Lago Puelo, Patagonia — A good slice of pizza can turn a day around. So the only way to respond to the 20% inflation projected for this year is by making one of the largest pizzas in the world. Right? Only in Argentina.
The event was part of the high-profile Cocina de Los Lagos food festival in Patagonia, which brought together the nation’s leading chefs for three days of gastronomic fireworks.
“Because the kitchen brings us together!” hundreds of people shouted on Friday as chefs shoveled hot embers under a pizza so large it literally bridged the two provinces of Chubut and Rio Negro.
Some of Argentina’s top chefs, including the executive chef of Bariloche’s world-famous Llao Llao hotel, spread 40 kilos of mozzarella, 28 liters of tomato sauce, salami, arugula and black olives over dough that stretched nearly 40 meters and called for a whopping 100 kilos of flour.
Why pizza? “Because it’s Argentina, it’s something we all can share,” chef and festival founder Mavyska Jaichenco told me. “To feel united.”
United they were. Kids wandered around with pizza dough wrapped around their fingers. A drone whizzed overhead as the mayor of El Bolsón towered over the sizzling mega-pizza brandishing several knives, ready to slice.
In case that makes you hungry, several star chefs agreed to share their secret pizza recipes with The Bubble. Try making them yourself, or pass them to a friend who likes to cook, and get it on the comfort food. It’s an economically complicated moment in Argentina, so we should, you know, make pizza.
Pizza meets parilla
No oven? No problem. You can make pizza thanks to chef and culinary star Sil Valdemoros, who has created a to-die-for grilled pizza, which you can watch her whip together here:
All you do is buy or make pizza dough (simple recipe for homemade dough here), throw it on a hot grill or heated frying pan (no, you don’t need to oil it), let it cook one side for five minutes or so, flip it over, and spread it with the simple tomato sauce you just made by sautéing fresh tomatoes, smashed whole cloves of garlic, fresh rosemary, and olive oil. Top with fresh arugula and a Brie or Camembert. Seriously, even if you “don’t cook” — you can totally swing this.
Pizza with a splash of tequila
Cordoba’s leading experimental chef Martin Altamirano of La Torgnole Gastronomique warned me in advance that his pizza is pretty crazy because it calls for tequila. That’s right, tequila. This kind of creativity is what’s won him a name in the gastronomic world. Here’s how it works:
Mix one cup of flour with a half-cup of polenta, add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and beat in one egg, 25 grams of yeast, a dash of tequila, and enough water until it comes together, soft and not sticky. Let it rise, covered with oiled plastic wrap or a towel, for one hour.
Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining tomatoes, grilled red peppers (you can blacken peppers on any kitchen grill by putting them directly in the flame and turning them every few minutes until completely charred; rise the charred bits off and bam, grilled peppers), garlic, oil and fresh cilantro.
Punch the dough down, form into pizzas, cover once again with plastic or a towel, and crank your oven as hot as it’ll go. Top the pizza dough with the sauce, chopped red onion, and provolone. Bake 10 minutes or until done.
Pizza à la Llao Llao
Federico Dominguez Fontan of the illustrious Llao Llao hotel offered an even more involved but incredibly fascinating pizza recipe that calls for malted barley, which you can likely get from your local beer pub or order through Mercado Libre.
His pizza dough recipe: Mix 1 kilo of flour with 500 grams malted barley, 3/4 of which has been milled or processed with a fine-ground coffee grinder, 1/4 whole (this will give it texture).Separately, mix the yeast (25 grams) into the water (300 ml). Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the water and yeast mixture, followed by the beer (675 ml).
Combine and knead briefly. Let it rise, covered with oiled plastic wrap or a towel, for an hour. Punch down, form into pizzas, and top with your favorite pizza toppings — or follow the lead of Laurie Bailleux of Resto Pizzeria Pistach‘ in Neuquen’s Villa la Angostura.
Bailleux, born and raised in France, subs out the traditional tomato sauce for a creamy mushroom topping. To make her “Forestiere” pizza, chop pine mushrooms, button mushrooms and portobellos (you could do any mix of mushrooms), parsley and garlic and put everything directly onto the dough. Drizzle fresh cream on top of the topping before putting it in the oven, and voilá — a mushroom masterpiece.
Whichever recipe you choose, the message here in Patagonia was clear: Focus on what brings the people you love together — and let’s face it, if you had to name one food that binds Argentina’s social fabric, it’s pizza.
One of the first people to get a slice of the mega-pizza during the Cocina de los Lagos festival, now in its third year, was a traditional-looking older man sporting a navy sweater, mustache and a meticulous comb-over. I leaned over to ask him how it was. “I love it,” he said, mozzarella plastered to his mustache. “I love it.”