Argentinia’s  love affair with beef  started with the cowboys who settled in the Pampas, tending their  herds of cattle. Life was simple, and so was the cooking style. Whole racks of beef ribs were stuck onto metal stakes in front of a roaring fire, and the seasoning was limited to salt and a little vinegar. That, in turn, evolved into the country’s  vinegary table sauce, chimichurri.

Over time, the rustic “roast” of the gaucho cowboys was appropriated by upscale steakhouses,  where meats were grilled on large parrillas, or grills. But the technique stayed the same:  salt, a live-fire cooking grill and a little chimichurri sauce on the side.

Today, Argentina still consumes more beef than any other country. Last year, that added up to about 154 pounds per person, according to barbecue guru Steven Raichlen.  Americans, by contrast, eat 89.8 pounds per year.

If you’re a fan of live-fire cooking – pyromaniacs, you know who you are – you might want to take the Argentinean  Parrilla class from Santa Rosa chef Bea Beasley this Saturday,  July 30, where you’ll learn some of  the secrets of  wood-fire grilling.  You don’t really need any fancy equipment – just a Weber barbecue will do, Beasley said. For more information on the class, call 544-3059 or e-mail beabea@sonic.net.

Here’s a recipe from Beasley to whet your appetite. “When I think of Argentinean cuisine, the first food that comes to mind is empanadas, those flaky dough turnovers filled with a variety of savory ingredients,” Beasley said.  

 Enpanadas de Horno (Oven-Baked Empanadas)

Makes 18 to 20 4-inch turnovers

For the dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter cut into 5 pieces

½ cup water

For the filling:

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup finely diced yellow onion

4 tablespoons golden raisins

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces boneless sirloin steak, cut into ¼-inch dice

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon sea salt

Several grindings of black pepper

2 hard-boiled eggs, each cut into 10 slices and each slice cut in half

20 pitted green olive sor pimento-stuffed green olives, quartered

For dough:  Place flour and salt in bowl of food processor fitted with steel blades. Pulse a couple  of times to mix. Place butter on top, and pulse a few times to cut into dough until mixture forms pea-sized pieces.

With machine running, add water through feed tube. Pulse a few times until dough forms a ball. Remove dough from bowl, and divide the dough in half, shape into discs and wrap in plastic. Chill in refrigerator while preparing the filling.

For the filling: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium-size  skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and stir well; cook until the onions are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Do not brown. Add the raisins and cook another minute or so. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the diced steak and sear. Add red pepper flakes, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper; sauté until the meat is nicely browned. Stir in onion-raising mixture; taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Set aside filling, eggs and olives.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place oven rack in center of oven. Roll dough on lightly floured surface about 1/8th-inch thick. Cut out 4-inch rounds. Place about 1 tablespoons of filling in center of each round. Top filling with a half slice of egg and 4 pieces of olive. Repeat with the remaining dough circles and filling.

With your finger, moisten the perimeter of dough with water. Fold dough in half, press edges firmly together, and curve to form a half moon shape. Press the edges with the back of a fork to seal or flute joined edges of dough like a pie crust.

To bake: Place pastries on parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden.