Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hondu-talian Food

Whatever his faults, Chef Boyardee (Boiardi before his unfortunate succumbing to Americanization) would be a gourmet Italian chef in Honduras. Not once have I experienced a can of his that included sauce ingredients as mayonnaise or ketchup. Italian food here definitely has a uniquely Honduran flavor. No surprise then that we would be eager to start making our favorite dishes ourselves.

We started slowly, first making pasta with canned sauce. But a few days ago, our experimentation finally ended up in homemade, from scratch, Italian cooking.

Our first attempt took us back to familiar grounds, our never ending struggle to become pizzaioli. Given the many shortcomings of our Honduran ingredients, ConAgra tomatoes, flavorless pepperoni, lack of water buffalo to make mozzarella, and plain white flour instead of Tipo ‘00’ premium Italian flour, it turned out pretty good.

While your average Honduran pizza (or picsa as it’s pronounced here) tastes pretty good, it does stray farther from the authentic flavor than even American pizza (there are of course Pizza Huts here, but those are way out of our everyday budget). Honduran pizza uses quesillo, a basic cheese somewhat similar to mozzarella. Also, there is very little, if any, sauce. Basil is just about impossible to come by.

Needless to say, we were determined to attempt to recreate our favorite home cooked meal here. We had originally hoped to find a place to live with an outdoor oven or at the very least a wood burning fogon. Unfortunately, living in a city makes those hard to come by, so we had to settle for your standard electric oven.

A couple weeks ago, we found a pizza pan at a hardware store (yes, a hardware store). And, when the grocery stores in town received shipments of mozzarella, we know it was time to start planning a pizza night.

Last weekend, we made a trip to Siguatepeque, a large city about an hour away, to visit some friends of ours who were placed there. While there, we received some Honduran cooking lessons, learning to make homemade flour tortillas for baleadas. We’re hoping to try making them ourselves at home sometime, but again it’s made a little more difficult since we don’t have a fogon. We were also able to visit the supermarket in Siguat where we found canned, whole tomatoes to make our pizza sauce.

We made the pizza Monday night, and were pleasantly surprised by how it came out. Used to using a pizza stone heated in the oven before placing the pizza on it, we were impressed by how crispy the pizza was with a metal pan. It reminded us of our first pizza attempt after coming back from Italy, not quite Italian, but definitely a step in the right direction. We hope to improve on it by experimenting with a fresh tomato sauce. It is something we’ve never been able to get quite right in the US, but we have plenty of free time here to play around to get it right. Also, we are hoping to have our cheese kit sent to us so that we can make fresh mozzarella from fresh raw milk, and when we finally get some basil seeds, fresh basil makes a world of difference (not to mention we’ll also be able to make pesto).

Our Italian food journey didn’t stop there. The next night we decided to make Pasta Carbonara. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s a delicious dish featuring spaghetti in a creamy egg sauce with bacon. Normally, we would use pancetta, a specialty Italian bacon traditionally used for the dish, but this being Honduras, we used normal bacon. And lo and behold, it actually turned out to be one of the best Carbonaras we’ve made so far, in the US or Honduras. I think the secret is when the power goes out halfway through the cooking. When that happens, you rush to cook everything while the electric burner is still hot, the heat slowly dissipating, guaranteeing that the sauce will be creamy instead of scrambled eggs. Just goes to show you, even though the pasta could have been a little warmer on the plate, sometimes it pays to have unreliable electricity.

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