Cowboy culture is distinctive, no matter whether one encounters it on North America’s grasslands, or on South America’s. In Argentina’s pampas, that culture takes on the character of Italian and French immigrants to the country and produces a great cuisine at play in this week’s entry, Gaucho Pizza. Paired perfectly, by the way, with a great Argentine Malbec wine.
The duo is one found among the articles in Food & Wine‘s October 2004 issue. The wine’s grapey (Grapey? Now, there’s a profound classification) profile accentuates similarly sweet notes in the tomatoes. The vintage’s mildness rounds a bit of the shallots’ edge. though that’s less than a factor than it would have been if onions had been employed, as was suggested originally.
The choice of protein also works well with the Malbec, as the wine’s fruitiness reduces the lamb’s slight gaminess just a bit. Presenting the lamb in thin slices doesn’t hurt either. The pampas are best-known for their cattle herds, of course, though plenty of lamb also is raised on the ranches (estancias, if memories of high-school Spanish are accurate).
As the pampas are grassy plains, naturally, the pizzas rise from a thin, crispy wheat-based crust. Finishing them off directly on the oven grate gives the crust an almost croissant-like flakiness (the French influence?) while melting the cheese and lending the lamb a nice sear. Finally, arugula is mounded on top after the pizzas finish baking, adding a peppery freshness.
Despite making their livings in different hemispheres, cowboys and gauchos share many common traits. However, the Mediterranean influence also distinguishes the South American version. Can you imagine any self-respecting Wyoming ranch hand washing down his grub with wine? Still, North or South America, a compliment from a satisfied eater would inspire the cook to tip his wide-brimmed hat, “Much obliged, ma’am,” or, “De nada, señorita.”
For the dough:
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 1 envelope active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the pizzas:
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
- salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- 1 pound of boneless lamb, trimmed
- 4 scallions. white and light green parts, thinly sliced
- 1/2 small onion, thinly slices (*1)
- 4 ounces goat cheese
- 4 ounces fresh arugula
Start by making the pizza dough. In a large bowl mix the water, yeast and sugar and let stand until foamy, about five minutes. Add the salt and two cups of the flour and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Scrape the dough onto a lightly-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about five minutes.
Pour the olive oil in the large bowl and return the dough to it. Turn the dough to coat it with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let it stand in a warm, breeze-free place for 90 minutes, until doubled in size. Punch down the dough and divide it into four equal-size balls.
Now, move on to making the tomato topping. Place a medium skillet over a medium flame. Add a tablespoon of the olive oil. When it shimmers, add the garlic. Cook for a minute, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes and bay leaf and cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in the thyme and rosemary. Season to taste with salt and pepper and discard the bay leaf. Turn off the flame and set aside sauce.
Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Place another medium skillet over a high flame and pour in another tablespoon of oil. When the oil shimmers, add the lamb. Turn the lamb occasionally to allow it to brown all over. Remove the lamb to a cutting board and let it sit for twenty minutes. The interior still will be quite rare.
Meanwhile, remove a rack from the oven, so that only two remain, each about a third of the way from the oven top and bottom, respectively. Preheat the oven to 500°. Lightly oil two baking sheets with olive oil. On a lightly-floured surface, roll out each of the four dough balls until they’re about eight inches across.
Place two pizzas on each of the baking sheets and brush them with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Top each with tomato sauce, spread to within half and inch of the pizza’s edge. Cook pizza crusts for eight minutes, until they’re lightly golden brown.
Meanwhile, slice the lamb thinly, across the grain. After removing the pizzas from the oven, layer the lamb evenly over the top of each pizza. Scatter sliced onion and scallions atop each and distribute goat cheese thinly. Season with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Slide the pizzas directly onto the oven grills and cook for two minutes, until the lamb is medium-rare and the crusts are crisp. Place a pizza on each of four dinner plates and mound arugula on top.
1 – How long have you been reading this journal? What do you think I’m going to substitute? If you guessed a small shallot, you win a gaucho pizza. I’ll mail it to you.