Late chef's culinary talents displayed in cookbook on South American dishes

November 24, 1991|By Universal Press Syndicate

Felipe Rojas-Lombardi never saw the finished product.

Just 48 hours before the first copies of "The Art of South American Cooking" (HarperCollins, 504 pages, $25) came off the press, the author suffered cardiac arrest and died.

During his 46 years Rojas-Lombardi had a creative and successful career as a chef, often turning to his European and South American heritage for inspiration. He was born and raised in Peru by his Italian mother and Chilean father, who was of German and Spanish descent. Before going to Europe for formal training as a chef, he learned from two masters: his mother and his grandmother.

"Mother and grandmother vied with each other to see how much they could teach me, and I was the very willing student of two great chefs," he wrote in his introduction. "A child in love with food could have asked no more."

After arriving in New York, he served as an assistant to the late James Beard. He also served as an executive chef for corporate America, authored or co-authored several books, including "Soup, Beautiful Soup" (Random House 1985) and opened his own restaurant, the Ballroom, in New York.

"The Art of South American Cooking" is a tribute to his multifaceted culinary talents. In more than 250 recipes he has taken what is indigenous to Latin America and adapted it to what American cooks can handle in their own kitchens. For example, locro is a common squash-based stew found in the highlands of Ecuador or on the Argentine pampas. Rojas-Lombardi's book brings it to the American table.

A couple of tips: The book suggests that your butcher free the bone from the meat for easier carving. The medium onions should be on the small side to ensure that they cook through, and the roast might get a little extra time (until about 165 degrees is reached on a meat thermometer) to ensure it cooks thoroughly, too.

Lomo horneado con camote y cebollas

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

(Roast loin of pork with sweet potatoes and onions)

1 pork loin, with bones (5 to 6 pounds)

MARINADE:

2 large cloves garlic, peeled

2 teaspoons coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

20 to 24 fresh sage leaves, minced (1 1/2 teaspoons), or 1 teaspoon dried and ground sage

3 tablespoons olive oil

6 to 8 medium sweet potatoes (about 3 1/2 pounds)

6 to 8 medium Bermuda onions (about 2 1/2 pounds)

freshly ground black pepper

Wipe the loin with a damp cloth. Split the back and scrape or feather the bones for easy carving. Set aside.

In a mortar with a pestle, pound the garlic, salt, cinnamon, cloves and cayenne to a smooth paste. Blend in the sugar, vinegar and sage and mix well. Rub this mixture over the entire surface of the pork loin. Place the loin on a rack in a roasting pan large enough to hold the meat, sweet potatoes and onions and let sit at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rub the meat with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Rub the sweet potatoes with another tablespoon of the oil and arrange them around the loin. Cut a cross on top of each onion, going halfway through. Rub the onions with the remaining oil and arrange them on the roasting rack around the loin and the sweet potatoes. Roast in the middle level of the oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Remove and let sit in a warm spot for about 10 minutes. Transfer the loin to a serving platter, sprinkle salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste in the middle of the opened onions, arrange them and the sweet potatoes around the roast, and serve.

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