Americans are masters of 'small talk'. The weather, the game, politics...quipped to both strangers and friends alike in grocery store aisles or pre-school pick-up. This superficial conversation allows us to connect with our fellow man and yet remain uncommitted. In the U.S., 'What do you do?' is a conversation starter, whereas in Argentina, it is considered rude. What to talk about, then, when such topics as work and politics are verboten?
In Argentina, small talk is all about food.
At a family gathering of a close Argentinean friend, I found myself engaged in a conversation about edibles with another guest. A wonderful topic of chit-chat if there ever was one--avoiding serious topics of conversation to savor something central to everyday life. Argentineans could talk for hours on the subject of their favorite foods. Best to save those heavy topics of conversation for when you know someone better!
I had brought with me a tuna and red pepper filled pionono, and the topic turned to pionono and what could be put inside. The hostess' mother was especially passionate about hearts of palm. Her favorite recipe called for mayonnaise and chives to be added into the mix. I thought that sounded delicious, and soon after, started to experiment.
Straight mayo seemed old-fashioned to me--this filling begged to be modernized a little. Something more flavorful than mayonnaise was needed, but sour cream would have overpowered the delicate flavor of the hearts of palm. Crème Fraîche was the perfect ingredient to add in--fresh yet tangy, but not too strong, alongside a little mayo to make it spread easier. Homemade mayo is best used here, the lemon juice in it adds a welcome tang. If you are using store-bought, simply stir in a little lemon juice.
The perfected version of this pionono was a hit--a neighbor said it reminded her of her mom's artichoke dip served in a bread bowl (remember those!?) and my mom devoured hers. Guillermo couldn't say anything--not even chat about the weather--his mouth was too full.
Pionono (Jelly Roll)
makes one Pionono, serves 8-10 when sliced
The basic recipe for pionono is a classic--the filling can be altered as desired--savory or sweet.
5 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon honey
5 tablespoons flour
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a stand mixer, put the eggs, sugar, and honey, and beat on high speed for 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and grease with butter or spray generously with cooking spray.
After 8 minutes, you should have a fluffy batter. Add the flour in all at once and beat for one minute more, until incorporated. Pour the batter onto the cookie sheet and spread gently with a spatula (you don't want to de-fluff the batter!) Make an even layer covering the cookie sheet. Bake in the oven for 6 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare your filling.
Lay a linen (not terry-cloth) towel on the counter. Sprinkle it lightly with sugar. Lift the parchment paper off of the cookie sheet, and lay the pionono face down on the towel, paper-side up. Carefully peel the corner of the paper off, and continue, careful not to rip the pionono, until the paper has been removed. Carefully spread the filling on the pionono in an even layer covering the entire pionono. (Fill as below or as desired.) Roll carefully from right to left (the short side of the rectangle) creating a roulade type roll and slice. Remove the end pieces. Arrange on a plate to serve.
Relleno de Palmitos
Hearts of Palm Filling
one 14 oz. can of hearts of palm (I used Reese brand)
7.5 oz. Crème Fraîche, (about one cup) store-bought or homemade (I used Bellwether Farms brand)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise (homemade or with a squeeze of lemon juice if store-bought)
1/4 cup fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon salt
Drain the can of hearts of palm and chop into fine pieces. Wash the chives and chop them into fine pieces. In a medium bowl, combine the hearts of palm, mayonnaise, chives, and salt. Stir well to combine. If needed, add in a couple tablespoons of milk to thin the mixture to make it more spreadable.
Spread the mixture across the pionono as directed above, roll, slice and serve.