For the Plaza family of Ecuador's Hacienda Zuleta, a stopover on our Andes Highland Haciendas trip, eating richly is one of the most important things in life. "Eating for us has always been associated with the richness of what the Hacienda produces, season to season, a reward for our hard labor, and should be enjoyed as such," says Fernando Polanco Plaza, the hacienda's general manager.
Virtually everything gracing Zuleta's table comes fresh from the hacienda’s organic gardens and rich farmland and is carefully prepared by hand. Fresh milk and cream from Zuleta’s dairy cows are prepared daily. Handmade Ecuadorian cheeses are produced from the farm’s fresh milk and carefully crafted in the small factory near the guesthouse. Rainbow trout are caught from nearby crystalline pools moments before being grilled or baked. Freshly churned butter melts over warm bread baked from wheat harvested on the hacienda. Fresh organic fruit and vegetables are picked from the expansive gardens to make unforgettable salads and freshly squeezed juices.
These dishes continue to be served with the love and enthusiasm shown by Mamita Osayo, Fernando's grandmother.
The house recipes of Hacienda Zuleta have been passed down from generation to generation, delicious recipes that until today are favorites of the Plaza family. These dishes continue to be served with the love and enthusiasm shown by Mamita Osayo, Fernando's grandmother, when she used to welcome her children and grandchildren to the Hacienda during weekends or over summer holidays. Fresh blackberries smothered in rich cream, flan de leche, the inevitable quinoa soup, arroz de cebada, broccoli pudding, la fritada... all delicious memories.
One of the most celebrated and contentious recipes of the Plaza family and Hacienda Zuleta is “Torta de Arroz”, which was published in Food & Wine magazine. Fernando says that Mamita Osayo would roll over in her grave with embarrassment to learn that this recipe, out of all of them, was selected by a visiting food critic for publication in such an esteemed international magazine! For Torta de Arroz was invented by Cotito, a past cook at the Hacienda, who absolutely hated to see uneaten food from lunch wasted. Cotito created this recipe from leftovers, a combination of chicken, rice and cheese baked like a soufflé and served with chili and sugar.
Zuleta's Rice Torta
A regular menu item at Hacienda Zuleta, this comforting casserole has been in the family for three generations. It is best accompanied with Ají, a spicy sauce containing tomatoes, cilantro, aji pepper and onions, but Mamita Osayo also served it with brown sugar to please the palates of the youngest members of the family. Serves 6.
Four 3/4-pound chicken breast halves, on the bone
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 quart milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, coarsely grated
1 medium tomato—peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon minced rosemary
2 large eggs, separated
4 cups cooked long-grain rice, at room temperature
2 cups grated mild Cheddar cheese
Ají and brown sugar, for serving
- In a small bowl, cover the raisins with hot water and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain well.
- In a large saucepan, cover the chicken breasts with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until just cooked through, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and let cool slightly. Pull the meat from the bones and tear it into thin shreds.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook over moderate heat until golden, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat; whisking constantly, until thickened. Simmer the white sauce over low heat for 25 minutes, whisking often. Season with salt, pepper and the nutmeg. Cover and remove from the heat.
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Add the onion and tomato and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the shredded chicken, Worcestershire sauce and rosemary; season with salt and pepper.
- Stir the egg yolks into the white sauce. In a medium stainless-steel bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. In a large bowl, combine the rice with the white sauce, raisins and cheese and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Spread half of the rice in the prepared baking dish, cover with the chicken sauce and spread the remaining rice on top.
- Bake the torta for about 40 minutes, or until piping hot throughout. Preheat the broiler. Broil the torta for 2 minutes, or until browned. Let stand for 5 minutes; serve with Ají and brown sugar.