Owner of city’s only Argentinian restaurant would bring the flavors of home to Pope Francis [video]

Pope Francis is known to be a simple man who sticks to simple meals. Still, we thought it would be fun to see what some of the city’s top chefs would cook up for the pontiff if given the chance. Here’s what they said.

This is part seven in a series

Jezabel Careaga grew up in Northwest Argentina in a town near the border of Chile. Five years ago she moved to America to start a business, bringing the flavors of home and age old traditions along with her.

At Gavin’s, her Graduate Hospital cafe, Careaga has worked to build a loyal clientele, offering the only Argentinian cuisine in all of Philadelphia — and a taste of home to Pope Francis if she had the opportunity.

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“I know he loves spicy beef empanadas,” Careaga said.

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The first time Careaga ever made empanadas — a stuffed bread common in Latin America — from start to finish was here at Gavins. As a girl in Argentina her mother would let her make the dough or roll it out. When she first started the business she had trouble selling out one tray of about 20 empanadas. Today, she said between the cafe’s sales and her catering business, they can sell 15 to 20 trays “like nothing.”

Careaga chopped and sautéed the onion and then added ground sirloin to the pan and seasoned it with salt, paprika, and cumin — a favorite flavor of hers growing up. While the meat cooked, Careaga began mixing the rest of her empanada filling: crunchy green scallions, hard boiled egg, olives and raisins.

The dough is a basic recipe of flour, butter and water. Careaga rolled it out by hand and used a ring mold to cut each piece out.

“Empanadas, depending on what filling we’re using, they’ll have a different braid around them,” Careaga explained. “The beef ones will have just a little pinch.”

In Buenos Ares, where Pope Francis hails from, empanadas tend to be a little more plain, Careaga explained.

When the tray is full, Careaga slid the egg-washed empanadas into the oven and moved onto the chimichurri — a green condiment sauce. 

“Every single time we do it by hand,” she said. “It’s a lot of chopping. If you just throw it all in the processor, it will never be the same. At least for me, it’s not the same.”

She heated up oil and scallions in the oven while preparing the rest of the ingredients. Once it was hot she added in chopped garlic, parsley and a little rosemary, for an extra layer of flavor, she explained. Once it’s cooled, lemon juice will bring all the flavors together.

When the empanadas are ready, Careaga cracked one open “like an egg,” placed it on a plate and topped it with a spoonful of chimmicuri.

“Inside it’s gonna be spicy and a little sweet with the raisins. It’s going to be just perfect,” she said. 

She added little scoop of salsa made from fresh corn and peppers, courtesy of the CSA she works with — Philly Foodworks.

But what are flavors from home without dessert?

In Argentina, no celebration is complete without alfajores, a butter cookie sandwich stuffed with dulce de leche and rolled in coconut.

“I remember making them with my mom,” Careaga said. “Since I’m like 4 or 5 years old. I remember doing them for birthday parties.”

She mixed flour and corn starch with vanilla, Marsala wine, and plenty of egg yolks that will give the cookies a rich yellow color.

Once they emerged from the oven, she paired them together. 

“Now we’re gonna pipe,” she said, picking up a cookie in one hand and skillfully filling the face with a swirl of dulce de leche. Careaga topped each one, smoothed the filling and rolled the edges in thin, unsweetened coconut shavings.

“These with the black tea or espresso it’s perfect,” she said, daydreaming just a bit.

“Food is magical in a sense. It will always bring you and take you different places,” she said. “Everyone will take a different trip on their own plate of food.”

This is part seven in a series

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