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Food of the Gods

we make Acquanetta's "plato celestial"

While researching Acquanetta, I stumbled across a real gem in a 1967 issue of The Arizona Republic: one of the Venezuelan Volcano’s own recipes, a veritable feast for the gods to be served at the 1967 Miracle of Roses pageant.

Acquanetta’s Plato Celestial

  • 1 pound ground beef or chopped round steak
  • 3 No 2½ cans pf tomatoes, drained (reserve juice from one can)
  • 1 large onion, chopped fine
  • ½ cup black and white raisins, mixed (or 1/2 cup seedless grapes)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon oregano, rubbed between palms
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • pinch each of rosemary, sage and basil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup almonds, blanched, peeled and sliced
  • 1 bay leaf

In deep kettle saute meat, onions and tomatoes. Add remaining ingredients (except bay leaf). Cook slowly three hours. (Note: if fresh grapes are used do not add until last 30 minutes of cooking.)

Add tomato juice as needed to keep from drying out. Add bay leaf during last 30 minutes of cooking.

Serve in the center of a ring of hot cooked rice. Pass ground red pepper.

This dish may be prepared a day ahead and reheated before serving.

When I saw this recipe, I knew two things. First, that this was the recipe of someone with a housekeeper who did most of the cooking, because it sounds like some real Gallery of Regrettable Food stuff. And second, that I was gonna make the dang thing, over and above #7’s objections.

simmering on the stove

Now, there was no way I was gonna make the full recipe; that’s almost two quarts of barely edible mid-century glop. So I prepped about 1/3 of the recipe. I dropped the the rosemary, sage and basil because 1/3 of a pinch is real small and I didn’t feel like getting out my tweezers. I also didn’t cook it for a whole three hours, because I was hungry.

The cooking itself was largely uneventful. I did burn it a bit at the end because I got tired of minding it and left the room to go check twitter. Fortunately while I was gone #7 smelled the impending disaster and took everything off the hob.

Here’s what two hours of slaving over a hot stove gets you…

the plato celestial

Yum, right? Two hours to get what looks like a hunk of taco meat with almonds in it. But this isn’t about presentation. You’re all dying to know, how did it taste?

Well, disappointingly, it wasn’t totally awful. It was definitely under-seasoned. You could double or quadruple the amount of spices and they’d still be struggling to make it through the overpowering flavor of canned tomatoes. It wasn’t an unappealing flavor, but it was mostly bland, a true relic from the days before America discovered “seasoning” and “flavor.”

On the plus side, the meat had basically disappeared, dissolving into the sauce, which gave everything a nice texture. A nice texture that was undercut the first time you bit into a juicy rehydrated raisin or an oddly firm sliver of almond. I expect they, too, might have disintegrated with a longer cooking time. Live and learn..

Would I make this again? Hell no. It was a lot of work for very little effort, and in the time I could straighten out the problems with this recipe I could probably come up with a better recipe from scratch. But don’t let that stop you from trying it out yourself.

Bon appetit!

bon appetit

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