What we really want for Christmas is to wake up in Argentina, with local steak and malbec for lunch. Instead, we’re stuck in the snow. But we did get Francis Mallmann, our favorite chef in South America, to walk us though a charming and seriously unfussy holiday feast. Que bueno.
Start the French way: Go shopping. No list. Just stroll the market with Chopin in your iPod. It’s dead winter, but the food should not reflect this. Get sunshine in your thoughts, use your instincts, and grab food you like.
Welcome guests with a glass of clerico. Chop as many fruits as you like into pieces (skins on), place them in a large jar with sugar, and mix with a wooden spoon until the fruit looks sexy. Stir in white wine, Grand Marnier, vodka, and ice. The glasses where you will place your lips should be small, elegant, and thin.
Thinly slice zucchini lengthwise and place on a large plate, trying not to overlap. Season with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add chopped fresh mint and Parmesan scraped with a knife into thin and curly slices (so elegant to the mouth). Serve with thin toasts.
Note: A very tidy home and kitchen is boring and has no life. Leave things as they are; they will reflect your happiness.
Butternut squash are best in winter. Ripe and sweet, they hold the desire of waiting. Roast one whole until it melts in tenderness. Chop onions and garlic and cook slowly with butter until very soft. Open squash, remove seeds, and scrape with a spoon into onion/garlic mix. Add white wine and simmer for a half hour. Serve with a plop of mascarpone and fresh sage.
As in bed, when we cook slowly, we arouse taste and texture. Place a handsome chicken on a casserole with leeks, onions, carrots, fresh herbs, white wine, and cold water. Take it to a very gentle simmer (no boiling) for three hours. The result is a tasty, fleshy, wet bird. Serve lukewarm with mustard vinaigrette and a salad of watercress and endives.
Get the best dried fleshy red plums and slowly simmer with a couple of bottles of Argentine malbec, a little sugar, and a hint of lemon juice and lemon peel until tender. Remove plums from wine and continue boiling until you have malbec syrup. Serve at room temperature in a bowl with the best vanilla ice cream.
Bring Francis Mallmann home with his cookbook, Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. Or experience him firsthand at El Garzón near José Ignacio or Patagonia Sur in Buenos Aires. Or just watch Mallmann make zucchini.
Photos: Courtesy of Santiago Solo Monllor / Artisan Books; Pavia Rosati; Courtesy of Patagonia Sur