM OF CHILE POBLANO ROASTED CORN SOUP, a blend of roasted corn and chiles in a creamy base. We think it’s one of the best soups we've ever tasted! Expect no leftovers on this one. Try pairing it with STUFFED PORTABELLO MUSHROOMS WITH SMOKY POBLANO SALSA for a great light supper. These big roasted and marinated mushrooms are filled with a cheese and salsa topping combining Beecher’s Just Jack and the traditional Mexican cheeses, cotija and queso fresco. These versatile mushrooms can also be a side dish with LONDON BROIL WITH CHIMICHURRI SAUCE. Tender strips of beef are a great match for a traditional Argentinean version of chimichurri sauce, the Latin version of pesto made with fresh oregano, cilantro, garlic, lemon juice and other seasonings that is very popular with grilled meats.
Since pork is a typical meat in many Latin dishes, we have two in our spring line-up. Try BRAISED CARNE DE CERDO, a main dish that’s almost a stew with its mix of tender pork chunks, tomatoes and hominy. Or take home OAXACAN CARNE DE CERDO. This rustic dish has serious deep flavor from a trio of dried chiles and pumpkin seeds blended in a flavorful mole sauce. It’s downright delicious served with ROASTED YAMS WITH HONEY AND LIME, a side dish of chunky, bright orange sweet potatoes baked to enhance their flavor and seasoned with a light touch of sweet citrus. Our JICAMA FRUIT SALAD, a light and zesty mix of crisp jicama and fresh pineapple sparked with cayenne, a touch of garlic, and red pepper flakes, complements both pork dishes. This salad also pairs well as a side to ENCHILADAS CON POLLO. Enchiladas are always a favorite and this recipe combines old and new with a little heat from poblano peppers and a filling of chicken thigh meat, fresh cilantro and Beecher’s Fresh Cheese Curds.
Spices and ingredients from Mexico, Central and South America are somewhat hard to come by, but our Culinary Council gurus worked hard and found some great Latin additions for the Pasta & Co pantry – and yours! Along with our existing stock of salsas, chips and barbecue sauces, we’re stocking PACIFICA CULINARIA POMEGRANATE AGAVE SYRUP. Slightly sweet with a mild flavor from agave (a succulent plant) and a ruby red color from pomegranates, you can add the syrup to sparkling water to make a refreshing Latin-style soda or drizzle some over puddings, ice cream or pancakes. To boost the flavor of soups and sauces, there’s LOS CHILEROS MEXICAN OREGANO, a dried oregano with a wild, grassy taste that’s quite different from standard Greek oregano. We also have the corner on DULCE DE LECHE, a caramel sauce made by boiling milk and sugar until it cooks down to a sweet cream. Used to flavor ice cream, puddings and sauces, it’s a favorite through Latin America.
It’s a funny vegetable, this brown-skinned, rather fuzzy root bulb called jicama (pronounced “HEE-kah-mah). A native of Mexico and South America, it has crunchy white flesh (after you peel off the brown skin) whether cooked or used fresh with a sweet, nutty flavor. Its natural sweetness makes it a great partner with other fruits, such as the pineapple in this refreshing salad with a little kick from the likes of cumin, red pepper, and garlic powder.
Pineapple and Jicama Slaw
To make the dressing: Prepare the pineapple and drain the juice into a small glass jar with a lid. Add the olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, and spices. Shake vigorously to emulsify the ingredients and set aside.
To make the salad: Cut the jicama and carrots into match-size pieces (or use a food processor to fine-shred or julienne the jicama and carrots). In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the jicama, carrots and pineapple. Pour the dressing over the salad mixture and toss to coat evenly. Add the basil and mint and gently toss. Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasoning as desired.
With all the holidays coming up this spring—Easter (4/16), Cinco de Mayo (5/5), Mother’s Day (5/14) and Memorial Day (5/29)—not to mention family birthdays, showers, weddings and more, the time is right to call Pasta & Co Catering to Go. For any occasion, our deli favorites make entertaining a snap and give you more time to enjoy your guests (and keep mom out of the kitchen!). With our Catering to Go menu, you can order from a terrific selection of savory appetizer nibbles, cheeses, and desserts. Give us 48 hours advance notice and we’ll prepare a spread of restaurant-quality fare celebrating great taste and flavorful food pairings. Call your neighborhood Pasta & Co store or visit www.pastaco.com for the complete Catering to Go menu and ordering details.