Very basic recipes from Spain call for minced meat, onions, garlic and paprika, sometimes with the addition of olives or dried fruit. If we follow Picadillo recipes around Mexico, our native tomatoes have replaced the paprika, and then each regional recipe takes its own path; the ones in Northern states might have ancho chile, while the Southern regions might call for raisins or other fruits, and even nuts, such as almonds. Around Mexico City, potatoes and zucchini are the staple, and those were the veggies I decided to use. The choice of herbs and spices is also very flexible; I kept it simple by using just thyme, in addition to salt and pepper. I bought extra-lean ground beef and kept it in the fridge until it was time to use it.
In a large pot over medium heat, I started by sautéing finely chopped onions until translucent, and then added peeled and cubed potatoes, stirring and coating them with the hot oil and onions. After a couple of minutes, I incorporated zucchini that I had cut into quarters lengthwise and sliced:
I had minced the garlic and mixed it with thyme and a bit of water, so these delicate aromatics did not burn when I added them to the hot pan. Stirring constantly, I added tomato paste, and deglazed the pan with water, scrapping the bottom:
I pushed the veggies to the sides of the pan with the spoon, and added the beef in the middle, breaking it into small pieces. I did not have to drain the fat from the meat, since I chose extra-lean ground beef, so once it was no longer pink, I added more water, and salt and pepper:
I covered it and let it cook at medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes were soft, then let it cook uncovered for an extra 5 to 10 minutes, to thicken the juices:
Since I did not use any hot peppers in the preparation, I topped the picadillo with pickled jalapeño peppers; a side of chayotes with cream was the perfect pairing for the dish:
Because of its Spanish origin and Mexican seasonings, this picadillo goes well with either crusty bread or warm tortillas. With small modifications, it may be used to stuff peppers and other vegetables, tacos and empanadas, and there is even a unique recipe from the state of Yucatán: stuffed Edam cheese, whole! I will probably cook some of these recipes in future posts; picadillo is very versatile and a perfect example of Spanish heritage in a true classic Mexican dish.
(In my next post, from the Lone Star State: Pedernales River Chili, and stuffed chayotes)