Slow Cooker General Tso’s Chicken

Subscribers and frequent visitors to this site don’t come here for my take on Asian cuisine, No, as much as I love food from that part of the world, I must confess that up until recently, I very rarely prepared it, much to the joy of the local Thai, Japanese, Korean, and Indian restaurants. Now, however, there are four dishes that I prepare at home and enjoy very much. One, a chicken dish, is today’s recipe, General Tso’s Chicken.  The others can be found on blogs that I follow. The first of these, a delicious lamb dish called Karma Khorma, is from my blogging friend David’s decidedly delectable blog, Cocoa and Lavender. The second, a Korean pork dish, one of the first Asian dishes that I made with any frequency, is from Cam’s wonderful blog, Geukima, and is called Crispy Stir-Fried Pork Ribs With Caramelized Fish Sauce. The third is a very tasty Indian dish, Chicken Biryani, and can be found on The Insatiable Gourmet blog. You cannot go wrong preparing any of these and a visit to any of the 3 blogs is very rewarding. (Unfortunately, as of this writing, Geukima and The Insatiable Gourmet seem to be on hiatus. Cocoa and Lavender, thankfully, is still going strong.)  Not very long ago, the only Asian dishes I enjoyed were set before me at nearby restaurants. These days, hardly a week goes by that I do not prepare one of these four dishes. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

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General Tso 1

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Now before going any further, it’s probably best to mention the origins of today’s dish. In my last post’s Comments section, I had mistakenly stated that the dish was created by Chinese immigrants in California. A comment from Eha got me googling its origins. Although I could not find the source stating its California origins (I should know better than to rely upon my memory for anything), I did find much to confirm Eha’s account. It is widely accepted that this dish was a creation of the Hunan chef, Peng Chang-kuei, in Taipei, Taiwan, after he had fled the Chinese mainland. Created in the ’50s, he once served it to Chiang Kai-shek. Chef Peng brought his recipe to America and introduced it in New York City in 1972 following Nixon’s trip to China. Since then, the dish has continued to evolve, in ways not necessarily pleasing to its creator. That is the simple version of the tale. You can find more information on Wikipedia or NPR or, for those who’d rather look at pictures, you can watch the movie, “The Search for General Tso“.

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The Favorite Family Recipes website is the source for today’s recipe. I was attracted to it because I love both General Tso’s Chicken and my slow cooker. I can already sense some of you thinking how much easier it would be to stir-fry this dish. Well, I haven’t a wok and I am certifiably stir-fry challenged. For me, the slow cooker is the way to go. Even so, I did make a few changes. most notably replacing the original’s pineapple juice with orange juice and its cayenne pepper with ground chipotle. In both cases, I used what I had in supply. While searching for the cayenne pepper, I came upon a seldom used container of arrowroot and used it as a thickening agent instead of cornstarch,

I did make a couple of additions, as well. When I order General Tso’s Chicken from my neighborhood Chinese restaurant, broccoli is always included. Even though the original recipe makes no mention of it, I always include some form of the vegetable in my dish. Here, there was a package of broccolini in the vegetable crisper and it ended up being sautéed in garlic-flavored oil before being mixed with the cooked rice. About the same time the broccolini was grabbed, a few mushrooms were found. They had matured into the “use ’em or lose ’em” stage of crisper life and became the most unconventional addition to the dish.

Now that’s all settled, let’s take a look at the recipe.

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General Tso 2

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General Tso’s Chicken Recipe

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup lite soy sauce
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • ½ cup white distilled vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ tsp ground chipotle pepper
  • approx. 4 oz sliced “baby bella” mushrooms (forgive me, Chef Peng)
  • 2 tbsp arrowroot, mixed with 2 tbsp water – flour or cornstarch may be substituted
  • 4 scallions/green onions, sliced

original recipe from Favorite Family Recipes

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General Tso Rice 2

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for the rice and broccolini

  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 8 oz (225 g) broccolini, roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place the flour, salt, and pepper into a sealable plastic bag. Working in batches, add the chicken pieces to the bag, shake to coat, and place the now-coated chicken on a plate. Continue until all the chicken is coated with the seasoned flour.
  2. Add 2 tbsp of oil to a hot, large frying pan over med-high heat.
  3. When oil is hot begin adding the chicken pieces. Do not overcrowd. It should take you 2 batches, at least. You may need to add a bit more oil between batches. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Chicken needn’t be cooked through, only browned.
  4. When the chicken is browned on all sides, remove to a plate and begin the next batch.
  5. Meanwhile, into the slow cooker, add the sugar, soy sauce, orange juice, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper. Stir to completely combine.
  6. Add the mushrooms and stir.
  7. When all the chicken has been browned, add to the slow cooker and set it to low. Cook for 3 to 4 hours or until chicken is cooked thoroughly.
  8. About 30 minutes before completion, check to see if the sauce has thickened. If not, combine the arrowroot and water to make a slurry. Add to the pot and gently stir. Cover.
  9. Bring 2 cups of water to the boil in a medium sauce pan with a lid.
  10. Add salt and butter, stir, and then add the rice.
  11. When the water returns to the boil, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.
  12. After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the heat. Rice will be ready in 5 more minutes.
  13. While the rice cooks, add 2 tbsp olive oil to a large frying pan and heat over med-high heat.
  14. Add the smashed garlic and cook until brown.
  15. Remove the garlic, add the broccolini, and reduce the heat to medium.
  16. Continue to sauté the broccolini in the garlic flavored oil until cooked to your satisfaction.
  17. Add the cooked rice to the frying pan and stir until fully combined. (See Notes)
  18. Serve the cooked chicken atop a bed of rice with broccolini. Garnish the dish with the chopped scallions/green onions.

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General Tso 3

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Notes

Although broccolini was used here, I have used broccoli and broccoli raab in the recipe. In all cases, I added the cooked rice to the pan in which the vegetable was sautéed so that the rice could absorb as much flavor from the pan as possible. Of course, you could steam the broccoli and add it to the dish however you wish.

The amount of arrowroot slurry needed will vary depending upon how much liquid is in the pot. No matter whether you use flour, cornstarch, or my oft-forgotten arrowroot, mix an equal amount of water with the thickening agent.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Green Tomato Relish Look Back

Very soon we’ll be coming to an end of our tomato growing season. Each of us probably has a favorite method for dealing with the green tomatoes left on the vine with no hope of ripening. My Grandpa placed them in the drawer of an old dresser on the patio where they slowly ripened. Others wrap them in newspaper, while some place the green orbs in paper bags. That’s great if you want to ripen them but what if you don’t want to invest the time, paper, or drawer space? Today’s look back will give you a totally different option Take this LINK to learn how to make green tomato relish. Your hot dogs will thank you.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

The Kitchens Salute Awburr-what? … Melanzane!

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The Spiralizer Chronicles, Chapter 2: Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Pancetta, Clams and Shrimp

Squash with Seafood 1

Although I may not be posting many recipes that rely upon my new love, the spiralizer, I continue to us it frequently. In fact — hold on to your hats — I use it more often than I do my pasta machine. I know! I never would have thought such a thing possible. Yet, here I am with about 3/4 lb of homemade pasta in my pasta basket, where’s its been for just about 3 weeks now. 3 weeks!!! This would have been unthinkable just last summer and I have butternut squash to credit — or is it blame?

As much as I enjoy zucchini noodles, “zoodles”, their texture often leaves much to be desired, They can go from al dente to unappealingly soft in the blink of an eye. To avoid this, I often serve them raw, making more of a pasta salad than a dish of freshly cooked pasta. Not so with butternut squash. Roasting doesn’t affect these noodles’ “bite” but it does add flavor to the final dish. Best of all, these noodles can be served hot, making a number of dishes possible. Today’s recipe is one such dish.

As is the case with most seafood pasta dishes, this one is easy to prepare and you’ll find that roasted butternut squash compliments seafood quite well. Truth be told, I’ve a squash just waiting for me to return home from the fishmonger with more seafood. It won’t be long now.

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Squash with Seafood 2

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Butternut Squash Noodles with Seafood Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 oz (56 g) pancetta, chopped
  • about 12 small clams — manila, littleneck, or cockles will do (See Notes)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or grated
  • about 12 shrimp — no smaller than 41 to 50 ct/lb
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs – omit if GF (See Notes)
  • 2 tsp parsley per serving, chopped
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚ F (195˚ C).
  2. Separate neck of squash from the bulb end that contains the seeds. Reserve the bulb for another use.
  3. Peel the squash before using a spiralizer to create spaghetti-like noodles.
  4. Place noodles on a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes.
  5. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, and a bit of olive oil. Mix thoroughly. Place mixture in a small fry pan over medium heat. Cook until mixture is golden brown. Set aside.
  6. Begin heating remaining olive oil in a large frypan with a lid. Add the pancetta and begin to render its fat. Do not allow the pancetta to burn. It should be fully rendered about the time that the noodles have 5 minutes to go.
  7. Place the garlic and clams in the pan with the pancetta and cover. Sauté for 5 minutes before adding the shrimp to the pan. Cover the pan.
  8. After a minute or so, stir the frying pan’s contents and cover.
  9. Remove noodles from the oven and dump them into the pan with the seafood and pancetta. Stir to evenly coat everything with the pan juices.
  10. Continue to sauté until the clams and shrimp are fully cooked — no more than 2 minutes more.
  11. DISCARD ANY CLAMS THAT REMAIN UNOPENED.
  12. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the toasted breadcrumbs created in Step 5.
  13. Serve immediately.

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Squash with Seafood 3

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Notes

Use a brush reserved for food-prep to scrub all clams before cooking. Any that remain open after a thorough scrubbing should be discarded. Opinions vary as to whether to soak fresh clams in salt or fresh water to cause the clams to expel grit. Some feel that commercially harvested and shipped clams do not need such purging. If, however, your clams are bought directly from the fishermen or harvested yourself, they must be soaked for at least 30 minutes before scrubbing, changing the water midway through.

In Italian cooking, it is definitely not recommended to use grated Parmigiano or Pecorino cheese on a dish with most varieties of seafood. Very often, toasted breadcrumbs are substituted, just as I did above. Do you remember the stuffed calamari recipe I shared back in March? At the time, I suggested freezing the extra cooked breading mixture. They would make the perfect garnish for this dish, as well as a number of other pasta with seafood dishes. Being roasted already, all you need do is to warm them in a small frying pan. Use them as you would grated cheese, as a garnish just before serving.

I’ve seen recipes where squash noodles are boiled first, much like pasta, rather than roasted. I’ve yet to prepare them that way. If it ain’t broke …

My spiralizer is an attachment for a stand mixer. As such, it makes quick work of the “neck” of a butternut squash. Some may find this squash is too firm for their hand-cranked spiralizer. I’ve no experience with any of them and look forward to hearing from you in the Comments.

Of course, for a gluten-free version do not include the toasted breadcrumbs unless they’re GF. Garnish with chopped parsley instead.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tart Cherry Frozen Yogurt with Chocolate Sauce

With September almost here, there’s no time like the present for frozen treats. If you’re like me and took advantage of the sour cherry season, stashing some of the red beauties in your freezer, well, now’s the time to set some of them free! Follow this LINK to learn how to use them to prepare frozen yogurt, as well as a tasty chocolate sauce to smother it. All that’s missing is the cherry on top!

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

General Tso's - Preview

General Tso’s Chicken

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If it’s Mid-Summer, it’s Time for Pinzimonio!

Pinzimonio 2

I remember this dish every year — but around Thanksgiving, long after the gardens have withered and the farmers markets have closed for the season. Sure, you can make this dish anytime but it’s best when the vegetables are freshly picked. So, what is pinzimonio?

It’s a variety of fresh vegetables served raw with a side dressing of olive oil and vinegar that’s seasoned simply with salt and pepper. (Yes, that’s crudités but I hesitate to bring a third language into the discussion.)  It’s easy enough to prepare and a great way to take advantage of summer’s bounty.

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Pinzimonio 1

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When I was a boy, Mom would serve pinzimonio just about every Sunday starting in July, when the first of our garden’s crop ripened. As we gathered for dinner, there would be a platter of cut, raw vegetables in the center of the table waiting for us. You might find bell peppers, fennel, celery, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and scallions, along with whatever caught Dad’s eye when he took Sis & I to the grocery that morning. Rounding out the antipasti/insalati, she’d also serve a platter of freshly picked, sliced tomatoes (See Déjà Vu).  But wait! There’s more.

At each of our places at the table, Mom would have a ramekin with our own dipping sauce which she would cater to our age and preference. All contained oil and red wine vinegar but those for Sis and I, being the youngest, contained just a touch of salt & pepper. My brother, being so very much older (this is one way to see if my siblings read the blog), was allowed more salt and pepper in his dipping sauce. Mom, having a life-long aversion to pepper, gave herself barely a few pepper flakes with the salt in her ramekin. Dad had no such issues and you could see a thick layer of salt with another of pepper covering the bottom of his little dish. Each of us helped ourselves to whatever we wanted on the platter and dipped it into our own ramekins. No need to pass this or that and, best of all, we could double, triple, or even quadruple dip without so much as a raised eyebrow from Mom.

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Pinzimonio 3

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Now, as for a recipe, well, I’ve pretty much explained the dish already. Gather together any fresh vegetable that you would serve dressed with an oil and vinegar dressing. Clean and trim each in such a way to accommodate their serving and arrange them on a platter. Next, place oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in ramekins or small dishes, one per place setting. Although Mom always used red wine vinegar, I’ve used balsamic and loved it.

No matter the vinegar used, you’ll find that pinzimonio is a great way to take advantage of the bounty of summer, while adding more vegetables to your diet. Not only that but if, like me, you have meatless days, pinzimonio makes a great lunch or dinner, especially when summer’s heat renders the stove off-limits.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tomato Antipasti - Deja Vu

I could hardly write about pinzimonio without offering you the link to Mom’s Tomato Antipasti. This time of year, both dishes were usually served side-by-side, much to the delight of all seated at that table. Best of all, it’s an easy dish to prepare and, like pinzimonio, no stove is required. Here’s the LINK to one of my family’s favorite summertime antipasti.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squash with Seafood Preview

Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Seafood

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Our Italian Holiday

This being such a short post, I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity and share a bit of our holiday last spring.

Bologna

My trip began in Bologna, a wonderful town with an incredible history. It is home to the world’s oldest continuously operating university and the center of what many believe to be the heart of Italian cuisine. With my nephew arriving the next day, I had barely enough time to check into my room, take a walk, break my camera, have a great dinner, and get lost on my way back to the hotel. Yes, you read that correctly. My camera was out of commission for the entire trip. Let me apologize now for the quality of the pics to follow. Truth be told, I hadn’t planned on posting many because most would be very similar to those posted 2 years ago. Even so, it would have been nice to have had a good camera with me.

Many of Bologna’s walks are covered and the “pavement” is marble. The city is meant for the casual promenade. Besides several churches and the university, there are a number of sites to see: the Two Towers, the Piazza Maggiore (site of my camera’s untimely demise), the statue of Neptune, and of course, my prosciutto store, La Prosciutteria. How I love that place!!!  Here are a few photos. Click on any one to see a full description.

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That day ended with one of the best restaurant meals that I was served.

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The Republic of San Marino

My nephew’s plane arrived on time and soon we were on our way to San Marino, where Zia Pina greeted us with open arms, Waiting with her was her grand-daughter & husband, and the newest member of our the family, the soon to be one-year-old Viola. Zia is a wonderful cook and the highlight was when she served cappelletti for the entire family. This just so happens to by my nephew’s favorite dish and one he hasn’t enjoyed since his Grandma, my Mom, passed away 14 years ago. The following day, she took us both for a tour of the city of San Marino, and the seat of the republic’s government atop Mt. Titano. The next day, Sunday, we attended a mass that Zia had arranged to honor our family’s departed. Afterward, we re-assembled at a restaurant In Riccione, on the Adriatic shore, for a fantastic seafood feast. I would go back there in a heartbeat! Here are just a few of those photos.

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Venice

Before leaving San Marino, my nephew and I “kidnapped” a young cousin for a day trip to Venice and Murano Island. It was a chilly day with showers, so, we timed our lunch and a caffè for the worst spells — or so we tried. Although we knew it was the Italian Liberation Day holiday, we didn’t know that it was also St. Mark’s feast day, he being the Patron Saint of Venice. We learned of our oversight upon setting foot upon St. Mark’s Square. Even so, we had to keep moving and, after a water taxi ride to Murano Island for a bit of souvenir shopping, we ended our day with a fine supper. Then it was a dash across Venice for a train ride back to Rimini where a cousin would take us to Zia’s. (I won’t mention that our arrival was delayed because we missed our train and, consequently, were stowaways on the next.) Thankfully, our “chauffeur” was very kind and waited patiently for our eventual arrival. These next photos are by committee. Oddly enough, each of our phones, ran out of power as we traversed Venice. Mine was the first to go, only to miraculously revive — its vibrating giving me quite a start — on the train as we approached the station in Rimini.

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Don’t let the blue skies fool you. We were drenched by the time we reached the piazza and there wasn’t a soul seated in any of the cafés that encircle it.

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Rome

The next morning, my nephew and I boarded a train bound for Rome, with Zia and 2 cousins accompanying us. What fun! Our flat was about 100 yards from the Pantheon and once we settled in, we were off for a little sightseeing around the Piazza Navona. That night, we enjoyed a fine dinner in celebration of my nephew’s graduation and, as we soon learned, my cousin’s wedding anniversary. The next morning, we walked to the Vatican to meet another cousin and her husband. Unable to get into the Vatican because the Pope was awaiting a diplomat, we took taxis to the Colosseum, stopping along the way for lunch. Well, by the time we made it to the Colosseum, it was far too crowded with tourists to enter. We headed back to the flat, said our goodbyes, and our cousins headed to the train station for their ride back to San Marino. Alone now, with only 2 days left, we planned the rest of our stay. We would spend one morning revisiting the Colosseum, with the Vatican occupying the second. The afternoons would be spent seeing everything on his “must see” list, as well as a couple of sites that I tossed into the mix. Of course, a fantastic meal would end each day.

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Corinaldo

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time for us to part company. My nephew returned home but a few weeks earlier I had decided to extend my holiday. I wanted to take a few days to visit Corinaldo, the Bartolini ancestral home. So, as my nephew boarded a plane, I caught a train to Ancona, where I rented a car for the drive to Corinaldo. It’s a quaint little village nestled in rolling hills. The very center of the town is totally encircled by walls that were built during the 1300s. Unlike similar towns in Italy, these walls have been maintained and are in excellent condition. There is but one entrance and one exit, the knowledge of which might have saved me the hour I spent circling the area, not to mention one ill-fated attempt of entering through the exit. (Ah! The joys of travel.) Once situated, my flat was quite nice with a terrace facing west and I was anxious to watch the sun set over the Italian countryside. Well, that was the plan but the clouds had made previous reservations, apparently, and I never did see a sunset. No worries. I still enjoyed my time there, walking from one end of the village to the other — make that “carefully walking”. It rained intermittently and the cobblestone streets are quite narrow. I rushed for a doorway or hugged a wall whenever I heard a car approach. Luckily, that didn’t happen very often. There is no rush hour in downtown Corinaldo. There is, however, a great little restaurant on The Stairs and they served me my final meal in my Grandparents’ hometown.

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Terrace view

The terrace view

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Fiumicino

I left the next morning taking a route to Ancona that would allow me to travel along the Adriatic coast for a spell. To get to the coast, I travelled along narrow roads that carried me over the hills, through the beautiful Marche countryside. I dropped off the car and made my way to the train station. With an early morning flight, my destination would be Fiumicino, a small town about 30 km outside of Rome and home to the city’s international airport. Lucky for me, there was a wonderful restaurant just down the street from my hotel. My holiday ended with one last fantastic meal, albeit a filling one.

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Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

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One thing more

Unbeknownst to me, I spent my holiday walking with a stress fracture of my left ankle. It had bothered me before I left but I made a variety of excuses about it. In fact, even upon coming home, the excuses continued. Finally, about a week later, I decided to have it checked and I was given this fancy boot to wear for the next 4 weeks. WIth the boot now gone, I am happy to say that things are back to normal, whatever that means.

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Stress Fracture

You won’t find this at Ferragamo’s.

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Our holiday was memorable in so many ways, and during the course of which, my now-adult nephew and I became re-acquainted. We were treated royally, with our family members freeing up their schedules so that they could spend as much time with us as possible. I’ve read that when we put to paper an objective, the odds of accomplishing it increase by 40%. With that in mind, I do not know how or when but I will be returning to San Marino. I must. I’ve promised to kidnap another cousin for a day trip somewhere.

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Bone Marrow Risotto with Morel & Porcini Mushrooms

Bone Marrow Risotto 1

Oh, how I wish I could claim that I came up with the idea of using bone marrow to make risotto! Instead, it was one of my favorite chefs, Lidia Bastianich, who inspired today’s dish.

Most days, my television or radio is left on, the noise keeps my parrot company while I’m in another room or running errands. (The jury is still out as to whether it helps Max, although as a puppy I literally caught him in mid-air as he lunged at a screen full of unsuspecting meerkats.) On most Saturdays, my TV is tuned to PBS where a number of cooking shows are featured. Early last Spring, while I was working out some of the details for our then-upcoming trip to San Marino, I heard Lidia describe a recipe that used marrow as the fat to start her risotto. I didn’t need to hear anything else. I knew that I’d be preparing that dish.

In what can only be considered as a happy coincidence, the week I was going to prepare the risotto, porcini and morel mushrooms were available at the Fish Guy market. Well, if you’re going to make a special risotto, why not go all the way? I bought some of each mushroom and bought some beef soup bones on my way home. I had several chicken backs in my freezer and my crisper had plenty of veggies to add to the stockpot. Soon there was a large pot of stock simmering on the stove top.

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Morels - Bone Marrow Risotto

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Before starting the risotto, the mushrooms need to be cleaned. The porcini can be cleaned by a quick rinse and thorough drying. Given their pock-marked surface, morels are a little more complicated to clean. I’ve never been satisfied just brushing them for I fear I cannot get into the holes deeply enough, while their surface makes it nearly impossible to completely dry them after even a light rinse. So, I place several into a colander and toss them again and again, (hopefully) catching them with the colander each time. The result is that the debris is knocked out of the crevices. After several tosses, each morel is inspected and, if need be, tossed again. I get out the brush as a last resort only.

So, with the stock made and defatted, and the mushrooms cleaned, it’s time to start preparing the risotto …

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Beef Marrow Bones

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Bone Marrow Risotto Recipe

Ingredients

  • 7.5 oz (410 g) beef marrow bones yielding 2 oz (58 g) marrow
  • butter or olive oil, as needed (see Notes)
  • 2 shallots, chopped – 1 small onion may be substituted
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 4 oz fresh morel mushrooms
  • 4 oz fresh porcini mushrooms (See Notes)
  • 1.5 cups (340 g) Arborio rice
  • 1 cup (237 ml) dry white wine
  • 4 cups (948 ml) stock (see Notes)
  • 2 tbsp (28 g) butter
  • 1/3 cup (70 g) grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • salt & pepper
  • additional grated cheese for garnish and serving

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Bone Marrow Risotto 3

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Directions

  1. In a large sauce pan or deep frying pan, melt the marrow over med-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.
  3. Add the mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes.
  4. Add the rice and sauté for another 5 minutes or so to toast it. The grains should be partially opaque.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium and add the wine. Stir frequently.
  6. Once the wine has just about been absorbed, add a ladle or 2 of hot stock, and stir. Though you needn’t stir it constantly, you shouldn’t leave it for more than a couple of minutes.
  7. When the stock is all but gone, add another ladle of stock and stir. Repeat this process again and again until the rice is just about cooked. This should take about 20 minutes and the risotto should not be gummy but very moist, though not so much as to be a soup.
  8. Taste and add salt & pepper, as needed.
  9. Turn off the heat, add a final ladle or 2 of stock, cover the pan, and let the risotto rest for 5 minutes.
  10. Add the butter and grated Pecorino Romano cheese, stir to combine, and place on the serving platter.
  11. Garnish with more grated cheese and serve.

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Bone Marrow Risotto 4

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Notes …

If you find that you haven’t enough marrow for the amount of rice you’re going to cook, just add a bit of butter or olive oil to the pan. I won’t tell anyone.

I’ve made this dish 3 times since first hearing Lidia. The first 2 times, I was lucky enough to get fresh mushrooms, both morels and porcini. For the last time, with fresh porcini no longer available, I used a package (1 oz, 26 g) of dried porcini that I hydrated in hot —  not boiling — water before using. The liquid was saved for some future use. By the way, I’ve no idea where my photos of the fresh mushrooms went. I used a photo from another post for the morels pictured but I’m pretty sure I’ll find them all now that this post has been published.

To make the stock, about 5 lbs (2.25 kg) of beef bones, along with the backs of 3 chickens, were roasted in a 400˚ F (200˚ C) for about an hour. All were then placed in a large stockpot and Mom’s broth recipe was followed to create a rich, flavorful stock. Strained before being refrigerated overnight, the stock gelled as the fat rose to the top. Once the fat was removed, the stock was ready to be used in today’s recipe.

When making this or any risotto, use only stock that has been heated just to the point of a soft simmer and no more. Too cool and the stock will slow the cooking of the rice.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Fried Sage Deja Vu

 

I first “met” fried sage a little over 2 years ago when friends and I were in Florence. It was our first night together and we took a chance on an appetizer called “Salvia Friiti”. It was incredible and we still talk about that dish to this day. Did I mention that an anchovy is placed between the sage leaves before frying? Oh, yeah! Well, once I got home, I set about attempting to replicate that delicious appetizer. I think I did a pretty good job of it but you can see for yourself by taking this link HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pinzimonio Preview

Pinzimonio

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Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boys with Sriracha Aioli

Soft Shell Crab Po' 6oy 1

This is another of the recipes that I had scheduled before leaving for Italy last April. Most will be held until next year when they better match the season. Because soft shell crabs are still available, even if frozen, I decided to go ahead and publish this recipe. 

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In the first soft shell crab recipe I shared, it was mentioned that I was introduced to them at a restaurant in The Loop. For lunch that day, the crabs were served open-faced on a baguette. Since then, although I’ve enjoyed them several ways, that first meal has always been on my mind. I’ve since replicated the dish but, rather than open-faced, I prefer to serve them in the style of a po’ boy sandwich.

Like beignets at the Cafe du Monde, po’ boy sandwiches are a signature dish of New Orleans. Whether the protein used is meat or seafood, all are served on a relatively thinly crusted French roll with lettuce, very often sliced tomato, and a sauce. That sauce could be an aioli, rémoulade, tartar sauce, or even just plain mayo. For me, a well-made po’ boy is about as good a sandwich that there is.

When I first tried to make a soft shell crab po’ boy, I experimented with batters to coat the crabs. Although each attempt was tasty, the crab wasn’t as crispy as I wanted. I then switched over to using Panko bread crumbs but first I coated the crabs in corn starch before dipping them in the egg and dredging them in the bread crumbs. Once fried, I used them in a sandwich made with freshly baked rolls, a spicy garlic aioli, and with tomatoes out of season, I added a bit of pickle on top. The result? Well, I swore that I heard singing as I took that first bite. OK, maybe that was just me but it sure was a tasty sandwich!

The recipe itself is very easy to follow. I’ve included links and recipes should you wish to duplicate the sandwich exactly.

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Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy 2

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Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boy Sandwich Recipe

Ingredients

  • Soft shell crabs, cleaned
  • enough corn starch to cover each crab
  • salt, pepper, sweet paprika, to taste (See Notes)
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • about 2 tbsp milk
  • Panko breadcrumbs to coat each crab
  • oil for frying (I used grape seed oil)

for the aioli

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 roasted garlic cloves, smashed (see Notes for recipe)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 to 3 tbsp Sriracha sauce, more/less to taste
  • 6 to 8 oz (177 ml to 237 ml) olive oil (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

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Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy 3

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Directions

  1. Make the aioli:
    • Place the egg yolk, lemon juice, garlic, Dijon mustard, and Sriracha sauce into the bowl of a food processor.
    • Season lightly with salt and pepper and process.
    • Once fully combined and while the processor continues to run, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream until the aioli reaches the consistency you prefer.
    • Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.
  2. Set up a breading station:
    • In a not-too-shallow dish, combine the corn starch, salt, pepper, and paprika. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.
    • In another equally shallow dish, add the egg & milk and stir to combine .
    • In a 3rd dish, create an even layer of Panko breadcrumbs.
  3. Meanwhile, begin heating the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. You want the oil to be a depth of about an inch and to reach a temperature of about 165˚ F.
  4. When the oil nears the correct temperature, dredge the crabs in the dry flour mixture. before giving them a bath in the egg mixture.
  5. Remove the crabs and allow the excess egg mixture to drain a bit before placing each in the Panko breadcrumbs. Be sure each crab is evenly coated with breadcrumbs before placing in the hot oil. The crabs will spatter when they hit the oil, so, be very careful not to burn your hands/fingers.
  6. The crabs will reach golden brown in about 2 minutes. Carefully flip each one and continue frying an additional 2 minutes or until the crabs are evenly colored. Frying times may vary depending upon the pan size, heat/flame setting, and number of crabs being fried simultaneously. Keep an eye on them.
  7. Remove crabs to drain on paper towels and season with salt before placing on a serving platter.
  8. Bring to the table with sliced rolls, lettuce, the aioli, pickles, tomato slices, lemon wedges, and/or whatever condiments you prefer.

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Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy 5

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Notes

Knowing that the aioli was flavorful as well as spicy, I used a light hand when seasoning the components of the dish. Of course, you’re free to season the dish as much, or as little, as you like.

One of the key points of a true Po’ Boy sandwich is the bread. A form of French bread, the rolls have an even crumb and relatively soft crust. The crunch in this sandwich is on the inside. (Pssst. It’s the crabs.) I found a recipe for New Orleans French bread on the Saveur website and enjoyed it very much. I did halve the recipe, however, since I didn’t wish to watch bread go stale on my counter top.

Although I used olive oil to make my aioli, you may prefer to use a lighter oil instead.

To roast garlic:

  • Pre-heat oven to 400˚ F (200˚ C)
  • Use a sharp knife to cut off the top of a whole garlic bulb.
  • Place the bottom section, cut-side up, in a piece of aluminum foil.
  • Drizzle the bulb with olive oil before sealing the foil around the bulb.
  • Bake in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes.
  • Cool before using.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Zucchini Blossom Look Back

Have too large a harvest of zucchini come August? Well, why not stuff a few blossoms now and get ahead of the problem? Today’s look back will show you how it’s done. All you need do now is to click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Bone Marrow Risotto - Preview

Beef Bone Marrow Risotto with Porcini and Morel Mushrooms

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Break Out the Pasta Machine! Today We’re Making Corzetti.

Corzetti Fatte in Casa

Yes, the Kitchens are open once again! I’ve decided to go ahead and publish a recipe that I had planned to post upon my return from San Marino in May. It involves a gift I brought to my “Zia P” in San Marino — but I’m getting ahead of myself …

Corzetti pasta has a long lineage. According to one legend, the pasta disks originated in 13th century Liguria and were intended to mimic gold coins of the Crusades era. The word corzetti, in fact, is said to be derived from the image of the Cross that some coins bore. Over the years, the disks had less to do with coins as they became symbols for wealthy Genovese families who often stamped them with their family crests and served them to their dinner guests. Today, the stamps are made with a variety of designs. If you’re lucky enough to find a craftsman, you can have them made to order with the stamp of your choosing.  This is where I come in.

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Corzetti Pasta 7

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Several months ago, once my trip to Italy was assured, I began to look for a gift to bring my Zia P in San Marino. You don’t arrive at your host’s door empty-handed. Mom said so. I was browsing Etsy when I stumbled upon a woodworking site,TheWoodGrainGallery, owned and operated by Johanna and Brian Haack. Here you can find wood carvings and engravings of all kinds. Have something particular in mind? They’ll do their best to accommodate you.

Not only do the make corzetti but they’ll custom make a stamp for you. Wishing to bring something unique to my Zia, I contacted the wood shop with my design. Within hours I received a mock-up to approve. Once they received my approval, the custom stamps — I ordered 2 — were in my hands within days and I couldn’t be more pleased.

S. Marino Coat of Arms

Source: Wikipedia

So what design did I choose? Well, I did some checking and my family crest changed with each website I queried, leaving me doubt the veracity of each.  Besides, isn’t the fact that our ancestors survived far more important than whether they brought a coat of arms with them?  So, after that reality check, I looked to San Marino for inspiration. At the very center of the tiny republic, atop Monte Titano, is a fortress which contains 3 main towers. These towers are represented in the Republic’s coat of arms. I could think of no better design for our corzetti stamps than this coat of arms.

Each stamp has 2 parts that perform the 3 functions needed to create the pasta disks. The base is two-sided. One is used to create the round pasta disks and the other creates the design on their backside. The remaining part is the actual stamp. These 2 pieces will ensure that every pasta disk is identical and imprinted on both sides. This is important because the raised patterns will help your sauce cling to each pasta disk. When it comes to pasta, the Italians have thought of everything!

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Corzetti Stamp 1

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Today’s post is more tutorial than recipe. So, let’s get started. To begin, as I’ve done with almost all homemade pasta posts, make a batch of Mom’s Pasta Dough. Her recipe will produce about 1.5 pounds of dough but can easily be halved should you find that to be too much dough. By whatever means you prefer, roll the dough but not quite as thin as you would for, say, linguine. You want the sheets to be thick enough to see the imprint but not so thick that you’re eating pasta pancakes. (See Notes)

Spread the dough sheet across your work surface and, using the bottom of the stamp set, cut circles in the sheet. Pull away the excess and reserve. It can be combined with the remaining dough and re-rolled.

One at a time, place a dough circle on the other side of the stamp base and, using the stamp, press the dough circle. A pasta disk with both sides imprinted will result. Place on a lightly floured surface. Work quickly. The more the dough sheet dries, the harder it will be to imprint the design.

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(Click on any image to see the photos enlarged.)

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If you’re not going to cook them immediately, there are a few ways to store them. If you’re going to use them within an hour or two, cover them with a clean kitchen towel until needed. Cover and refrigerate them if you intend to cook them that evening. Longer than that, place them in a single layer of baking sheets and either freeze them or allow them to dry. Once frozen or completely dry, store in airtight containers. Return the frozen corzetti to the freezer.

Once made, the only question that remains is how to dress them. Well, I chose to dress my corzetti with Pesto Genovese. (When in Genoa …) You can just as easily dress your pasta with a meat sauce, brown butter sauce, or the traditional walnut sauce. I wouldn’t suggest a cream sauce, however, because that is better used to dress the ribbon pastas — i.e., fettuccine, and the like. Not so fast, however, if there are photos to be taken.

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Corzetti with Pesto

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Attempting to photograph the finished dish proved to be the hardest part of this post. Directly above, are photos of corzetti dressed with Pesto Genovese (l) and Pesto Trapanese (r). What little of the stamped imprint shown through the pesto was completely obliterated by the obligatory “sprinkling” of cheese. My third attempt, and the dish that was featured, is corzetti dressed with a sauce of cherry tomatoes quickly sautéed with garlic and anchovies in butter and olive oil, and seasoned with red pepper flakes. Best of all, the anchovies meant that I received a cheese dispensation and so none was used. Not only did the finished dish prove to be photogenic, it was damn tasty, too!

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Corzetti Pasta 6

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Notes

My pasta rollers are at their widest when set to 1. I’ve found that the best corzetti are made when the dough is rolled to no more than the 5 setting. More than that and the dough is too thin to create a good image from the stamp. Worse yet, in my experiments, disks cut too thin cracked and broke into pieces as they dried. Although you will get a better image with a setting of 4 or less, the pasta disks will be too thick, at least for my tastes. I’ve found a setting of 5 makes dough that is corzetti perfect.

There is no Bartolini walnut sauce recipe to draw upon for this recipe, so, I chose to use another. If you’re interested, there are many walnut sauce recipes on the web.

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Please note that I received no compensation of any form from TheWoodGrainGallery. I paid for the corzetti stamps before requesting permission to use their business’s name in this post.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Agnolotti Served X

It’s already been a year since I last shared directions for making a pasta. That post detailed how to make agnolotti using a filling that a very generous Sous Chef in Bologna shared with me. Since I’ve just returned from my trip to Italy, I thought now would be a good time to revisit that post.  You can read it just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy Preview

Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boys

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Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms

Present conditions notwithstanding, spring’s arrival is certainly welcomed in these parts, for it means the return of flowers and green to our drab landscape. It also means that fresh produce and vegetables begin to make their return to our markets, starting with asparagus and a variety of mushrooms. One yearly event that may escape your notice is the arrival of soft shell crabs. A crab’s shell does not grow, so, every year the crabs shed their old shells in favor of this year’s newer, more spacious models. The new shell is relatively soft for a few weeks, setting off a rush to harvest as many crabs as possible before they toughen up for another 11 months.

Lucky for me, I’ve a great fishmonger that provides many of the fruits of spring. Located not far from my home in Chicago, The Fishguy Market & Wellfleet is my go-to place for seafood and, in the spring, for items like morel mushrooms, asparagus, and ramps. Today’s post may have been written last spring and held until now but its morels and soft shell crabs, as well as the duck eggs used to make the trenette pasta, all came from the Fishguy. They offer much more than I could possibly mention here and my advice for those living in Chicagoland would be to join the mailing list. You may find it worth your while to stop there some day but be forewarned. If you’re going for a sale on clams or soft shell crabs, get there early. They are the favorites of some selfish blogger who, by his own admission, cannot resist buying them.

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Linguine with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 1

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I first enjoyed soft shell crabs some 20+ years ago while working in The Loop. A few of us went to lunch at a nearby hotel and soft shell crabs were on the menu. I decided to give them a try and it was love at first bite. Lightly floured and deep-fried, the crabs were served open-face on a long roll reminiscent of New Orleans’ oyster poor boy sandwiches.  Since that fateful day, I order or prepare them whenever I see them. (By the way, a recipe for soft shell crab po’ boys is in the works, as well as a yellow curry.)

It is best to purchase the crabs at their peak of freshness, meaning they should be alive if possible. It also means that you’ll have to kill and clean them before using them in your dish. Well, I love the crabs but let my fishmonger handle the dirty work. As for the morels, a simple brushing should remove any dirt. If need be, you can give them a quick rinse — do not soak — but be sure to pat them dry before using. (See Notes.)

Last week, a number of you inquired about the trenette used in these recipes. Cut a little thinner than linguine, trenette most closely resembles that which Mom cut by hand when I was a boy. Luckily, I found an attachment for my pasta machine that recreates this nostalgia-packed pasta. If you go looking for the pasta, be sure to buy “TRENETTE” and not “TRENNETTE“.  The first is Mom’s pasta. The latter is another pasta that is much like penne, though a little more narrow.  Regardless, don’t be alarmed if you cannot find trenette. Look for a dried pasta called linguine fini. It will make a fine substitute.

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Scheduling Note 

This is it, my last post for the next few weeks. My nephew and I will be traveling to Italy to visit Dad’s family in The Republic of San Marino and then it’s off to see Rome. Later, while he boards a plane to return home, I’ll board a train to Corinaldo, the wellspring of the Bartolini Clan. See you on the other side.

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Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 4

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Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) trenette – linguine may be substituted
  • 3 or 4 soft shell crabs, cleaned
  • 2 tbsp buter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 2 to 4 oz (56 to 112 g) morel mushrooms (see Notes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • reserved pasta water
  • fresh parsley, for garnish

Directions

  1. Heat oil and butter in a large frypan with a lid over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until browned but not burnt. Remove and discard the garlic, leaving the now-flavored oil in the pan.
  2. Add the red pepper flakes and crabs to the pan, lower the heat to med-low, and cover the pan.
  3. Continue to gently sauté the crabs for about 15 minutes, turning them over mid-way through. The crabs will turn crimson when cooked.
  4. Meanwhile, bring to the boil a large pot of salted water. Add the trenette and cook until it is about 2 minutes shy of being al dente. (If using packaged pasta, refer to the package instructions.) Time the components so that the crabs and pasta are ready at the same time. Now is the time to reserve a cup of the pasta water.
  5. Turn the heat to med-high before placing the morels into the pan with the crabs.
  6. Drain the trenette and dump the pasta into the pan. Stir/toss to combine. If too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
  7. Continue to sauté until the pasta is cooked to your satisfaction.
  8. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with freshly chopped parsley before bringing to the table.

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Linguine with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels 2

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Notes

As this blog’s good friend (and honorary Bartolini) Stefan proved, mushrooms do not absorb enough water to affect taste when cleaned by rinsing with water. Morels have a pitted surface to which water may cling. If you do rinse them, take extra time to dry them as much as possible. Failure to do so may result in the morels being steamed in the frypan instead of being sautéed.

Timing is important with this dish but not as critical as it was in last week’s mollusks dish. Still, you don’t want the pasta or crabs to sit waiting for the other component to complete. Fresh pasta will cook in about 3 minutes, so, drain and add it to the pan after it has cooked for about 2 minutes. Follow the package instructions for dried pasta, draining it about 2 minutes before the stated time for al dente.

Whenever you’re cooking pasta, always reserve some of the pasta water, removing it just before you drain the pasta. Should the finished dish be too dry, a little of this water will work wonders. Not only will it moisten the dish but its starch content will help to thicken whatever sauce is being used to dress the pasta.

If you cannot source fresh morels, dried may be substituted. Soak them in hot, NOT boiling, water for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Once hydrated, strain the mushrooms and use in today’s recipe but reserve the soaking liquid. Filter the liquid to remove any grit and freeze, to be used to flavor your next mushroom risotto.

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My comments regarding the Fishguy Market were my own. I requested and was granted permission to mention the market with no compensation trading hands for my doing so.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Ramps Ravioli with Morel Mushrooms

Since we’re talking about utilizing spring’s harvest, why not continue the theme with today’s look back? Hard to believe it was 3 years ago that I posted a recipe for ramps ravioli dressed with a morel mushroom sauce. WIth its ingredients soon coming into season, now’s the time to consider preparing the recipe. You can see how it’s prepared by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Corzetti Pasta Preview

A Surprise!

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Trenette with Mussels and Clams

Trenette con Cozze e Vongole

Trenette with Clams and Mussels 3

Just when you think you’ve got all bases covered, The Fates take note and decide to have a little fun. I have been busily at work getting recipes and posts together for the next several weeks. With my trip fast approaching, I don’t want any loose ends to complicate matters. Having posts written and scheduled means that my attention, such as it is,  can be diverted elsewhere with minimal affect to the blog. That was the plan and, with everything in place, I went to the fishmonger.

How was I to know that there would be a sale on clams and mussels? More to the point, how was I supposed to ignore the sale on clams and mussels? The truth is, I couldn’t. I left the shop with a bag full of mollusks and a head full of pasta ideas. On the way home, I stopped at a grocery and bought everything I needed to make today’s dish. Afterwards, I wrote this post and inserted it here, shifting the other posts to accommodate it.

So why the schedule change? Asparagus. It’s coming into season and the green stalks are every bit the star of today’s dish as are its shelled companions. You may not find clams or mussels on sale but you’re sure to see plenty of asparagus. It makes a wonderful addition to just about any pasta that you might prepare in the weeks ahead.

At this point, you would think that all’s well with my schedule and I can rest easy. Oh, how little you know of The Fates. Having finished adjusting the posts to accommodate the new entry, I searched for my soft shell crab pasta recipe to use as the déjà vu photo for today’s post. It was nowhere to be found. I soon discovered that although it had been included in the cookbook, the recipe never made it to the blog. Curses! With soft shell crabs currently in season, that recipe needs to be posted and the recipe has been inserted into the schedule for next time. Once again, all subsequent posts have been shifted to make room for the new guy. One step forward, two steps back.

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Trenette with Clams and Mussels 1

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Trenette with Mussels and Clams Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) trenette pasta – spaghetti or linguine may be substituted
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or diced
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 3 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • about 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 lb littleneck clams, soaked to remove grit and scrubbed (See Notes)
  • 1 lb mussels, scrubbed with beards removed
  • 1/2 lb of fresh asparagus, chopped into 2 inch (5 cm) pieces
  • 2 tbs fresh basil chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • roasted bread crumbs for garnish – optional  (See Notes)
  • fresh parsley for garnish

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Trenette with Clams and Mussels 4

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Directions

  1. Begin heating a large pot of salted water to be used to cook the pasta.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan with a lid over medium heat.
  3. Add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes and wine. Stir well to combine.
  5. Continue cooking until most of the wine has reduced and the tomatoes have broken down — about 20 to 25 minutes.
  6. Add the asparagus and basil, stir, and then add the clams. Cover the frying pan.
  7. Add the pasta to the boiling water. (See Notes).
  8. About 2 minutes later, add the mussels to the frying pan and cover again.
  9. The mussels and clams should be opening at just about the time the pasta is nearing al dente – about 4 to 5 minutes.
  10. Drain the pasta and add it to the frying pan. Toss to combine. Continue cooking until the pasta is cooked to your satisfaction.
  11. Place the frying pan’s contents into the serving bowl. Be sure to remove and discard any unopened clams and mussels. When in doubt, toss it out!
  12. Garnish the dish with toasted bread crumbs and parsley before serving. Please, no cheese for this seafood dish.

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Empty Molluscs

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Notes

Unlike years ago, most clams bought today from retail outlets have already been purged of sand, or so I’ve heard. That’s not the case, however, if you harvest your own or buy them along the shore. Even so, I still soak my clams to give them a chance to eliminate any sand. To do this, place the clams in a bowl of cold, fresh water and allow them to soak for a half hour or more, changing the water mid-way through. This is not the only way, however, and some advise that salt water is better at getting clams to discharge their sand. In both camps, there are some who believe that a bit of cornmeal will speed the process.

Do you remember last week’s baked calamari post? At the time, I advised making extra breading and reserving all of it left in the roasting pan once the calamari were removed and served. Well, this is one of the reasons why I suggested saving it. Rather than toast some breadcrumbs to garnish your pasta, grab some of these reserved breadcrumbs instead. They’re already cooked so either let them come to room temperature or nuke ’em for about 30 seconds before using. They are a great source of seafood flavor for your pasta.

This recipe is based on cooking dried pasta with an al dente cooking time of about 6 minutes. When I made the dish pictured, I used fresh trenette pasta that I had made just about an hour before cooking. Freshly made pasta cooks in 2 to 3 minutes. As a result, I waited an additional 2 minutes before adding it to the boiling water.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Asparagus Ravioli Deja vu

WIth this post’s mention of asparagus, it would be a missed opportunity should I not point you to another asparagus-related post. Made with asparagus, crimini mushrooms, and freshly made ricotta, these ravioli are a great springtime dish, whether served as a starter or main course. You can learn how to make the ravioli HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morels Preview

Trenette with Soft Shell Crabs and Morel Mushrooms

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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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There’s a storm-a-comin’! Grab the … lentils?

Lenticchie

A couple of weeks ago, those of us living in this area were treated to a number of weather forecasts warning of an impending snowstorm. Depending on the day and the forecaster, the predicted snowfall ranged from as little as an inch or two to as much as ten inches of the white stuff. When the results vary this greatly, I rarely go out and stock up on supplies to carry me through a blizzard. So long as I’ve got eggs, flour, and cheese, I can make enough pasta to last days — and that doesn’t take into account the food in my freezers. To quote a great American philosopher, “What, me worry?”

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This time around, I found myself in a grocery on Thursday, two days before the first great snow of the year was to hit. I bought my regular items without giving the forecasts a second thought. At one point, I was in the bulk food area looking for seeds for Lucy, my parrot, when I stumbled upon French green lentils. (These aren’t Puy lentils but I’ll take what I can get.) I bought some thinking that one day I’d use them to prepare and blog about my family’s method of cooking lentils. That was the plan.

Come Saturday morning, the storm was hitting the southern part of Illinois and headed for Chicago. Forecasts were now saying we’d get 5 or 6 inches before the storm passed on. This usually means that I would be spending an hour or so clearing snow from my walk, as well as those of my neighbors. (They’re all retirees and I hate to see them out there, shovel in hand, clearing their walks.) I remembered how nice it is to come into my kitchen, having just finished my snow removal duties, and smelling a pot of soup on the stove. That’s it. I’d make a pot of soup.

Well, apparently, I had used the last of the chicken stock the week before when I made risotto. Worse, I’d used the last of the chicken bones, along with my vegetable clippings, to make that stock. I was just about to give up the idea of making soup when I saw the lentils on my countertop. This will work. The ingredients for today’s recipe were all in supply in my kitchen, except for the thyme. I thought of that when I went into the yard to make sure everything was stored before the big storm arrived.

As luck would have it, the vegetable stock was ready and although there was rain, there was no snow. I waited a couple of hours and still no snow. I went ahead and cooked the lentils — still no snow. I ate my dinner and eventually about an inch of snow fell, none of which “stuck” to the walks.

All told, it was a pretty good day: my home carried the aroma of stock simmering on the stove; I enjoyed a comforting lentil dinner; and, I didn’t need to go out and deal with any snow whatsoever. May our weather men’s predictions for snow always fall short, just as they did that Saturday afternoon.

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Stormy Lentils 2

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Stormy Lentils Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (190 g) French green lentils
  • 6 cups (1420 ml) vegetable stock, separated, more or less to taste (see Notes)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil plus more if needed
  • 2 Bartolini sausage patties (about 8 oz; 225 g) — link sausages may be substituted, skin removed
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped small
  • 1 small onion, chopped small
  • 1 carrot, chopped small
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • red pepper flakes, to taste – optional
  • 1 small can (14.5 oz; 411 g) diced tomatoes
  • thyme to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Pick through the lentils removing any small pebbles or grit that you may find. Rinse them under cold running water. Drain.
  2. Place the lentils in a medium sauce pan and cover with 1 quart (950 ml) of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil over med-high heat before lowing to a soft simmer.
  3. Meanwhile, place the sausage meat into a frying pan over med-high heat. As it cooks, use a wooden spoon to break up the meat into small pieces.
  4. After about 5 minutes, add the onion, carrot, and celery. You may need to add a bit more oil to moisten the pan. Continue to sauté until the vegetables are cooked but still al dente – about 7 to 10 minutes.
  5. Add the garlic and optional red pepper flakes. Continue cooking for another minute.
  6. Add the tomatoes, 1 cup of vegetable stock, and the thyme, if using. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  7. As the lentils cook, use a large spoon to remove any foam that may surface in the liquid.
  8. After simmering for 30 minutes, clear the remaining foam from the surface and pour the lentils and liquid into the pot with the tomato sauce. Bring to a boil before covering and reducing to a simmer.
  9. After 15 minutes, check the lentils. If too dry, add more vegetable stock. If too soupy, keep uncovered and allow some of the excess liquid to boil off. The dish is ready when the lentils are cooked and the consistency you prefer.
  10. Serve immediately and if I’m seated at the table, have some grated Pecorino Romano nearby.

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Stormy Lentils 3

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Notes

No need to run to a store to buy vegetable stock. Into a medium size sauce pan, place one quartered onion, 2 roughly chopped celery stalks, 2 roughly chopped carrots, a few parsley stems, 2 smashed garlic cloves, and a quartered tomato or 1 – 2 tbsp tomato paste. Fill with water, bring to a boil, and then lower to a soft simmer. Continue to cook for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Season lightly with salt and pepper before straining the vegetables. You will easily have enough stock for this recipe. Refrigerate whatever stock is left over.

Before bringing to the table, add as much stock as you prefer. This can be served relatively dry or with enough stock to resemble a soup.

You may notice that leftover lentils will absorb whatever stock is left in the bowl. Use the refrigerated stock to moisten the lentils when you reheat them.

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What’s this? More bad weather on the way?

While this recipe sat innocently in the queue waiting to be posted, an arctic blast Ham Hocks 1descended upon sweet home Chicago. As luck would have it, I had just bought ham hocks at the grocery the day before. So, as the temperatures dropped, there was a pot of vegetable stock simmering on the stove, to be replaced by a pot of lentils later in the day. This time, however, with its use of ham hocks, the recipe is the same as the one prepared by my family years ago. Comfort and nostalgia served in one bowl.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Brodo flashback

As was implied above, our current weather means it’s time for soup. With that in mind, I’m sending you back to Mom’s broth recipe, her brodo. That one pot of stock would be used to make noodle soup, risotto, gravies, and, of course, to soothe our upset tummies. You can learn all about this wonder broth by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Smothered Pork Chops

Smothered Pork Chops

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