About Beth

Beth
Beth, along with her husband, Mike, is co-owner of two Italian Deli/Markets in St. Louis - Viviano’s Festa Italiano. When not creating yummy new menu items for the deli, she’s the pediatric research lab supervisor at Washington University School of Medicine. Read more out about Viviano’s Festa Italiano.

About Irene

Irene
Irene loves to think, read and dream about food. She enjoys cooking & eating in general. Although she demures about her talents, Irene has a finely-tuned palate that her friends envy. She bakes on occasion. The rest of the time she's creating memories with her family and friends. . . or she's learning a new needlecraft technique.

About Deborah

Deborah
Deborah is a wife, mother, grandmother, traveler, bootlegger, and a very poor speller! As Victor Hazan so eloquently puts it, Deborah has chosen Umbria to be the home of her soul. When she can’t be there in body, she spends her free time cooking & reading about Italy. She blogs mostly about food and about trips – past and future – here: Old Shoes New Trip.

About Doug

Doug
Doug lives in Eastern Ontario in a farmhouse built in 1903. He is a retired teacher with four adult children, a wife, a son-in-law, two Irish step-grandchildren and one grandson who he is lucky to hang with a lot. He has way too many books. Doug also blogs at To Slow Time Down.

About Cindy

Cindy
Cindy lives in Eagle River, Alaska where her freezer is always full of salmon, halibut & shrimp. Cindy participates in several regular cooking challenges. You can read more about her cooking and life in the last frontier on her blog, Baked Alaska.

About Sandi

Sandi
Sandi is a true Southerner, but a traveler & Italian cook at heart. She lives in Alabama and knows more about fried green tomatoes than fricassees. Her family owned the WhistleStop Café for many years. Sandi also blogs at Whistlestop Cafe Cooking.

About Jan

Jan
Jan, a serious home cook, has owned “Essentials” since 1992. She is passionate about all things Italian, especially the cuisine & the language. Jan blogs about her travels (next trip Italy May/June of 2010) at: Keep your Feet in the Street.

About Jerry

Jerry
Jerry is a food obsessed Canadian. He learned to love Italian food as a child while eating the meals prepared by his Napolitano uncle. He learned to cook Italian foods by watching his uncle cook these feasts for the family. This love of Italian food has been honed through serious personal experimentation in eating and cooking. Willing to try most anything once, Jerry isn't so sure about tripe! Jerry also blogs at Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants!

About Palma

Palma
Palma is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Palm Desert, CA. She’s an Italian-American with a passion for cooking, entertaining, & travel to Italy. She’s always planning her next culinary adventure to Italia on her blog, Palmabella's Passions

About Kim

Kim
Kim is our permanent sub and the image above gives you a good idea of the look on her face when she realized she was drafted. Kim loves to eat, drink, travel and cook - probably in that order. When she's not here, you can find her organizing and leading food, wine and beer tours in Europe as co-owner and operator of GrapeHops or blogging at What I Really Think.

Main

2. Tuesday - Deborah Archives

March 30, 2010

Roasted Peppers and Anchovies

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I love anchovies. I love their fishiness. I love the way they melt in a pan to become this wonderful not quite liquid flavoring for other foods. For me, anchovies are the secret behind that illusive fifth flavor - umami - in many dishes.

So, I appreciate the lesson Marcella offers on page 9.

As this project begins, I hope all of our readers will take the time to treat Fundamentals from page 7 through page 51 of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking like a textbook. Don't start following the recipes until you've studied the Fundamentals. Even the most practiced home cook will learn much. Even those of you who have a well worn copy of Essentials can benefit from going back to the beginning and actually studying the Fundamentals.

After all of that, right out of the gate, I had to go to Marcella's plan 'b' in order to prepare my very first challenge recipe.

I couldn't find salt packed anchovies anywhere. Not even at my old reliable Global Foods. They offered to try to order them for me. But their source was Roland. No offense to Roland, but their quality isn't the top of the line in most instances, and I didn't want to risk it.

So, plan 'b' according to Marcella is glass packed (so you can see the amount of meat), imported, and probably expensive.

Thank goodness, Viviano's had something better than Roland. Agostino Recca is a great brand. And at about $8.00 a jar, not cheap. But the anchovies were beautiful.

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Now on to the peppers. I am sure there are very solid production and shipping cost arguments to justify it, but I have a very hard time swollowing a price of $2.00 each for peppers. Many things I will pick up in a store and not even make note of the price. Fennel for example. But for some reason the price of peppers just gets under my skin! I digress.

I roasted my pepper. First on a tray over the burners.

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I didn't like the amount of time it was taking because of those silly holes. So, I took Marcella's advice and did what I should have from the start. I put the peppers directly in the flame.

Finally, I prepped the roasted peppers and gathered all of the ingredients to layer in my serving dish.

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Two hours later, we enjoyed our "appetizer" with a crostini. We enjoyed it a lot. We enjoyed it so much that the four of us polished the entire dish off as a complete meal.

April 6, 2010

In Carpione - Fried Marinated Fresh Sardines

In Carpione-Fried Marinated Fresh Sardines

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Of course my sardines didn’t come from Lago Garda, so they weren’t the best possible. But they were wild caught and ship-frozen for freshness. So when I thawed them they looked like they would start flopping around. They smelled like clean sea air. Their scales were shiny and tight & their flesh was firm to the touch.

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Obviously my sardines bear no resemblance to the ones found in tins with the ring pull openers. If the latter are the only kind you’re familiar with, you have yet to experience sardines.

Marcella’s recipe is a simple preparation of fresh sardine filets, lightly fried, and marinated in a subtle dressing of oil, onions, white wine vinegar, bay leaves, and a little salt & pepper.

Filet a pound of sardines, cut into two or three pieces, dredge in flour, and fry in vegetable oil. Arrange in a single layer in an appropriately sized platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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In about half of the oil that the fish was fried in, lightly sauté a cup of thinly sliced onions, just to soften. Then add ½ cup white wine vinegar and bring to a quick boil. Pour over the fish in the platter and add a few bay leaves. Cover with foil and let sit at room temperature for about 12 hours.

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Can be refrigerated. But return to room temperature before serving.

April 13, 2010

Bruschetta - Roman Garlic Bread

How many Italian cookbooks actually give you the step by step for something as basic as bruschetta? Like falling off a log, right? Well, truthfully, yes.

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Just because it's so simple as to hardly be a recipe at all, doesn't mean it isn't a satisfying project. Especially if you let yourself concentrate on being in the moment and coaxing the very best out of the ingredients.

I made a fresh loaf of rustic bread. While it was cooling I fired up the grill so the grate would be good and hot. When the loaf had cooled completely, I sliced and grilled the bread.

Then I rubbed the warm grilled slices with freshly smashed garlic; spread on the olive oil; and sprinkled with course salt and freshly cracked pepper.

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SCREETCH.....rewind. "What? You spread on the olive oil? Don't you mean drizzled?"

Nope, I mean spread. Like butter, with a knife. I've been spreading my olive oil for about five years now. Ever since I discovered that I can keep that fresh pressed taste of October for as long as my freezer is plugged in.

My favorite grassy, peppery oil comes from my friend, Mauro Colonna, the owner of Le Casa Gialle, near Perugia in Umbria. He has a standing order from me every fall. Two 5 litre tins for me, and a half-dozen bottles for Christmas gifts. From the day his pickers hit the trees to the day my unfiltered green gold is been delivered by the UPS lady can be counted on two hands. This is a major investment - mainly because of the shipping charges, which are more than the oil itself. So, I want the flavor to last. That is how I came to discover freezing.

I found that when I take a container out of my freezer and transfer it to my fridge, it will thaw to a soft-spread consistance. Similar to tub margarine. Except, it melts so incredibly fast that you can't have it out of the fridge for more than a few minutes at a time. Once melted, it doesn't return to the smooth soft-spread consistancy again. That's why I freeze in small 4oz containers.

Here is what olive oil looks like in its three states. Frozen, soft-spread, & liquid.

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OK you purists, fire away. Tell me what you think of me messing with Mama Italia's finest product.
Tell me that I should just be satisfied to let my oil slowly mellow.
Tell me that I will begin to take the beauty of that wonderful fresh green taste for granted if I can have it any time I want.
And then, when you're finished chastizing me...
...come be my guest for a summer meal featuring autumn's oil.

April 20, 2010

Arrosticini Abruzzesi-Skewered Marinated Lamb Tidbits

I was pleased to draw Arrosticini Abruzzesi for my last appetizer recipe before we move on to soups. As a tidbit in the protein category, lamb is a nice change of pace from the typical shrimp or chicken.

Marcella’s treatment of lamb shoulder is simple and straight forward. As with all of her recipes, it remembers that it is, after all, about the lamb.

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I ask the butcher at Global Foods to cut a specific piece from a large shoulder for me. I explained that I needed it to be at least ½ inch thick, and wanted plenty of marbling. I also needed enough meat to be able to cut 2-3 inch strips without having to deal with bone getting in the way. As usual, I got what I asked for.

After cutting the meat into strips, I put it in a plastic bowl with a smashed garlic clove, 2 tablespoons evoo, salt and fresh ground pepper, and ½ teaspoon dried marjoram.

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Two hours later, I threaded the meat in a candy ribbon style on water soaked skewers. Broiled them for a few minutes on each side, and served them immediately to an appreciative audience.

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April 27, 2010

Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup

Over the years, as I leafed through Essentials looking for inspiration, I was never tempted by page 94. This was because the main ingredient, Smothered Cabbage, appealed to me not at all. It seemed to be nothing more than oily sauerkraut.

That was pre-Pomodori.e.Vino. That was when I had a choice in what I was going to cook. Now I find a little yellow sticky-note dated 27APR staring commandingly at me from page 94.

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OK, so it looks pretty boring, but I’m game. I flip back to page 479 for the Smothered Cabbage recipe. I won’t spend any time talking about this experience, because it’s Jerry or Palma’s gig, and on January 15, 2011 you’ll read all about it from whichever one of them is cooking that day.

I make the Smothered Cabbage, stick it in the fridge and go to bed, still unconvinced that this soup will be anything I will enjoy eating.

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Next day, I pull the cabbage out of the fridge, dump it in a soup pot with broth and set it on the fire. When it begins to bubble, I add the rice. When the rice is tender, I pull the pot off the fire and add the butter, cheese and fresh ground pepper. Finito!

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No appealing contrasting colors. Little textural variety. Not even a leafy garnish. It's visually unattractive.

I grudgingly admit to myself that it smells pretty good. I credit the parmigiano-reggiano and the butter for that. I also admit that I don’t smell the vinegar as strongly as I had expected to.

I ladle it into a bowl, take my final photo, and sit down to taste.

I eat two bowls full.

May 4, 2010

White Bean Soup with Garlic and Parsley

I love cannellini. So I expected to enjoy this simple soup. For the last five weeks, Marcella’s less-is-more recipes have proven to be delightful. I’ve been repeatedly surprised at the flavor coaxed from simple ingredients and a little salt and pepper.

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But this time, I was disappointed. I guess, as much as I love cannellini beans, I don’t love them quite this plain.

I’m used to treating them as pasta substitute; serving them with a flavorful puttanesca sauce, for example. Even in soup, I like more flavors. I make a hearty cannellini soup I call Cannellini Tricolore, with veggies the colors of the Italian flag.

After tasting, and deciding it was too bland, it was tempting to add something. A little crushed red pepper, maybe? How about some pancetta? Substitute basil for the parsley? Even a little of the old standby parma?

But, I resisted. I followed the rules and the recipe to the letter.

Tomorrow, however, is a different story. The leftovers will be combined with roasted sweet peppers, grilled shrimp, and some tender asparagus tips for lunch.

May 11, 2010

Barley Soup in the Style of Trent

This soup comes from Trentino in the far north of Italy. It’s a region I’ve yet to visit. If this soup is typical of the cuisine, I need to correct that oversight soon.

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I scanned this recipe quickly making sure I had all the ingredients on hand, then while the barley simmered in the soup pot, I chopped the veggies.

As I’ve come to understand the science behind Marcella’s focus on flavor layering, I enjoy contemplating the order these particular ingredients will be put to the heat.

First the onions join the olive oil in a pan put to medium heat. They are softened to a beautiful pale golden color. Then comes a few minutes for the pancetta to add her heady flavor. After that it is rosemary and parsley’s turn to be stirred in for a brief minute and then the heat is turned off.

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When the barley is tender, I prepare to add the rest of the ingredients. I’m about to dump the contents of the sauté into the pot, when my eyes fall on the carton of bullion cubes. I set the pan back down wondering, just how old are these cubes, anyway? I so rarely use them. I can’t even remember when I bought them. Hmmm. Well, I know that the industrial size container came from Sam’s Wholesale. It’s almost half empty and we switched from Sam’s to Costco at least three years ago. Oh my! Not good.

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Our single self-imposed rule is as we began this project -- Follow the Recipe Exactly. No variations without Marcella’s express written permission. It’s Sunday afternoon. I doubt Marcella and Victor will be checking in on Facebook or email. No way am I going to disturb them by telephone while I’m sure they are at this very moment enjoying their own Sunday dinner.

But, the soup is bubbling. What to do? Do I use an old stale bullion cube that might taint the final dish? Do substitute stock? I decided that Marcella would always approve of a decision to avoid using an inferior ingredient. So, before adding any of the other ingredients, I scooped out a cup of cooking liquid and replaced it with a cup of boxed beef stock. To more closely approximate the strength of the bullion cube, I didn’t dilute the stock.

With a sense of relief at having salvaged the recipe, I picked up the pan of onions and dumped it into the pot along with the diced carrot and potato. As it cooked, I tested for salt and found that I needed to add more to compensate for the substitution of stock for bullion.

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Barley Soup in the Style of Trent is a wonderful and hearty soup. I’ll make it again…after I’ve purchased fresh bullion cubes.

May 18, 2010

Squid and Artichoke Soup

Several times in my life I’ve bravely attempted to eat the fried calamari served by a seafood themed chain restaurant. One of those land-locked restaurants belonging to the same big corporation that owns the restaurants with “chefs” who are trained in a Tuscan “culinary institute”.

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With tough, chewy deep fried rubber bands as my point of reference you can understand why I have always disliked squid. When I went through my assigned recipes and found I had not one but THREE of the eight recipes in the book featuring squid, I wondered what the gods had against me.

I wasn’t looking forward to wasting all that tender, delicious artichoke on squid. But, I signed up for this project with my eyes wide open. So off to Global Foods I went, to buy the frozen squid. Thankfully it was already cleaned and ready to prepare, no messy ink or guts to have to worry about.

Prep was easy, enough. Slice the squid into rings; shave the trimmed artichoke finely; chop the garlic and parsley.

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After the initial sauté I added the wine. I was a little surprised at the recommended cooking time for the squid – 40 minutes. Wow, when I ordered calamari it only took a few minutes to be delivered. After adding the artichoke I cooked another 15 minutes or so. That means the squid cooked for almost an hour all told.

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Additional seasoning and it was ready to pour over the slices of garlic bread in our bowls. It did smell wonderful. The broth was rich and flavorful. The artichokes were tender and buttery. The squid passed the grandson test with flying colors. Of course he had never tasted it in any form before, so he didn't have preconceptions to overcome. Plus, what four-year-old can resist food that can be used as a prop to clown around?

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And what about my opinion? Let's just say that I'm anticipating with relish to my next two squid recipes.

May 25, 2010

Tomato Sauce with Porcini Mushrooms

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By now, you’ve noticed that your Pomodori e Vino cooks don’t provide actual recipes in these blog entries. We have three good reasons.

First, we honor the fact that Marcella owns the copyright to Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking – we don’t. The decision to toss these recipes into the public domain should be hers alone.

Second, we all own and love our copies of this beautiful book, and we think everyone else should have that same pleasure. We don’t want someone to be discouraged from buying the cow because we gave away free milk.

But most importantly, this blog is really about our shared journey; our discovery of new discipline; and our delightful experiences with Marcella’s teaching style. Selfishly, we would rather tell you how we react to, and feel about each dish. It's infinitely more satisfying than just discussing cups, teaspoons, ounces, and minutes.

Although we don't include the recipes themselves, sometimes the evocative elegance of Marcella’s descriptions of ingredients just begs to be quoted. And so is the case with the star ingredient of my dish for today.

On page 27 in the Fundamentals section is this opening paragraph for Dried Porcini Mushrooms.

“Even when fresh porcini - wild boletus edulis mushrooms - are available, the dried version compels consideration on its own terms not as a substitute, but as a separate, valid ingredient. Dehydration concentrates the musky, earthy fragrance of porcini to a degree the fresh mushroom can never equal. In risotto, in lasagna, in sauces for pasta, in stuffings for some vegetables, for birds, or for squid, the intensity of the aroma of dried porcini can be thrilling.”

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And so was the case as I prepared my Tomato Sauce with Porcini Mushrooms.

I'm admitting that I'm from the school of big and bold. Even when it makes total sense, and is for my own good, restraint is difficult for me.

Just a touch of shallot and no garlic? Only two tablespoons of pancetta? Not even fresh chopped parsley?

I wonder to myself, "How many weeks into this project will I be before I no longer have the urge to throw in a kitchen sink or two?"

But for now I again trust Marcella. I let the porcini take their rightful starring role. And I am rewarded with flavor that has been enhanced, not upstaged, by its carefully chosen supporting cast.

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June 1, 2010

Roasted Red and Yellow Pepper Sauce with Garlic and Basil

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Marcella promised me that if I was patient, I would eventually be able to used garlic and basil. This luscious, tomato-less pasta sauce stars bell peppers. Big, gorgeous yummy bell peppers.

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Since the entire success of this dish rests upon the quality of the peppers, be sure to choose the very best raw, firm peppers with lots of meat. This was a challenge for me. Not because I couldn’t find great peppers. It’s just that I am irrational about the price of peppers. My husband will tell you that watching prices and bargain shopping when it comes to food is not my strong point. I tend to go for quality without regard to economy. I’ll willingly pay $6 for a couple of white beautiful fennel bulbs, or new baby artichokes, or a few perfect tomatoes. But for some reason that I probably need a few hours on a psychiatrist’s couch to figure out, paying $6 for three heavenly peppers just drives me crazy.

Prep the washed peppers by cutting them in quarters, cleaning out the core and membrane, and then removing the skins with a sharp swivel vegetable peeler. Take your time peeling so you preserve as much of the meat as possible.

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After cutting the peeled peppers into manageable pieces, they are roasted, not over a fire or in an oven but in garlic infused oil in a sauté pan.

When the peppers are tender but not mushy they are tossed with the cooked drained pasta. Rigatoni was Marcella’s first recommendation, so I decided to go with an extra large size to match the rustic look of the peppers.

Once the sauté is tossed with the pasta, melted butter is added. Finally, at the very last minute before serving, freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and roughly torn basil leaves are folded in.

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When I put this pasta bowl on the table in front of Dan, he looked at it and asked, “No meat? When are we going to have a pasta dish with a little meat in it?”

I sweetly suggested that he stop talking and try tasting, he would have meat later, in a future pasta dish. But, I’m not telling him how much later. Next week he will get some nice anchovy in his pasta. After that some tuna. Then comes sardines. And, finally, on June 29th, he will have fresh pork sausage.

June 8, 2010

Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce

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In previous posts I’ve sung their praises, so you already know how I feel about anchovies. Broccoli is one of my favorite vegetables. Put those two ingredients together with chili pepper for heat and the richness of the cheeses and you have a sauce that becomes a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

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I didn’t over cook my pasta, but it behaved as if I had. Although it was still al dente, the orecchiette fell apart. I’m wondering if it may be the brand I bought. Fortunately the taste didn’t suffer, just the appearance.

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The slightly fizzy Vinho Verde from Portugual is the “soda pop” of white wines. Light and inexpensive (actually cheap), it’s not a wine for serious drinking. It’s a wine for a warm summer night and a pasta dish like Broccoli and Anchovy.

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June 15, 2010

Tuna Sauce with Tomatoes and Garlic

I’ve never prepared a pasta sauce with tuna. Not because it doesn’t sound good. Rather, because it just never occurred to me that you should. Considering the amount of tuna noodle casserole I served my husband during our poor college days, you’d think I’d have thought to give it a fresh Italian twist, wouldn’t you?

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Like, Marcella, I have no use for all-white meat water packed tuna. It might as well be cardboard. The glory of tuna is that it tastes like tuna – not dry chicken. So, if it’s named after chicken…well, think about it. Someday I’m going to order cans of Flott in quantity just to have it in my pantry. But for now an acceptable brand I can easily find is Cento.

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A little olive oil, a little garlic, slowly simmered tomatoes. Add a little salt, a little pepper, and that rich flavorful tuna. Finish it with butter and toss it all together with cooked drained pasta and chopped fresh parsley.

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In her comment to my post for last week’s recipe, Marcella gently suggested that Victor felt I should consider a better quality of white wine. He was obviously unimpressed with my $3.99 bottle of Vinho Verde. His suggestion – a gewürztraminer from Alsace. I’m smart enough to know when to take free expert advice…

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June 22, 2010

Baked Pasta con le Sarde with Toasted Almonds

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There is a lot going on with this recipe. It has more ingredients than my previous sauces. I got to use fennel from my own garden, which was fun. The layers of flavor are intriguing - anchovies, raisins, pine nuts, onion, saffron, & sardines joined the fennel.

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This is a repeat of the sauce recipe Irene reported on yesterday. Instead of tossing the sauce in cooked pasta, my assignment was to layer it with pasta as a baked dish, adding toasted almonds and whole browned sardine filets.

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It was a pretty dish -- with a fatal flaw.

The pasta I chose points out that pasta selection isn't just about appearance. It's critical to the success of the dish. Since Marcella didn't suggest a specific pasta, and I though that the bucatini in Irene's version would be difficult to serve in a baked dish, I relied on my own faulty judgement and selected a beautiful large cavatappi. Mistake.

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The sauce settled to the bottom of the baking dish because the pasta was too big and bulky. This made the dish appear very dry. I should have used a much smaller pasta. Next time I will.

Instead of serving a nice pretty, filet topped portion from the dish, I ended up dumping it into a bowl and mixing it to redistribute the sauce. Ah, well. What really counts is the flavor. And there was a lot of that.

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June 29, 2010

Red and Yellow Bell Pepper Sauce with Sausages

I've been anticipating this day from the beginning of our challenge.


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It started with my observation that every time pork sausage is listed as an ingredient, Marcella goes out of her way to dictate that it contain no herbs or spices beyond a judicious amount of salt and pepper. Every recipe. Then in his book "Ratio" Michael Ruhlman quotes Marcella's recipe for pork sausage - minus the spices.

I began paying attention to the sweet Italian pork sausages available at all my usual sources. Not one of them was made her way. Not one was free of fennel, oregano, garlic or some other assertive ingredient. This touched off a hunt of epic proportions. Even Marcella suggested that I might be getting a little carried away. But, I was determined to find them.

Eventually an angel by the name of Diane Urzi, the owner of Urzi's Italian Market agreed that if I would order at least 25 pounds, she would follow Marcella's recipe exactly. She even agreed to make it her first batch of the day to ensure that no residual spices were still in the equipment.

And now, I finally get to report on a dish using these wonderful sausages. The sauce had only two main ingredients - sweet red and yellow bell peppers and sweet pork sausage. The onion, tomato, salt, pepper, butter and cheese were there to add depth.

The onions are softened in olive oil. The sausages are cut into 1/2 pieces and browned very briefly in the oil. Then the peeled and cut peppers are added, hanging out in the pan for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the tomatoes. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

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Marcella's pasta of choice is fresh homemade pappardella of both egg and spinach variety. The drained pasta is dumped into your serving bowl. Then the sauce is dumped over it. Toss lightly, add butter, toss again. Add parmigiano-reggiano, toss again. Serve immediately.

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The sausage was sweet and rich. And without the heavy spices, it didn't overshadow the flavor of the glorious peppers.We enjoyed it with a bold bottle of 2006 Zinfusion from Castoro, one of our favorite wineries in Paso Robles.

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July 6, 2010

Chicken Liver Sauce

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My mother was visiting last week on her way back from vacation where she bagged the last three states on her bucket list. Her goal has been to visit all 50 US states before her 90th birthday, which is coming up in November. Add in the five continents she’s also visited, and it becomes pretty clear how I come by my wanderlust.

What’s this got to do with Chicken Liver Sauce, you ask? After her visit, I drove Mom home to the tiny rural town of Marble Hill, in southeast Missouri. Of course, I was delighted to make this 180 mile round trip for Mom’s sake alone. But it didn’t hurt that I could also count on lunch at Shorty’s Chuck Wagon. Except for a mediocre bar-b-que joint called Jay's, and the ubiquitous MacDonald's, Shorty's is all there is for dining out in Marble Hill. It's also all there needs to be. Lunch for me at Shorty’s is always the same -- fried chicken livers, mashed potatoes with milk gravy, homemade buttermilk biscuits, black-eyed peas, and collard greens with fatback. Can everyone say “Amen”?!

I was happy to draw Chicken Liver Sauce in the rotation of pasta sauces. I do love fresh liver. When we get to the Variety Meats chapter, I get it again in the form of Breaded Calf’s Liver.

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The recipe calls for vegetable oil instead of olive oil. Out of curiosity I flipped back to the calf’s liver recipe and see vegetable oil again. Being an untrained cook, I never took a class that told me what fats to use in what recipes and why. So, Marcella, I’m hoping you or some trained chef reading this can clue me in. Another question I have is about the teeny-tiny amount of tomato paste dissolved in the vermouth. I have no doubt it's important to the final dish, because nothing could have tasted more perfect to me. I’m just curious about the cooking science.

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After cooking the shallot in the oil and butter, I added the diced pancetta and sage. In another minute or two, the ground beef, salt and pepper were stirred in for just long enough to lose the raw red color of the beef. Then comes the chicken livers, also only until the raw color is gone. Finally, the vermouth mixture was added and the whole thing cooked for another 5-8 minutes before a final taste for seasoning.

Marcella says it is magnificent with homemade pappardelle. I made a double batch last week in anticipation of this sauce.

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After a dusting of fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano we enjoyed our decadently rich pasta and chicken livers with one of our favorite everyday table wines – A MANO Primitivo from Puglia.

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July 13, 2010

Baked Rigatoni With Bolognese Meat Sauce

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Although not complicated, making good Bolognese is time comsuming. Pour your morning cup of coffee and start prepping your ingredients. That way you will have a wonderful sauce in time for the evening meal. Bolognese freezes well, so on "ragù day" I always make enough for at least three or four meals.

Every time I make a new batch, I experience a deep feeling of contentment and wellbeing. It's a sense of accomplishment that I imagine our foremothers felt at the end of summer as they finished successfully "putting-by" a bumper crop against the harsh winter ahead.

I never take my sauce from frozen to hot by microwaving it. I always thaw it completely, either on the counter or in the refrigerator, before simmering in a saucepan for use. To me it seems a sacrilege to take a ragù you've so lovingly created and then subject it to the profanity of a microwave.

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Since Irene reported on the sauce itself last week, I'll move on to my use of the sauce in Marcella's recipe for Baked Rigatoni. I pre-heated the oven to 400º and buttered an oven-to-table casserole dish.

While the oven was heating, and the water was coming to a boil for the noodles, I reheated the Bolognese and made a medium--thick béchamel. The noodles were cooked until they were not quite al dente to accomodate the additional softening they would experience in the oven.

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Drained noodles were immediately tossed with the two sauces and a heaping palmful of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano. It was all dumped into the buttered baking dish; smoothed out a bit and baked until a little bit of crust formed on the top and the edges of some of the exposed noodles browned a bit.

Last week, I had a meeting with the Bryan Siddle, Director of Operations for Crown Valley Winery. We were discussing the Aug. 21st appearance at Crown Valley by Todd Kliman, the author of The Wild Vine, a book about the Norton grape. At the end of our meeting, Bryan generously gifted me with two bottles of Crown Valley's 2004 Museum Collection Norton. It was a fitting compliment to Marcella's ragù. You will notice that I'm using stems instead of my usual country Italian everyday tumblers. That's because Bryan also presented me with two of the brand new Reidel Norton Wine Glass, and of course we had to try them out!

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July 20, 2010

Scrigno di Venere - Venus' Jewel Case

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Also known as Pasta Wrappers Filled with Spinache Fettuccine, Porcini Mushrooms, and Ham. I prefer the more romantic name.

Marcella tells us that these were the most sublime of the 30-40 pastas served at Bologna's famous Al Cantunzein restaurant in the late 1960s. I was taken with her description of the restaurant, so I did an internet search and found this vintage newspaper photo from 1968. As it happens, the dish on the serving tray is Scrigno di Venere!

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I anticipated this day, and at the same time dreaded it. It wasn't the multiple pages this single recipe fills in the book. It wasn't the fact that you must make two different fresh pastas and two different sauces before you even begin to assemble the Scrigno di Venere. I quite enjoy and look forward to that kind of challenge.

My dread was knowing that when they came out of the oven, I was going to have to photograph my less than perfectly formed pasta packages. And then, I was going to post that photograph here for all to critique. Pressure.

The exterior of the jewel case is made of a single thin sheet of yellow pasta. Marcella instructed that it must be rolled paper thin - you could easily see through to the stripes of my towel.

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Inside the scrigno is fresh spinach fettuccine tossed with the ham and porcini sauce and then drizzled with bechamel. The purses are folded up; secured with toothpicks; and wrapped with a single strand of fettuccine before being baked in a hot oven for a few minutes to brown the edges of the wrapper.

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It was tramatic to make that first cut into my Venus' Jewel Case.

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But the reward was delicious. We didn't have a wine from Emilia-Romagna on hand to enjoy with this dish, but Verona is only one province away, so we opened a 2002 Masi Campofiorin Ripasso. It pairs exceptionally well with mushrooms and had been hanging around long enough.

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July 27, 2010

Risotto with Celery

We've left pasta behind and are visiting risotto. But before I get into the report on my first risotto dish, I have to take a moment to stand and applaud Marcella.

God bless you, Marcella. You have vindicated me for constantly stirring my risotto! You could not have any idea how much this means to me, unless you had been following a particular thread on SlowTalk in which the very same Milanese know-it-all who demonized me for freezing my olive oil, also berated me for stirring risotto. I do believe that more than one of my Pomodori partners are standing with me for this ovation.

Now back to the dish at hand. I have never considered featuring celery in a risotto dish, any more than I would in a pasta. It has always seemed to be an indispensable member of the chorus, but never the lead tenor. Celery's role is to enhance the flavor of the star ingredient, not be the star. Right?


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Yet, here I am making my first dish in the Risotto chapter of Essentials, and I find that it is just celery. Boring, unimaginative celery. Livened up with only a bit of chopped onion and fresh parsley. No spices, no pancetta, not even a little boiled ham to give it some flavor.


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And that is the genius of this dish.

It is also why Marcella got paid to write her cookbooks, and I just get paid to sell them.


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It appears that when allowed to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight, celery is quite capable of carrying the show. Creamy and full of its own flavor, Celery Risotto is going to be one of my new favorites.

The celery flavor was enhanced by the nice bottle of Muscadet de Sevret-Maine we enjoyed. (Sorry, Victor)

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August 3, 2010

Risotto with Sausages

I have a confession to make. This dish is my favorite breakfast. I normally only make a half batch of risotto since it is just the two of us. But when I make sausage risotto, I make a full batch, so I can have it leftover for breakfast...cold...straight from the refrigerator.

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My dad told me that as a child his favorite breakfast treat was a cold slice of congealed grits. His mother would drizzle a little black-strap molasses on it for him. When I was a kid I looked forward to Thanksgiving Dinner, just so I could have left-over turkey dressing for breakfast the next day. But now it's Sausage Risotto all the way.

Marcella's recipe is all the more enticing, because she has converted me from the typical Sicilian-American version of Italian Sausage to the spice free version she prefers - which lends itself even more to breakfast!

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She starts with browning onions and sliced sweet pork sausages in oil and butter. Then white wine is added to simmer. After the wine has bubbled away, the risotto is added and stirred to thoroughly coat.

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Then the simmering broth is added in measured amounts, stirring constantly as it is absorbed. When all the broth is gone, a bit of fresh ground black pepper, more butter, grated parmigiano-reggiano and, if necessary more salt are tossed in.

We enjoyed our hearty risotto dinner with a nice every-day primitive from Puglia. And just in case you’re curious, for breakfast, it pairs well with V-8 juice.

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August 10, 2010

Crespelle

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My assignment is to make a simple batch of crespelle. Crespelle are very thin pancakes made from a batter. Italians use them like pasta wrappers, and in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking Marcella offers three recipes as examples of their use. They all look absolutely delicious to me.

The ingredients are few - milk, eggs, flour, & salt.

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The process is simple. Slowly sift the flour into the milk as you whip with a fork to avoid lumps; stir in the eggs one at a time; add salt. Lightly butter an eight inch skillet. Set the pan on medium heat. Pour 2 tablespooons of batter into the pan. Tilt and rotate to distribute the batter evenly. When batter sets, flip the crespelle and brown the second side. Repeat process until all batter is used up. Be sure to stir the batter each time before pouring it into the pan.

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Now we come to my dilemma for this assignment. I can't just make my crespelle and not use them in some wonderful way, can I? Yet, this project is about Marcella's recipes, not ours. Am I bending the rules by reporting on how I use my crespelle? I can't use one of the recipes that follow, because they are for Doug, Cindy, and Sandy/Jan to report. In the end, I decide to report my entire dish. *Disclaimer* - It has not been a Marcella-approved recipe.

I think about using them in some dessert type application, but that will not be crespelle, will it? Italians use crespelle for savory dishes, not dolce. They leave that to the French and their crepes.

So, I decide to create my own filling and do a layered dish - meat free for my vegetarian daughter to enjoy. She is training for the Chicago Marathon coming up in October, and is being especially vigilant about a healthy diet. I suspect that most people would include a little bechamel here, but I want something extra light, so I don't.

I sauted equal measure sliced shallot, mixed dried mushrooms, & diced red pepper in a little oil and butter. I drained the saute on paper towel to remove as much grease as possible; put it back in the pan; and simmer in the filtered soaking liquid from the mushrooms until all the moisture boils away. A little salt and pepper and my filling is ready.

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Starting with a lightly buttered glass pie pan, I lay down the first crespelle. On top I scatter a porton of the saute and sprinkle it with grated parmagiano-reggiano. I repeat the process and continue through eight layers. I finish by topping the last crespelle with a final sprinkle of cheese and four little decorative bits of the saute.

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I bake the layered dish for about 15 minutes in a 400º oven and then let it sit for a few minutes before cutting into four wedges.

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We enjoy our Layered Crespelle with Mushrooms, Shallots, & Peppers with a light fresh green salad and a glass of sparkling blood orange lemonade. A perfect summer weekend lunch.

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August 17, 2010

Frittata with Cheese

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The first time I remember seeing a frittata on the menu in an Italian restaurant was many years ago. It was listed as an appetizer - Frittata Gamberetti. I asked the waiter what a frittata was. He said, "Oh it's like an omelet, but we don't fold it over. We just pile the shrimp on top." I had a hard time visualizing an omelet as an appetizer and opted for the old standby, Toasted Ravioli, instead.

Fast forward more than 30 years and reading Marcella's description of frittate, she also compares it to an open-faced omelet, but in a much more elegant and appetizing way. Had she been the one explaining Frittata Gamberetti to me, I might have ordered it.

So, now I find myself reporting on Frittata with Cheese. Eggs, parmigiano-reggiano, butter, salt & pepper. A few simple ingredients, one delicious result. The secret to a perfectly cooked frittata is patience. You must have the patience to wait while it cooks slowly over very low heat. If the bottom browns before the top is almost set, the heat is too high. I turned mine down so low, I could hardly see the flame at all.


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The trick I use to know when it’s done is to jiggle the pan ever so slightly. If the entire frittata seems able to make ‘waves’, it isn’t done. When you jiggle the pan and only see a slight movement you’re ready to finish it under the broiler – just long enough to set the face, but not brown it.


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While the frittata was cooking, it occured to me that I hadn't planned a meal around it, I was just taking advantage of a free hour in the middle of a Saturday afternoon to accomplish my assigned cooking task for the week. On a whim, I decided to turn it into an appetizer as an homage to that long-ago menu item. Instead of dumping shrimp into a pan of eggs, I decided to grilled the shrimp separately. I cut my 10" frittata into 12 equal wedges; placed one wedge on a small plate; laid two grilled shrimp along-side; & garnished with a small dab of pesto. It was quite good, and made a beautiful presentation.


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August 24, 2010

Frittata with Pasta

I think I may have I've found my favorite frittata. I'm a little surprised by this discovery. The idea of combining eggs and pasta has never occured to me. It just isn't anywhere in my food experiences. And in all my years of visiting Italy, I've never seen the dish on a menu, never had it served to me at a friend's table. I don't understand how I missed out all these years.


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But, guess what -- I love the combination. I love the body the pasta gives to the dish. I love the texture and I love the flavor. It's like one of your favorite starchy comfort foods partnered with some nice healthy protein.


Following Marcella's suggestion, I made the simple butter, cheese, and parsley sauce for the pasta. I'm glad I did, because it gave me the chance to experience the combination of pasta and egg without other flavors to distract.


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I loved the way the spaghetti developed a nice golden crust under the broiler.


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The ten inch frittata made four very generous servings. Add a little salad and some wine and you've got an easy, delicious, and filling meal.


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August 31, 2010

Fried Tidbits of Swordfish or Other Fish

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In landlocked Missouri, getting good fresh seafood is a challenge. It's hard to find and is expensive. I often buy fresh frozen at Global Foods because they only carry seafood that has been wild caught and ship processed. That means that on catch day, the fish is cleaned, flash frozen, and vacuum sealed right on the ship. I believe this is often a better choice than fish that is sold as fresh, but may have had longer than optimal travel time to Missouri. When I do buy fresh, I rely on my nose to guide me. I'm not the least shy about asking the fishmonger in the market to let me smell the fish.

For this dish, I stopped first at Global Foods, but was not impressed with the look of the swordfish steaks in their freezer. I resolved to head to Whole Foods, but on a whim I stopped in at Dierberg's. Dierberg's is a regional, family owned grocery chain in the St. Louis area. They aren't the cheapest in town, but you can usually count on them for quality. The loins were beautiful, and smelled like fresh sea air. At $11.00 a pound they were expensive, but since it was only Dan and I, I saved some by cutting the recipe in half.


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Soaking in the marinade of olive oil and lemon juice begins to acid-cook the fish, so the actual cooking time should be very brief.


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After soaking in the marinade for about an hour, I patted the fish dry on a paper towel. When the oil was hot enough in the pan to brown rapidly, I dipped the morsels in egg then in flour.


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All you want is a light golden brown crust, and you want it fast. As soon as one side browns, turn the fish and brown the other, then remove with a slotted spatula. Drain the cooked tidbits on a heated, paper towel lined platter and serve immediately.


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We enjoyed ours with mixed greens and Marcella's Gratineed Cauliflower with Butter and Parmesan Cheese -- which I shall be reporting on on January 18th, 2011. Don't tell Victor, but it was perfect with a bottle of ice cold Vinho Verde from Portugal.


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September 7, 2010

Sweet and Sour Tuna Steaks, Trapani Style

In all my trips to Italy, I've never made the leap across to Sicily. But, if this Sicilian style dish is an example of what I'm missing, I've got to correct the oversight - soon.

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Here is what Marcella says: "Another savory item from Sicilian cooking's remarkable seafood repertory, this sliced fresh tuna is simple to do and wonderfully appetizing, its sweet and sour flavor a luscious blend that is neither cloying nor bitingly tart." I agree.

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Tuna is one of my favorite meaty fish. I found some beautiful, fresh yellowfin at the market and had it cut into 1/2 inch slices. The fishmonger removed the skin for me before wrapping it, so all I had to do when I got home was rinse and dry the slices. With only the two of us, I cut the recipe in half, from 6 servings to three.

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After cooking the onions in a little olive oil and salt, I remove them from the pan and set aside. I dredge the tuna in flour and slip them into the pan. The cook for only about 2 1/2 minutes before adding sugar, vinegar, wine, and the cooked onions. Then after turning up the heat a lid goes on and they cook another couple of minutes on high.

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To finish the lid comes back off, parsley is added and the tuna steaks are turned over a couple of times to coat. Transfer to a warmed platter, pour the residual cooking liquid along with the onions over the top, and serve immediately.

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We enjoyed ours with a crisp green salad and a variety of fresh heirloom tomatoes on the side. The dish was well complemented by our go-to casual dinner wine, a primitivo from Puglia.

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September 14, 2010

Halibut Over Squid Sauce

The Universe has a sense of humor. When we started this project we decided that the rotation was set in stone. No trading if you draw a recipe you don't want to do. I commented that I hoped I didn't get a squid assignment. So of course, I got not one but three. I survived the Squid and Artichoke Soup on May 18th with relish. Now that we are in the fish chapter two of my four recipes involve squid.

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Technically, this recipe isn't about squid, its about halibut. But I've always thought of halibut as a forgetable fish. To my taste, it is too mild to be interesting all by itself. So, the rich savory ingredients in the squid sauce are the real star of this dish.

It starts with chopped onion, garlic, chopped parsley, and whole squid cleaned and sliced into narrow rings.

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After the squid has cooked for a few minutes, wine, then tomatoes are added. When the tomatoes begin to bubble the heat is turned down as low as possible, the pan is covered and allowed to cook for very slowly for about an hour. In her comment to my post on the squid artichoke soup Marcella said: "When you are cooking squid again, remember, either cook it seconds on very hot fire, or slowly, over a gentle simmer."

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When the squid feels tender to the fork, add salt and chili pepper, and cook for a few minutes longer, stirring frequently. The halibut steaks go on top of the sauce in a single layer; cooked for only about three minutes, then turned over and cooked another two minutes. Halibut is fast to cook, be careful not to leave it in too long.

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This is a savory, flavorful, and delicious sauce recipe that I will definitely be making again. I think it would be good with other types of fish. I might try it with tuna next time.

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September 21, 2010

Squid with Porcini Mushroom Stuffing

I've yet to try any dish featuring porcini that doesn't become an instant favorite for me. After the revelation that I do indeed love squid, my expectations for this recipe were high. And I wasn't disappointed.

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These two star ingredients are subtly enhanced by garlic, parsley & dry white wine. The earthiness of the porcini combined with the sweetness of the squid and the fragrance of the wine --- heaven. Pure heaven.

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After they are rinsed, soaked and finely chopped, the porcini are cooked in their filtered soaking liquid over medium high heat until the liquid has boiled away. This concentrates the flavor of these magnificent mushrooms and fills the entire house with one of my favorite aromas. Next they are combined with the chopped squid tentacles, pepper, salt, garlic, parsley, bread crumbs and a little olive oil to make the stuffing.

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A small amount of stuffing is reserved before the rest is divided equally for stuffing the squid sacs. The stuffed sacs are, if you follow the preferred method, sewn shut with a darning needle. Because I can't darn worth a darn, I chose the alternate method and used some sturdy round toothpicks. The stuffed sacs are then placed in a very hot saute pan containing olive oil.

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They are browned quickly on both sides before adding salt, pepper, wine, and the reserved stuffing mix. The sacs are turned again to coat both sides with the mixture, and then the heat is turned down to a very slow simmer. The pan is covered and the squid is allowed to cook slowly for at least 45 minutes, occasionally turning the sacs over. When the squid is done, it is transferered to a cutting board.

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After a few minutes to settle, the porcini stuffed squid sacs are sliced and arranged on a platter. The cooking liquids and all the little bits of stuffing that remain in the pan have become a rich and wonderful sauce ready to be spooned over the slices.

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Thanks, Marcella, for showing me that squid is so much more than that greasy, rubbery fried appetizer found on the unimaginative menus of chain restaurants.

I'm sad to leave the fish chapter behind.

I'm going to miss my new friend, the noble squid.

September 28, 2010

Chicken Fricassee with Red Cabbage

It is a tribute to the cooking method, that of the thirteen recipes for chicken, five of them are fricassees. Personally, I feel that I lucked into the best of the five.

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We had houseguests coming for the weekend, so I decided it was a fitting time to serve this dish. They called as they boarded their plane in Minneapolis and I began cooking. As the aroma of the cabbage and onions began to fill the house, Dan wondered into the kitchen to express concern that I was smelling up the place. I told him not to worry, both of our guests love cabbage. By the time they arrived it was ready to put on the table. They left their luggage in the front hall and followed their noses to the kitchen. Dan need not have worried.

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Ingredients were simple and few. First, a beautiful head of red cabbage finely shredded. I wanted the uniformity that my not-top-of-the-line food processor doesn’t offer, so I used a cross-cut blade on the mandolin. Sometimes there is no substitute for elbow grease. Hmm, I wonder if that translates as an idiom. If I said "grasso di gomito" would it make sense?

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Onions and garlic are sautéed in oil until golden brown, then the cabbage is added and the pan covered. With the heat turned to a gentle simmer, the cabbage cooks for about 40 minutes.

While the cabbage cooks, the chicken is cut into pieces. Marcella recommends eight pieces, however I wanted all of the servings to be similar in size, and the breast halves were huge. So I left the thigh and leg together. That gave me four servings with a couple of wings to spare. The chicken was browned in another pan.

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After browning, the dark meat of the chicken is added to the cabbage along with wine and pepper. After another 40 minutes or so of simmering, the reserved breast meat is added for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. At this point, the cabbage has dissolved into a wonderfully sweet sauce with a consistency close to course applesauce.

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This hearty dish needs very little accompaniment to satisfy. Some herbed roasted carrots, a mixed green salad, and fresh bread were sufficient. Before the first bite, we toasted Marcella with glasses of Norton. As you can see, everyone enjoyed the meal.

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Dessert was Black and White Macerated Grapes. (page 608) You’ll read about them and see the pictures on May 10th, 2011.

October 5, 2010

Pan-Roasted Squab Pigeons

I thought Chris liked squab. I thought I liked squab. I definitely thought, at the very least, we'd eaten squab before, so when Deborah was looking to escape cooking and eating it realized she'd be too busy to cook and eat it, I volunteered.

I may be wrong though. We may never have eaten squab before. That might have been some other small, plump, bird.

I say that because Chris didn't like the squab, and I thought it okay. The squab, not the recipe, mind you. And honestly, I'm not sure, having no real basis comparison, that we had "good" squab. Though we did buy the squab from D'Artagnan Gourmet Foods and I do trust their products. I found the squab gamier than I expected (this did not "taste like chicken"). Chris described the flavor as almost liver-like and I think I may have to agree with him there. Of course, that liver flavor could have been imparted by the liver stuffed into the cavity of the squab (along with sage and pancetta). Now I'm a fan of the familial chopped liver, so again, a liver-flavored bird didn't bother me, but it bothered him.

All that said, the recipe was easy peasy and if you like squab, I would definitely give it a go.

So let's talk about the recipe for a moment.

The hardest part, and it wasn't too hard, was finding the squab. As I said, I ordered it from D'Artangan, and gave them the date I needed it to arrive, and it arrived right on time, fresh and packed with 1/2 dozen reusable ice packs. It also came with livers, so I didn't need to purchase any extra chicken livers as Marcella suggests (phew). I only ordered two though because I didn't think four would fit in my pan (Marcella tells you to fit them in a pan without overlapping), though they were much smaller than expected, so I definitely think three would have fit fine.

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Squab versus tape measure (with a lime too to grasp the size)

We had plenty of fresh sage from the garden, and pancetta in the freezer, so other than the squab, I had everything I needed right on hand.

From start to finish, the process took maybe 90 minutes, 30 minutes of prep and browning (if that), and 60 minutes for stove top roasting. I liked the process, and may try it again but next time with a different small, plump bird.

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Browned Bird

Oh, and Marcella, yes, yet again we had acorn squash with the squab. I know, not traditional but I got a bunch of squash from my CSA, and need to use it up. This time though, I tossed in some of the left over pancetta, in a small dice, and it was fabulous!

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Finished product (with squash)

October 12, 2010

Ossobuco in Bianco - Tomato-Less Braised Veal Shanks

I do love Ossobuco. But it isn't the melting off the bone flesh that makes me crave the dish. Rather, it's the little jewel inside the bone. There is nothing as heavenly as that first silky spoonful of warm marrow.

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Beth told you a bit about our hunt for veal in her post on Sunday. It was worth the effort. My shanks were beautiful and full of meat.

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This version of Ossobuco is pure simplicity. Meaty hind shanks, salt & pepper, dry white wine, a little lemon peel and chopped parsley to finish. Five minutes of active prepping followed by 2-3 hours of waiting for the heat to work its magic.

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An old high-school friend was in town this weekend for her neice's wedding. She came by for dinner tonight. We enjoyed our Ossobuco in Binco with oven roasted, herbed potatoes and a nice School House red from the Calif. central coast.

It was delicious.

October 19, 2010

Veal Scaloppine with Ham, Anchovies, Capers, and Grappa

This is the sixth scaloppine recipe. Rather than discuss how tasty the dish was - and it was very tasty - I though I'd discuss the process of turning a piece of veal top round into respectable scaloppine.

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Thanks to Marcella's very careful instructions on page 38 and the expanded comments she made on Cindy's post a few days ago, I was successful in producing beautiful pieces of scaloppine.

I began with a chunk of top round weighing about a pound, cutting it in 3/8" thick slices. When I made Irene's recipe yesterday, I ended up with pounded pieces the size of dinner plates. This time I cut the slices in half before pounding. That worked beautifully for me.

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Now to the actual pounding. This photo shows the only tool I own. It is far from ideal. The head is only about 1 1/2" in diameter. That makes it much harder to stretch the meat as Marcella instructs without tearing. Next time I go to the kitchen store, I'm coming home with a proper pounder - the kind with at least a 3" head and a vertical handle instead of the hammer type, for more control.

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This recipe calls for ham, capers, grappa, heavy whipping cream, and anchovies. I've already made my devotion to anchovies clear. I LOVE them. So, I was happy to have the opportunity to use them yet again.

In her instructions, Marcella gives us an interesting mini-lesson in grappa. Like wine, grappa comes from different types of grape. Some of the cheaper grappas are made with a blend of varietals, but the brand I buy is Lorenzo Inga . They pride themselves in their single varietals. I won't pretend to be connoisseur enough to really discuss the difference between Barolo, Chardonnay, Dolcetto, Moscato, etc. Or to suggest which would have been better for this dish. I chose the Borolo grappa. Basically, because I like Borolo wine. (I've linked the company name to their website here so you can check them out.)

Marcella, I'd be interested in finding out what you and Victor think of my choice. Was Borola a good selection, or would you have chosen one of the others for this dish?

In contemplating what to serve with scaloppine, I settled on spaghetti as a side dish. I wanted to use the left over sauce from the pan to dress the spaghetti. So, once the meat had been returned to the pan then transferred to the serving platter, I added a small amount of butter and little of the pasta water to the leftover sauce. Then I tossed the spaghetti with that. We also had the peas from page 517 which I'll report on when we get to the vegetable chapter. There was one bottle left from the half-case of 2004 Veglio Barolo we had purchased on sale for less than $20.00 a bottle. This seemed to be a fine time to drink it.

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October 26, 2010

Sautéed Veal Chops with Sage and White Wine

No question, this was by far our favorite dish in the veal chapter.

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It’s week thirty-one of sixty-two weeks. We are at our half-way point. I beg your indulgence while I take this opportunity to reflect on the journey.

What began as a fun challenge and a way to introduce home cooks to the teachings of the undisputed queen of Italian home cooking, has turned into a 62 week master course for me.

I think back to my first few recipes in the appetizer chapter and how I chaffed at the limitations on ingredients.

I think about the hard battle convincing me to abandon my more-is-better mindset.

I think about the sort of student I might have seemed to Marcella, had we been in a real class instead of this virtual classroom.

It's very likely she would have been tempted to throw a pot at me. She most certainly would have given me more than one verbal dressing-down.

I've always claimed to love 'real' cooking while not caring to bake. It's because I knew I couldn't tinker with a baking formula for risk of failure. But, so what if I substituted basil for sage in this veal dish? Adding garlic to a soup that doesn't call for it is just being creative, right? What's the big deal?

During these last thirty-one weeks, strict adherence to the recipes as a foundation of our challenge has served to slowly mature and refine my attitude toward classic Italian cooking. I've avidly read each and every day's post. I've more avidly read Marcella's comments. I am continually amazed and grateful that she takes us seriously; that she allows us to turn this into a learning experience; and especially that she cares enough about our success to always tell it like it is.

So, back to the subject at hand. Sautéed veal chops. Main ingredients: Veal chops, sage and wine. No basil, no garlic, no hot chili flakes, no kitchen sink.

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The dried sage leaves added the perfect fragrance and flavor to the delicate veal during the sauté. The white wine during deglazing and then the silkiness of the butter rounded out the flavors.

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We enjoyed our veal with a lovely Spanish table wine from the Toro region, and the Green Bean recipe from page 474. I'll be reporting on that dish on January 11th.

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I admit to selfishly serving myself most of the fried sage leaves. I hope Dan didn't notice.

November 2, 2010

La Fiorentina - Grilled T-Bone Steak, Florentine Style

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What I desperately wanted was to recreate a meal from my first trip to Italy in 1998. A meal that struck a deep emotional chord, and has taken on mythical proportions in my memory. It was the meal that converted me from a casual appreciator of Italian cooking to an adherent.

This happened in a little neighborhood cucina in Cortona named Tacconi Angiolo. If you venture away from the tourist trail, it's one of those places you find in neighborhoods all over Italy. It doesn't have a menu. You are served what was being cooked that day. You share the dining room with the owner’s neighbors, mostly workmen.

Nonna was the cook, her son manned the bar and her daughter-in-law helped her in the kitchen. When we were there, the ‘front-man’ for the entire operation was a Jack Russell terrier named Michael. Michael was the maître d’. He escorted you to one of the dining room’s six tables, then sat next to your chair waiting for ‘tips’.

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The meal we were served that day was "Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Spinaci & Patate Saltate". A t-bone grilled over a wood fire. A partially wilted spinach dish that was quickly sautéed in garlic infused olive oil and dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice. And potato slices fried in a skillet with branches of rosemary laying on top of them as they cooked. The picture below is my attempt to recreate that dish.

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Sometimes you just can’t have what you want. Sometimes you have to make choices based on the available options – none of them perfect.

Perfect would have been that I was able to get my hands on two lovely grass fed, dry-aged t-bone or porterhouse steaks from the Italian Chianina breed. Perfect didn’t happen. But not because I didn’t try. I even called the American Chianina Association, which happens to be headquartered in Missouri. But their members appear to only breed and raise Chianina for fun and show. Not for food. Although for some reason, some of them do cross breed them with Angus for food production.

So, faced with the inability to buy Chianina at any price, I began to search for grass fed, dry aged t-bone or porterhouse no matter the breed. New snag. Very little grass fed, also very little dry aged. I could have my grass fed t-bone if I was willing to give up the dry aging. I could have the dry aging if I was willing to give up the t-bone. I weighed my options and decided that dry aging trumps cut. I settled for ribeye.

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The ribeyes were nicely marbled. The dry aging produced the deep rich flavor you'd expect. But, the tenderness of a bone-in cut was absent. The meat was juicy, but not meltingly so.This was a delicious steak. But it didn't hold a candle to the Bistecca alla Fiorentina of my memory. Next time, I'll go for the grass fed t-bone and skip the dry aging. Compromise stinks.

Or, perhaps, secretly, I am relieved that the ideal remains unattained.
Perhaps it is much more about the place and time, than about the actual meal.
Perhaps it is the memory of the meal is actually a metaphor for the beginning of my love affair with all things Italian.

November 9, 2010

Pot Roast of Beef Braised in Red Wine

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Victor's wine note on this recipe advises that "an ideal rendition of it would call for Barolo in the pot as well as Barolo in your glass." And so, because we had been holding onto a single bottle of 2001 Pio Cesare long enough, I decided to take his advice.

I picked a beautiful piece of chuck roast at Whole Foods because I knew it would fit perfectly into my grandmothers 80 year old cast iron dutch oven.

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After searing the beef in a hot skillet, I added it to the dutch oven where the onion, carrot, & celery waited.

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I've always cooked with good wine, but it appears I've had an upper limit I wasn't aware of. So it was both disconcerting and liberating to pour that beautiful Barolo into the skillet for deglazing.

Once deglazed, I dumped the bubbling wine into the pot with the meat & vegetables. Then added broth, tomatoes, and spices.

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After bringing the contents to a boil, I moved the pot to the oven for the three hours of magic that would produce a meltingly delicious hunk of meat. We enjoyed it with Swiss Chard Stalks Gratinéed with Parmesean Cheese (report will post on January 25th) and Finocchio Salad (report date will be March 15th).

And, following instructions exactly, we drank the rest of that Barolo.


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November 16, 2010

Beef Patties Baked with Anchovies and Mozzarella

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Moist and tender, with the enriching flavors of anchovies and mozzarella, these beef patties deserve to be eaten with a fork and knife, not on a bun. The milk soaked bread & the egg added just the right amount of moisture.

I've never used dry bread crumbs to coat a beef pattie before cooking. Now I will use them whenever possible. It sealed in the juices without forming a shell as a batter would.

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After a quick fry in vegetable oil, the beef patties are transferred to a buttered baking dish and topped with halved tomatoes, sliced mozzarella, oregano, & anchovies. Each is then garnished with a small strip of tomato, before slipping into a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes of baking.

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We had invited my friend, Nancy, to join us for dinner. Then at the last minute Dan's brother offered him his spare ticket to a Biliken's game. So, Nancy and I had entirely too much food on the table. I hope the rest keeps overnight.

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We enjoyed our delicious beef patties with one of my vegetable assignments which is due to post on Feb. 22nd, Potatoes with Onions, Tomatoes, and Sweet Pepper. With the addition of fresh bread from Marconi Bakery, my old stand-by A•Mano primitivo and we had a perfect combination.

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November 23, 2010

Lamb Chops Pan-Roasted in White Wine, Finished Marches Style with Egg and Lemon

These lamb chops were butter-knife tender and full of flavor. The bold additions to the pan of onion & pancetta don't prevent the lamb's flavor from shining through.

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I was able to find some beautiful chops, and althought the recipe called for 2 1/2 pounds, I cut the quantity in half to avoid left-overs.

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By starting with onions, pancetta, & lard we lay down a flavor foundation. I know someone is going to chastise me for using lard. And although Marcella offers the opportunity to substitute the less flavorful vegetable oil, I decided to "live on the edge".

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After searing the chops, wine and spices are added. The chops are slowly pan roasted for about an hour. Or as Marcella instructs, "until the lamb feels very soft when prodded with a fork."

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The chops are then removed to a warm platter and most of the fat is skimmed off the top of the sauce left in the pan. The egg yolk and lemon juice are lightly beaten together and poured over the still warm chops, turning the chops to coat.

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The chops are transferred to a clean warm platter (leaving the excess yolk mixture behind) and are then dressed with the pan sauces.

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We enjoyed our Marches Style Lamb Chops with well cooked carrots and broccoli and a nice bottle of rustic Garnacha/Tempranillo blend from the Carinena region of Spain.

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November 30, 2010

Braised Pork Chops with Sage and Tomatoes, Modena Style

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Our family's traditional method for preparing pork chops has always been to oven broil them covered with thinly sliced lemons, dots of butter, and brown sugar. It is one of my earliest memories of my mother's special meals. It's the way I've always prepared them for my family, and it's the way my daughters prepare them to this day.

So here I am, on the eve of my 7th decade, braising pork chops for the first time in my life. The simple and straight-forward flavor profile is sage and tomatoes.

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The nice thick 3/4" chops are lightly floured and then cooked in a saute pan with butter, oil, & sage until they are a deep rich brown on both sides.

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Salt, pepper and tomatoes are added and the heat is turned to a slow simmer. The pan is covered with the lid slighty ajar and cooking continues for at least an hour, or until the meat feels tender to the fork.

The chops are then transferred to a warm platter and topped with the pan sauce.

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We rounded out the meal with a fresh green salad and broiled sweet potatoes.

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I enjoyed this novelty of preparing pork chops Modena style. They were very tasty and tender. I can find no fault with our enjoyment of the dish. But, I must admit that it won't replace my cherished family recipe. It is, after all, sometimes more about the memories that are attached to the dish than the merits of one method over another.

By the way, we had enough for a second meal. They held well for two days in the fridge and I warmed them on the stove with a little extra water.

December 7, 2010

Pork Sausages with Smothered Onions and Tomatoes

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I've come, finally, to another opportunity to dip into my supply of Marcella's special sweet pork sausage for an Essentials assignment. Dan kept following his nose into the kitchen until I finally suggested that he just to pour the wine and stay.

The simple instructions call for a large quantity of sliced onion, softened and then browned to a dark golden color. Chopped tomatoes are added. After some cozy time together in the pan, the onions and tomatoes were joined by the peppers and sausage.


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I may be a bit dyslexic. I saw the word 'and' where Marcella clearly wrote the word 'or'. As a result I had peeled and sliced both a yellow and a red sweet bell pepper before I realized my mistake. So, I used them both. A bit more pepper than the recipe called for, but I love peppers.


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The obvious way to serve this rustic dish is with the perfect comfort food. I sliced the sausage links and arranged them around a mold of polenta, then topped it all with the onion, tomato, and peppers.


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We enjoyed our dinner with some equally rustic Vinho Tinto from Portugal's Douro region.

December 14, 2010

Breaded Calf's Liver

Hooray!

I've had Marcella's book for a few years, and undoubtedly the best aspect of taking part in this project is the opportunity of preparing new recipes, as well as reading about the experiences of my fellow conspirators. But, I should also add that when I got my list of responsibilities, one of the first things I did was look for any familiar titles. Alas, nothing that I recognized. BUT I had to drop one of my recipes - unable to locate a source for a main ingredient. Deborah came to my rescue & we swapped recipes. And I got one that has been a favourite chez Doug for a while. And this is it.

The happenstance that it is in the dreaded "Variety Meats" chapter is an unexpected bonus.

I know many people don't care for liver, but we like calf's liver and have prepared it for over 35 years, from time to time trying a new variation. Marcella's recipe is the best.

Ingredients include vegetable oil, butter, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, lemon and calf's liver. I used to buy fresh calf's liver, but have recently discovered that it is also available frozen at the local butcher shop, which makes it easy to request the desired 1/4" thickness.

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Preparation is quick and easy and the result is great! Final result below with a lemon wedge and some Brussel sprouts. Delicious.

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What I liked about this recipe:

Everything.

What I didn't like about this recipe:

No problems for me.

Would I make it again?

This is a regular menu item chez Doug

December 21, 2010

Oxtail, Vaccinara Style

Although I don't agree, I can understand why oxtail is classified as a variety meat. Variety meats are those parts of an animal that are left after the butchering process. So, technically, I guess the tail is a 'left-over'. But variety meats, by nature, are an acquired taste. Like coffee for someone who grew up drinking only tea. Or grits for anyone north of the Mason-Dixon. Oxtails are delicious at first bite, even for the variety meat novice.

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Most variety meats are organs. They have tastes and textures that the average American of the late 20th century doesn't appreciate. If you grew up eating them well prepared, you are likely to enjoy them. If you didn't, you will probably need to learn to like them.

In generations past, variety meats were the parts that required the talents of creative home cooks who didn't have a choice. Because they didn't have the luxury of wasting even the sow's squeal, they figured out how to turn it into a nurishing meal. Maybe when that first cook put that first dish of chicken gizzards on the table, it wasn't greeted with relish. But, you can be sure it was eaten with gratitude.

Likely it took several years, even several generations, for chicken gizzards to become a favorite family tradition. But it eventually did. Because what you grow up eating, you grow up loving.

Now, back to my oxtail. A lot of ingredients and time go into preparing this dish, but it's worth it. If the richest flavors are closest to the bone, then the best of all surrounds the tail bone. After laying down the flavors of olive oil, lard, parsley, garlic, onions, and carrots, oxtails and fresh pork jowl are added to the pan and browned.

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Then comes the wine, tomatoes, salt, pepper and water followed by some long slow simmering. After about 90 minutes, celery is added and the simmering continues for another 45 minutes or so. When the meat is fork tender, spoon off the excess fat, and you have Oxtail, Vaccinara Style.

We enjoyed ours with polenta, green peas, and some nice Barbera from Paso Robles' Castoro Cellars.

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Our grandsons are growing up in a typical young American family. Busy parents with too many commitments and too little time to devote to developing their young palates. So I take every opportunity to introduce them to the unusual. You may remember this little guy from my post about Squid and Artichoke Soup. He declared that he loved the oxtail "Because I'm a carnivore, MeeMaw".

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Oxtail is indeed delicious. So delicious that you won't want to waste a single morsel. So, I recommend that you set aside your knife and fork; drape a large napkin across your lap; and make use of the best utensils for the job.

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December 28, 2010

Gratin of Artichokes

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Most of us went through the vegetable chapter and cooked ahead to take advantage of peak season. But, somehow, I missed the boat on my very first - artichokes. When I realized my oversight, we were already into late November. So I began searching for a suitable substitute for fresh and finally settled on a jar of baby artichoke hearts I found at Sam's Wholesale (of all places).

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The brand name was unfamiliar to me, but it was preserved only in water, salt, and citric acid. In addition the company, Terra Verde, promotes its corporate responsibility and humanitarian efforts with an interesting, if somewhat self-congratulatory, story on the side of the jar. I decided to give them a try.

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Of course I had to skip the instructions for boiling the artichokes and instead soaked them in several changes of icy water, then drained them on paper towels and patted very dry before slicing. Since I was serving this with Christmas dinner I quadrupled the recipe to serve 16.

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After slicing each artichoke heart, I layered them in a buttered baking dish alternating with fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano and dots of butter. The top layer had an additional layer of cheese.

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They baked on the top rack in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes until the cheese crusted a beautiful golden brown.

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Even though this was a delicious side dish, and everyone said they enjoyed them very much, I could still tell that they were not made from fresh artichokes. Regardless of the extra effort to rinse and rinse again, you could still taste that slight tang of a "preserved" taste. This spring I'll make them again, from scratch.

January 11, 2011

Green Beans with Yellow Peppers, Tomatoes, and Chili Pepper

I made this dish back in the spring when the farmer's market had beautiful fresh new beans. I've worried a little about my ability to post after so long. But when I pulled up the photos on my computer, I was immediately transported back to the day they were prepared. The silky mouthfeel of the peppers, the richness of the cooked onion, the acid from the tomatoes, and the zing for the red chili. I remember them all and how they brightened the flavor of the beans.

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Simple flavorful ingredients, carefully chosen and carefully cooked. Starting with the thinly sliced onion cooking down in a bit of olive oil.

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The onion is joined by peeled yellow peppers cut into strips and plum tomatoes. Cooking until that all-important moment when the oil floats free from the tomatoes. With that rich flavor combination the beans just have to show up to look like a star, right?

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Once the peppers, tomato & onions have cooked the green beans are added along with salt, the chili pepper, and some water. Then it is allowd to cook at a steady simmer until the beans are tender.

I have to say, I've forgotten what meal I served these with. Maybe if I had taken a picture of the entire plate, I'd remember. But, remembering the beans is all I need. Hurry up SPRING.

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January 25, 2011

Swiss Chard Stalks Gratinéed with Parmesan Cheese

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Why don't I make Gratinéed dishes more often? They are so easy, and so satisfying. Last week I had Gratinéed Cauliflower, and this week it is Swiss chard. I've never prepared chard this way before. I've always confined it to soups.


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The preparation is pretty straightforward. Clean the broad, white stalks of chard. Boil them until tender then drain. Smear an oven-to-table backing dish with butter. Arrange the first layer of stalks in a dish.


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Sprinkle with salt and freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, then dot with a small amount of butter. Repeat the process until all of the stalks are used up. The top layer gets an extra generous amount of cheese and lots of butter.


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Bake on the top rack of a 400° oven until the chees melts and forms a light, golden crust. Let it settle for a few minutes after removing from the oven, serve and enjoy.


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February 1, 2011

Sauteed Baby Eggplant Halves with Mozzarella

Listen up, Colleen, and Caroline! This post is for you. You could almost (only almost, mind you) convince me to join your veggie-tarian craziness with this dish. We enjoyed it as the main course, and didn't miss meat at all.


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The choice of eggplant is very important. You don't want fat "spongy" globes. You want thin, long "baby" eggplants. Either the purple or white Italian are ideal, but when I found dense, meaty Chinese eggplants at Global Foods, I knew they would be wonderful.

Sart by trimming the green tops off. Then split them open lengthwise. Cut a deep (but not through the skin) cross-hatched pattern in the flesh.

Placed the halves in a tight, single layer in a saute pan. Press mixture of garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, bread crumbs, and olive oil into the cuts and spread over the top. Then drizzle with additional olive oil - partly on the eggtplants and partly in the pan. Cover the pan and turned to a medium low heat, cooking until the eggplant feels very tender when prodded with a fork.

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After they are tender, cover each eggplant half with pieces of fresh sliced mozzarella. Turn up the heat to medium, recover the pan and cook until the mozzarella melts.

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Serve immediately. I tried to think of a meat this could accompany as a side. I couldn't. It doesn't need to be paired with anything else.

This is hands-down the most delicious way I've ever, ever, ever (get the picture?) prepared eggplant. It needs to be enjoyed all by itself with a nice spicy red wine. As I write this post, I am overwhelmed with a desire to go out - at midnight - to find eggplant.

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February 8, 2011

Smothered Boston Lettuce with Pancetta

We're on page 507. I've cooked 62 dishes so far. I've completely enjoyed almost all of them. And when I was totally convinced I wouldn't, I surprised myself by loving a few new things.

Now I have finally come to a dish that I didn't enjoy. (Fortunately, Dan loved it.)

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The fault doesn't lie with the recipe. This is how I often make other greens. The fault lies with my strange aversion to Boston Lettuce. It's a textural thing for me. Boston lettuce is about the last leafy green I would choose to buy. Does anyone else think it has a strange rubbery aspect to it?

As you can see here, the ingredients promise a delicious outcome.

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The onion and pancetta are sauted in the oil over a medium heat. Cooking until the onions become a deep gold.

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The lettuce is added to the pan and cooked briefly to begin the wilting process. Then salt is added and the pan covered before cooking until tender. It makes a beautiful dish and looks very pretty on the plate, but, I'm sending Dan to Longboat if he wants it again.

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February 15, 2011

Sauteed Early Peas with Olive Oil and Proscuitto Florentine Style

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To this day, fresh peas have the power to evoke one of my most cherished childhood memories.

At least a month of each of my grammer school-aged summers was spent at "Grandma's Biggie House". That is what I named the place when I was a very small child. It is easy to see why, since it consisted of two, three-story buildings. My aunt and grandmother operated a faith based charitable retirement home called El Nathan Home in a little rural town in southeast Missouri. The home was established in the years before there was Medicare or Medicaid or SSI or Section 8 or any other government aide for the destitute elderly. If you had the great misfortune of having no family to support you, and no private retirement income, your only hope was that some non-profit religious or fraternal organization would take you in.

Almost all of the women at El Nathan had been missionaries or teachers or nurses. They had taken care of people all their lives, but had noone to take care of them.

Everyone living at El Nathan pitched in according to their abilities. Nobody could dust with the precision of Miss Julia Post. Miss Mildred Horsey washed all the dishes. Miss Irene Hill helped with the laundry. Miss Harriett Prentiss set & cleared the tables. And my great-grandmother, Minnie James (who also lived there) prepped vegetables. She is the one who taught me to shell peas. I have a vivid mental picture of her sitting on the porch, using her aproned lap like a shallow bowl as her hands flew through the pods of early peas.

See, you knew I'd get back around to the subject eventually, didn't you?

We ate those peas prepared in a country-American style. Instead of garlic (which was unheard of in rural 1950's Missouri) my grandmother used chives. Instead of proscuitto it was hickory cured bacon. Butter or lard replaced olive oil which was also unheard of. And parsley would have been considered to be an unnecessary affection.

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But for all those differences, this dish of Marcella's isn't that far removed, is it?

After the garlic is cooked in the oil to a golden brown the diced proscuitto is added. Then the peas (and if using fresh, some of the most tender of the pea pods) are added. After turning over in the oil to coat, parsley and pepper are added along with a little water. The heat is turned down to medium and the pan is covered. Cooking time for thawed peas is about 5 minutes. For fresh peas and their pods it may be 15 to 30 minutes depending on their original tenderness.

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I'm happy to have drawn this recipe in the rotation. And I thank you for indulging my little trip down memory lane as I wrote my report.

February 22, 2011

Potatoes with Onions, Tomatoes, and Sweet Pepper

I'm going to quote Marcella's intro to this recipe because it's really all that needs to be said.

"Here is a dish that is as hearty and satisfying as a meat stew, without the meat. It begs for good, crusty bread to sop up the delicious juices."

As the young'uns are fond of saying these days - "True that."

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The ingredients waiting to be prepped warm your heart, don't they? Straighforward and honest.

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Put thinly sliced onions into a saute pan with the olive oil. Set the heat to medium. While they are wilting and becoming a light gold, peel and seed the pepper, then cut it into strips.

Add the pepper to the onions and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes with juice. Lower heat to a slow simmer.

While those three get cozy with each other and start sharing flavors you will peel, wash and cut the potatoes into one inch cubes.

Then when the oil has begun to float free of the tomatoes, add the potatoes. Turn the heat down to very low, and cover the pan. Let them cook for as long as it takes for the potatoes to become fork tender.

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Add the necessary amount of salt and pepper and serve. The hearty, fill-your-mouth, texture of this made a perfect compliment to the Beef Patties Baked with Anchovies and Mozzarella we enjoyed for dinner back on November 16th.

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March 1, 2011

Fried Zucchini with Flour and Water Batter

The extra bonus for being the first of the Pomodori to work with, and report on, a new ingredient, is the opportunity to discuss the most important aspect of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking - the professorial lecture that will likely introduce that ingredient.

Remember, when we began this challenge, we approached the project as "virtual" students. Although Marcella may no longer be physically teaching classes, we can continue to learn from her. Before you read our next eight days of posts about zucchini, open you copy of Essentials and read Marcella's treatise on this most classic Italian vegetable.

Quoting: "It is no exaggeration to say that when you explore all the ways of cooking zucchini, you reach for and bring within your grasp most of the processes that make up Italian cooking."

Now, back to the first of the zucchini, the basic - la pastella. Thin lengthwise slices dipped in a simple, light flour batter and fried in very hot oil. There is really no need for me to discuss the process. The pictures will suffice.


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March 8, 2011

Hollowed Zucchini Stuffed with Beef, Ham, and Parmesan Cheese

We made a complete meal of this zucchini dish. A delicious meal. If you are a stuffed pepper fan, I suggest you try stuffing zucchini instead.

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The ingredients are many, but the prep is not time consuming, nor is it technically difficult.

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Cleaning the zucchini, trimming & cutting each one into two shorter pieces, and then hollowing them all out will take the most time. You will want to be careful to avoid cutting through the skin. Marcella recommended using a narrow, sharp tool. I chose a small boning knife. It worked great.

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After wilting the onions in the oil, the parsley and diluted tomato paste are added. While that is cooking, warmed milk is used to soften the bread. After the milk mush cools, it is combined with all of the additional ingredients. The resulting meat mixture is stuffed firmly into the hollowed-out zucchini.

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The stuffed zucchini are put into the pan with the onions and tomato and covered to cook until tender - somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 minutes. Turn them a few times in the pan for even cooking. Once they are tender, uncover, and if there is any juice left boil it off.

Marcella says: "Here is one of those dishes that has nothing to gain from being served the moment it's done. Its flavor improves when it is served several hours or even a day later. Reheat it gently in a covered pan, and serve warm, but not steaming hot."

We didn't wait a day, or even a few hours.

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March 15, 2011

Finocchio Salad

The fewer the ingredients, it seems to me, the more important each one becomes. Since you can't get 'fewer' than one and still have any dish at all, the finocchio is pretty important to this one.

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I tried my hand at growing my own fennel last summer. At the time I didn't know there was a difference in the taste between "male" & "female" bulbs. In fact, I didn't even realize that fennel wasn't asexual. Fortuantely for me, my little deck garden produced both.

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Here's what Marcella has to say about selecting fennel bulbs: "Italian's distinguish between male and female finocchio, the first with a stocky, round blub, the latter flat and elongated. The "male" is crisper and less stringy, and it has a finer scent, qualities that are particularly desirable when it is to be eaten raw."

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Preparing fennel salad is a study in simplicity. Choose one or two "male" bulbs (depending on size). Trim and wash, then slice into very thin slices. Since I'm not exactly a pro with my knife skills, I used a mandolin for control and uniformity. Soak in cold water and dry.

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Toss in a serving bowl with salt, enough olive oil to coat it well, and add plenty of fresh ground pepper. That's it, folks. One main ingredient, a little salt, a little pepper, and olive oil. But I promise, if you try this salad, it will become an instant favorite.

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March 22, 2011

Cannellini Bean Salad

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Cannellini Bean Salad is one of those comfort foods that you didn't realize you were craving until the sauce hits the heat of the freshly boiled beans and you smell the fishy, salty anchovy, the rich egg yoke, and the tangy red wine vinegar.

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Although the ingredients are more than a few, it is a simple preparation. In addition to the Anchovy, egg, and vinegar you need onion, parsley, sage and olive oil. Very finely chop the anchovy, onion, parsley, & sage. then pulse together with the egg, oil, & vinegar until they have a creamy consistency.

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Tossed with the still hot beans and fresh cracked black pepper the salad sits at room temperature for about an hour to allow the flavors to steep. Toss again and serve with your favorite entrée.

Or, do what I did -- sit down in front of the television with a bowl full and make it your entire entrée.

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March 29, 2011

Italian Potato Salad

It's just potatoes, salt, olive oil, and vinegar.

But the ability to make such a deceptively simple dish with these ingredients isn't falling-off-the-log simple.

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There's picking the perfect potatoes.
Then there's cooking them to just the correct point of doneness.
Then there is peeling them while still very hot.
Then there is slicing them thick enough to keep from falling apart.
Then there is working fast so the potatoes will still be warm enough to make magic with the vinegar when it is splashed over the top.
Then of course there is using just the right amount of salt to bring out the flavor.
And finally there is the liberal drizzle of a flavorful olive oil. (Preferably bright green, newly pressed, and unfiltered.)

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And, yet again, I made a meal of this one single dish. This chapter could turn me into a vegetarian.

April 5, 2011

Leftover Boiled Beef Salad

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when it was time to make this dish, I didn't happen to have any leftover boiled beef in the fridge. I remedied that problem with a nice three-pound piece of chuck roast. Generally following the recipe for Bollito Misto from page 405, I just left the misto part out and used beef alone. After setting aside the pound of cooked meat needed for this assignment, there was enough left for a huge pot of vegetable beef soup - which we've been enjoying for several days.

I wanted a more traditional "salad" feel, and decided to use the first of Marcella's several optional recommendations -- serving the sliced beef over a bed of celery sliced very, very thin. Since I was using that beautiful delicate green celery, I chose to use lemon juice instead of red wine vinegar for the acid.

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After slicing the beef, coating it with olive oil, and seasoning with salt I arranged it atop the sliced celery on a serving platter. The final touch was a liberal grinding of fresh black pepper.

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This makes about four generous sized servings. We enjoyed ours as the starter of a menu that included wonderful Walnut Cake from page 588. I'll be reporting on that in a couple of weeks.

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April 12, 2011

Apple Fritters

The only way I've had a dish called apple fritters is as a fried dough. This simple treatment is so much more delicious.

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The peeled, sliced apple rings are soaked for an hour in a mixture of sugar, grated lemon peel, and rum. Then they are dipped in a pastella and fried in hot vegetable oil until they become a golden brown.

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After draining, they're served hot with a simple dusting of powdered sugar.

Here is where I veered off the straight and narrow just a teeny bit. There was a couple of tablespoons of that rum mixture left. I hated to waste it. So I blended it together with equal parts mascarpone and Bulgarian yogurt to make a sauce which I spread in the center of the plate before arranging the fritters on top.

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April 19, 2011

Walnut Cake

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I've been looking forward to this week's post as an opportunity to evangalize on behalf of Juglans Nigra. Here in North America, where we have a tendency to believe imported food delicacies to be automatically superior, I'm proud to proclaim that I am a black walnut snob.

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I grew up in rural Missouri, the world's largest producer of black walnuts. I didn't taste a Persian walnut (commonly known as English walnut) until my family moved to the city and we began to buy our nuts from grocery stores instead of picking them up in the woods. Faced with having to pay real money, my mother tried the much cheaper, English walnuts.

My family quickly learned that compared to the robust flavor we were accustomed to, the English walnut is boringly bland.

I'll acknowledge that some people may prefer the prettier but anemic English walnut. Those people probably also prefer cafe Americano to a fresh bold espresso.

Marcella's recipe for Walnut Cake is a most delicious way to prove for yourself the superiority of the black walnut. I challenge you to make two - one with black walnuts, and one with English walnuts. Then come back here and tell my what you think.

The ingredients include butter, sugar, egg, grated lemon peel, flour, baking powder, rum, and walnuts. The cake is baked in a springform pan.

After finely grinding the roasted walnut meats, combine them with the rest of your ingredients. You will have a stiff batter. bake it at 325 for about 45 minutes.

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As Marcella advises, "The concentrated flavor of this walnut cake makes a modest slice amply satisfying." I served ours with freshly churned pear ice cream, tying the flavors together by drizzling both with my homemade Black Walnut & Pear Brandy.

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If you would like to learn more about the uniquely North American black walnut -- www.hammonsproducts.com

April 26, 2011

Gallette - Salt and Pepper Biscuits

For our readers who speak British English, there is no sugar in these biscuits. They aren't what Americans call cookies. They're savory, spicy, and a perfectly delicious ending to a hearty meal.

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Flour, egg, olive oil, baking powder, and plenty of salt and pepper are the ingredients.

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After combining the ingredients, the dough rests for a bit. Then it's rolled out thinly, cut into two-inch disks, given a little egg wash, and baked.

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With Marcella's suggestion that "These are excellent aperitif cookies." I decided their peppery taste would pair perfectly with my homemade strawberry & black peppercorn liqueur.


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May 3, 2011

Crema Fritta - Fried Custard Cream

I barely snatched victory from the jaws of defeat this week. Crema Fritta isn't as easy as it sounds. After you see the happy conclusion in this photo, read on and find out how close I came to failure.

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I was enjoying a zen-like trance while stirring the custard slowly in the double boiler. I swept the spatula left for several turns, then reversed to right. After a few minutes, I began counting the strokes and humming an Enya tune. It was dissappointing to come to the end of the thirty-five minutes of constant stirring - akin to the feeling I get when I wish I'd booked an hour long massage instead of a half-hour.

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Following instruction, I poured the custard out onto a moistened platter to cool. When it was cold, It was time to cut it into diamond-shaped pieces. Here is where my nightmare began. It appears I am geometrically challenged. For the life of me, I couldn't get those diamonds to look like diamonds. They looked like squares resting on one of their corners. I gave up and decided the shape, as long as it was the same general size, couldn't affect the taste. So I moved on to the dredging stage. This turned out to be easier than I expected.

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Next was the frying. I made sure the oil was very hot before slipping in the first piece. The first three pieces cracked open completely. My remedy was to add another coat of bread crumbs to the remaining pieces. While I was doing that, the leftover crumbs of breading from the first batch were burning away in the bottom of the pan of oil. As a result the second batch turned an ugly black almost the moment I put them in the oil. This picture is disturbing. Like passing an accident on the highway. You want to look away, but you just can't.

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I still had four more pieces left, but I was worried they were getting too soft. So I stuck them, already breaded, into the freezer while I dumped the burnt oil and heated up fresh. I don't know if that little bit of time in the freezer is what did the trick. Or maybe the cooking gods just lost interest in toying with me. For whatever reason, the last four pieces cooked perfectly. (Well, except for their un-diamondlike shape.)

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May 10, 2011

Black and White Macerated Grapes

A beautiful bowl of grapes is a delightful and refreshing finish to a summer meal.

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Simplicity itself with just these - grapes, citrus, & sugar.

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The black grapes are halved and seeded. The white grapes are left whole. The lemon is grated. The oranges are juiced. Mix all those together with granulated sugar. Toss, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerated for 2 or 3 hours before serving.

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We enjoyed this dessert as the perfect light finish to a dinner of Sweet and Sour Tuna Steaks, Trapani Style. That blog entry was Sept. 7th.

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May 17, 2011

Sgroppino

Do you remember the slushes you badgered your dad into buying for you at the carnival when you were a kid? You know the ones. Colors not found in nature. Syrupy sweet flavors created by science instead of real fruit.

And although in the title for this recipe Marcella describes Sgroppino as a 'slush', it might have a few subtle differences.

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Real strawberries, real lemons, real whipping cream, real cane sugar - and an ingredient they didn't offer at the carnival - that fresh bright sparkling wine we all love, Prosecco.

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Even though this is a three step recipe, it is so simple. You can make the lemon ice cream ahead of time. You can puree the strawberries ahead of time. Then you bring it all together in just a few minutes. If you want to be flashy and show off a bit, do it tableside as your Venetian waiter would.

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May 24, 2011

Marinara Topping: Garlic, Tomatoes, and Olive Oil

Question: What's wrong with this picture? Answer: Too much sauce.
Question: What's right with this picture? Answer: Lots and lots of sauce.

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The reason there is so much sauce is the reason why it's OK to be there. My grandson was having a cooking lesson while we made the pizza. He was extraordinarily proud of the sauce we made. "From real tomatoes, MeeMaw!" When he began spreading it on the dough, I didn't have the heart to stop him until he had used every drop of his creation.

I peeled the tomatoes and my grandson stripped them of their seeds and excess liquid. He was very careful to get every last seed.

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After cooking the tomatoes down with olive oil, we spread them over the top of our prepared pizza dough. (See Beth's post from Sunday to discover why I didn't make my own dough from scratch.) Then we added salt, sliced garlic, and a drizzle of olive oil before sliding the pizza into the oven to bake.

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In one of Marcella's cookbooks - Marcella's Italian Kitchen - the dedication reads. "For my star pupil. His enthusiasm at the table has fed mine in the kitchen; in the kitchen beside me, as my official taster, his judgement has never failed me..."

I'll never write a cookbook, but if one of my grandchildren decides to grow up and become a chef, I wouldn't be opposed.

May 31, 2011

Pane di Grano Duro

For the past few years, I've been lazy about my bread baking. I've been using the techniques Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois evangalize in their book "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day."

There is nothing wrong with their five-minute-no-knead bread. It is quite delicious. And because of it, I make homemade bread much more frequently that I would otherwise.

But, once in a while, it just feels like a special accomplishment to do something the hard way - without shortcuts.

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This bread is all about the choice of flour. You want the high gluten, hard durum wheat flour.
As Marcella explaines - "It makes a very fine-textured and fragrant bread, with a biscuity quality, that tastes even better when reheated and used a day after it is made."

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I pretty much wore myself out kneading, and kneading, and kneading. The dough is shaped into a ring, brushed with water, scored and baked. The result did not disappoint. We enjoyed every bite. And since there was just Dan and I, we made it last for four days. By that fourth day, it was perfect in the bottom of a bowl of soup.

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And now I'll go back to making my lazy, slacker's bread.

June 7, 2011

"Amarcord" From the Tuesday Pomodori

I am more than a little amazed we actually accomplished this. What started as an impulsive suggestion has turned into one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Marcella Hazan is one of my few culinary heros. I have two copies of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. A stained and dog-eared one I've been using for years, and one I bought new when we began the project so I could send it to her for an autograph.

When the suggestion was made that we cook our way through Essentials, my immediate reaction was horror. Horror at the idea that we would be compared to a certain self-absorbed basket case who made a name for herself by stumbling through another well known cookbook.

I'm so grateful to my partners in this project. They all agreed that If we were going to do this thing, we wanted it to be about the process, not about our own personal dramas. We wanted this challenge to be an educational experience.

Most of all, we just wanted to remind as many people as we could that before there was a Food Network creating instant celebrities; before there were classically trained chefs building signature restaurants in Las Vegas; before cooking became a sport -- there was a woman who married a man who loved food. A woman who did the best she could to bring the cooking of her home country to a strange city in order to feed her husband well. And as it turned out, a woman who ended up teaching America what real and authentic Italian cooking was supposed to be. Marcella may have been knighted in Italy, but she is America's national treasure.

We set only two rules because we knew we weren't good at following them. Those two simple rules proved to be what pulled us out of our comfort zones and by doing so shaped the character of our blog.

Rule Number One: We were to follow the recipes exactly. No changes of any kind. That deceptively simple rule caused mighty consternation for a bunch of self-described "acomplished home cooks". We each trusted our own tastes and were all quite comfortable tinkering with recipes. But by following that rule, we learned a lesson about the art in cooking. It is just as much about what you don't put in a dish as what you do.

Michelanglo's David is a masterpiece - not because of the stone you see, but because of the stone you don't see. His talent was in knowing what to remove.

If Marcella tells me to peel a bell pepper before cooking, its because her talent is knowing the skin couldn't be part of the masterpiece.

Rule Number Two: - we would take the recipes in order - forced every one of us out of our comfort zones. Of the 62 recipes I was responsible for, only a handful were regular favorites I had cooked before. Some of them intimidated me. Some of them just didn't appeal. But not having a choice was very liberating.

I passed up the Risotto with Celery page in the book for years. When it ended up on my list I turned up my nose. The idea of making plain old celery the star of a risotto dish just sounded ridiculous to me. It appears my attitude was what was ridiculous. I've made it repeatedly since I was forced to on July 27th.

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Another dish that I would have never cooked had it not been assigned was Frittata with Pasta. I seriously wondered if Marcella had thrown that recipe into the book to see if anyone was paying attention. But now? Well, if there was a picture in the dictionary next to the term "comfort food", it would be this!

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When I discovered I had not one but three squid recipes, I considered trying to renegotiate the rule. I hated squid. In my experience, squid was deep fried, greasy rubber bands that tasted of stale oil. I made my first squid recipe, a soup with artichokes. It was tender and delicious. Next came Halibut over Squid Sauce. Quite nice. And then, one of my favorite recipes of the entire 62 weeks. Squid with Porcini Mushrooms Stuffing. This dish is now one of my food daydreams.

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As it turns out, we did have to break the no switching rule. But we did it because Doug found he absolutely could not locate a key ingredient where he lived. So he and I traded back-to-back recipes and I ended up on a wonderful quest to find fresh caul for Grilled Pork Liver Wrapped in Caul.

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But what was my favorite dish out of the entire 62? How could I even choose? As I sat here writing it turned out to be an easy choice. It was Red and Yellow Bell Pepper Sauce with Sausages , the dish that combined the adventure of making something that seemed impossible happen with the chance to give back to Marcella and Victor. It was the dish that sent me all over The Hill neighborhood looking for something that didn't exist until I insisted - sweet Italian pork sausage with only salt and pepper.

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What do I consider to be the highlight of the last 62 weeks? That's an easy one. Dan and I had the great pleasure of meeting Marcella and Victor last January when we were graciously invited to there home for dinner. What an honor sharing a table with Victor & Marcella; enjoying a meal prepared by her hands. It was something I could never have dreamed when we began this delightful journey.

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Another unexpected, yet cherished result of this project is Marcella's wonderful husband and writing partner, Victor Hazan. His old world gallantry and witty writing make it a delight to open my email and find a new note, sharing a link to yet another wonderful online source for some delicacy. They are a perfect team.

Thank you, Marcella and Victor. Thank you for allowing us to intrude on your lives for 62 weeks. Thank you for generously embracing our project. We will be forever in your debt.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Pomodori e Vino in the 2. Tuesday - Deborah category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Monday - Irene is the previous category.

Wednesday - Doug is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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