My Cousin Marinella’s Meatballs

Palle di Marinella

This recipe has been a long time coming. In fact, this is actually the 4th rewrite. Each of the prior versions included time-sensitive references that no longer apply. (Let that be a lesson for us all.) Even this post is time-dependent, making me all the more determined to publish it post-haste — but more about that later.

My wonderful cousin, Marinella, graciously shared her meatball recipe with me the last time I was in San Marino — two years ago! While sitting around Zia Pina’s kitchen table one evening, I recorded a number of recipes in a small notebook and stored it safely away — never to be seen again. Well, I did find a meatball ingredient list on a piece of paper in my luggage but nothing more. Why did I write this list and how did it, alone, get into a pocket of my luggage are 2 questions that will probably never be answered.

“Wait a minute. ‘Luggage”? What was he doing with his luggage?” you might be asking.

Well, I’ll be heading back to Italy in but a few days and San Marino will be among the places we’ll visit. There’s no way I’d go to Italy without paying my Zia and cousins a visit. This time my niece, “G”, will be joining me for her first trip abroad, as will her brother, “M”, who accompanied me 2 years ago. We’ve planned our stops so that they can spend their days touring while I relax on a terrace and watch the watery horizon, if I so choose. A good time is sure to be had by all.

So, with our trip pending, I contacted Marinella and she guided me through this recipe. Perhaps its posting will soften the blow of my being so incredibly absent-minded. I can only hope …

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You may have looked upon the opening photo and wondered, “Where’s the spaghetti?” The fact is that the quintessential dish, spaghetti with meatballs, is not Italian in origin. The dish was actually created here in the States by Italian immigrants some time around 1900. Needless to say, the dish “caught on” and has become a staple of Italian restaurants — on this side of the Atlantic. Oh, sure, you may see “polpette” (Italian for meatballs) on menus in Italy but they will not be served with spaghetti. In fact, if you do see “spaghetti e polpette” on a menu, you’re probably in a place that is trying to attract American tourists.

Another difference you may notice is their size. In Italy, polpette are about golf ball-sized. Here, meatballs can be over twice that size or, when served as appetizers, quite small  No matter what size you choose to prepare, an ice cream scoop makes the process much easier.

That being said, let’s get to the recipe …

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Finding that ingredient list resulted in the first of many contacts with my cousin, all of which were necessary. You see, left to my own devices, I ended up with a number of tasty meat sauces with nary a meatball between them. In each case, the meatballs disintegrated in the sauce. Once I learned the correct amounts for the ingredients, our discussions turned to her method of preparation. Below, I’ve detailed her methods, as well as my recipes for meatball appetizers and meatballs simmered in marinara sauce.

The meatball recipe is actually quite simple. Grind/mince equal parts beef, veal, and mortadella (an Italian bologna-like product). Add a few tablespoons of chopped parsley, and season with salt & pepper to taste. Now add the ricotta. When I made today’s meatballs, I used 450 g (16 oz) of each meat. I used 150 g (5 oz) of freshly made and drained ricotta. (See Notes) To the mixture, add a splash of red wine and a slightly beaten egg. (See Notes.) Be careful when combining ingredients. Do not overwork the meat or the meatballs will be too dense. Pan fry a little of the meat mixture and taste for seasoning. Cover and refrigerate for a short while to allow the meat to set-up before proceeding. See Notes for tips on storage.

Once rested, form the balls in whatever size you prefer. To prepare, Marinella will sauté onion in a little olive oil until translucent. Add the meatballs and continue to sauté, moving the balls across the pan to ensure even browning. After 5 to 10 minutes, depending upon the balls’ size, add some chopped parsley and several plum tomatoes that have been peeled, seeded, and chopped. (See Notes) Continue to simmer for about 20 to 25 minutes. If you like, add a handful of peas — fresh or frozen — and continue cooking until peas are cooked to your preference. Serve. (See Notes)

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Mini-meatballs, “polpettini“, in red wine reduction, garnished with crumbled fried sage leaves.

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These meatballs are not heavily spiced, relying upon mortadella to deliver fantastic flavors. As such, care should be taken lest their flavor be lost in the preparation. This is especially true if serving them as appetizers with a wine reduction. After some experimentation, I found it best to bake the meatballs separately — (350˚ F, 175˚ C, for 20 minutes) — before adding them to the sauce just prior to serving. That will ensure that you taste both the meatballs and the sauce, with neither hogging the spotlight.

The wine reduction is easy, too. Sauté some shallots in a little olive oil until transparent. Add equal amounts of beef stock and red wine. (I used 1/2 cup of each, the wine being Pinot Noir.) Continue to simmer until the sauce is reduced by half. Pour the sauce through a fine mesh strainer and return to the pan. Whisk while adding a teaspoon of butter. Add the sauce to the bottom of a serving plate. Place the meatballs on to the sauce in the dish and serve. (Optional: garnish with crumbled fried sage.)

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A delight on both sides of the Atlantic

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Whether you call it a meatball sammich or uno panino con le polpette, something magical happens when meatballs meet marinara sauce and bread. If you ask me this sammich is the main reason for making meatballs but, as you know, I’ve a soft spot for sammiches.

First, start by creating a marinara sauce, Here I make a sauce that’s even less complicated than the one I shared HERE. Chop an onion and sauté in olive oil, over medium heat, until soft. Add sliced mushrooms, if using. Once the mushrooms have softened, add 2 cloves of minced or grated garlic. When you can smell the garlic (about 90 seconds), add 2 tbsp tomato paste. Cook for about 3 minute before adding about 4 ounces of red wine or 3 ounces of balsamic vinegar. Your choice. Continue to simmer until most of the liquid — and all the alcohol — has evaporated. Add 2 large (28 oz) cans of diced tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and marjoram, to taste. Stir thoroughly. Bring to a boil before lowering to a soft simmer.

After 30 minutes, give the sauce a good stir before carefully adding the meatballs. Do not stir the pot again for at least 20 minutes more. Stirring before the meatballs have a chance to set-up a bit may cause them to break apart. Continue simmering the sauce, carefully stirring occasionally, for another 45 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as required.

Now, turn your attention to the bread. I prefer a roll with a not-too-hard crust but the choice is all yours. Slice each roll lengthwise and remove some of the bread from both top and bottom. This will help keep the meatballs from falling and rolling “off of the table and on to the floor …” Spoon a bit of sauce into the trough you’ve just created and, with a slotted spoon, add as many meatballs to the bun as will comfortably fit. Place a slice or two of cheese — provolone, mozzarella, asiago, etc., — atop the meatballs before adding a garnish of fresh basil leaves. Buon appetito!

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You really didn’t think I could look upon a pot of sauce with meatballs in my fridge and not whip up a dish of spaghetti with meatballs, did you? In fact, I found the sight so moving that I pulled out the pasta machine and made the spaghetti, too.

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Notes

I prepare my own ricotta for use in this recipe. You can see how easy it is to prepare HERE.

Use caution when using smaller amounts of meat for the meatballs. I learned, the hard way, that too much liquid will cause the meatballs to crumble during cooking. A delicious tomato sauce resulted but that’s not quite what I had in mind.

You can use white or red wine for your wine reduction sauce. You can also add whatever herbs you prefer. If added early on you’ll derive more flavor from them, especially given that the sauce is being reduced. It’s for that reason, I prefer to add them at the end, to be briefly simmered before the sauce is strained.

The meatballs can be refrigerated, covered, for a short period, although it’s never safe to keep ground/minced meat in the fridge for long. Frozen, they will keep for weeks. Whether I cook them before freezing depends upon how I intend to use them. If making appetizers, I’ll bake the meatballs before freezing. If using them in tomato sauce, I’ll freeze the meatballs raw, to be thawed before being placed into the sauce. Both the sauce and meatballs will benefit being simmered together.

How you serve the meatballs will determine how much tomato will be needed. Less will be needed for sandwiches, for example, than is required for to create a marinara sauce.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

As of this rewrite, we are coming out of what is hopefully winter’s last stand. So, before saying farewell to comfort food for the season, let’s take a look at the short rib recipe I posted way back in March, 2012.  The recipe was very well-received and it remains a personal favorite. I’m currently looking into modifying the recipe to utilize a pressure cooker. If all goes well, I’ll either write a new post or update the old. In the meantime, you can check out the original recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

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Arrivederci! A presto …

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Happy St. Joseph’s Feast Day!!!!

I know. I know. I was supposed to share my cousin’s meatball recipe and I had every intention of doing so — and then I looked at the calendar. Forgive me, Giuseppe, but I forgot your feast day.

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For those not familiar, some believe that St. Joseph’s intervention brought drought relief to Sicily during the Middle Ages, thus preventing widespread famine. In appreciation, the faithful vowed to prepare a large banquet in his honor and to forever commemorate his Feast Day. Over the years, St. Joseph was named the Patron Saint of towns and villages throughout Sicily and the Italian peninsula, and his Feast Day became Fathers Day in Italy.Today, March 19th, is cause for celebration with parades on both sides of the Atlantic That feast has evolved into the current day St. Joseph’s Table tradition in which the faithful bring a variety of foods and sweets to their parish churches. This is one potluck you don’t want to miss!  Any money collected during the celebrations is donated to the area’s needy.

Still interested? Here’s a more thorough description of the St. Joseph’s Table.

I’m sure you will understand if I postpone the meatball post one last time. After all, I’ve a virtual platter to prepare!

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You can’t have a proper celebration without  music. As one of the many kids attending any number of weddings, we all sat mesmerized as our parents circled the dance floor again and again, each pass a little faster, as this music’s tempo increased.  Chicken dance? Ha! Hope your toes are in tapping condition.

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Now, I must admit to initially drawing a blank when I attempted to think of recipes worthy of this illustrious Saint. The Bartolini recipe file is pretty much depleted of all dishes once served on festive occasions. What to do? What to do?

And then, an epiphany! (Considering the Saint, an epiphany sounds about right.) A number of years ago, my good friend, formerly known as my “Traveling Companion”, attended a family gathering and today’s dish, Cannoli Cream and Chips, was served. I could not believe my ears as he described the dish. Why hadn’t I thought of this?

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Home-made chips

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Not very much later, I was invited to join him when he next visited his family. Before going further, let me talk about that family. When I first visited, walking over the threshold was like walking back in Time to the Bartolini family gatherings in the old two-flat. A welcoming cocktail and friendly conversation to be followed by a wonderful dinner with, of course, a platter of pasta the table centerpiece. His family welcomed me as one of their own and that evening remains a very special memory for me.

A few months after he described the wondrous confection, I was again invited to join him when he visited these good people. It was warmer this visit and we all gathered in what I believe was the sunroom. There, in the center of the table, was what I now consider the Holy Grail of Nibbles: a bowl of cannoli cream surrounded by chips made from broken cannoli tubes. Yes, you read that correctly, cannoli cream and chips!!!!  In my mind, “chips and dip” would never mean the same thing again.

Since that fateful day, I’ve learned that our dear hostess found this wonderful appetizer at one of the area’s groceries. Once I heard that, I went shopping and, yes, I, too, found them. In fact, they can be found in this store’s pastry department for just about any holiday. To be honest, I’ve never bought them. Where’s the fun in that? I’ve got time and a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Let me at it!

I’m about to share recipes for both the cannoli cream and the chips. Truth be told, recipes aren’t the focus of this posting. It’s the way they’re served. So, if you’ve a favorite cannoli cream recipe, by all means use it. The same is true for the tubes. This post is about serving an old favorite in a new way.

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Broken store-bought cannoli tubes

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Cannoli Cream and Chips Recipe

Ingredients

for the cream (see Notes)

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups (17.5 oz, 500 g) ricotta, well-drained (see Notes)
  • 1/2 cup powdered/confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 oz (84 g) semi-sweet chocolate – chips, chopped, or grated
  • chopped pistachios and/or grated chocolate, for garnish (optional)

for the chips

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tbsp butter, chilled and cut into pieced
  • 1/4 dry white wine
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • powdered/confectioners sugar, optional

Directions

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for the cream (see Notes)

  1. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, whisk the ricotta until smooth.
  3. Slowly add the sugar while continuing to whisk.
  4. Add the vanilla and cinnamon and whisk until well blended.
  5. Add the chocolate and carefully stir.
  6. Gently fold the whipped cream into the ricotta mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
  7. Cannoli cream should be kept refrigerated and used within 2 days.

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for the chips (see Notes)

  1. Before beginning, consider buying cannoli shells from the nearest Italian bakery. Once home, break the shells into pieces and serve. No muss, no fuss, and no panful of oil to discard. However, if you must …
  2. Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt.
  3. Add the pieces of butter and combine with the flour using your hands until the mixture resembles gravel.
  4. It’s not too late to change your mind and buy some cannoli shells.
  5. Add the egg and mix well.
  6. Add the wine, a teaspoon at a time, and knead to create the dough.
  7. Once a smooth dough is achieved, flatten it, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for no less than 15 minutes.
  8. When chilled, take a section of the dough, and roll until smooth and about the thickness of pasta. (See Notes)
  9. Use a pastry cutter to cut the dough into chip-sized pieces.
  10. Place oil for frying into a frypan to about a depth of 1/2 inch (1.25 cm).
  11. Preheat oil to 360˚ F (180˚ C)
  12. Place several pieces of dough into the hot oil and fry until golden. Flip to cook the other side. The chips should take no more than 3 minutes to completely fry. (See Notes)
  13. Use a slotted spoon to remove the chips and drain on paper towels.
  14. Cooled chips should be stored in an airtight container where they will keep for about one week.
  15. To serve, place on a platter within reach of the cannoli cream, and sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

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Notes

This is the time to make your own ricotta. It’s easy to do and the reward is a cheese that is far superior to any that you might find at your local grocery. Click HERE to see how I make my ricotta.

If you like, citrus zest and/or chopped candied fruit can be added to the cream for Sicilian-style cannoli cream.

For chocolate cannoli cream, add 3 to 4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder to the ricotta in place of, or in addition to, the cinnamon.

If you are rolling pin-challenged like I am, grab your pasta machine and let the machine do the work for you.

A warning for all March Madness fans. Do not attempt to fry these chips when a local underdog (Loyola) makes its first appearance at the Big Dance in over 30 years. Worse, if the team is tied going into the closing minutes, turn off the stove and go watch the game. Well, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

ETA: Loyola played again on Saturday night and won!!! They now advance to the next round, the Sweet 16, and will play again on Thursday. Go Ramblers!

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It’s déjà vu all over again  

Baked Calamari 5

This is a holiday so why not take another look at one of the Bartolini all-time favorite dishes, Zia’s Baked Calamari?. It’s a family classic and one that’s sure to bring a smile to any Bartolini whenever it’s mentioned. You can read all about it HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

                                                    Marinella’s Meatballs                                                   (The lengths some will go to get one of those meatballs!)

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Quick — and Easy — Beef Pho

As you can see, there’s been a change in programing. I had planned to share my cousin’s meatball recipe but the return of winter sent me back to Comfort Food Land. While I was preparing today’s dish for my dinner, I realized that I could just as easily share its recipe. So, I pulled out the camera, snapped a few photos, and wrote the post. (Then I spent the next 4 days editing but never mind that.) Perhaps some of you may find the recipe useful in the weeks ahead, while others in the winter yet to come.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that judging by the photo trail, I’ve grown quite fond of pho, ramen, and hot-pots. Throughout much of fall and all of this past winter, when out-and-about on a chilly/frigid day, I was likely to stop for lunch at any one of a number of nearby restaurants specializing in these delicious bowls of comfort. It wasn’t long before I began to wonder whether I could prepare any of them here at home. Discovering an Asian super-mart only fueled my curiosity. One afternoon, while searching Vietnamese cookbook summaries, I came upon “The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles.” Written by Andrea Nguyen, it has become my go-to reference book whenever I need information about my newfound loves.

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Cooked noodles first

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Ms. Nguyen offers a wealth of information to go along with her great recipes. Believe me. This neophyte Asian cook can use all the help that I can get. Virtually every aspect of the cooking process and ingredient list is explained. Not only will you learn the secrets to pho preparation but she also shares methods for preparing a number of the sauces common to Asian cooking. Not to worry. She also gives suggestions for the commercially produced versions. If you’ve ever stood before an Asian market’s soy or fish sauce-filled shelves, you’ll realize the value of these suggestions.

Aside from the wealth of information presented, Ms. Nguyen offers more than 1 method for preparing some dishes, If you’ve time, follow the standard method. In a rush? Pull out the pressure cooker. Still too long? She offers quick recipes for beef, chicken, and vegetarian pho that you can easily prepare in well under an hour. Today’s recipe is one of these. In future posts, I’ll share her recipes for chicken and beef broths. We’re talking “quick” here, however, and those broths will have to wait their turn.

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Add the beef

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No matter the country of origin, the heart of any bowl of soup is its broth and pho is certainly no exception. In fact, when I first saw that this recipe was labelled “quick”, I was skeptical — and I was proved wrong. This pho is both aromatic and deeply flavored. Easy to prepare, the recipe can be doubled or tripled with little problem. (See Notes)

One other point to make concerns the beef. Ms. Nguyen suggests using cooked roast beef or steak, very thinly sliced. If you like, in this recipe you can substitute thinly sliced roast beef that can be purchased at any deli counter. There’s even a third option. If like me, you live near a Korean market or well-stocked Asian market, you might find thinly sliced cuts of beef and pork. For today’s recipe, I used sliced rib eye steak, although I have used sliced beef brisket, as well.

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Now’s the time for garnishes

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Quick  Beef Pho Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3/4 inch (2cm) ginger, peeled and cut into slices.
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 cups (1/2 liter) low-sodium beef broth (see Notes)
  • 2 cups 1/2 liter)) low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cups (1/2 liter) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 oz ( 150 g) flat rice noodles (see Notes)
  • 4 to 5 oz (115 – to 150 g) cooked roast beef or steak, or, raw beef, all sliced very thin (see Notes)
  • 2 to 3 tsp fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar – optional (1 tsp maple syrup may be substituted)
  • 2 tsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • for garnish (optional)
    • Hoisin sauce, chili sauce, saté sauce (see Notes)

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Cover with steaming broth and serve

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Directions

  1. Bring the sliced beef to room temperature.
  2. Use the broad side of a knife to pound flat the sliced ginger.
  3. Trim off the green of the spring onions. Roughly chop the white portions and smash using the broadside of a knife. Thinly slice the green part and reserve for use as a garnish.
  4. In a medium-sized sauce pan, toast the star anise, cinnamon, and cloves over medium heat until fragrant — about a minute or so.
  5. Add the ginger and onion to the pot and stir until fragrant — about 30 seconds. Remove pot from heat.
  6. Briefly cool before adding the beef & chicken stocks, the water, and salt, Stir well and bring to a boil over med-high neat.
  7. Lower the heat and softly simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, prepare the noodles. Make sure that they are ready when the broth has finished simmering. (See Notes)
  9. Once finished simmering, pour the broth through a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. For especially clear broth, use a piece of muslin to cover the strainer. You should have about 2 quarts (2 liters) of broth in the bowl. Discard the strained solids.
  10. Add the fish sauce and taste the broth. Add the sugar/maple syrup, to taste.
  11. Season with salt & pepper, to taste.
  12. Reheat the broth, place the noodle-filled strainer (see Notes) into the hot broth, and leave until heated through — no more than 1 minute.
  13. Split the noodles between the 2 bowls.
  14. Add the sliced meat to each bowl in a single layer. To ensure even cooking, avoid “stacking” the pieces. .
  15. Garnish with the reserved sliced onion greens, chopped cilantro, and black pepper.
  16. Ladle the now-steaming broth into each bowl and serve.
 
Recipe may be found in “The Pho Cookbook” by Andrea Nguyen
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Notes

This is not the time to economize when buying the stocks. Be sure to choose your favorite stocks upon which to build the pho.

If doubling or tripling the stock recipe, freeze the excess for later use. Once thawed, you can prepare a bowl of beef pho in about the time it takes to prepare the noodles. This is why I always have a quart of this stock on-hand.

Follow the package directions for preparing the rice noodles but pour them into a strainer just shy of being done. When ready to assemble the dish, place the strainer into the hot broth to briefly re-heat the noodles before adding them to the bowls. (Truth in blogging: the noodles used in the dish pictured were not rice noodles. Due to my oversight — make that “lack of sight” — ramen egg noodles were bought instead of flat rice noodles.)

If you’re using thinly sliced, raw beef and you prefer your meat cooked well-done, you will probably want to pound the slices even thinner. This will ensure that the steaming broth cooks the meat to your liking. No matter whether you choose to pound the slices, trim off the fat and slice them into bite-sized piece before adding to each bowl. Not only will the beef be more appetizing but it will be far easier to use chopsticks when dining.

The garnishes listed are those indicated by Ms. Nguyen, although she encourages one to add whatever one prefers. I’ve grown accustomed to adding cilantro leaves, Thai basil, culantro, sliced jalapeño, bean sprouts, and a squeeze of  fresh lime.

Some chefs are insulted when a patron adds sauce(s) to their pho. Placing the sauces in a small bowl allows one to dip the cooked meat(s) into the sauces, leaving the pho/ramen just as the chef intended, Here I’ve combined Hoisin and Sriracha sauces.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Agnolotti Served

Hard to believe that it was 3 years ago when I shared an agnolotti recipe, the filling for which was prepared following the family recipe of a sous chef at a restaurant in Bologna. There’s a reason why my mind has drifted back to Italy but more about that in a later post. For now, if you want to see how these agnolotti were prepared, just click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Marinella’s Meatballs (You aren’t the only ones kept waiting)

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Slow-Cooker Pork Belly Ramen

Urban Belly would be jealous

OK. By now you may have noticed that this blog has taken a turn into decidedly comfort food territory. I could give a number of reasons for this change of course but one rises above all others. Baby, it’s cold outside!!! Even worse, we’ve just endured a 9 day period where it snowed each and every one of those day! Is there any wonder why there’s Pork Belly Ramen slowly simmering in my slow cooker as this post is being written?

I was first served this wonderful ramen on my way home after a visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory late last winter. I stopped at a restaurant, Urban Belly, and ordered the Pork Belly Ramen based upon recommendations of previous diners. Bless them!

Once home, I immediately googled “pork belly ramen” and started comparing recipes. Off the top, I wanted to use my slow-cooker, rejecting the recipes that didn’t. Hopefully, slow-cooking  would not only result in tender pork but the broth should benefit, as well. With luck, the finished dish would include a soft-boiled egg. No matter. That egg was such a nice addition to the Urban Belly ramen that I was going to add it to whatever recipe I eventually chose.  Within minutes, I found the recipe that’s shared here. Of course, being the conscientious blogger that I am, I would never post a recipe without rigorous testing. So, I prepared the recipe again and again… and again … and again … and, well, you get the idea. Needless to say, the recipe not only passed the tests but has become a regular guest at my winter-time dinner table. I buy the pork belly, divvy it up into 1 pound pieces, use one for that night’s dinner, and freeze the rest. In fact, right now I’ve 2 pieces of pork belly resting comfortably in the freezer. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Aside from adding a couple garnishes, the only change I made to the recipe is in the handling of the pork belly.The recipe indicated that the belly should be cooked with the skin attached, to be removed just prior to slicing. The meat isn’t seared. When I tried it that way, I had a devil of a time removing the skin without (badly) butchering the belly. I even tried slicing the belly first before removing the skin. And the fat? Without any type of sear, it was a bit of a disappointment. For me, one of the most appealing things about well-cooked pork belly is the crispy fat. Believe me, it’s well worth the time (5 minutes) time and effort (minimal) to place that belly into a hot frypan and sear its fat side. Just be sure the pan is hot. You want to sear the fat quickly without further cooking the meat. Once sliced, place the slices on top of the ramen, keeping the seared side above the broth to maintain its crispness.

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Note: Because this recipe endured such thorough testing, the link was never saved (to be later lost) but printed instead to allow easy access. So, unlike recent posts, it gives me great pleasure to give credit where due. This recipe can be found on the Australian Good Food website.

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This just about says it all

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Pork Belly Ramen Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb  (approx 500 g) boneless, skinless pork belly (see Notes)
  • 1 quart (1 liter) chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • 2 tbsp sake  (don’t forget to toast the chef)
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 garlic gloves, chopped
  • 3½ oz (100 g) white (Shiro) miso paste
  • 1½ inches (4 cm) grated fresh ginger
  • 1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • i piece kombu (see Notes)
  • 1 lb  (approx 500 g) cooked ramen noodles (see Notes)
  • One 3 to 5 minute egg per serving, peeled & sliced in half
  • for garnish (optional)
    • sliced scallions, nori sheet, cilantro leaves, sesame seeds, a splash of ponzu, a sprinkle of sesame oil (see Notes)

Directions

  1. Add the chicken stock, tamari, sake, mirin, sugar, and miso to the slow-cooler and stir thoroughly.
  2. To the pot, add the leek, ginger, garlic, and carrot. Stir.
  3. Place the kombu into the pot before adding the pork belly.
  4. Cover and set the cooker to “LOW” and the timer to 7 hours.
  5. When finished, remove the pork belly. (If using a belly with skin, remove the skin before proceeding.)  Place fat-side down on to a hot frypan over med-high heat. The object here is to crisp the fat without burning or over-cooking the meat. Reserve, slice, and keep warm. (see Notes)
  6. Cook the noodles per package directions.
  7. Meanwhile, pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer. Return to the slow cooker and keep warm.
  8. To serve:
    • Divide the cooked noodles evenly among the serving bowls.
    • Add equal amounts of the strained broth to each bowl.
    • Slice the egg, if using, and add to each bowl.
    • Place the sliced pork belly into each bowl. To maintain its crispness, try to keep the seared edge above the broth.
    • The remaining garnish may be added now or brought to the table to be added by your dinner mates.
  9. Serve immediately.

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Not quite crispy enough.

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Notes

Don’t be overly concerned when chopping the vegetables. Once the pork is cooked, the broth will be strained and the vegetables discarded.

I’ve a smaller-sized slow cooker and, therefore, use a small piece of pork belly. This recipe results in 4 bowls of ramen, each with 2 slices of pork belly.

Kombu is dried kelp and can be found in the Japanese section of many Asian markets. It is purchased in sheets and should be lightly wiped with a damp cloth before use. Store in an airtight container.

Similarly, nori — used here as a garnish — is dried seaweed also purchased in sheets. It’s very often used to wrap sushi rolls, maki. You, or your guests, may wish to place a small sheet into each bowl to add some texture and crunch to your ramen.

Although “ramen” noodles can be purchased at many groceries, feel free to use whatever noodle — rice, bean, egg — you prefer. Just keep an eye on the clock to insure that they are ready when you’re filling the bowls. Badly cooked noodles will spoil any dish, no matter the country of origin.

You needn’t sear the pork belly, if that’s your preference. Whether you do, be sure to slice the meat so that it can be evenly divided among the serving bowls. Remember: always slice the meat against the grain.

You may have noticed the small bowl to the right of the ramen in the opening photo. It contains sriracha and hoisin sauces. I got the idea of combining both by observing patrons at a number of pho restaurants. Additionally, one of this area’s food critics — more about him in a future pho post —  mentioned that some chefs are insulted when a patron adds sauce(s) to their pho. Placing the sauces in a small bowl allows one to dip the cooked meat(s) into the sauces, leaving the pho/ramen just as the chef intended, thereby averting an International incident.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stormy Lentils 3

Here we stand, feet firmly planted in comfort food country, and here we shall stay. Today’s look back was — and still is — a great recipe for these wintry days. Easy to prepare and oh, so very hearty, you won’t care what’s happening outside your door with a bowl of this lentil soup before you. The recipe for this lentil dish can be found HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Marinella’s Meatballs

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Slow-Cooker Mole Pork

Pork Mole over Rice - 1

Pork Mole over Rice

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Written almost 1 year ago, this is another “source-less” recipe, for I’ve long since lost those links. I do recall that the original protein was chicken but, to my way of thinking, things go better with pork. (See Notes)

Much like last week’s goat, this dish is all about comfort from the first whiff of its aroma, and perfect for these dreadfully cold winter days. Cooked long and slow, the pork grows more tender with each passing hour. When time to serve, you can serve it as-is over rice, or shred it. If you choose the latter, tacos or tasty sandwiches result. Versatility is its best feature and I take full advantage of all 3 options before the pot is empty.

I have prepared this dish several times with no 2 meals alike. I’ve little experience preparing mole, so, I’ve played with the amounts of Mexican chocolate, peanut butter, and chili pepper. This recipe represents my last — and best, for me — attempt. Feel free to adjust them to suit your own tastes. In fact, please come back and share your changes. With so little experience with Mexican cuisine beyond tacos and chili, I am open to any suggestions.

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Pork Mole Taco 2

Pork Mole Taco

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Slow-Cooker Mole Pork Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 to 5 lb (1800 to 2300 g) pork shoulder (see Notes)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 3 garlic gloves, smashed
  • 1 c chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1½ tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp Arbol chile powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ⅓ c light brown sugar
  • 1 small can (7 oz, 196 g) chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • ¼ tablet (23 g) Mexican chocolate
  • ¼ c peanut butter
  • ½ c raisins

Directions

  1. Coat the slow-cooker container with cooking spray.
  2. Place the onions and garlic in an even layer on the bottom of the slow-cooker,
  3. Cut the pork into large chunks (see Notes) before placing in slow-cooker.
  4. In a bowl, combine the chicken stock, spices, light brown sugar, chipotle peppers, chocolate, peanut butter and raisins. Stir before emptying bowl into the slow-cooker, fully covering the pork.
  5. Set slow-cooker to LOW and timer to 8 hours (see Notes).
  6. When finished, remove pork and reserve.
  7. Using a stick blender, food processor, or blender, purée the sauce until as smooth as you prefer.
  8. Serving options:
    1. Return pork to slow-cooker before serving over rice, garnished with sour cream and cilantro leaves.
    2. Shred the pork before returning to the slow-cooker.
      • Prepare tacos with shredded lettuce/cabbage, onion, sour cream, cilantro, and/or whatever toppings you prefer.
      • Use to make pulled pork sandwiches with lettuce, onion, and whatever condiments you prefer

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Mole Pulled Pork Sammich - 1

Pulled Pork Mole Sammich

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Notes

This will produce a fair amount of sauce, particularly if you use a pork shoulder roast smaller than 4 lbs. (Been there.)  In fact, too much sauce may be produced for tacos or sandwiches. Then again. some may love a good, messy taco or sandwich. If so, have extra napkins on-hand and go for it!

While cutting the pork roast, remove any bone(s) and trim away as much fat as possible. Reserve the bone(s) for use in your next pot of tomato sauce.

If you prefer to use chicken, substitute 4 to 5 lbs of skinless, boneless chicken thighs for the pork. (This is not a recipe for chicken breasts.) Cut the thigh meat into chunks, flour, and lightly sear before proceeding with the recipe.

If you haven’t 8 hours to wait for your dinner, you can set the slow-cooker to HIGH and cook for 4 hours. In short, 1 hour on HIGH equals 2 hours on LOW.

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Mex Choc

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About that Mexican Chocolate (ETA)

When writing this, I didn’t consider that not everyone has access to Mexican chocolate. I hope the following helps.

I use the brand pictured above principally because it is the most readily available. There is another popular brand, Ibarra, that I have yet to find in the groceries that I frequent. If all else fails, you can make your own, the recipe being found on The Balance website. In it, use semi-sweet or milk chocolate equal in amount to the Mexican chocolate indicated in the recipe. To that, add 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and a drop of almond extract (optional). If nothing else, it makes a great cup of hot chocolate!

 

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

I’ve made no secret of my love for tart cherries, buying bags of them every summer. In fact, for a number of years, I drove 100 miles to a Michigan farm to get the little red beauties directly from the farmer.  Although I’ve plenty of uses for them, I always save some for this time fo year. A cherry muffin in February tastes almost as good as a piece of cherry pie in January. Both serve to remind me that the falling snowflakes will soon give way to cherry blossom petals.

My recipe for cherry pie can be found HERE and the cherry muffin recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pork Belly Ramen

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Goat Slow-Cooked with Harissa & Borlotti Beans

harissa-braised-goat-4

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Hello there! When last we spoke, it was Christmas Eve and I announced my return to the wonderful world of Word Press. Well, that was the plan anyway. Shortly after posting, I met dear friends for dinner, during which I mentioned a “scratchy throat.” (Cue ominous music.)

Christmas morning I awoke with what would become the Mother of all Chest Colds. (It couldn’t possibly have been flu because I had received a flu vaccination last fall.) With Max playing nursemaid, I was sofa-bound for much of the next month. Even now, I’ve a mild case of the sniffles. Worse, this “thing” is making the rounds and a number of friends are similarly affected. Happy New Year!

But enough about me. Today’s recipe, like many to come, was written during my ever-so-lengthy “brief” hiatus last year. If and when I came upon a great recipe, I’d prepare it, record the recipe, and post its URL in a special file so that I could credit the author when the time came. What could possibly go wrong?

Earlier this week, I pulled up this recipe and looked for my file of recipe links. As you may have already guessed, the file was nowhere to be found, and my attempts to recover it from back-ups have, thus far, been unsuccessful. As such, we’ve little choice but to soldier on and I promise to come back and give credit for the original recipes when and if I find them.

I truly enjoy this dish and it has become part of my winter rotation of suppers. It is pure comfort food and just what’s needed when a Polar Vortex threatens. Truth be told, it’s for dinner tonight, although lamb is the protein but more about that later.

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harissa-braised-goat-1

Brown the goat

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Harissa-Braised Goat with Borlotti Beans Recipe

Ingredients

  • at least 4 tbsp Olio Santo, divided (see Notes)
  • 2 – 3 lbs (900 – 1300 g) goat cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces (See Notes, & Variations)
  • approx. 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground (see Notes)
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground  (see Notes)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1 small can (14.5 oz, 400 g) diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp harissa sauce — more or less to taste
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon — 1/2 preserved lemon, sliced, may be substituted (recipe follows)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 lb (450 g) fresh Borlotti/cranberry/Roman beans (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper

*     *     *

for the Gremolata  (see Notes)

  • 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped — anchovy paste may be substituted
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon

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harissa-braised-goat-2

Start of Braise

*     *     *

Directions

  1. Heat 2 tbsp Olio Santo in a large frypan over med-high heat.
  2. Season the goat with salt and pepper.
  3. Use the flour to coat the goat pieces.
  4. Brown the goat pieces on all sides. Work in batches and it will take about 5 to 7 minutes per batch. Add more Olio Santo as needed. Remove and reserve the browned meat.
  5. Heat 2 more tbsp Olio Santo in the same pan and add the onions. Sauté until soft, about 8 minutes.
  6. Add the ginger and garlic, continue to sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, harissa, honey, lemon juice & zest, rosemary, and bay leaf to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
  8. Add the cooked onion mixture to the slow cooker when fully sautéed. Stir.
  9. Use the wine to deglaze the frypan. Add the liquid to the slow cooker when the pan is fully deglazed.
  10. Add the meat to the slow cooker and stir.
  11. Set slow cooker to LOW and cook for 4 hours.
  12. After 4 hours, add the beans and stir.
  13. Continue to cook on LOW for 4 more hours.
  14. Make the gremolata towards the end of the cooking process:
    • In a small bowl, combine the anchovies, garlic, parsley, and zest. Stir until fully combined.
  15. Serve immediately, garnished with the gremolata. A chunk of bread wouldn’t hurt.

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harissa-braised-goat-3

End of Braise

*     *     *

Notes …

Olive oil may be substituted for Olio Santo. If preferred, add red pepper flakes to the pan when the onions are added.

Use 2 lbs of meat when boneless, and closer to 3 lbs when bone-in.

This recipe requires 8 hours on LOW to prepare. You can reduce the cooking time by setting your cooker to HIGH for all or part of the time. Just remember that 1 hour on HIGH equals 2 hours on LOW.

When using whole herb seeds, it’s best to toast them prior to grinding. I use a small frypan on the stove top, while others prefer to spread the seeds on a baking sheet before placing in the oven. Either way, if you intend to use the same utensil, place the larger seeds on the heat source before the smaller to prevent the small seeds from scorching. Here, I toasted the coriander seeds for a minute or so before adding the cumin. Once cooled, I ground them together and added the mixture to the recipe.

Although I used fresh beans, you can use canned or rehydrated beans. If using canned, be sure to rinse them before adding to the slow-cooker 2 hours before the dish is fully cooked. If using dried beans that you’ve pre-soaked, treat them as fresh, adding them to the pot 4 hours before completion..

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Variations …

Good quality goat is not available in all areas. Not to worry. You can substitute lamb and still enjoy a fantastic meal.

The gremolata recipe is one that I found in one of Mom’s recipe notepads. I prefer it because, unlike most others, it includes anchovies. If you prefer, you can omit the little fishies, or the gremolata altogether. if you do choose to leave out the gremolata, a bit of citrus zest — lime, orange, or lemon — makes a great garnish, as does a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt. The latter being particularly useful when you’ve added a bit too much harissa.

Although it is meant to be served as-is, I’ve found that a scoop of plain rice is a welcome addition, resulting in a very flavorful beans and rice dish.

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*     *     *

Preserved Lemons Recipe

Preserved lemons are believed to have originated in Pakistan and India, before making their way to the Middle East. Today they are an integral part of many Moroccan recipes. The lemons add a distinct citrus-y flavor to a dish, and some say that the flavor intensifies the longer it cooks in the pot. Although there are a variety of recipes, each using a number of spices, all are based upon the same 3 ingredients: salt, lemons, and lemon juice. I use the simplest of recipes so that I can better control the flavor of the final dish.

Here in the States, Meyer’s lemons are in season. It is said that these lemons are closest to those found in Morocco. Of course, if you cannot find Meyer lemons, any old lemon will work.

To begin, take 4, 5, or 6 (Meyer) lemons, depending upon the jar size, and scrub well. Place 1 tbsp of kosher salt into a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid. Remove no more than the tip from each end of the lemon. Beginning at one end, slice the lemon at least halfway down but no more than 3/4. Do not separate the halves. Turn the lemon and repeat the process, slicing it into quarters. Place a tbsp of kosher salt between the sections, covering the cut surfaces, before placing the lemon into the jar. Repeat the process with more lemons, stuffing the jar as best you can. When finished, add another tbsp of kosher salt on top. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the lemons, add the juice of a fresh lemon to “top off” the jar. Cover the jar and place in a warm room, shaking daily, for one month. Use as the recipe requires.

Your preserved lemons will last indefinitely. The liquid can be replenished using fresh lemon juice, as required. The liquid can even be used in recipes, or, to help start your next batch of preserved lemons,

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

You may recall that in recent years, I’ve prepared honey mustard and ketchup at Christmas time, giving friends jars of the condiments as gifts, This year was no exception. Both are easy to make and so much better than anything that might be found on a grocer’s shelves. You can find the Honey Mustard recipe HERE, and the Ketchup recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Slow-Cooker Mole Pork

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Grilled Octopus Salad

Buon Natale a Tutti!

No matter what you may do during the holidays, if you don’t embarrass the little ones, you ain’t doing it right!

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Well, it’s that time again. Time for the Feast of the 7 Fishes. Yes, I know I’ve been away for a while but I couldn’t let Christmas Eve pass without offering at least one suggestion for your Feast of the 7 Fishes.  Can  your guess what it is?

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That’s right, we’re grilling octopus. Now, there’s nothing particularly special about this dish. Once grilled, I prepared it in a salad much like Mom’s Calamari Salad. The reason for posting the recipe has little to do with the salad but everything to do with the preparation of the octopus.

To start, put away the copper pot; no need to boil water for dipping; find another use for those wine corks; bash something else against that rock in the garden; keep your cephalopod out of the freezer; and, save the salt rub for something with fewer legs. Instead, grab a pressure cooker and kiss those rubbery octopi good-bye.

In the past, I had my feet firmly planted in the “Cook ’em slow, cook ’em long” camp. Even then I was never sure if my octopus was going to be tender or chewing gum. And grilling? I gave up on that idea years ago. Well, not anymore! Cooking octopus now takes minutes, not hours, and the result is as close to perfection as I dared hope. Give it a try. You will not be disappointed.

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Grilled Octopus Salad Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 lb (900 g) octopus, rinsed and cleaned (See Notes)
  • 1 lemon, divided
  • red bell pepper, diced
  • jalapeño pepper, diced
  • red onion, diced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • Belgian endive (optional)

Directions

  1. Place the cleaned octopus and half the lemon into the pressure cooker and cover with water. Do not exceed the pot’s maximum content limit. Secure lid and heat over a med-high flame.
  2. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for use, maintaining high pressure for 15 minutes. (See Notes)
  3. Release the pot’s pressure completely, remove the lid, and allow the octopus to cool in the liquid. (See Notes)
  4. Meanwhile, gather the remaining ingredients and prepare.
  5. Once cooled, remove the octopus, drain, pat dry, and sever each tentacle at its base.
  6. If using the head, remove both eyes before chopping.
  7. If using the body, remove and discard the beak located at the very center where the 8 tentacles join before chopping the remainder.
  8. Lightly coat the pieces with olive oil.
  9. Heat the grill (pan) over high heat.
  10. Once hot, clean the grill grates before using an oil-soaked cloth to coat them.
  11. Place the octopus on to the grill (pan) and cook until the pieces begin to lightly char. Turn the pieces and continue cooking until evenly colored, Depending upon the grill’s heat and size of the octopus, this could take as few as 5 minutes total.
  12. Allow to cool before chopping into bite-sized pieces.
  13. Add all the ingredients into a bowl and gently toss.
  14. Either serve as-is or cover and refrigerate until dinnertime. Slice remaining half-lemon for garnish.

*     *     *

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Serving Suggestion

Although this can easily be served as one would any salad, serving it atop individual leaves of Belgian endive adds a bit of flair to the dish, perfect for the Feast.

*     *     *

Notes

Safety features should prevent its opening but do not attempt to remove the lid of a pressure cooker until the pressure has been released fully.

Ask your fishmonger to clean the octopus. If you’re willing to tackle the job yourself, carefully remove the contents within the head. You can remove the beak now, or later as indicated in the recipe. Give it a good rinse and you’re set to go.

Cooking times may vary depending upon the size of the octopus. For example, I cook a 1 lb. octopus on high for 10 minutes, not 15 as indicated in the recipe.

Use as much or as little of the salad ingredients listed above according to your preferences.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

If you’re planning to serve the Feast of Seven Fishes, you may be looking for suggestions to complete your menu. Click HERE to see earlier seafood posts that I’ve shared.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Harissa-Braised Goat with Borlotti Beans

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One more thing …

Yes, I’m back. See you in the New Year!!!!!

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Meat Loaf – Finalmente!

Meatloaf sliced

Here it is, the very much delayed meatloaf recipe. Taa-daa!

My love affair with meatloaf goes back more decades than I care to say. I was a boy and didn’t think much about this dish, wondering why we weren’t having hamburgers instead. Then I tasted Zia’s meatloaf. She and Mom were great cooks but Zia’s meatloaf was heaven-sent. I was perennially trying to steal away from our dinner table so that I could have a taste of her meatloaf when she was serving it. Mom caught on quickly enough but rather than get annoyed, she tried to make a better meatloaf. Although hers did, in fact, improve, Zia’s remained the best in my book.

Now move ahead many years. Zia and I have decided to create this blog and we’re making a preliminary list of recipes to include for our family. Well, very early in the process, I added her meatloaf to the list. You can imagine my horror when she confessed that she no longer had the recipe nor could she remember it. All she knew was that she added oats (see above) and nothing else. At that point, I resigned myself to eating mediocre meatloaf for the rest of my days. And let me tell you. I was responsible for many a mediocre meatloaf in those days. (It also drove home the point that these recipes needed to be put to paper and preserved.)

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meatloaf-4

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About 2 years later, I came upon a post by my now good blogging friend, Tanya. (You may know her as Chica Andaluza. If you don’t, get over to her site for some tasty dishes and to learn of life on her beautiful Mountain in Spain.) She’d shared a recipe for ketchup, and, once I made it, I was instantly converted. I no longer buy ketchup and use this homemade version exclusively. It’s also a permanent member of my Christmas gift baskets, the recipients of which — friends and family —  cannot get enough.

At some point — I don’t remember exactly when — I was preparing what would become another mediocre meatloaf when I experienced a true epiphany. Why not use the homemade ketchup? It was a life changing moment … well, meatloaf changing. My meatloaf reached a new level of excellence and, best of all, consistency. No need to worry about which and how much spice to use. The ketchup had everything I would have added. Best of all, during her last visit here, I prepared a meatloaf dinner for Zia and she declared that mine reminded her of her long forgotten recipe. She could not have pleased me more. That’s the day I decided to share the recipe — it’s also the last time I served sliced meatloaf for dinner.

You see, I’m a mid-western boy and we love our meat and gravy sandwiches. It was a special treat on a cold winter’s evening when Mom placed before me a plate containing a meat sandwich and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy. Oh, boy! Over the years, even when serving a mediocre loaf, I dreamt of the next day’s smothered sandwich. Once that craving was satisfied, there would be meatloaf sammiches. These would be gravy-free but would instead contain lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a bit of horseradish sauce. I mentioned it to Zia and learnt that she, too, loved both sandwich and sammich. I’ve not served sliced meatloaf since. Make note of this post’s opening photo. It is the last of its kind in my home.

*     *     *

This is a very easy recipe to follow but it does result in plenty of meatloaf. I usually fill 2 small foil loaf pans first, and then use the rest of the meat mixture to create a larger loaf. I rarely place this loaf in a pan, preferring to create a free-form loaf by hand. The smaller loaves will eventually find a home in the freezer and, I must say, I get a certain amount of satisfaction knowing that I’ve got a meatloaf in the freezer. I feel the same about its neighbor in there, the tray of lasagna. This brings up another issue …and an invite. If ever you hear of a major power outage lasting for days/weeks in Chicago, rent a car, catch a train, hop a bus, take a flight, pirate a ship, or do whatever you need to get here. My guests and I will be eating mighty fine for the duration — or at least until everything melts.

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meatloaf-duo

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Meatloaf Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 lb (680 g) ground beef (See Notes)
  • 1.5 lb (680 g) ground pork
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk, leaves included
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 cup oats (I use good old Quaker Oats for “Nothing is better for thee…”)
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup homemade ketchup, divided (See déjà vu)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C)
  2. Chop the carrot, celery, and onion to equal size.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over med-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables and cook until soft – about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic midway through.
  4. Set aside to cool until safe to handle.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, add the meats, eggs, oats, sautéed vegetables, and 2/3 of the ketchup. Mix to combine but do not over-mix.  (See Notes)
  6. Use part of the meat mixture to fill 1 or 2 small loaf pan(s). The rest will be used to fill a large loaf pan or to create a free-form loaf on a foil-covered baking pan.
  7. Use the remaining 1/3 of the ketchup to lightly coat the tops of the loaves.
  8. Place the loaves in the pre-heated oven.
  9. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes. Each loaf is cooked when its internal temperature reaches 160˚ F (70˚ C).
  10. Once cooked:
    • For the larger loaf:
      • If using a loaf pan, allow to rest 10 minutes, drain the liquids from the pan, removing the meatloaf and placing on a serving platter.
      • If not using a loaf pan, allow to rest 10 minutes and place on a serving platter.
      • Serve immediately.
    • For the smaller loaves:
      • Set aside to fully cool. Completely cover with plastic wrap before tightly wrapping in aluminum foil. It can now be frozen for up to 6 months. When ready to serve, unwrap the plastic wrap, replace the foil, and thaw in the fridge overnight. Once thawed, place in a pre-heated 300˚ F (150˚ C) and cook until heated through. (See Notes)
  11. If you’re like me, forego the platter and use the liquids to prepare a gravy with cornstarch, a cup of beef stock or low sodium bouillon, and a little milk  (optional). Meanwhile, create a sandwich using 2 slices of bread  and a generous slice of meatloaf. On the same dish, serve some mashed potatoes with a well in the center. Use the hot gravy to smother the sandwich and fill the mashed potato well. Buon appetito!

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meatloaf-3

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Notes

At one time, I used equal amounts of ground veal, beef, and pork to make meatloaf. I prefer not to use veal these days unless I can be sure it’s been humanely raised.

If you do not have — or do not want to use — oats, an equal amount of bread crumbs may be substituted.

Overworking the meat mixture will result in a meatloaf that’s too dense. Mix until al of the ingredients are combined but no more than that.

You needn’t thaw the meatloaf before re-heating but I find the results much more reliable. I never seem to get the timing right and dinner is just about always delayed when I stick a frozen meatloaf into the oven. Remember: it’s already been fully cooked so there’s no worry of serving raw meat — just really cold.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

ketchup-throwback-photo

As I mentioned, the secret to this meatloaf is the ketchup, although the recipe I shared is about as close to the ketchup we all knew as kids as is salsa. Thanks to a recipe derived from one posted by the Kitchens’ good friend, Tanya, the one and only Chica Andaluza, the flavor of my meatloaf has improved greatly. The fact is that I always have a few jars in reserve and am lost without it. (Sorry, Heinz.) You can see my recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Soft Shell Crab Curry Preview

Curried Soft Shell Crab

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Eggplant Lasagna

eggplant-lasagna-5

This post was actually written and the lasagna prepared last summer, when I was at the height of the Great Eggplant Glut of 2017. At the time, I promised that I’d post the recipe. Well. my birthday is coming next week and I was in need of something to prepare in celebration. Unfortunately, despite recent attempts to stretch the parameters, I’m still rather restricted to soft foods. Just as I’ve done, i could make a soup, or pasta, or soup with pasta but I wanted something a bit more special. Enter eggplant lasagna. Lucky for me, there’s a tray waiting for me in the freezer. Oh, boy!

Now, to be clear, this dish contains my homemade pasta and, therefore, is not gluten-free (GF). If the noodles are to be omitted, I’d rather make eggplant parmesan, this lasagna’s GF cousin. Well, it is my birthday and sometimes I just want a nice plate of good old-fashioned gluten. Sue me but at least send a birthday card before you do.

The recipe is easy enough. You can use any kind of lasagna noodle that you wish. Follow the directions on the package for store-bought noodles. If using “no-bake” noodles, I give them a quick rinse in hot tap water before placing in the tray. That helps to ensure that each noodle gets enough moisture to cook properly. If at all possible, use freshly made pasta noodles, They only require about a two-minute blanch in boiling water before use but the difference in taste is remarkable. Do it once and you’ll be sold.

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ETA: For a slightly different take, one more true to the dish’s Sicilian roots, take a look at Bea’s recipe on her delicious Viaggiando con Bea, Travels with Bea. One can never have too many lasagna recipes.

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eggplant-lasagna-preview

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Eggplant Lasagna Recipe

Ingredients

  • medium-sized eggplants (see Notes)
  • cooking spray
  • about 1 quart tomato sauce (Vegetarians use meatless)
  • butter to grease the baking dish
  • pasta sheets to create 3 layers
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 4 oz  Asiago cheese, grated
  • 4 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • fresh mozzarella, cut into rounds
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, for serving

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Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450˚ F (230˚ C). Liberally butter baking dish/pan.
  2. Prepare the eggplant(s):
    • Trim off ends of eggplants and slice into 1/2 inch rounds. (See Notes)
    • Place rounds in a single layer on a rack resting upon a baking sheet.
    • Lightly spray each side and sprinkle with salt.
    • Bake for 15 minutes,
    • Remove from oven and reserve.
  3. Reduce oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C).
  4. Meanwhile, cook lasagna noodles per package instructions,
  5. If using fresh noodles, par-boil for about 2 minutes before rinsing is cold water.
  6. Assemble the lasagna:
    • Lightly coat the bottom of the baking dish/pan with tomato sauce.
    • Place enough pasta sheets to create a single layer.
    • Add a single layer of eggplant rounds.
    • Cover with a layer of sauce.
    • Sprinkle half of the grated cheese mixture.
    • Sprinkle with 1/3 of the grated Pecorino Romano.
    • Add another layer of noodles, eggplant rounds, sauce, and cheeses.
    • Add the final layer of noodles and enough tomato sauce to cover.
    • Evenly distribute the mozzarella rings and sprinkle the rest of the Pecorino Romano cheese on top.
    • Cover with aluminum foil. (See Notes)
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, uncover, raise the oven temperature to 450˚F (230˚ C), and bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes more.
  8. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. Be sure to have grated Pecorino Romano available at the table. (See Notes)

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Notes

You will need enough eggplant rings to create 2 layers in whatever size baking dish/pan you’re going to use.

When preparing eggplant parmesan, I do not peel the eggplant, the peel adding structure to the dish. In lasagna, the noodles add some structure, so, strips of the eggplant’s peel are removed.

Lightly coating the inside of the aluminum foil with cooking spray will help prevent it sticking to the mozzarella should the 2 come in contact while baking.

Once baking is complete, be sure to give the lasagna ample time to rest and set. It will be easier to serve and will retain its shape far better than if sliced immediately upon removal from the oven.

This past summer, I made a couple extra trays of lasagna and froze them. Once fully cooked and cooled, wrap the trays in plastic wrap before wrapping with aluminum foil. The night before you intend to serve the lasagna, place the tray in the fridge for defrosting. The next day, unwrap and remove the plastic wrap, and place the tray, recovered with foil, into a preheated 350˚ F (175˚ C) oven. Serve when heated through.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

cherry-pie

It’s that time of year again. Every January, I go to the freezer in my basement and retrieve a bag of frozen tart cherries. The current January Thaw notwithstanding, a mid-winter cherry pie reminds me of the previous summer when the cherries were bought and put away, out of sight. Now, while I prepare, bake, and enjoy a cherry pie, I cannot help but dream of the summer to come. Old Man Winter may still claim the outdoors but here, in my kitchen, summer rules once again. And if this doesn’t work? No problem. There’s another bag in that freezer, though it’s contents will be used to prepare cherry muffins. One way or another, summer is coming. (Take that, Jon Snow!)  You can see the cherry pie recipe HERE and the cherry muffin recipe HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

meatloaf-preview

Meatloaf

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Dad’s Grilled Red Snapper

red-snapper-5

Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that I’ve been recently waylaid by a rather unfortunate run-in with a bit of black walnut-shell. In perhaps the most unkindest cut of all, the blow was delivered by one of my beloved post-Thanksgiving turkey sammiches. (I knew The Fates could be cruel but who knew they had a taste for irony, as well?) The resultant series of appointments meant that I’ve not been around WordPress very much of late. Although there’s more work to be done, I’m happy to say that the worst of the ordeal is now behind me. I’ll be back at 100% before you know it but, please, I’m begging you, no more jokes about whistling merry Christmas.

Neither of today’s dishes — I wouldn’t really call them recipes — are in any way complicated or difficult to prepare. Given my current situation, they are just what the dentists ordered. In my mind, however, both are closely tied to the upcoming holidays. The first, red snapper, was a favorite of my Dad. It’s also my last post before Christmas Eve and I’ve a tradition of offering a seafood dish for those preparing a Feast of the Seven Fishes.  The second dish shared today, roasted chestnuts, was the very last Mom served on the holidays.

I’ve wanted to post a red snapper recipe for some time but it’s a little complicated. You see, snapper is endangered depending upon where and how it’s harvested. If caught by hook and line in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s OK to purchase. Red snapper caught in the South Atlantic, however, should be avoided. Ruby snapper — its Hawaiian cousin — is OK to purchase. (Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch). I’ve often seen red snapper for sale but, as a rule of thumb, if the monger cannot tell me where or how a fish is caught, I choose another fish or, in some cases, another monger. Over the years, I’ve passed up a lot of red snapper. That’s not so complicated. Well, stay with me.

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red-snapper-2

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Recently, my fish monger had fresh red snapper and I eagerly bought 2 fillets, one to be grilled that night and the second to be prepared the following night. See the opening photo? That’s  proof that I actually grilled red snapper. Unfortunately, it’s the only photo that I have because moments later my grill ran out of propane. I finished cooking the fillet on a grill pan.

That was a Friday 2 weeks ago. The following day, Saturday, we were hit with a snowstorm.(We’ve had snow on each of the past 3 weekends with more expected tomorrow.) I spent my day pushing the snow off of the walkways. For some reason, replacing my grill’s propane tank never crossed my mind — until dinner time. That’s when I made an executive decision. I wasn’t going anywhere and fired up the grill pan, instead.

Complications aside, this is about the easiest preparation for a dish that  I’ve ever posted. It’s not so much the fish but the memories that go along with it. Yes, it was  Dad’s favorite fish but he wanted it grilled. No matter the season, no matter the weather, if red snapper fillets were on the menu that night, Dad was at the barbecue getting the grill ready.

grandpas-barbecueAs I’ve mentioned in other posts, our barbecue was made of brick and built by Grandpa in the late1950s. Mention that barbecue and In my mind’s eye, I see Dad standing before it, preparing our main course.  Once, during a summer storm, Dad was wearing a trench coat over a pair of shorts, his bare legs extending beyond the coat’s hem. His right hand was tending our meal while his left hand struggled to maintain control of the wind-whipped umbrella. Now that’s dedication.

red-snapper-1Although I can’t say for certain what he was grilling on that foul weather day, it would be a pretty good bet to say that it was red snapper. That’s how much he enjoyed grilled red snapper fillets! I do, too, maybe not to that extent but I do enjoy red snapper when grilled.

The fish is easy enough to prepare. Season both sides of the fillet with salt & pepper before drizzling with olive oil. Light the grill and while it heats, place equal amounts of butter and lemon juice in a small sauce pan over low heat. Softly simmer the two while the fish cooks. Red snapper fillets flake easily so we, Dad and I, use(d) a fish basket to hold them in place on the grill. There’s nothing worse than watching part of your dinner fall between the spaces in your grill plates. Depending upon how hot your grill is, the fillets should cook in about  3 to 4 minutes for the first side and about 2 minutes for the other. Place the fish skin-side down to start. (See NOTES) Once finished, remove the fillets to a serving platter and drizzle with lemon butter sauce. Serve immediately with lemon wedges. See? Couldn’t be easier but oh, so very good!

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Since the red snapper dish was so simple to prepare, I thought I’d make this post a two-fer. Recently my Brother asked where my post for roasted chestnuts was located. Um … it wasn’t. I’d forgotten all about them. So, here’s another easy recipe that also means holiday to me.

On Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day, once the deserts had been served and the table cleared, while the adults dipped anise-flavored biscotti into their caffè and chatted, Mom would bring freshly roasted chestnuts, castagne, to the table. No matter how sated, everyone at that table managed to eat a few chestnuts, You see, much like the old Jell-O advert, there’s aways room for castagne.roasted-chestnuts-2016

Sometime that afternoon or early evening, Dad would use his penknife to slice an “X” in the rounded side of each chestnut. Later, they would be placed on a baking sheet which was then put into a 425˚ F pre-heated oven. After about 20 to 25 minutes, the chestnuts were removed and allowed to cool slightly before being served.

I wish I could be more precise but much depends upon how fresh the nuts are and whether all have been properly roasted. You see, a chestnut has a shell within a shell. We’re all familiar with the brown outer shell but the one on the inside will give you fits. It’s inedible, paper-thin, fuzzy, and can stick to the chestnut like glue. If your chestnut is roasted for tool long or too short, you can expect problems with that inner shell. Oh! There’s an added bonus to roasting them for too long: the chestnuts become rock-hard.

Now, there are those who par-boil their nuts before roasting but I’ve never tried that. Mom boiled a few and, once chopped, included them in her turkey stuffing. If I remember correctly, she didn’t fare any better with the boiled chestnuts than we did later that evening with them roasted. Problems aside, a few roasted chestnuts to end the meal are as much a part of my holiday feast memories as are those of the much-beloved platters of ravioli that began them.

Speaking of the holidays, we at the Bartolini kitchens wish you all a holiday season most memorable, with a new year filled with wonder and joy.

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Notes

The red snapper fillets can easily be prepared on a grill pan or under the broiler. In the first case, heat the grill pan as you would a barbecue. Cook the fish as if it were on a grill, skin-side down, for a few minutes before turning it over for about another 2 minutes. If you broil the fillets, place them skin-side down on an unheated broiler pan/tray about 4 inches under the heating element, They should be ready in about 4 minutes but keep a close eye on them. If you’ve used a broiler with seafood, you know exactly what I mean.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

braised-eel

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve so why not take a look back at a dish traditionally served on that night? I’m talking about eels and though I only remember it being served once when I was very young, peering into a sink full of eels definitely left an impression. You can see how they’re prepared by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

panettone-bread-pudding-1

Panettone: A Bread with Promise

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