Growing up, my Mom always made us Picadillo, but it was a soup. It had ground beef and potatoes swimming in a tasty broth and it was absolutely delicious. So the first time I went to a Cuban restaurant and saw Picadillo on the menu, I was very surprised to learn that their version was not a soup at all! It was completely different, but equally delicious. Served with white rice, black beans, tostones (fried plaintains) and mojo (garlic sauce), it was different and to die for. I asked a couple of my Cuban friends at work what spices go into Picadillo and was surprised to learn that both of them put cumin and cinnamon in it! Well, cumin wasn’t surprising, but I only ever use cinnamon in sweet stuff like pies and desserts. So… here’s my attempt to recreate the Picadillo I had at the Cuban restaurant. I think it turned out pretty darn good!
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 tsp. salt (add more or less, to your taste)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 large green bell pepper, seeded and cut in cubes
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 cup pimento stuffed olives, sliced
2/3 cup raisins
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy pan set over medium high heat.
Saute onions and garlic for about 2 minutes, then add ground beef.
Season with salt and pepper, and cook until beef is browned through.
Stir in green bell pepper, diced tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, vinegar, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and bay leaf.
Lower heat and let simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in olives and raisins and let simmer for another 8-10 minutes more.
Tita Elvie (Aunt Elvie) was my best friend Pooh’s mother-in-law. She was a deeply religious woman with a sweet disposition and a kind heart. Pooh loved her dearly and still misses her to this day.
There are some things about Tita Elvie that I always remember, like how she prayed the rosary every single day without fail and included a long litany of the names of each one of her dead relatives at the end of every rosary. She didn’t forget anybody! I remember how she quietly went about doing her housework without complaint no matter how tired she was. And she saved any and all leftovers, whether it was as big as a half a pan of lasagna or as small as two little shrimps. But most of all, I remember her cooking.
She had a repertoire of dishes that were her family’s favorites. This meat dish was my favorite. She didn’t have any measurements for the ingredients. She would just throw everything together. So these measurements are my own. She also didn’t have a name for this dish so I gave it a Spanish name because it always makes me think of something you might be served in Spain with a green salad and a nice glass of Tempranillo wine.
CARNE CON ACEITUNAS DE TITA ELVIE
3 lbs. beef chuck or tri-tip, cubed
salt and pepper, to taste
flour for coating beef
1 stick butter or margarine
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
½ small onion, chopped
½ cup white wine (I like sauvignon blanc)
1 cup beef broth
3 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1 small jar olives, drained
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Season beef cubes with salt and pepper.
Coat seasoned beef cubes with flour, shaking off excess.
Melt half the butter or margarine in a pot or deep skillet and fry the beef in batches, adding more butter as necessary. Set cooked beef cubes aside.
Once all the beef is fried, add olive oil to the pan.
Sauté garlic and onions in olive oil.
Add white wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the browned bits at the bottom.
Add beef broth and worcestershire sauce.
Return beef to pan and add olives.
Cook until beef is tender.
Thicken sauce with parmesan cheese.
NOTE: My ratio of broth to wine is 1 cup beef broth : ½ cup wine. You make as much gravy as you like by adding as much broth and wine as you like following this ratio. My kids like a lot of gravy but I would start with 1 cup of broth and ½ cup wine, and then go up from there depending on how saucy you want the dish.