Monte Azul, a hotel on a private mountain reserve near Costa Rica’s highest point, Chirripó National Park, about two hours from Manuel Antonio, has become something of a beacon of culture in the middle of the rainforest since it opened in 2005. While the hotel is best known for their promotion of Costa Rican art at their residency programs and gallery, Monte Azul Contemporary Art (MACA), their world with Costa Rican food has become perhaps equally as impressive.
Apart from sourcing 100% of their products locally – including cheese, yogurt, and coffee that they make on the grounds – Monte Azul is keen on culinary classes such as bread making and cheese making. Recently they have begun offering a tamale workshop with a women’s group in the area where guests get to help process corn into masa and learn to make traditional Costa Rican tamales in banana leaves, as well as other variations such as black bean filled, and others.
Their Café Blue restaurant has some of the most innovative Costa Rican dishes I have seen, including the following recipe for a Tico version of Piononos, a small traditional pastry that originated in Santa Fe, a town near to Granada, Spain, and has taken a life of its own in Latin America.
RECIPE: Piononos Ticos
• ½ cup melted butter or margarine
• 3 ripe plantains, not too ripe, about 3/4
• 3 tbsp. Natural or brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 3/4 cup flour
• 3/2 cup black beans
• 3/2 cup grated Turrialba cheese (or other fresh cheese or semi-mature like queso fresco)
• Parmesan cheese to taste, optional
• a few pinches of cinnamon
• a pinch of cloves
• a pinch of nutmeg
• salt and pepper to taste
• 1 cup flour
• 3 eggs, beaten
• 2 cups bread crumbs, not too fine
1.) The piononos can be prepared as a pie or an arrollado.
2.) Cut the plantains into chunks and place in a pot with boiling water, cook with skin and all.
3.) Once ready, peel and blend into a puree.
4.) Season the puree with sugar or honey, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Then add the egg and flour gradually, always checking the consistency. Finally, add salt to taste. Mix well.
5.) To prepare piononos into patties, form into small balls and fill with mashed beans and cheese. Pass the ball in flour, then in the egg and finally in the dust pan.
6.) If you want to prepare piononos as an arrollado (rolled), place the dough in a baking dish, forming a layer 1cm thick. On this layer, place the mashed beans and grated cheese. Give back to the layer, forming a seal. After formation of the seal, add the flour, egg and finally bread crumbs.
7.) Regardless of how you decide to prepare piononos, either pie or rolled, they should be fried in a hot pan with oil. Once ready, let drain on paper towels and, if you want, sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.
You can sign up for culinary classes or book a room at Monte Azul by visiting their website: www.monteazulcr.com/
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.