My friend Maria Cristina makes the best picadillo I’ve ever had. Picadillo, is ground meat seasoned with a mixture of spices, olives, and raisins, and it is the filling used in piñón. Maria’s secret, I think, is that she breaks the ground beef into really small pieces with a spoon as the meat browns. She also uses ground veal.
For this dish you can use any ground meat you want. My butcher sometimes has a “meatball” blend of pork and beef that is my first choice. You can make it yourself with 1 pound of pork + 1 pound beef or splurge and get the veal.
For the plantains you’ll need super ripe ones that are almost black with some yellow.
There are aIso two ingredients that I prefer in this dish that are not the most traditional choice. They are however in the vicinity. One is that I like using currants rather than raisins because they are smaller and with them you get more spoonfuls of the fruit, meat and olives together. The other is the cheese. I like to use crumbled cotija that I have crumbled really, really fine. This will not give you a super melty dish but I like the flavor and salt content better. Traditionally people mostly use shredded mozzarella. I'm letting you know so you can choose your own adventure!
2 pounds ground beef or a combination of pork + beef
2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, microplane or press to a pulp
4 teaspoons cumin
4 teaspoon oregano
1 cup white wine
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
3/4 cups pitted Castelvetrano olives, roughly chopped
1/2 cup currants or chopped up raisins
4 large super ripe plantains (yellow with lots of black splotches)
1 cup avocado oil (or your choice of high-smoke point oil)
2 cups shredded cotija cheese or a mix of shredded mozzarella and cotija
1 Tablespoon water
About 20 minutes before you want to cook the beef remove it from the refrigerator and sprinkle it with salt. Set aside and let it loose its chill.
In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil until it shimmers then add the ground beef. Break up the meat with a wooden spoon as it browns. This part is annoying but you want to break it up into little bits and not chunky small hamburger-like pieces. This will make the dish much nicer in the end. About half way through breaking it up add the garlic, cumin, and oregano.
Once the beef has browned add the wine, vinegar, paprika, and bay leaf. Cook for 5 minutes then add the tomato sauce, currants, and olives. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
While the beef simmers, fry the plantains.
Cut the ends of plantains then slice the peel lengthwise being careful to just slice the peel and not the plantain. Peel the peel :)
Slice each plantain in half then slice each half length-wise into 4 pieces.
In a large skillet heat the oil over medium-high until it shimmers. Using a fork or kitchen tongs, fry the plantain strips until they are golden and the edges are slightly brown— about 3 minutes per side. Work in batches so as to not overcrowd the pan and drain the strips in a paper towel lined plate.
To assemble the piñon grease a lasagna pan (13x9) with butter or pam.
Place one layer of plantains at the bottom cover with picadillo sprinkle with cheese and repeat— plantains, picadillo, cheese, but make sure the last layer is plantains and that you reserve 1/2 cup of the cheese for when you bake the piñon.
Cover and refrigerate the piñon if you are not baking right away. The piñon can sit in the refrigerator unbaked for up to two days.
When you are ready to bake preheat the oven to 350º. Whisk the eggs with the water until you have a homogeneous mixture. Pour the egg mixture over the piñon. Allow it to seep in. Sprinkle the last layer of cheese on top and bake for 30 minutes.