Roast Duck and a Sordid Act Revealed

Anatra Arrosto

As much as I’ve grown to love duck in my adult life, it certainly wasn’t a part of our diet when I was young. In fact, the only memory I have of duck being served took place 40 to 45 years ago and isn’t so much about the duck but the surrounding circumstances. I’m afraid Zia is not who you think she is.

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Roast Duck *     *     *

When I was very young, frozen foods were just becoming widely available. By the time I was in high school, my Parents had bought a rather large chest freezer, placed it in the basement of the old two-flat, and both families took advantage. After all, it was far larger and the temperature much more consistent than Grandpa’s window box that he would install every Winter. Not only that, but having a freezer meant that Mom and Zia no longer had to rise before dawn on the holidays to make ravioli for the big dinner. Holidays would never be the same for the two Sisters.

By the time the freezer was being filled, my siblings and I were older and occasionally there’d be a night when none of the 3 of us were home for dinner. With Dad working at the restaurant, that meant that Mom ate alone. On one such night, Zia invited Mom to join them for dinner. She had roasted a duck! Mom gratefully accepted and everyone seated at the table commented how delicious the duck was. At some point, Mom asked her Sister what possessed her to roast a duck in mid-week. Was she celebrating something? No, Zia had been looking in the freezer that morning for dinner ideas, saw the duck, and decided to roast it. That’s when Mom realized that Zia, that dear sweet woman you’ve all grown to love, was a duck thief. She had stolen Mom’s duck!!!

Now, we have kept her criminal past secret, within the family, but it’s time to air the Bartolini dirty linen. Besides, as far as crimes go, this one was victimless — save for the duck — and to her credit, Zia did share her ill-gotten gains with the duck’s true owner. Mustn’t forget, too, that by all accounts, it was delicious. That’s important because, to my knowledge, it was the last time that duck was served at the two-flat. Mention roast duck today and, with a smile, Zia will recount the story of the day she became a duck thief.

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I truly enjoy cooking these dishes with Zia. This one really hasn’t been prepared in over 40 years and, even then, it was a rarity. As such, it would be so unfair of me to expect her to remember the recipe, especially since I cannot remember what I was doing 40 minutes ago, let alone 40 years. So, we collaborate and, while doing so, she tells me tales from back in the day, like how she became a thief. It’s a fun afternoon followed by a great dinner. You just can’t top that.

I think you’ll find that there’s nothing complicated about this recipe and, if you’ve been around here for a while, the herbs we used should come as no surprise. As I’ve said before, neither Mom nor Zia used many herbs and spices in their cooking. What few they did have were usually reserved for baking. You will, also, note that there was no sauce/gravy to accompany our duck. This was how my family served it. The duck was plenty moist and very flavorful, so, we went with tradition — and I spirited away the duck fat to play with at some later date.

Speaking of later, this duck will be resurrected in future posts. Stay tuned …

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Roast Duck 5

Let the roasting begin!

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Roast Duck Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 duck, approx 6 lbs, rinsed and dried, neck and giblets removed
  • Fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage leaves, chopped, 3 tbsp total
  • A few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, with a few whole sage leaves
  • 1/2 onion, cut into 4ths
  • 1/2 lemon, cut into 4ths
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 lemon zest, garnish
  • Salt & pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C)
  2. Season duck’s cavities with salt and pepper.
  3. Place one garlic clove in the neck cavity and the remaining garlic, onion, and lemon into the abdominal cavity, along with the sage leaves and sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Use kitchen twine to tie the legs. Fold the wing tips under the duck’s back.
  4. Use a skewer or similarity pointed object to pierce the duck breasts a repeatedly. (See Notes) Coat lightly with olive oil and lightly season the breast side of the duck with salt and pepper.
  5. Place the duck on the roasting rack, breast side down.
  6. Coat lightly with olive oil and liberally season the back with salt, pepper, and 1/3 of the chopped herbs.
  7. Place in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, turn duck so it is now breast-side up, season with remaining herbs, and return to oven.
  8. Bake for 90 minutes, basting every 30 minutes.
  9. After final basting, raise oven temp to 375˚ F (190˚ C) for another 30 minutes to crisp the skin.
  10. Let rest for 20 minutes before carving.

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Roast Duck 2*     *     *

Notes

Piercing the duck breasts will allow more fat to drain during initial phase of roasting.

Generally speaking, roast the duck for 25 minutes per pound at 350 F (180 C).

We roasted potatoes along with our duck. When the duck was removed to be flipped over, we reserved a couple tbsp of duck fat and a little of the chopped herbs. Once the potatoes were washed and dried, we seasoned them with the reserved herbs, salt & pepper, and duck fat. At the 2nd basting, with another hour of roasting yet to go, place the now seasoned potatoes on the roasting rack. Baste them along with the duck and roast until the duck has finished cooking.

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Terrace View

“I just adore a terrace view … “

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Che Bella Roma!

My Italian holiday came to an end in the Eternal City, Rome. There is, quite literally, no place like it on earth. Where most cities exalt their histories, Rome’s past is there, right before your eyes. The Colosseum, Pantheon, Palatine Hill, the Forum, the list goes on and on. If you’ve any interest at all in the Roman Empire, Rome must have a place on your bucket list.

But what if you couldn’t care less about the ancient Romans? Perhaps fine art is more your thing. Then head to Vatican City and get in line to see the Papal art galleries. Words cannot describe the sheer size of the collections. Following the marked route, you’ll pass through gallery after gallery of works painted by the World’s masters. Be sure to look up occasionally as you walk, for the ceilings along the route are incredibly beautiful.  You’ll probably peer into galleries featuring statuary from early Greek and Roman times, as you pass on your way to the Sistine Chapel. With walls painted by some of the Renaissance’s finest artists, Michelangelo created the fresco that adorns its ceiling and front wall. The ceiling depicts various scenes form the Book of Genesis, as well as some notable biblical figures, while the Chapel’s front wall contains Michelangelo’s masterwork, The Last Judgment. Guaranteed that no matter how much time you set aside to tour the Vatican, you’ll wish you had more.

The Vatican isn’t the only place where you can find art. Head to the Church of St. Peter in Chains, San Pietro in Vincoli, where you’ll find Michelangelo’s marble sculpture, Moses. Of course, you could go to the Church of Saint Mary of the People, Santa Maria del Popolo, to see Caravaggio’s Martrydom of St. Peter, as well as his Conversion of St. Paul. Take a moment to view the Chigi Chapel which was created by Raphael and that contains statues sculpted by Bernini. If it’s Caravaggio you want, then you really must walk over to the Church of Saint Louis of the French, San Luigi dei Francesi. Beautiful in it’s own right, to the left of the alter is the Contarelli Chapel containing masterworks by Caravaggio, depicting three events in the life of St. Matthew: The Calling of Saint Matthew; The Inspiration of Saint Matthew, and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew. Like so much of Rome, this little cappella will leave you breathless.

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(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

  Next, and last, is the heart of ancient Rome, the Forum, and its neighbor, the Colosseum.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Zucchini Penne PastaWith our gardens and markets still brimming with zucchini, both yellow and green, today’s look back features a pasta dish that isn’t quite as it appears. Containing zucchini that’s been cleverly chopped to look like penne, this is one way to enjoy pasta with only half — or less — of the carbs. Did I mention how tasty it is?  You can see the recipe by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Cherry_Choc_Oats_Cookie“C” is for Cookie

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There was Something in the Air … And Fried Chicken was on the Stove Top

Fall's First Colors - Mid-August!!!
Yes, there was something in the air, all right, and I’m not talking about leaves changing color in mid-August. Mid-August!!! You see, I had Max groomed the afternoon before we left for Michigan. Lucy would never forgive me if she had to share a car for seven hours with a dog that smelt. Early that evening, I picked up Max at the groomer’s, drove home, and parked my newly repaired car in the garage. Walking through my yard, I stopped to set the timer for the garden sprinkler, meeting Max on the porch no more than three minutes later. It’s amazing how much can happen in three teeny, tiny minutes, especially when skunks are involved.

Those whose dogs have encountered skunks will tell you that their attacks come in three forms. The first — and most foul — is the “direct hit”, where the dog gets sprayed with everything the skunk can throw at it. I had a Cairn Terrier that chased a skunk into a culvert, taking a direct hit to the mouth. His head was soaking wet, as were my shirt and arms after carrying him to a tub for the first of many baths. He was terribly ill for three days and reeked both inside and out, if you catch my drift. The second strike is the “glancing blow”, where just a little of the skunk’s spray hits the dog. Though the dog still smells awful, at least its coat isn’t sopping wet with the stuff, contaminating everything the dog rubs up against. The third — and preferred — encounter is best described as “collateral damage”. It’s when a dog comes in contact with an area that was very recently sprayed. Lucky for Lucy, Max was a victim of collateral damage, apparently having stuck his nose where it didn’t belong. His muzzle carried only faint traces of skunk and, from past experience, only if his snout were to get wet would the full effect of the skunking become noticeable. What, me worry? Like Max was somehow going to get his muzzle wet …

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(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

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Max’s muzzle finally dried out while in the car during our return to Chicago. Lucy was — and is — so not happy.

 My “fuming” dog and angry bird aside, I had a wonderful visit back home. Zia’s Eldest Son and my Nephew arrived on their Harleys and spent the weekend with us, making Max one very happy dog. He adores my Cousin and won’t leave his side whenever he comes to visit his Mom. He takes Max on “nature walks” that can last hours, covering terrain that I can no longer walk — at least that’s what I’ve always thought. Max is not one to talk but, this time, my Nephew, also, walked the walk and, when they returned, he talked about the walk. It’s safe to say that this is one walk unlike any I’ve experienced and if duty calls, Max is ready to serve in the Canine Corps of the Navy Seals.

With Max away for hours at a time, Zia and I had our own little vacation. I’d brought my chitarra and we made a few pounds of pasta together. In fact, I made sure that her pasta board was covered with pasta when I left for home. I, also, made gelato — over 2 gallons — for Zia and her friends. One night, I cooked us a Moroccan-inspired chicken dish and, on another, we conspired to roast a goat shoulder. That recipe will be featured in a future post, as well as on my own table. We really did enjoy it.

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Rising Lake Levels

Adding another 6 inches of water since June, Lake Huron’s water level is about 14 inches higher than last year.

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All facts considered, it was a great visit that ended too quickly. The weather was warm though not as warm as it should have been, a complaint heard throughout the Mid-West this year, I’m afraid. Heavy rains, too, caused flooding throughout much of South-Eastern Michigan and Lake Huron’s water level continued to rise. It hasn’t been this high in at least 15 years. For me, though, seeing leaves already turning color was a bit of a shock and I couldn’t help  but wonder what sort of Winter lies ahead. Best get the snowblower tuned up.

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You might recall that I had scheduled our recipe for roast duck for today’s post. That was before I returned home to find that the WordPress gods were angry and once again had me in their cross-hairs. Just as was the case when I was in Italy, I no longer receive notifications of most of your posts and, again, they’re to be found in my SPAM folder — all 800+ of them. As a result, I’ve had no time to finish up the roast duck post but will have it done for next week. I guess the WP gods don’t like me being away which is most unfortunate, for I’ll be leaving again in a few weeks. The Honey Man will soon be open for business and Zia and I will be there to get our share.

As for today/s Fried Chicken recipe, I cannot think of a better recipe to post. This weekend, we in the States will be celebrating a three day weekend for the Labor Day Holiday and what picnic or yard party is complete without a platter of fried chicken? For me, the colder the chicken the better. Make it as much as a few days in advance and stick in the fridge until party time.

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BACON!!!*     *     *

No, the above pic is correct. That’s a photo of bacon frying to start a post about fried chicken. There’s really nothing so shocking about that but my using lard with the bacon fat to fry chicken may raise a few eyebrows.

Mid-Winter, I learned of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that serves my area of Chicago. Granted, much of their Winter offerings were “imports” — there’s nothing growing in these parts — but all were organic and the quality was very good. It was nice, too, not having to hunt for Meyer lemons, kumquats, Mandarin oranges, and, later, ramps. Then, one day while browsing the website, I saw that they had fresh, organic lard. My search had ended.

You see, I’ve been looking for fresh lard for some time now. Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about the stuff you might see on your grocer’s shelf. That stuff is hydrogenated so that it will “keep” and should be avoided. Fresh lard, though not perfect, is a far healthier choice. Speaking of healthier choices, the bacon used is low-sodium and uncured, with no nitrites and nitrates used in its processing. As is the case with any fried foods, though, moderation is the key. In the past three years, I’ve fried chicken twice. Now, I’d like for you to believe that it’s because I’m so health conscious but the reality is that I hate having to deal with a pot of used grease. Shallow frying, as I did here, minimizes the amount of grease used but its disposal is still a problem. So, when I do fry chicken, I fry quite a bit, freezing future dinners in the process. And a couple pieces of fried chicken is a nice treat to enjoy during a seven hour drive. Place the frozen pieces in the car when you leave home and, by the time you’re hungry, it will be thawed but still cold — just how I like it.

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Fried Chicken 1

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Fried Chicken Recipe

 Ingredients

  • chicken pieces with skin and bones — I used legs and thighs
  • 1 quart (950 ml) buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp Sriracha hot sauce – optional
  • 4 rashes/slices bacon
  • 1 lb (2 cups or 455 g) lard 
  • 1 cup all-purpose (AP) flour
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon

Directions

  1. Place chicken pieces in a large bowl, non-reactive pot, or plastic bag. Combine buttermilk with Sriracha, if using, and pour over the chicken pieces. Cover/seal the chicken and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
  2. In a large, seal-able plastic bag, combine flour, salt, pepper, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, marjoram, and cinnamon. Mix until well blended.
  3. In a large (cast iron) frying pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and reserve for another use.Fresh Lard
  4. Place the lard into the pan with bacon grease, raise the heat to medium, and melt the lard. Do not allow the pan to be filled more than halfway with grease. (See Notes)
  5. Meanwhile, drain the chicken, raise the heat to med-high, and when the grease reaches a temperature of 350˚ F (177˚ C) (see Notes), place 5 or 6 pieces into the bag with the flour. Seal the bag and shake to evenly coat the chicken pieces.
  6. Shake off the excess flour and place each piece individually into the hot grease, skin-side up. Watch out for splatters and do not over-crowd. Fry for 7 minutes.
  7. Turn each piece over, lower the heat to low, cover the pan, and fry for 12 minutes.
  8. Uncover, turn each piece over, raise heat to med, and fry for another 5 to 7 minutes. Chicken is fully cooked when it reaches a temperature of 165 F (75 C). (See Notes)
  9. Place cooked chicken on a rack over a baking sheet, season with salt, and place in a pre-heated, 200˚ F (95˚ C) to keep warm while the remaining chicken is fried.
  10. Serve immediately.

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Fried Chicken 2*     *     *

Notes

No matter what type pan you use to fry, never fill it more than halfway with grease. Higher than halfway and you’ll run the risk of the grease bubbling over once the food has been added. Serious burns and/or fire may result.

I like to fry chicken in oil at a temperature between 350˚˚ to 355˚ F (177˚ to 180˚ C). If the oil’s temperature is a little higher at the start, that’s fine. Adding the chicken to the pan will drop the temperature down to what I consider to be acceptable levels.

A chicken’s dark meat takes more time to fry than does the white meat. Here I cooked only dark meat. When frying both white and dark meat, start the dark meat pieces a couple minutes before adding the white meat pieces. When frying a large amount of chicken, I’ll fry a batch of only dark meat and another of white.

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Now, about that reserved bacon …

BLTA bacon, lettuce, & tomato sandwich for lunch the next day.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Zia's Corn RelishIn this part of the country, it’s corn season and our groceries and farmers markets have bins of sweet corn for sale. Fresh corn is one of Summer’s great gifts and I take full advantage. Unfortunately, like all of Summer’s bounty, its season is far too short, leaving us corn lovers seeking the prized kernels in our grocer’s frozen foods aisle. Today’s look back is one way to enjoy Summer corn in mid-Winter without having to defrost it first. Zia has made this corn relish for years and it’s a family favorite. You can learn her recipe by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Duck Preview

The Once-Postponed Roast Duck

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A Tale of Two Pizzas

Un Racconto di Due Pizze

Due PizzeFunny the convoluted paths that some of my posts take before being published. Today’s is a case in point. Originally this was to be a post about Naan pizzas. Originally.

For almost as long as I’ve lived in Chicago, Friday night has been “little or no cook” night. When I worked in The Loop, I often went out with my workmates for a “quick one” after work, which then led to several more before food somehow made its way to the table. On other Fridays, I met friends at a nearby watering hole and we often ended up at a restaurant or in one of our apartments ordering dinner before heading out for the night. Pizza was often a part of the remaining Fridays — but they were delivered.

Much has changed in my life since then but the 2 things that have remained constant are that I don’t do a lot of cooking on Friday nights and I still love pizza. Enter Naan pizza. With Naan as my pizza crust, I can easily prepare pizza with whatever toppings I want or that I have on-hand — just like my “clean out the fridge frittata”, another Friday night favorite. And that was to be the post: making Naan pizza. Then I went to the wrong grocery store.

Naan is available at all the grocery stores where I shop — save one and, of course, that’s where I found myself on a recent Friday afternoon. I’d been running errands all morning and, once I discovered my mistake, I didn’t feel much like heading to another grocery, That’s when inspiration struck. Realizing that I had some very active sourdough starter on my counter, I decided to go traditional and make my own pizza crust. My “Naan Pizza” post suddenly became “A Tale of Two Pizzas”, one old-style and one Naan.

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Prosciutto Pizza 1*     *     *

Prosciutto Pizza Recipe

Ingredients

  • Pizza dough (Recipe follows)
  • a few tablespoons of Pistachio Pesto
  • marinated artichoke hearts, well-drained
  • several asparagus spears, chopped and briefly sautéed in butter or olive oil, drained
  • diced prosciutto
  • mozzarella (See Notes)
  • Fontina cheese, grated
  • diced prosciutto, garnish

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Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 425˚ F (220˚ C). Lightly coat a 9 X 13″ (23 X 33 cm) baking sheet with olive oil.
  2. Use a rolling-pin to create a rectangle with the dough. Do not try to make it as large as needed. Place the dough in the center of the baking sheet and, with your fingertips, gently move/stretch the dough until it covers the entire sheet. If the dough recoils, let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes before resuming.
  3. For a slightly thicker crust, pre-cook the crust for 10 minutes in a pre-heated oven before proceeding.
  4. Apply a light coating of pesto to the top of the crust. The less oil used, the better.
  5. Place the artichokes, asparagus, and prosciutto on the crust.
  6. Evenly arrange the mozzarella cheese before covering the entire pizza with freshly grated Fontina cheese.
  7. Bake in pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes, more or less depending upon your preference.
  8. Garnish with more diced prosciutto and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

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Pizza Crust 1*     *     *

Pizza Dough Recipe

This dough recipe is based on the Celia’s Bread #101 — A Basic Tutorial recipe in her encyclopedic blog, Fig and Lime Cordial. (Seriously, if you’re looking for a bread recipe, forget Google and head over to Celia’s.) Her recipe makes 4 crusts which is too much for me. So, I reduced the amounts but not by half. I added 50g more flour to accommodate my addition of sourdough starter, which by the way, also, came from Celia. She’s named her sourdough starter “Priscilla”, while mine has been christened “Bart, son of Priscilla”.

Ingredients

  • 300 g bread flour
  • 5 g yeast (See Notes)
  • 1/4 cup sourdough starter
  • 5 g kosher salt
  • 160 ml water
  • 25 ml olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients and, using a stand mixer’s dough hook, knead until a nice dough forms.
  2. Separate into 2 equal parts. (Mine were 280 grams apiece.)
  3. Place each in lightly oiled, container with lid, cover, and place in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.
  4. Punch down dough, re-cover, and let rise again till doubled — about 1 hour more.
  5. Take one ball of dough, wrap it tightly in plastic/cling wrap, and freeze. The night before it’s needed, place in the fridge to defrost.
  6. Prepare the remaining dough ball as you would normally when making pizza.

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Now that the traditional pizza is out-of-the-way, we can turn to the “I want pizza now!” pizza recipe. These pizzas shouldn’t take more than a half hour to prepare — and that’s from start to burning the roof of your mouth. Use whatever toppings and as much of each as you like. Following the prosciutto pizza, I’ve listed 3 more, 2 of which are meatless.

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Spinach~Prosciutto Naan Pizza

Prosciutto Pizza Topped 1*     *     *

Ingredients

  • Naan
  • Pesto Genovese – get recipe HERE.
  • mozzarella (See Notes)
  • crumbled goat cheese
  • hand-torn pickled cherry bomb peppers ( See Notes)
  • fresh baby spinach, very lightly dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt & pepper (See Notes)
  • thinly sliced prosciutto

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Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 425˚ F (220 ˚C).
  2. Lightly coat top of the Naan with pesto.
  3. Place the mozzarella and then sprinkle with the grated goat cheese.
  4. Add the cherry bomb peppers.
  5. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, depending upon your preference.
  6. Remove from oven and immediately top with the dressed spinach leaves. Place torn slices of prosciutto on the top of the pizza and serve.

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Variations

Originally, the above 3 pizzas were to be part of a Naan Pizza post. Once I made a pizza using my own crust, however, these 3 took a back seat to the prosciutto pizzas. Still, they do prove my point that the topping possibilities are endless and oftentimes my Friday night pizza, much like my Friday night frittata, helps me clear out my fridge. On the left is a pizza topped with sardines and kale, the top right is an anchovy and caper pizza, while the bottom pie is made with spicy salami and kalamata olives. Click on an image to reveal that pizza’s remaining ingredients.

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Notes

When making these pizzas, I often use small mozzarella balls called ciliegine, so named because they are cherry-sized and ciliege is the Italian word for cherries. Other times, I use “mozzarella pearls” which are about half the size of ciliegine.

When using Naan for my crust, I use a baking sheet and wouldn’t suggest baking your pizza on a pizza stone. Naan is already fully cooked and it will likely burn on a pizza stone while your pizza’s toppings are being heated.

I used yeast this time around because I wasn’t sure that I’d have enough time to allow the sourdough to rise, having spent the day running errands. Normally, I start the dough in the morning and, when it’s ready, pre-bake the crust, then hold it until I’m ready to fix dinner.

Use as much or as little of any ingredient listed, according to your own preferences.

The pickled cherry bomb peppers I used here came from my garden and added a bit of heat to the pizza. Use whatever pepper/chile you prefer.

Dress the spinach leaves sparingly with oil and vinegar. Remember that any excess will drain on to your pizza.

I prefer to place the spinach on the pizza first so that the pizza’s heat will lightly wilt the leaves. You may prefer to place the prosciutto on first.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Pasta al SalmoneToday’s look back features Pasta al Salmone, Pasta with Salmon. I first tasted this delicious pasta while in Italy for the first time. It was love at first bite. It took me a number of years to replicate that dish but I finally did and now I can enjoy Pasta al Salmone without having to deal with airports and surly flight attendants. You can see the recipe by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Homemade GarganelliHomemade Garganelli Pasta

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Braised Lamb Shanks

Lamb Shank 3In a previous post, I’ve mentioned that when I was a boy, a young goat was the meat of choice for our Easter dinner. Goat, however, was to be replaced by Spring lamb but even its reign was cut short, since my siblings weren’t at all enamored of it. As a result, Mom switched to serving some sort of roast for our holiday meal, reserving lamb for other, not so special, nights. (Sorry that I cannot be more specific but, as I’ve also mentioned before, my attention during holiday meals was always fixated on the platter of ravioli.) For those non-holiday dinners, she would serve lamb for the 3 of us and some other dish for my siblings. Lamb shanks were most often served for no other reason, I thought, than they were so easy to prepare. Remember, she had another dinner to cook for my siblings.

Although I don’t have Mom’s recipe in written form, I know it well. We spoke of it often and she was delighted to hear that I would be serving lamb shanks for dinner. It turned out that, as much as Dad and I enjoyed lamb, Mom was crazy about it. She’d rather make 2 meals than go without her lamb.

Today’s recipe is pretty much all Mom. I did make a couple of adjustments, though. Namely, Mom used red wine and I use white with a little sherry vinegar. Then, too, for today’s recipe, I used a slow cooker and Mom’s was nowhere near large enough for lamb shanks. If that’s you or you don’t like slow cookers, this dish can just as easily be made in the oven or on the stove top. Instructions to do so follow the recipe below.

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Whether you’re celebrating Passover or getting ready for Easter, the Bartolini Clan and I wish you a very Happy Holiday.

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Lamb Shank 2*     *     *

Braised Lamb Shanks Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb shanks (See Notes)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • leaves and stalks from the top of a celery heart, about 1 cup
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, smashed, separated
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup white wine (Mom used red wine)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup sherry vinegar (Mom didn’t use any vinegar)
  • vegetable stock (See Notes) (Mom used her chicken stock)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • lemon zest for garnish, optional (See Notes)

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Lamb Shank Braise*     *     *

Directions

  1. In a large fry pan, heat the olive oil over med-high heat.
  2. Add 2 smashed garlic cloves and sauté until golden. Remove the garlic and discard. (See Notes).
  3. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and place them into the pan, browning them on all sides. This could take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Remove and reserve the lamb shanks.
  5. Place all the vegetables into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until some color is achieved.
  6. Add the tomato paste and cook until fragrant and its color deepens, 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Remove the mixture from the pan and place into the slow cooker, along with the garlic, rosemary, bay leaf, and sherry vinegar.
  8. Use the white wine to deglaze the pan and then add it to the slow cooker. Season with salt & pepper.
  9. Place the lamb shanks into the pot and add enough vegetable stock so that half of the shanks are submerged. Cover the slow cooker. (See Notes)
  10. Cook on low for 8 hours, turning over the shanks about every 90 minutes. (See Notes)
  11. Remove meat and cover while the liquids are strained and the sauce prepared. (See Notes)
  12. Serve, garnished with lemon zest, and with the sauce on the side.

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For those without a slow cooker

Instead of using a fry pan, brown the shanks and sauté the vegetables in a Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot with a lid. Follow the recipe and place everything into the pot. Add enough vegetable stock to submerge 2/3 of the shanks. Bring to a boil over med-high heat and cover. At this point, you can:

  • Leave the pot on the stove, reduce the heat to a soft simmer, and cook for 90 to 120 minutes. Meat should be nearly falling off of the bone. Turn over the shanks occasionally.
  • Place the pot into a pre-heated 250˚ F (120˚ C) oven and cook for 3 hours. Turn over the shanks occasionally.

Serve as indicated in the recipe above.

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Lamb Shank 4*     *     *

Notes

Be sure to remove any excess fat and as much gray skin as you can. Rather than show you how I did it, you can see a pro do it HERE. It’s not the most thorough set of photos but they will give you a better idea than mine would have. (Work for food? Applications are now being accepted for a photographic assistant.)

If at all possible, make you own vegetable stock and use the flavors that you will use to braise the lamb shanks. One or two days before you cook the shanks, place one onion (quartered), 2 celery stalks (roughly chopped), 2 carrots (roughly chopped), 2 cloves of garlic (smashed), 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, a few sprigs of fresh parsley, 1 bay leaf, and 6 or 7 cups of water into a medium sauce pan. Over med-high heat, bring the contents to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. I let mine simmer for 2 hours and got a full quart of vegetable stock. I did not use any salt nor pepper in this stock so that I could better control both seasonings during the braising process.

Because less liquid evaporates from a slow cooker, less braising liquid is needed than when a Dutch oven is used to braise on the stove top or in the oven.

Using smashed garlic cloves to flavor the cooking oil is something Mom did all the time. It’s especially useful when sautéing vegetables, giving them garlic flavor without having pieces of garlic in the dish.

If you haven’t got 8 hours to wait for dinner, you can reduce the cooking time by setting the slow cooker’s setting to “High”. As a general rule, one hour of cooking on “High” is worth 2 hours on “Low”.

A few months ago, Chef Michael Symon mentioned that he uses citrus zest as a garnish when he serves braised meats. I decided to give it a try and, since then, I’ve used orange zest on beef cheeks and lemon zest on harissa chicken and today’s lamb shanks. In all cases, the zest added a bit of freshness to the dish that I liked very much.

Once you’ve strained the liquids and removed the fat, you can:

  • serve the sauce as-is;
  • reduce it and serve; or,
  • if needed, use a thickening agent —I used arrowroot — to make gravy.

No matter how you finish the sauce, be sure to taste and adjust its seasoning as needed.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

CresciaSince I’ve shared a lamb shanks recipe for Easter dinner, why not share a bread recipe, as well? Today’s blast from the past will take you to my post for the Easter bread of Le Marche, the ancestral home of the Bartolini side of my family. Braided and loaded with cheese, this bread will fill your kitchen with an irresistible aroma while it bakes. Be forewarned. Don’t bake this bread too far in advance of Easter, for it has a tendency to disappear. You can learn all about this crescia by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Harissa Roasted Vegetables PreviewRoasted Vegetables Salad with Harissa

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Pasta and Beans

Pasta e Fagioli 

Pasta e Fagioli 3Beans, fagioli, are grown throughout the Italian peninsula and Sicily, with most regions having their favorites. With such a good source of protein so readily available, beans form a substantial part of the traditional Italian diet and you’ll find them served in every way imaginable — raw, stewed, baked, steamed, you name it. As one might expect, each of Italy’s regions adds its own distinctive flair to the many basic recipes and that’s certainly true of today’s recipe.

Now, having said that, I must confess that this dish, Pasta e Fagioli, was never served back in the old two-flat. I’ve no idea why but it just wasn’t part of the Bartolini playbook. So, how did I come to prepare it?

The first Christmas after I moved out of my parent’s home, Zia and Uncle gave me a cookbook, “The Romagnoli’s Table”. It was the first cookbook I owned and it remains a cherished possession. What sets this book apart, aside from how it came to be mine, is that it’s the only one that I’ve found that contains recipes that begin with a battuto, just like so many of the Bartolini recipes from back in the day. (You may recall that battuto is a type of Italian soffritto consisting of onion, parsley, garlic, and salt pork.) Well over a dozen years ago, I followed their recipe to make Pasta e Fagioli for the first time and, though I’ve made a few minor changes along the way, I still follow it today.

Like so many wonderful Italian recipes, this is not a complicated dish to prepare nor are the ingredients hard to find, save one. I’ve mentioned before that “good” salt pork is very hard to find. In fact, I’ve given up the search. Here, I’ve chosen to use guanciale. If you cannot find it, you can substitute pancetta or bacon, just so long as it isn’t smoked. A smoked pork product could very well overpower the dish.

Lastly, you may be wondering why I’ve chosen to share this recipe now, at the beginning of Spring, and not during the dead of Winter. There are two reasons for that. In the first place, it’s the beans. While we can get dried beans year-round, fresh beans are only available in the Summer months. Using them to make Pasta e Fagioli adds a wonderful flavor to the dish and should definitely be tried. Secondly, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are heading into their cooler months and this dish will be welcomed. For them, I’m right on time.

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Pasta e Fagioli 5*     *     *

Pasta and Beans Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves
  • about 1/4 c fresh parsley
  • 2 oz (57 g) guanciale (salt pork, pancetta, or non-smoked bacon may be substituted)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 8 oz (230 g) dried Borlotti beans (See Notes)
  • rind from a chunk of Pecorino Romano cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano rind may be substituted)
  • 2 cups pasta (see Notes)
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted)

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Directions

  1. The night before, place the beans in a container and add enough water to cover them by 3 inches. The next morning, pour off the liquid and rinse. The beans will be ready for use.
  2. Make the battuto:
    • Coarsely chop the onion, celery, garlic, and parsley. Add to the guanciale.
    • Heat the blade of a very sharp knife using the burner of your stove.
    • Once hot, begin chopping the mixture of meat and vegetables. Keep chopping/dicing/mincing until a relatively smooth paste results.
  3. Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot.
  4. Add battuto and sauté until very lightly browned and fragrant.
  5. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften.
  6. Add the water, beans, and cheese rind, raise the heat to med-high, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and cook until beans are softened and thoroughly heated. (See Beans)
  7. Add the raw pasta and continue to cook until done. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.
  8. Add hot water if too thick.
  9. Taste and season with salt & pepper, as needed.
  10. Remove the cheese rind and discard.
  11. Serve immediately, garnished with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

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Pasta e Fagioli 1*     *     *

Beans

Beans can be purchased 3 ways.

  1. Canned, which only require rinsing before use. In this recipe, they will only need to be thoroughly heated as they are already soft.
  2. Dried beans can be prepared in two ways. No matter which method you choose, they will take about 90 minutes to cook.
    1. Place the beans in a large bowl and add enough water to cover by about 3 inches. Leave overnight, When ready, rinse before using in the recipe. Alternately,
    2. Place dried beans in a pot with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, simmer for 2 minutes, and then turn off the heat. Beans will be ready in one hour. Drain before use.
  3. Fresh, which can be added to the pot as you would pre-soaked beans. They should be cooked within 20 to 30 minutes.

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Notes

Pssst. Don’t tell Zia that I used a mini-chopper to prepare the battuto.

Because this battuto uses celery, it is a far lighter shade than normal.

I used Borlotti beans in this recipe. You may know them as Roman or cranberry beans. You could, also, use red, kidney, or even cannellini beans, if you like. In short, use whichever beans are available. No Nonna is going to run to the store for Borlotti beans when she has cannellini beans in the pantry.

This recipe used 2 cups dried Borlotti beans. 1 can of beans may be substituted or, if you’re lucky enough to find fresh beans, use about 1.5 pounds (680 g).

Water, not stock, is used here because the battuto will add a great deal to the dish, whereas stock may muddle the flavors.

No need to treat the beans gingerly. Those damaged during the cooking process will only serve to thicken the final dish.

Any small pasta will work here. I used ditalini.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Sack o' Little NecksOne of my all-time favorite ways to serve pasta is to prepare it with clams. It is a tasty dish, one that I cannot resist when I see fresh clams at the fishmonger’s. I’ve shared 2 recipes for pasta with clams, one with a “white” sauce and the other “red”. Today I’ll send you back to the white sauce recipe post, which you can see just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Maltagliati PreviewMaltagliati Pasta with Pistachio Pesto

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Try This One For Thighs

Coscie di Pollo con Harissa

Harissa Thighs 1Little did I know when I used harissa to braise goat last October that I would become obsessed with the spicy sauce. Initially, I bought harissa from a Middle Eastern bakery that prepares the sauce on-site and provides it to a number of restaurants here in Chicago. Celia, though, suggested I make my own. Now, if you’ve been to her amazing blog, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, you know that Celia makes just about everything and does so with a deft hand. Still, I was hesitant.

The truth is that many recipes say to use red or green chiles. Well, being a chile neophyte, I never know which ones to use and it’s not like there’s a big selection here. Then I came upon Mimi’s harissa recipe. (Take some time to get to know her blog, the Chef Mimi Blog, too, for some incredibly delicious recipes.) Her recipe took a different tack and I decided to give it a try.

Well, as luck would have it, when I went shopping for ingredients, there they were, a large display of red Fresno peppers. I bought a dozen, deciding I would take inspiration from both of their recipes, and since that afternoon, I’ve made several batches of harissa.

Over time, I’ve adjusted the spice mix to get to a flavor profile I prefer and now I’m working on the heat level. Right now, this sauce has a nice even heat when raw — there’s a roasted vegetable salad post in the works — but it dissipates a bit when cooked. Those with a higher tolerance for chiles may wish to include the peppers’ ribs and seeds, or, add another Habanero to the recipe below.

Like my harissa sauce, today’s chicken recipe is a work in progress, although I have prepared it in much the same manner 4 or 5 times now. In some ways, it reminds me of a cacciatore with a North African twist. I think you’ll find the recipe easy enough to follow without experiencing any problems.

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Chicken Thighs with Harissa

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken thighs with skin and bones
  • 3 tbsp harissa sauce – recipe follows
  • 1/2 c chicken stock
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper/capsicum, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • about 12 oz (340 g) olive salad (See Notes)
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, chopped
  • salt & pepper
  • lemon zest
  • mint leaves for garnish – optional

Directions

  1. Combine harissa, cinnamon, and chicken stock in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan with a cover over med-high heat.
  3. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and add to frying pan, skin-side down. Sauté until brown, 6 to 8 minutes, before turning over and browning the other side. Remove thighs from the pan.
  4. Remove all but 2 tbsp of fat from the pan. Add onions and peppers to the pan and sauté until onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic for the final minute.
  5. Add olive salad and harissa sauce mix, stir, and heat through.
  6. Add thighs back to the pan, skin-side down, before adding the cherry tomatoes and preserved lemon. Cover the pan and reduce heat to medium.
  7. After 15 minutes, turn over the thighs so that they’re skin-side up. Do not cover the pan, giving the sauce a chance to thicken while the chicken finishes cooking.
  8. After the thighs have cooked for a total of 30 minutes, insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the largest thigh. When the temperature reaches 165˚ F (75˚ C) the thighs are done.
  9. Remove to serving platter, sprinkle with lemon zest, and garnish with torn mint leaves, if desired.
  10. Serve immediately.

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Harissa Thighs 7

Someone forgot the mint leaves.

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Notes

I prefer to use a variety of olives here. Most of the groceries in this area offer olive salads, some even have more than 1 type. When they’re available, I’ll use the Mediterranean or Spanish olive salad. In today’s recipe, I combined both. Use whatever combination of olives you prefer and that are available. Use as little or as much as you like.

The chicken was served over tri-color “pearl” couscous that had been tossed with chopped scallions (spring onions) and sun-dried tomatoes.

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Homemade Harissa*     *     *

Harissa Recipe

yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 12 Fresno peppers, seeds removed
  • 3 whole roasted red peppers — well-drained if store-bought
  • 1 Habanero chile, seeds removed
  • 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tbsp whole cumin seed
  • 1 tbsp whole coriander seed
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 10 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 30 mint leaves, more or less to taste
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • water

Directions

  1. Place cumin seeds in a small frying pan over med-high heat. Keep the pan moving and toast the seeds until uniformly brown and fragrant — no more than 2 minutes. Immediately remove from pan and reserve.  Repeat with coriander seeds and then the caraway. Once all are cool, place in spice mill or mortar and grind. (See Notes)
  2. Place the ground spices. Habanero and Fresno chiles, paprika, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and run until a thick paste has formed.
  3. Add the mint leaves and pulse the contents until mixed.
  4. Add the oil and process. If you prefer your harissa sauce to be thinner, add water until it reaches the consistency you like.
  5. Harissa is ready to use as-is, though it will be better after a few days, once the flavors have a chance to blend a bit.

Refrigerate in an airtight container. Celia recommends adding a thin coat of olive oil before storing. Harissa should be used within a couple of weeks.

With special thanks to Celia, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, and Mimi, Chef Mimi Blog

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Notes

It is best to toast seeds of varying sizes separately. When toasted together, the smallest seeds will likely burn while you wait for the larger ones to toast.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Swordfish 1Today’s blast from the past, swordfish served with salsa verde, carries with it a message. See those grill marks, Old Man Winter? We want to start grilling but can’t so long as you stick around. Take the hint, vacate the North, and head to the Southern Hemisphere, where they eagerly await your cooler temps and much-needed rain. The rest of you can click HERE to learn how to prepare this dish.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pasta e Fagioli 2Pasta and Beans

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We’re Celebrating St. Joseph’s Feast Day with a Sicilian Strata

Oh, happy day! As some of you already know, today, March 19th, is the feast day of the Christ Child’s earthly Father, St. Joseph. Celebrated in towns and villages throughout Italy, the life of this humble carpenter is especially commemorated in Sicily, where it is believed his intercession saved the island’s inhabitants from a drought-induced famine during the Middle Ages. Today, in the States, his feast day is remembered wherever an Italian community calls home. Here in the Bartolini kitchens, we celebrate St. Joseph with music. In years past, we assembled a band and sang a song. All that’s left to do is dance.

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Since today we celebrate Sicily’s Patron Saint, why not feature a dish from that beautiful island? That’s a great idea, though I doubt that this dish is actually Sicilian in origin. Chances are it’s an American-Italian creation, if that. Well, at least half of its name is Italian, strata being derived from the Italian word for layer, strato.

As its name suggests, a strata consists of layers of ingredients and these are held together with a custard-type mixture. Strata come in many flavors. When Zia’s youngest Son’s family comes for a visit, ofttimes 3 of her Grandsons will work together to serve brunch. One mans the smoker while the other 2 bake a strata and prepare a few side dishes. They perform like a well-oiled machine and no one leaves that table hungry.

With a Sicilian strata, it’s all about the sausage, so, be sure to use your favorite Italian sausage, or homemade if you have it. You’ll find that today’s recipe is relatively benign but you can spice it up as much as you like. This can be easily accomplished by using “hot” Italian sausage, sautéing diced hot peppers with the vegetables, and/or seasoning the vegetables with red pepper flakes.

Your strata may be served hot or at room temperature, making it perfect brunch fare. Assemble it the night before and bake it anytime before your guests are seated at the table. Add a salad, some jam for bread/toast/bagels, perhaps some fruit, and brunch is served. Best of all, instead of being stuck in the kitchen playing short-order cook, you’ll be sipping Bloody Marys with your guests.

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Sicilian Strata 1*     *     *

Sicilian Strata Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Italian sausage meat, from links or patties (See Notes)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 6 Spring onions (scallions) chopped
  • 1 loaf Italian bread, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, divided – Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted
  • 8 oz (225 g) ball of fresh mozzarella, grated, divided (See Notes)
  • 1 dozen cherry/grape tomatoes, sliced, divided (See Notes)
  • 9 large eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • salt and pepper, to taste (See Notes)
  • chopped parsley for garnish

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Sicilian Strata 2*     *     *

Directions

  1. In a large frying pan over med-high heat, sauté sausage meat until browned. Remove to a dish and reserve.
  2. In the same pan, sauté mushrooms until just about cooked through, about 5 minutes. If needed, add some additional olive oil.
  3. Add the onions and peppers to the pan and sauté until soft, another 5 minutes.
  4. Return sausage to the pan, mix, and heat through. Remove from heat and reserve.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper until well-combined.
  6. Use oil spray, vegetable oil, or butter to lightly grease a large baking dish.
  7. Build the strata:
    1. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of bread slices.
    2. Sprinkle half of the sausage mixture over the bread.
    3. Add half of the tomatoes.
    4. Sprinkle half of the grated Pecorino Romano cheese on top.
    5. Finish this layer by adding half of the mozzarella cheese.
    6. Add another layer of sliced bread.
    7. Cover this layer with the remaining sausage mixture and tomatoes.
    8. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the top of the entire dish.
    9. Finish the strata by sprinkling the rest of the Pecorino Romano and mozzarella on top.
  8. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  9. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C).
  10. Remove cover and bake in the center of the pre-heated oven until the eggs are set and the top is lightly browned, about 40 to 50 minutes. It should have a reading of no less than 165˚ F (74˚ C) on an instant-read thermometer. (See Notes)
  11. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before garnishing with parsley and cutting into squares for serving.

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Still not quite what you had in mind?

Then head on over to my blogging friend Nancy’s blog, Feasting with Friends. Just days ago she posted a recipe for a strata with Ham & Asparagus and it sounds delicious.

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Notes

Use whatever sausage you like, though Italian is suggested. It is a Sicilian strata, after all. I use our family sausage though you might prefer something a little sweeter or a bit more spicy. If using links, be sure to remove the sausage meat from the casings before cooking.

If using fresh mozzarella, it will be much easier to grate if you place it in your freezer for 30 to 45 minutes before grating.

As you may have seen in the photos, 8 oz of fresh mozzarella, when grated, will not result in enough mozzarella to completely cover each layer. Use more if that is what you prefer.

In Summer, I use a couple of “regular” tomatoes that I chop before adding to the strata. Being this is Winter, good tomatoes are practically impossible to find here, so, I use cherry or grape tomatoes that I slice in half. Use the best tomatoes you can, given the season.

The amount of salt you use will depend greatly upon the sausage and cheese you’ve chosen. Both can add quite a bit of salt to your strata.

Allowing the strata to come up to room temperature before baking will reduce baking time. As a precaution since you’re using raw egg, do not let the raw strata sit unrefrigerated for more than a half-hour, especially if you’ve a warm kitchen.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Bartolini Cannelloni 1Since we’re in a celebratory mood, I thought today’s blast from the past should take us back  to a recipe that was shared to commemorate a previous St. Joseph’s Feast Day. It was just about a year ago that I showed you all how to make Bartolini cannelloni, affectionately labeled a crown jewel of the Bartolini family recipe book. For a refresher course, all you need do is click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Harissa Thighs 3Harissa Chicken

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This Pork Tenderloin is Plum Tasty

Pork Tenderloin - Plums  5Long-time subscribers to this blog know that I didn’t exactly jump at the chance to start canning. The word “reluctant” comes to mind, though “stubborn” might be more appropriate. Well, in August, 2011, I did start preserving foods, with most of my attention focused upon jams and jellies. It wasn’t long before I was awash in jams and jellies of every kind, as were many of my tasters, located both near and far alike.

At the time, I didn’t realize that there’s much more to jelly besides toast or peanut butter. The day I used fig preserves to stuff a pork loin changed the way I viewed my jams. So, when I made Damson plum jam last year, I was already thinking of pork roasts. I knew I was on the right track when my friend, Betsy, author of the wonderful Bits and Breadcrumbs blog, mentioned the very same thing in that post’s comments. Betsy, it took me a while to get here but I finally made it!

There is nothing complicated about this recipe. I’d guess that the toughest part of it will be finding plum jam, depending upon where you live. You could aways make some yourself but, if you live in the Chicago area, you’re likely to have a harder time finding Damson plums this Summer. You see, I plan on buying as many as I can find, all the while dreaming of future pork roasts. Speaking of which, there’s a pork roast with cherries in the works, as well.

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Some have noticed and mentioned that I’ve not been around the blogosphere as much as I once was. The fact is that I now have over 1100 followers, far more than I ever dreamt possible, yet I’ve continued to administer the blog as I did when you numbered only 100. As you can well imagine, this cannot continue and I’m imposing a limit on the amount of time I commit to blogging every day. I certainly hope that no one takes offense if I miss a post or fail to reply to a comment, for that’s the very last thing intended. I simply need to devote time to other matters. Thank you for your understanding. I’m very grateful for your ongoing support and encouragement.

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Pork Tenderloin - Plums 2

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Pork Tenderloin with Plum Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lb. (680 g) pork tenderloin
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz (120 ml) white wine — I used a Riesling
  • 1 tsp grated ginger — a little less than 1/2 inch piece
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4 oz (115 g) plum jam  — Damson plum jam recipe
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper, to taste

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Pork Tenderloin - Plums 4*     *     *

Directions

  1. Heat butter and olive oil in a large frying pan, with cover, over med-high heat.
  2. Season pork tenderloin with salt and pepper before browning it on all sides in the pan — about 8 minutes. Remove the tenderloin from the pan.
  3. Use the white wine to deglaze the pan.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium before adding the ginger, balsamic vinegar, and plum jam, stirring until the jam melts and all are well-combined.
  5. Add the rosemary and return the tenderloin to the pan. Use a spoon to coat the pork with the plum sauce. Cover the pan.
  6. Continue to cook the pork, periodically basting it with the sauce, until it reaches your preferred temperature. Remove from pan and tent with foil while it rests for at least 10 minutes. (I removed mine from the heat when it reached 150˚ F (65˚ C).)
  7. Remove the rosemary sprigs and reserve the sauce. (See Notes.)
  8. Slice the roast and serve with the reserved plum sauce.

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Pork Tenderloin - Plums X*     *     *

Sides

This tenderloin is really so quick and easy to prepare that I didn’t want to spend time with complicated side dishes.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta:Shredded Brussels Sprouts

  • This inspired recipe combines shredded Brussels sprouts, pancetta, garlic, stock, and white balsamic to create a truly special dish. To see the full recipe, be sure to check out my friend Eva’s sumptuous blog, Kitchen Inspirations.

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary and Pecorino Romano Cheese:

  • Roasted FingerlingsPre-heat oven and baking sheet to 425˚ F (220˚ C). Wash then cut fingerling potatoes to equal size. Season with crushed dried rosemary, salt, pepper, and coat with olive oil. Carefully oil baking sheet, add potatoes in a single layer, and roast until potatoes can be pierced easily, 20 to 30 minutes depending on size and quantity. Remove to serving platter, garnish with grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and serve immediately.

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Leftovers?

Pork and Plum Sammich

No problem

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Notes

I used plum jam, not jelly. As a result, the sauce may not be as smooth as some may prefer. If that’s you, while the tenderloin rests, I would suggest deglazing the pan with a bit of stock, wine, or water before straining the sauce through a fine mesh sieve. Once strained, place the sauce in a small pan and reduce it over med-high heat until it reaches the desired thickness. Taste for seasoning before serving.

Not all fingerling potatoes are created equal and they’re likely to require varying times to roast. Cut the potatoes into even-sized pieces and all should cook evenly without any problems.

If plums are in season, you could add a few plum halves to the pan and sauté them for as long, or short, as you like. Serve them alongside the roast.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Pappardelle 5Hard to believe that it was two years ago when I was in the middle of my series on making cheese at home. When I demonstrated how easy it was to make mascarpone, I promised that I’d publish some recipes that would use your freshly made cheese. Today’s blast from the past is one of those recipes, combining pappardelle, spinach, Pecorino Romano, and, of course, mascarpone. It’s a delicious recipe and one you won’t want to miss. You can learn all about it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Sicilian Strata 3A Sicilian Strata

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Gettin’ Cheeky with Beef – And in a Slow Cooker, No Less

Guance di Manzo Brasato

Let me say from the onset that this is not a Bartolini family recipe. In fact, I can say with some certainty — feel free to back me up, Zia — that beef cheeks never graced a Bartolini dinner table. This all changed the last weekend of last October. That was the weekend the vendor with certified organic meats returned to the farmers market.

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Beef Cheeks 1*     *     *

You may recall that I had been waiting for him to return because he sold goat and, even though I’d found some at a nearby market, I prefer to buy organic when its available. As it is, I buy chickens from him all Summer long. It had been weeks since he last set up his stall and I was, frankly, surprised to see him. The following weekend was to be the market’s last for the year and I thought him gone until 2014.

His stall, for lack of a better word, is a set of folding tables arranged in a “U” shape. On them he’s places about 6 ice chests in which he keeps the week’s frozen inventory. That week there wasn’t any goat meat but I was surprised to find a package labeled “beef cheeks.” I bought it, along with a chicken, and placed both in the freezer when I returned home.

Well, as this Winter unfolded, I exhausted my repertoire of comfort foods. Last week’s tuna noodle casserole was proof that I’d run out of options. It was about that time that I remembered that there were beef cheeks in the freezer, though they had somehow managed to work their way to a back corner. Another Sunday braise was suddenly in the offing.

Although still below freezing, that Sunday turned out to be the warmest day of the month to date. Since there was no real need to heat the kitchen, I switched gears a bit and opted for using the slow cooker rather than the Dutch oven. Best of all, with a fridge well-stocked with braising vegetables, there would be no last-minute trip to the grocery that morning — until I realized that I’d need side dishes. Curses!

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This braise is like most, with one minor exception. I started by making a form of battuto, an Italian soffrito. In our part of Italy, a battuto consists of finely diced onion, parsley, garlic, and salt pork. Battuto is the first thing into the pan, after the olive oil is heated, and will flavor the dish as its aroma fills your kitchen. Here, I made my battuto with guanciale, parsley, and garlic. (Yes, this recipe mixes the cheeks of both pork and beef. Shocking!) The onions were added with the other braising vegetables, once the battuto was cooked. The rest of the recipe is easy enough to follow and you should have no problems.

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Beef Cheeks Braising*     *     *

Braised Beef Cheeks Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 beef cheeks, approximately 1.2 lbs (540 g)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz guanciale, chopped – pancetta or bacon may be substituted
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 c parsley, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, leaves included, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3/4 c red wine
  • 3/4 c Madeira
  • 1.5 c beef stock
  • salt and pepper
  • lemon zest

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Battuto*     *     *

Directions

  1. Combine chopped guanciale, parsley, and garlic on your cutting board and chop them together until uniform. This is the battuto.
  2. Warm oil in a sauté pan over med-high heat. Add the battuto and sauté until the guanciale’s fat is rendered, about 5 – 7 minutes. Do not allow to burn.
  3. Add onion, carrots, and celery to the pan and sauté until the onion is translucent.
  4. Add the rosemary and thyme to the pan. Continue sautéing until both begin to wilt.
  5. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pan’s contents and place all into the slow cooker. Do not drain the oil.
  6. Season beef cheeks with salt and pepper before placing into the hot pan. Turn when brown, about 5 minutes. Remove when both sides have been browned. Place into the slow cooker atop the other ingredients.
  7. Add the tomato paste to the pan and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  8. Use wine to deglaze the pan.
  9. Add the Madeira and beef stock and bring to a boil to burn off the alcohol.
  10. Add the liquid to the slow cooker. (See Notes)
  11. Cook on high for one hour before reducing to low for another 6 hours. Turn over the meat occasionally, about once every 90 minutes, or so. (See Notes)
  12. Remove meat and cover while the liquids are strained and the sauce prepared. (See Notes)
  13. Just before serving, garnish with a bit of lemon zest.

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Beef Cheeks 2*     *     *

Sides

As pictured, there were 2 sides served, neither of which is complicated nor difficult to prepare.

  • Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips with Roasted Garlic:Parsnip-Potato Mash
      Prepare mashed potatoes as you would normally, substituting 1/3 of the potatoes with peeled, chopped parsnips. Once boiled and drained, mash before adding warmed heavy cream into which butter and roasted garlic cloves have been added. Serve.
  • Sautéed Broccoli Rab (Rapini) with Pancetta and Garlic:Rapini with Pancetta
      Sauté chopped pancetta in a bit of olive oil to render its fat and until it’s not quite fully cooked. Add garlic and, after about a minute, add the broccoli rab, season with salt & pepper, and sauté until cooked to your satisfaction. Serve.

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Notes

The braising liquid should not be so deep that the meat is totally submerged like you would do for a stew or soup. When using a slow cooker. the liquid should come about half-way up the side of the beef cheeks. When using a Dutch oven, I use enough liquid so that it comes up 2/3 of the side of the protein to allow for evaporation. Use more or less liquid to arrive at the recommended level. Just maintain the same ratio of the braising liquid’s ingredients: 2 parts beef stock to 1 part each of Madeira and red wine.

A slow cooker works by applying a low, even temperature over a long period of time. Do not uncover the cooker unless necessary or you’ll run the risk of extending the cooking time.

Parsnips are a bit more firm than potatoes. When preparing them, chop the parsnips in pieces that are slightly smaller than the potatoes to insure that all will finish cooking at the same time.

Once you’ve strained the liquids and removed the fat, you can:

  • serve the sauce as-is;
  • reduce it and serve; or,
  • use a thickening agent — flour, corn starch, or arrowroot — to make gravy.

No matter how you finish the sauce, be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

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When blogs collide

On the very day that I was cooking my beef cheeks, Phil, of “Food, Frankly“, posted his recipes for preparing an ox cheeks dinner. Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to check out the delicious meal that he prepared.

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And finally

In the Comments for last week’s post, my Cousin mentioned that there’s a recall of beef that was processed by a California company and sold across the US. Though the beef I purchased was locally grown and processed, that is hardly the case everywhere. You can read about the recall and the reasons behind it in this USDA News Release, dated February 18th, 2014.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tricolor Risotto 4It won’t be long now before we are once again celebrating St. Joseph’s Feast Day. Today’s look back will show you how to prepare a risotto of 3 colors, each of which, not so coincidentally, corresponds to one of the colors of the Italian flag. You needn’t be Italian to make this expression of Italian pride and you can learn how to do it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Chocolate Torte Preview 2 Gluten-Free Chocolate Torte

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Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole

As most of you well know, we North Americans are facing a Winter unlike any seen in decades. With severe drought in the West and Arctic cold, record snows, and ice storms to the East, you’re either praying for rain or cursing the cold. Whether this Winter is truly one for the record books remains to be seen but it sure is a great excuse for making comfort food.

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Tuna Casserole 2*     *     *

These past few weeks, I’ve said good-bye to any thoughts of post-holiday dieting and broke out the Dutch oven and stock pot. I’ve made soups, tomato sauce, chili, stew, braised short ribs, baked pastas, and pulled pork. Not only that, I’ve baked more bread these past few weeks than I have in ages. In short, I’ve done all that I can to warm both me and my kitchen which, for reasons known only to my home’s previous owner, has no heating element other than the oven. Heaven bless that oven.

Since you really cannot make beef stew for one, soup by the bowl, or pulled pork for a single sandwich, you can well imagine that my fridge and freezer have been well-stocked with leftovers, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Even so, after my third dinner of beef stew or fourth lunch of a bowl of chili, and with temps still in negative territory, I began to crave something different and searched for some long-forgotten comfort food recipes. Enter tuna noodle casserole.

Before going any further, I need to mention this recipe’s origins. After all, I did call today’s post “Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole”. Although there is no direct link to Mom, I think there’s plenty of evidence to support my claim.

First off, I found it in the oldest recipe file that I own, one that I created on my first PC back in the 90’s. That file has survived a short-circuited motherboard, head crash, my conversion to Apple, and a transfer to my second iMac. Though forgotten until now, it contains a few gems from Mom but, I admit, this bit of evidence is highly circumstantial.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence can be found within the recipe itself. Although all the ingredients are listed, the amounts required for some of them are missing. This is a hallmark of the Bartolini family recipes and a major reason for this blog being created. I could only be more certain of this recipe’s provenance if an amount or two was listed as “a handful of” this or “a good pinch of” that. Members of the jury, there is no doubt in my mind that this is Mom’s recipe. I rest my case.

Now, a word of warning. This is an old recipe and some may not appreciate it. First of all, it contains mayonnaise and there are those who cannot abide the stuff. I don’t like cilantro, so, I’d say we’re even. It, also, contains a can of condensed soup, the bane of many a modern-day foodie. Well, I’m guessing this recipe comes from the 60’s and we didn’t have foodies back then. We had gourmands — and the Galloping Gourmet but never mind him. Lastly, the final two ingredients, though optional, are listed as frozen. In this part of the continent, when it’s casserole season, there are few, if any, fresh peas to be found, and, for those of us living in the Corn Belt, buying what passes for corn in the off-season is sacrilege. If, however, you’ve access to tasty, fresh peas and sweet corn in Winter, by all means use them instead of frozen.

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Tuna Casserole 1*     *     *

Mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe

Ingredients

  • cooked noodles, buttered
  • olive oil
  • 1 large can ( 12 oz, 340 g) water-packed tuna fish, drained & flaked
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 can (10¾ oz, 305 g) cream of mushroom soup (I use cream of celery)
  • 1 package ( 8 oz, 226 g) cream cheese
  • 1/3 c mayonnaise
  • 1/3 c milk
  • cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 c bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • frozen corn (optional)
  • frozen peas (optional)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooked noodles, tuna, cheddar cheese, corn, and peas.
  3. Sauté onions and mushrooms in a little olive oil until onions are translucent. Add to the mixing bowl and stir to combine.
  4. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, soup, and cream cheese, stirring until hot and well-mixed. Add to the mixing bowl and stir to combine again.
  5. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and toast until golden brown. Immediately remove from heat.
  6. Pour the tuna mixture into the baking dish, top with the toasted bread crumbs, and cover with aluminum foil.
  7. Bake, covered, for 45 minutes before removing the foil. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes to further crisp the topping.
  8. Allow to sit at least 5 minutes before serving.

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Tuna Casserole*     *     *

Notes

The amounts for some of the ingredients will depend upon the volume of noodles you’ve prepared. I’ve found that if I use a full pound (450 g) of noodles, for example, a single large can of tuna fish may not be enough. You’ll find that the “cream sauce” is rather thick and can overpower the rest of the ingredients. More tuna is needed to compensate.

Be sure to brown the bread crumbs before sprinkling them atop the casserole. If you rely on the oven to fully brown them, you’ll run the risk of drying out the casserole.

Any broad noodle may be used here, though shorter ones work best. I happened to have a bag of farfalle, butterflies, and used it.

I think you could easily substitute chopped, roasted chicken in place of the tuna.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Steak PizzaiolaOne common theme running throughout this blog is my love of pasta. I’ve certainly made no effort to hide it. With temperatures so terribly frigid, today’s Blast from the Past is particularly welcome in my kitchen, for it involves both a lengthy braise in the oven and a large pot of boiling pasta water on the stove top. Combined, they are just what’s needed to warm my kitchen and keep it that way well into the evening. Best of all, I end up with a great pasta for dinner. You can learn how to prepare Steak Pizzaiola by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Beef Cheeks Preview Beef Cheeks

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