Visiting the Shire

2007.Sep.24 Monday · 4 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

– J.R.R. Tolkein, The Hobbit

Buenos Aires – This weekend was the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit, an excellent historical tome that precedes all that Lord of the Rings affair. The early years, if you will. The funny thing is, I received almost as many e-mails saying something like “I’m really curious to see what you’re going to serve for your Hobbit dinner” as I did requests for reservations. Now, some of those requests came from far away, beyond the oceans, over the mountains, and so, you see, are quite sensible questions. Some, however, came from folks right here in town… who very well could have come to the dinner and found out for themselves.

Now, if you’re one of the sort who has never read The Hobbit, you probably won’t know that hobbits are inordinately fond of food, often eating four and five meals a day, when they can get them. While recipes amongst the Shire-folk, as they might like to refer to themselves, tend to be passed on within and between families, they are rarely written down, and as such, difficult for an outsider, such as myself, to research. Especially when there are simply no flights from Buenos Aires to Middle Earth, and no time to take one anyway. What appears on the internet is, for the most part, a lot of speculative nonsense. A bit of delving into what scraps of credible records there are suggests that hobbits are particularly fond of mushrooms, also honey cakes, and there are some suggestions that bacon, especially when combined with mushrooms, is a favorite, and perhaps a rabbit or two for the stewpot. With little to go on, I found myself having to simply offer up some plates that I can only hope would be enjoyed by any hobbit who happened by for dinner.

We began our meal with a simple Mushroom Cheesecake. I know I’ve been going a bit cheesecake happy since the whole making homemade cream cheese thing started, but that’s just the way it is. I decided to try my hand at a savory one rather than a sweet one. For the first evening I went with a simple tartlet style cheesecake, filled with a cream cheese base, sans sugar and vanilla, and pureed some sauteed mushrooms and a handful of tarragon leaves into it. Baked up, they were all pretty and such, but the texture of the basic tart crust didn’t come out the way I wanted – it got a bit soggy on the bottom when the tartlets were chilled. For the second evening of the dinners I decided on a more traditional cracker crumb type crust, just instead of graham cracker, I went with a nice savory whole grain cracker, and made one big cheesecake that I cut into slices. I also thought that the tarragon hid the flavor of the mushrooms, so I left it out, perhaps somewhere in between, just a touch of tarragon… both nights, I topped it off with some whipped chive cream.

We moved on to a hearty little Cheddar Soup. I don’t know that Cheddar cheese is available in the Shire, I just have this sense that it might be. At least were one to have a decent cheese there, it ought to be something like that. The soup base made from chopped and cooked leeks, carrots, and celery, and then added a mix of pretty much equal parts of whey left over from the cream cheese making, beef stock, and beer. If you don’t have whey, just do the beef stock 2:1 to the beer. After cooking a little while, puree the whole thing with a hand blender, bring up to a boil, and then put in a good amount of both white and orange Cheddar, or, as they’re referred to here, English and American – let them melt and blend them in. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.

Bacon and mushrooms in combination… well, how can you beat that? Start with some sliced shallots in olive oil, cooked until soft, then add finely chopped bacon, sauteed until it renders its fat and is beginning to brown, then add chopped portobello mushrooms and cook until they’re soft and lightly golden. At that point, this would be all fine and such to eat, but there were some beautiful fresh broad beans in the market, so I bought some, cut them into bite sized pieces, blanched them, and then added them to the saute. A bit more olive oil. Cooked up some penne pasta – a stretch for the Shire, I know, in fact one guest even asked if there was any evidence that pasta had ever been brought to that part of Middle Earth – I simply don’t know, but consider it my personal touch. All tossed together with salt and lots of black pepper.

On to a main course of Hobbit Stew. Now, all the jokes about fresh, tender hobbits and where to obtain them aside, and the jokes did fly, no hobbits were used in the preparation of the stew. Just a nice hearty, rich stew started with a base of chopped ginger and onions, cooked until soft, then chopped bacon added, a bit of time to render the fat, then diced red and green peppers, and some diced eggplant that I’d salted and let sit to drain, and then rinsed. Cooked all that for a bit, then added diced tomatoes (all the dice on these fairly large, at least half an inch), and equal parts of diced rabbit and pork, cook it all until the meat is slightly browned, add a cup of marsala and let it cook until absorbed, then add water to cover, and a handful of chopped parsley and one of chopped oregano (marjoram would be even better, but isn’t in season here yet). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let it simmer for 3-4 hours until its all tender and melded together.

Almond Honey Cake

Now, given that hobbits have a tendency, it seems, to carry honey cakes with them to nibble on as they stroll about greeting their neighbors and such, I’m sure this isn’t the type they’re baking, but I have to imagine that they’d be quite pleased sitting down in front of one of these. Bring a ½ cup of milk to a boil, remove from heat and dissolve ½ cup of sugar, 1½ teaspoons of salt, and ¼ cup of shortening in it (I used some margarine, I’m sure it would work just fine with butter or other shortenings). Let cool off to the side for a few minutes. Proof a packet of dry yeast in ½ cup of warm water. Add the milk mixture to it and combine well. Beat two eggs and add them to this. Then add five cups of sifted cake flour and mix thoroughly, then knead until nice and smooth and elastic. Cover, put in a warm place, and let it rise until at least doubled in volume. Punch down, divide into a dozen equal balls of dough that you put into individual greased or buttered ramekins. Cover and let rise again until they’ve filled the ramekins and are sticking out the top. Brush with a mixture of equal parts butter, honey, and sugar that you’ve brought to a boil, and then sprinkle with chopped almonds, then brush with more of the syrup. Bake in a 350°F oven for about 30-35 minutes until browned. When ready to serve, pour more syrup, and if you want, some lightly toasted almonds, over the top.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

ksternberg September 25, 2007 at 23:09

Man! I’ll see if I can round up Bilbo and head over to Casa SS.

mwardabroad September 28, 2007 at 12:26

I can smell that bacon from here – wow. But where to buy? And likewise for the chedder cheese. My girlfriend would kill for a chunk of ‘english’ chedder and that makes me pretty keen too.

dan September 28, 2007 at 12:33

Bacon is easy here – most good fiambre places have “panceta ahumada”, just ask them to slice it thicker than they normally do so you can cut it into a nice dice rather than shreds. Cheddar is getting easier – occasionally I even see the imported stuff at a cheese shop, but mostly it’s the Argentine versions – and invariably, a store will only carry either the “Inglese” or the “Americano” style, so it requires at least two shops. Even the supermarkets are getting into the act, with a brand called, I think, La Suerte, that’s offering up a passable English style cheddar, at least for use in cooking.

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