Cinco de Mayo in Italy

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By Dave DeWitt

Cinco de Mayo Party

From left, Renate Zoschke, yours truly, Prof. Amedeo Alpi,
Massimo Biagi, Marco and Giacomo Carmazzi, and Harald Zoschke.
Photo by Mary Jane Wilan. Other photos by Harald Zoschke.

On May 5, 2015, Mary Jane and I were staying at Harald and Renate Zoschke’s house beside Lake Garda in Bardolino, Italy. But that didn’t stop us from celebrating Cinco de Mayo, a holiday that celebrates the date of the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War (1861-1867). We simply adapted and prepared what you might call a Mexitalian meal to serve to our friends visiting from Pisa.

It was really great to see Massimo Biagi again, an expert on Italian chile peppers, because he is my gemello del pepperoncino or “Pepper Twin.” Both of us were born on February 9, 1944. Accompanying Massimo were his good friend and a professor at the University of Pisa, Amedeo Alpi, and the father and son owners of Mr Pic, a fiery foods manufacturing company, Marco and Giacomo Carmazzi.

Harald and I planned a simple menu that featured The Salsa with Six Names and a Mexitalian version of Chili con Carne that was served with Renate’s excellent spicy cornbread. I fixed some chicken and green chile sauce burritos using chile pasado, dried New Mexican green chile. The visitors from Tuscany brought excellent wine and a lot of tasty chile products. Harald found some mariachi music to play for the group, some dark beer for me, and it was a fun time all around as we all enjoyed Cinco de Mayo, Italiano-style.

The Recipes

The Salsa with Six Names

Pico de Gallo

Fortunately, Italian supermarkets carry tortilla chips! So we had the right chips to dip into this famous Mexican salsa. It’s known both north and south of the border as salsa fria, pico de gallo, salsa cruda, salsa fresca, salsa Mexicana, and salsa picante. No matter what it’s called, or what part of the Southwest it’s from, the Salsa with Six Names will always triumph over bottled salsas for the dipping of tostadas as a taco sauce, or a relish for roasted or grilled meats. The key to proper preparation is to never use a food processor or blender. A marvelous consistency will be achieved by taking the time to chop or mince every ingredient by hand.

4 serrano or jalapeño chiles, stems and seeds removed, chopped very fine (we used some fresh Italian cayennes)
1 large onion, chopped very fine
2 medium tomatoes, chopped very fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons (or less to taste) red wine vinegar or lime juice

Mix all the ingredients together in a non-metallic bowl. Let stand at room temperature for at least one hour before serving.

Serve with tortilla chips as a dip. This salsa is also good with tacos, burritos, and fajitas.

Yield: 2 cups
Heat Scale: Medium-Hot


Mexitalian Chili con Carne

Dave Cooking Mexitalian Chili Con Carne

I had to do a bit of scrambling around and substituting to make this recipe work, but the end result was quite tasty. I doubt that our Italian friends had ever tasted this dish, but they consumed every bit of it.

2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 jalapeños, stems and seeds removed, chopped (we used fresh Italian cayennes)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 pounds beef stew meat, minced
4 cups beef stock
2 10-ounce cans Italian brown beans (use pinto beans)

In a large pan, sauté the onions, garlic, and chiles until the onions are soft. Add the meat and raise the heat to high and brown it, stirring constantly. Add the stock, stir well, and cook, covered, over low heat for 1 hour.
Add the beans and cook, covered, for an additional hour. Check for consistency and heat level and if satisfied, serve in bowls accompanied by flour tortillas.

Yield: 8 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Renate’s Jalapeño Corn Bread

Renate's Jalapeno Corn Bread

Harald writes: “Ever since Renate and I had corn bread at a Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery in the 1980’s, we fell in love with this bread that’s great as a barbecue side as well as a cake replacement. And in Texas we got cornbread with jalapeño bits in it, and that version is a classic in our kitchen. We bake it in the oven in a pan or in muffin tins, or outside in our Dutch Oven while ribs or brisket are smoking.”

3/4 cup wheat flour
3/4 cup yellow corn meal
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/4 cup honey
4 fresh jalapeños (2 each red & green, but we had to use those fresh Italian cayennes) or other medium-hot peppers in season, minced

In a bowl, mix together the wheat flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a second large bowl mix together the milk, oil, eggs, and honey really well. Add the dry mix to the second bowl and stir smoothly until there are no more lumps. Stir in the chopped peppers.

Pour the batter into a well-greased 9″ pan, or into a 12-piece muffin form.

Bake in preheated oven at 350° F (180°C) for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (a 9” pan takes a little longer than muffins). Cut into squares and serve.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Pasado Chile Sauce

Chile Pasado Rehydrating

Chile pasado, or chile of the past, was the original way to preserve green chiles before the advent of refrigeration. Simply, green chile pods were roasted, peeled, seeds removed, stems left on, and were dried in the sun. They are black when fully dried, but turn dark green after rehydrating. Here is the recipe I used to make the sauce for the burritos.

6-8 chile pasado pods
2 quarts hot water
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 to 3 cups chicken stock

Place the pods in a shallow dish, add the hot water, and weigh the pods down with silverware so they don’t float, and let them rehydrate for an hour or more. When they bend without resistance, remove them from the water, scrape of any skin left on them with a dull knife, and remove the seeds. Then, chop them coarsely and set aside.

In a saucepan, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the onion is soft. Add the chile pasado, cumin, and chicken stock and cook uncovered over low heat for 1/2 hour.

Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until a thick sauce forms. To adjust the consistency, add more water or cook the sauce down a little.

Yield: About 2 1/2 cups
Heat Scale: Medium

Cinco de Mayo Green Chile Burritos

Green Chile Burritos with Corn Bread

Harald had previously grilled some chicken, so this was just a job of assembling the burritos and baking them

8 large flour tortillas
2 cups chopped grilled chicken, divided into 8 portions
2 cups shredded cheese of choice (we used an Italian variation on Swiss cheese), divided into 8 portions
2 1/2 cups Pasado Chile Sauce, divided into 8 portions

On a flat tortilla, place a line of chopped chicken across it about 1/3 up from the bottom. Place the cheese over the chicken and top with about 1/4 of the sauce portion. Roll up the tortilla and wrap it in aluminum foil. Repeat with the other 7 tortillas.

Place the wrapped burritos on a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 350° F (180°C) for 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven, unwrap the burritos, place on plates and top with the remaining Pasado sauce.

Yield: 8 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

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