When I first re-located to Argentina slightly more than three years ago, it was right in the middle of autumn.
Auburn-leafed trees lined the pavements, shedding pretty brown maple leaves in our paths. Everything seemed to be in hues of reddish browns and orange-yellows. The sun set a minute earlier each dusty pink evening, and the days got chillier slowly but surely.
After a couple of months, I’d settled into Buenos Aires like the home I’d always had but was only just discovering, and winter soon sneakily crept up onto us like a blanket of cold.
It was the first winter I would have in Argentina, and having grown up in tropically hot Singapore, I’d experienced quite a bit of difficulty adjusting to the harsh, cold weather. I still prefer the warmer months, and winter, being my least favorite season, often seems too dark and chilly, like the face of an unkind stranger.
During those first few winter months, I remember walking hurriedly on the streets, all wrapped up in my woolen scarf and trench coat, hands shoved deep into my coat pockets, with my head facing downwards to keep the wind from getting to me.
When we spoke standing in the street, little puffs of vapor would form in the chilly air, misting our vision. It reminded me of myself as a kid experiencing winter for the first time overseas in Japan, blowing rings of vapor in astonished wonder and delight.
Mostly, I remember how much I missed living in a tropical country (despite the humidity that inevitably comes with it).
I also recall how much I always looked forward to coming back home, where the front door opened directly to a short passage leading to the kitchen, which was always warm and cozy and smelled so rich with the aroma of whatever dish was currently cooking.
These days, winter is creeping on us again, and thinking back on those first few months in Buenos Aires, I’m reminded of how there are certain foods that I’ll always associate with winter, such as Juan’s mum’s specialty “pastel de papas”, which is the Argentine name for cottage pie.
I’d never eaten cottage pie before coming to Argentina, and what really surprised me about it was how one single dish could incorporate all the necessary ingredients for a hearty and satisfying meal.
Cottage pie is basically a meat pie with a crust made of mashed potatoes. It is sometimes also interchangeably called “shepherd’s pie”, although the latter is more usually used when mutton is the main ingredient, because shepherds are supposedly more concerned with sheep instead of cattle.
Minced meat, flavored with sauteed onions and spring onions, as well as vinegared olives, would provide the tasty protein necessary, while the mashed potatoes on top was just the right amount of carbohydrates one would require.
Because all its ingredients can be prepared before hand, and it is a rather easy dish to assemble, cottage pie is a conveniently wonderful dish for cold, wintry nights when you feel lazy to cook, and just want something warm.
Eat it warm from the oven, with a few slices of bread and freshly-chopped spring onions, and you’re ready to go.
COTTAGE PIE (Pastel de Papas) Serves 4-6
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1) 1/2kg of minced beef (you may also use pork or mutton or a mixture)
2) 1 large onion, diced
3) 1 cup of spring onions, roughly chopped
4) 1 cup of green olives, sliced into thin pieces
5) 3-4 teaspoons of vegetable oil
6) 600g of potatoes
7) 30g of butter
8) ½ cup of milk
9) 2 tablespoons of cream cheese
10) Salt & pepper to taste
11) 4-5 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese (or more or less depending on your liking)
1) Dice the onion, chop the spring onion into small pieces, and slice the olives
2) Peel the potatoes and roughly cut them into pieces
3) Put the cut potatoes into a pot, pour enough water to cover the potatoes, and bring water to a boil, boiling for 10 – 15 minutes, or until soft enough to mash
4) Once potatoes are soft enough, add in milk, butter and cream cheese and mash them well together, then remove from fire
5) In a large pot, heat up the vegetable oil over low heat
6) Once oil is heated up, sauté onions and spring onions, stirring every once in a while so they don’t stick to the pan, until onions are slightly transparent
7) Add in minced beef and stir well, until minced meat turns a pale brown, then remove from fire and allow to cool
8) Pre-heat oven at 180 deg cel
9) Fill a oven-proof deep dish or several ramekins with the minced beef mixture until ¾-full
10) Arrange sliced olives on top
11) Fill up the rest of the baking dish or ramekins with mashed potatoes and sprinkle grated cheese on top
12) Bake in oven for 10-15 minute or until cheese starts to turn golden brown
13) Serve warm with bread and fresh spring onions