Smothered Pork Chops

Smothered Pork Chops 2

Those of you who have been with me for the past few weeks are aware that my eating habits are in a state of flux. Once it entered my life, the spiralizer set about changing me, as new loves often attempt. It was successful to an extent. Though I’ve not increased the number of my meatless days, I have enjoyed a greater number of meatless suppers. Even so, there are limits to my meat-free ways. When the temperature gets and stays well below freezing, I crave comfort food which, for this carnivore, means a meat dish of some sort. Enter today’s recipe, smothered pork chops.

I’ve watched countless chefs prepare this dish, each adding their own special touch. I shied away from preparing it because I have a history of being gravy-challenged, unless you prefer a gloppy, lump-filled mess. Lucky for me, and anyone seated around my table, that’s no longer the case. Who says you can’t reach an old dog new tricks? So, with my new-found gravy-making skills, it was time to smother some pork chops — and I haven’t looked back.

The recipe itself is surprisingly simple and there are plenty of opportunities to make it your own. For this recipe, I make a gravy using mushrooms, onions, and garlic with chicken stock and a little milk. You may wish to add jalapeños or perhaps make more of a milk gravy. Buttermilk is a good substitution, as well. Don’t have milk? Don’t worry about it. Replace it with some white wine and you’ll still have a tasty gravy. In short, so long as you’ve got the chops, you can make this for dinner tonight.

One word of caution. Although the chops will be pulled off the heat when not quite finished cooking, the time needed to get to that point will vary greatly depending on the thickness of the chops. Steer clear of really thick chops. They’ll require a longer cooking time, at lower heat, or they’ll brown but remain raw on the inside. That could be a problem later in the process, when you return the chops to the pan with the gravy.  Rather than cook them together for 10 minutes or so, they’ll need to stay in the pan for quite a bit longer. For me, that causes the gravy to thicken far too much. (Gravy-challenged, remember?)

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Smothered Pork Chops 3

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Smothered Pork Chops Recipe 

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil to start, possibly more later in the process
  • pork chops, medium thickness, 1 per serving
  • 1 small to medium onion, sliced
  • 6 mushrooms sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced or grated
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1½ cups chicken stock – vegetable or pork stock may be substituted
  • ¼ cup milk – buttermilk or cream may be substituted
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat.
  2. Once oil is hot, place pork chop(s) into the pan and cook until browned on each side — about 5 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
  3. Place onion into the pan and sauté for a couple of minutes before adding the mushrooms. Continue to sauté until onions are translucent and mushroom cooked to your liking.
  4. Add garlic and continue to sauté for about a minute.
  5. Remove all but 4 tbsp of oil from the pan. If need be, add enough oil to the pan so that the amount of fat/oil in the pan equals the amount of flour added in the next step.
  6. Add the flour to the pan, stir, and make a roux. No need to make a dark roux but it should be cooked for a couple of minutes.
  7. Add the chicken stock to the pan in thirds, mixing well between additions to eliminate lumps.
  8. Reduce heat to med-low, add the milk, and stir to combine.
  9. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Return the pork chops to the pan, spoon gravy over them, and heat until cooked to your satisfaction, usually 5 to 10 minutes, Turn the chops mid-way through.
  11. Serve immediately with plenty of gravy for smothering.

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Smothered Pork Chops 1

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Notes

You may need to adjust the gravy ingredient amounts to suit the number of chops to be served. In the photos, that is one big chop and there’s more than enough gravy to smother it.

Milk gravy is a southern tradition. If that’s your preference, you can easily make it here. Just reverse the quantities of the chicken stock and the milk. Be sure to test for seasoning before serving.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Strawberry-Balsamic-Mascarpone Parfait

I recently prepared a pasta with mascarpone  for dinner and thought it was about time we revisited making the creamy cheese. (Hard to believe it’s been 4 years since I first shared that recipe.) Mascarpone is far easier to make than you might think and certainly cheaper than any that you can buy. Once made, why not use some in a strawberry-balsamic parfait just like the one pictured? You can learn all about it when you click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Baked Calamari Preview

Zia’s Baked Calamari

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Stovetop Braised Rabbit

Rabbit ServedI’ve mentioned in the past that Dad was a hunter. When I was very young, he and a few friends would spend a weekend deer hunting in autumn. I don’t recall him ever being successful, though we sometimes received venison from one his friends. Whether the friend was a member of the hunting party or just generous, I do not recall.

Dad was far more successful hunting pheasants. He’d leave early in the morning and return that night, usually with at least one ring-necked pheasant. Very often, he and I dressed the birds. Because the seasons overlapped, he sometimes brought home a rabbit, as well. He skinned the animal and I remember cleaning them but not very often. I think Mom objected far more to my participation than I did. I couldn’t/wouldn’t do it today.

Rabbit Sous Chef

Flat Ruthie comes out of retirement

We enjoyed rabbit many more times than Dad’s rifle ever supplied. Grandpa sometimes brought them home from the farmers market already dressed. Dad also brought them home but I do not recall his source. Though not a regular part of our diet, it wasn’t a surprise to see rabbit served when Dad was home for dinner.

Today, I’ve a number of groceries that sell rabbit. With the exception of one butcher shop, all are frozen. If I’m going to buy a frozen rabbit, I’ll buy one that carries the date on the label and from a store I trust. As I’ve said in the past, developing relationships with your butchers and grocers can prove beneficial in a number of ways.

I rarely buy rabbit to cook for myself. I will buy one, however, and bring it to Zia. Served relatively rarely, these days rabbit is more of a treat than it ever was. With only two of us seated at the table, one rabbit is more than enough to satisfy us both. No matter which of us is cook that night, we always cook our rabbit the same way and that’s the recipe I’ll be sharing. Do take a look at the Notes section, however, for an alternative way to prepare it.

One thing to keep in mind when preparing rabbit is that it is a very lean meat. With so little fat, the meat can be tough and dry if not prepared correctly. I know because I once served my Traveling Companion probably the worst rabbit dinner ever prepared. WIth lean meats, low and slow is the way to go. Keep the heat low and take your time braising it. You’ll be rewarded with a moist, tender rabbit to serve your guests.

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Rabbit Braise Start*     *     *

Stovetop Braised Rabbit Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 dressed rabbit, about 3 lbs 
  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped – 2 TBS tomato paste may be substituted – (optional)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • white wine
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Cut the rabbit into manageable pieces. This can be from 8 to 12 pieces, depending upon your preference and plans for serving.
  2. Season the rabbit with salt and pepper. 
  3. Heat a few TBS of olive oil over med-high in a deep frypan with a lid. 
  4. Place the garlic and rabbit pieces into the pan and brown the rabbit before flipping them over to brown the other side — about 5 – 8 minutes per side.
  5. Add the tomato (optional), rosemary, and about ¾ cups of white wine to start, and bring the pan to the boil. 
  6. Reduce the heat to a soft simmer, cover, and braise the rabbit for well over an hour — more like an hour-and-a-half. 
  7. During the braise, turn the pieces over occasionally and add more wine, as needed, should the pan begin too dry. You may substitute water or chicken stock for some of the wine. 
  8. When fully cooked, remove and discard the rosemary sprigs, place the rabbit on a platter, and serve.

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Rabbit Braising

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Notes

This recipe is the Bartolini method of braising rabbit. (Actually, it was Mom’s idea to add a little tomato, “Just for color.”) If, like me, you have a difficult time getting the braise right, you may want to try cooking the rabbit in the hunter’s style, alla cacciatore. Mom’s cacciatore is also a stove top braise but it includes bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms. They’ll keep the rabbit moist, just as they do chicken. There’s no need to go looking for the recipe. Mom’s Chicken Cacciatore is today’s “Deja Vu” dish.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Cacciatore with Polenta

Whether you decide to cook rabbit in this style, you really should give Mom’s cacciatore a try. The peppers, onions, mushrooms, and rosemary combine with the wine to make a very appetizing main course. Best of all, the aroma will fill your kitchen like only the best comfort foods can. You can see how it’s prepared by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Strawberry Pie Preview

Mom’s Strawberry-Banana Pie

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Eggs in Purgatory

Uova in PurgatorioEggs in Purgatory 1Hello? Is anybody there?

Hmmm. Let me see. Let me see. When last I left you, it was at the height of the holiday season, with Christmas but a day away. And then … well … we’ll get there in a few. Promise.

Today’s dish and recipe have certainly made the rounds. In fact, I’ve seen it so many times that I believed that I must have posted it, as well. That was the case when I read Nell’s delicious recipe last November. Hers is a North African (Tunisian) version called Shakshuka, and you can read all about it HERE.

Not long after, I was in Michigan for my last visit of the year with Zia. I offered to make us an early lunch because her son, the Max Whisperer, planned on leaving at noon. I prepared Eggs in Purgatory for us and served it over toast, as seen in the photo below. At the time, I mentioned that if he would like to make the dish for his wife, he could find the recipe on this blog. Later, I went looking for the recipe and discovered I’d never posted one. It was soon scheduled for the New Year’s post, since many consider this dish a hang-over cure.

As luck would have it, shortly after that another version of the dish was posted on My Arab Life, a blog I’ve begun following relatively recently. Although A.K.’s post didn’t include the recipe for his Shakshuka, he does mention that he included garbanzos, making it a much heartier dish.

Well, things were going rather swimmingly until a few days after Christmas. What started as a mild sore throat soon blossomed into a full-blown case of the flu, proving that this year’s flu vaccine wasn’t worth the sore arm. By any standard of measurement, I was knocked on my arse. And like the most obnoxious of guests, it flat-out refused to leave. Each and every time I thought I’d turned the corner, it was waiting for me and came roaring back with a vengeance.

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Eggs in Purgatory 2

Don’t answer the doorbell when taking photos or your Eggs in Purgatory will look like Hell.

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I set up camp in my living room, which offers a view of much of my home. One doesn’t want to let Max out of your sight for too long, regardless of the circumstances. As it turned out, Max was quite the nursemaid. Granted, he’s no Boo Nanny but he did step it up. Each morning, with a reliability that would shame most alarm clocks, Max woke me at 7:00 AM. It’s his breakfast time, you see, and he saw no reason for it to be late. After that, every few hours, he would come check on me to see if all was well. Sometimes he brought me a toy — remnants of an old sock he had liberated from the laundry basket some time ago — and if I was lucky, it was almost dry. At end-of-day, upon re-entering my home after a final trip to the backyard for “last call,” Max would “go left” to my bedroom and I “right” to the sofa. Soon we were both sound asleep. Well one of us was, anyway, for it wasn’t long before the still of the night was broken by the not so melodic rumble of Max snoring in my bed.

At long last, the bug finally departed for points unknown, leaving me exhausted. It took me a while to get back to normal, such at it is, where I have happily remained ever since. Unfortunately, while I was “out”, I did absolutely nothing with this blog until Monday, when I finally started to clear the backlog of just under 6000 notifications. Sad to say, my other email accounts aren’t in much better shape. All in good time …

Thank you for your emails and messages of concern. I hope that I’ve answered them all but fear I may have missed a couple. Thanks, too, for your understanding and patience. I guess all that’s left is to announce that the Kitchens are now open!

We’ll talk about a planned hiatus at another time.

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Eggs in Purgatory is a ridiculously easy dish to make and serve. It can be prepared in under a half-hour and served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can make it as spicy as you like, though when used as a hang-over cure, most like the heat factor raised a notch or two. Here, I’ve written the recipe using 2 eggs. You can easily double or triple the ingredients depending upon the number of people seated at the table. (See Notes)

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Eggs in Purgatory 4

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Eggs in Purgatory Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced or grated
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 can (14.5 oz, 411 g) diced tomatoes (See Notes)
  •  marjoram to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese for garnish

Directions

  1. In a small fry pan with a lid, heat the olive oil over med-high heat.
  2. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, continue to sauté for about another minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes and marjoram, stir, and bring to a boil before reducing to a soft simmer.
  5. Simmer until the sauce is cooked to your satisfaction. Additional water may be added if the sauce is too dry. Taste to check for seasoning.
  6. Use the back of a ladle or spoon to make a small indentation in the sauce. Fill each with a freshly cracked egg.
  7. Lightly season the eggs with a bit of salt and pepper, cover, and cook until the eggs are done with the yolks still runny. Alternately, you can place the pan, uncovered, in a pre-heated 375˚ F (190˚ C) oven until the eggs are cooked, about 10 minutes.
  8. Serve immediately as-is or atop a slice of Italian bread, garnished with some grated cheese and anything else you may like. (See Notes)

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Eggs in Purgatory on Toast3

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Notes

As you can see, the dish uses a simple tomato sauce to cook the eggs. There is certainly no need to follow my sauce recipe and you can add whatever else you like, according to your own tastes. In fact, you may have a store-bought sauce that you enjoy and it can easily be used here.

If you like things really hot, you may wish to downgrade your dish from Purgatory to Hell. A little harissa added to the tomato sauce is sure to do the trick.

As a rule of thumb, I use one small can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz, 411 g) for every 2 eggs being prepared. This will ensure that each egg is served on a nice bed of tomato sauce.

In the past, I always served my eggs as-is or atop sliced Italian bread, sometimes toasted. Nell, however, mentioned serving her eggs atop pasta. Oh, happy day! This is a wonderful variation which soon led to my serving them with polenta, as pictured at the top of this post. If gluten is an issue, however, choose your “platform” wisely.

Although I forgot to do so for the photos, I usually garnish the dish with a bit of grated cheese, though chopped parsley and/or scallions may also be used.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Strozzapreti A

This time of year, when it’s far too cold to leave the house for just about any reason, I tend to stay put and go through my arsenal of home-made pasta recipes, looking for one that will occupy my afternoon. Strozzapreti is certainly worth considering. Start up a pot of tomato sauce, make some pasta dough, and get to work making these “priest chokers.” Soon you’ll be enjoying a dish of pure Italian comfort food, completely oblivious to the frigid temperatures just outside your door. You can learn how to make this pasta, and the tale behind its name, simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Agnolotti Preview

 Agnolotti Redux

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Mom’s Osso Buco

Osso Buco della Mamma

Ossobuco 1

Finalmente! It was almost one year ago when I prepared osso buco for Zia and promised you that I would soon post the recipe. Well, that was the plan.

As I mentioned last week, Mom didn’t leave us a cookbook but we do have a couple of notebooks in which her recipes can be found, in varying states of completion. The osso buco I prepared for Zia was based on a recipe that I found which was little more than a few notes. We enjoyed the dinner and, when I got home, I set about writing the recipe. That’s when I found it, Mom’s full recipe. She had written notes in one book and the full recipe in another. I had taken one version with me to Michigan and referred to the other when I began writing the recipe. The post was put on hold until I could prepare Mom’s actual recipe. The Visitation would prove the perfect opportunity to both prepare Mom’s recipe and celebrate Zia’s return to Chicago.

I’m fully aware that some may object to eating veal, for a variety of reasons. I myself cringe when, while traveling through Michigan, I see the tiny enclosures used to raise calves for veal. Today there are alternatives. A quick check with Google will provide you with the names of local farms that raise veal humanely and the stores that carry their product. Be forewarned, however, that your peace of mind won’t come cheaply. A much less expensive alternative is to substitute beef shanks for the veal. In fact, that’s what I did when I tested both versions of Mom’s recipe, and, what I do when I’ve a taste for osso buco but don’t wish to take out a loan to satisfy it.

There are few differences between Mom’s original recipe and what I’ve prepared here, and those involve my use of a slow cooker. Braising shanks in an oven requires more liquid than doing so in a slow cooker. The recipe reflects this. Additionally, as you’ll soon see, Mom cooked 4 shanks at a time. I only cooked 2, though I kept most ingredient amounts the same. This meant that I had quite a bit of extra sauce left over. See below to learn how we used that sauce.

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Ossobuco 1

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Osso Buco Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 veal shanks (See Notes)
  • salt and pepper
  • flour
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (See Notes)
  •  1/2 cup veal stock – chicken may be substituted
  • 1 large can (28 oz, 794 g) whole tomatoes, torn/crushed by hand

for the Gremolata

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

Directions

  1. Season the shanks with salt & pepper on both sides. Begin to heat some oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Place about 1/3 cup of flour into a plastic bag, followed by 2 of the shanks. Carefully shake to coat the shanks with flour. Place the shanks in the now hot oil and repeat with the remaining 2 flanks.
  3. Cook the shanks until both sides are well-browned, – about 7 or 8 minutes total. Remove and reserve.
  4. Meanwhile, add the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, tomatoes, tomato paste, and bay leaf to the slow cooker. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Stir until combined.
  5. Use the white wine to deglaze the frying pan and pour the liquid into the slow cooker when finished.
  6. Add the shanks to the slow cooker. Be sure to include any of the juices that may have collected on the plate.
  7. Add enough stock so that the sauce comes halfway up the sides of the shanks.
  8. Set the slow cooker to  “LOW” and cook for 8 hours. To speed up the cooking time, for every hour cooked on “HIGH” reduce the cooking time by 2 hours.
  9. About every hour, baste the top of the shanks to keep them moist. (See Notes)
  10. 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.
  11. Carefully remove the shanks and serve immediately with sauce and garnished with a sprinkling of gremolata.

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Ossobuco 3

Osso buco served with polenta and broccolini 

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Notes

I’ve slightly adjusted Mom’s recipe to reflect braising these shanks in a slow cooker and not the oven. If using the oven:

  • Preheat the oven to 350˚ F  (175˚ C).
  • Increase the amount of liquids use 2/3 cups dry white wine and 3/4 cups stock.
  • Cook for 1½ to 2 hours.  Meat should be fork tender and just about falling off the bone. Let it go too long and it will fall of the bone, ruining your presentation.

Although you can get shanks as thin as an inch, 2 inch thick shanks were used here. Cooking times may vary if you use shanks that vary in thickness.

Ask your butcher to tie the shanks to prevent them from falling apart during the braise. Be sure to remove the string before serving.

Attempting to turn the shanks over while braising is very problematic. They may, in fact, fall apart during the process. Best to leave them as-is and baste them periodically throughout the braise. If braising in the oven, baste the shanks every 30 minutes or so, If using a slow-cooker, baste every hour or so. Remember, the fewer times you uncover a slow cooker, the better.

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It’s that time again

Winter is fast approaching and I’m going to sneak in one last visit with Zia before it gets here. The Kitchens will be closed while I’m gone.

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About that extra sauce

Tagliatelle in Sauce

After our dinner, the leftover sauce was split in half. Zia’s portion went into the freezer and went home with her. My portion was later used to dress the homemade tagliatelle pictured above.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stovetop Root Vegetables

Last weekend saw this area’s farmers markets close for the year, reflecting the fact that very little, if anything, will be grown here for the next 6 months. This doesn’t mean, however, that all locally grown produce has disappeared and no longer available. Because of their relatively long shelf-life, our markets will still carry apples, squash and a variety of root vegetables for weeks, even months, to come. Today’s look back features a stove top method for braising root vegetables, a recipe that will make an attractive side dish for any of the feasts you may prepare this holiday season. You can learn all about it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Honey Mustard Preview

  Honey Mustard

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Bartolini Roast Goat

Capra dell’Arrosto di Bartolini

Roast Goat 1

Today’s recipe is one that comes from mid-last century, maybe earlier, though the actual cut of meat used in this post differs. Here, we roasted a goat shoulder. Back in the day, an entire baby goat was roasted.

For many families, a roast of some sort marks an occasion as being special. Roast turkey or goose, baked ham, beef Wellington, or even Veal Prince Orloff, among others, may be the main course of the celebratory meal. Up until I was about 5 years of age, a baby goat was the Bartolini roast of choice for celebrations. As Zia recalls, a young goat was prepared for each of the 6 of our births — my 2 siblings and 3 cousins. I recall goat being served for Easter when I was very young. In fact, against Mom’s orders, I went down into the basement one year and found the kid. I barely had time to say “Awww” before I felt a tap on my shoulder and a well-placed hand on my behind as I was ushered back up the stairs. Even so, of the 2 of us kids in the basement that evening, I fared far better than the four-legged one. Long after we two-legged kids were in bed, Dad went into the basement and “prepared” the goat for the holiday meal. As I recall, that was the last year that roast goat was served and lamb replaced it as the meat of choice for Easter. That didn’t last long because my siblings weren’t at all fond of lamb. Mom switched to some other roast, I’m sure, but, as I’ve mentioned before, my attention was focused upon the platter of ravioli. Nothing else on that table mattered.

Although I posted a recipe for braised goat with harissa, we’ve not roasted goat in the “old way” in decades. My poor Zia. I cannot remember what I had for lunch yesterday — or to add flour to a cookie recipe — and I’m asking her to remember how we roasted goat more than 5 decades ago. She never fails to rise to the occasion, however, and today’s recipe is the latest proof.

As is the case with all of my family’s roast recipes, the method is simple, with relatively few herbs/spices being used, allowing the flavor of the meat to shine through. The only difference between this dish and the ones served years ago is that I made a sauce with the pan’s juices while the roast rested. Except for the Thanksgiving turkey, my family rarely made a sauce or gravy to accompany a roast.

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Roast Goat 2

Start of the braise

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Bartolini Roast Goat Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 goat shoulder, about 4 lbs (1.8 kg)
  • 4 whole garlic cloves
  • rosemary
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • the juice of 1/2 lemon
  • about a dozen new potatoes or 3 large cut into smaller equal sizes
  • flour
  • stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • dry white wine
  • butter
  • lemon zest for garnish

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F.
  2. Place a couple tbsp olive oil in a roasting pan with lid over med-high heat.
  3. Add the goat pieces and cook until browned on all sides. (See Notes)
  4. Place the garlic, rosemary stems, lemon juice, and wine into the pan, cover, and place all into the pre-heated oven.
  5. After 15 minutes, add the potatoes to the pan, stir, cover, and return to the oven.
  6. After 45 minutes more, remove the pan’s lid, again stir the potatoes, raise the oven temperature to 375˚, and roast — lid off — for another 15 minutes.
  7. Goat will be ready when it reaches a temperature of 145˚. Let rest covered for 15 minutes before serving.
  8. While the roast rests, add an amount of flour equal to the amount of juices in the pan’s bottom. Over medium heat, stir the 2 to make a roux and allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Add a little stock, and then wine, to make a sauce, stirring constantly to prevent lumps while the sauce thickens. Add as much wine and/or stock needed to get the consistency that you wish. Check for seasoning, take it off the heat, and add a tbsp of butter to finish the sauce before serving.
  9. Serve the goat with the sauce, garnished with fresh lemon zest, if desired.

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Roast Goat 4

End of the braise

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Notes

Depending upon how the meat was cut, you may have limited success browning all sides of the shoulder. Just do the best you can.

Zia loved the ravioli made from the roast duck leftovers so much that she made ravioli filling with the leftover goat. That filling is tucked safely away in her freezer waiting for my return to Michigan, when we’ll spend an afternoon making roast goat ravioli. I’ll post the recipe shortly thereafter.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

apple-blossom 1With our farmers markets starting to close down for the year, about the only things left in any abundance are squash, apples, and pears. I love all 3 but this is the time of year when I make apple sauce. If you’ve not prepared it before, you will be amazed at how easy apple sauce is to make. Best of all, if you choose the right apples, there will be no need to add any kind of sweetener. You can see how it’s made by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Crostata Preview

Crostata

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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 Soup

Zuppa di 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
  • 2 quarts water
  • 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, pastina, 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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