Friday, October 25, 2013

Chickpea & cabbage soup

I'll say this about vegetarians: Their soups are a snap. I began prepping this chickpea and cabbage deal at around 6:15 pm the other evening. By 7:15, I was on the sofa catching up on my "Boardwalk Empire" (poor Eddie), a warm soup bowl in one hand and a chilled glass of Roero Arneis in the other.

This soup is so easy to make that even my veg-only left coast pal Ricklie could probably pull it off. If only she had a stove. Which she doesn't. (I know. How does a human live without one! No, really, how?)

Just saute a large onion, five garlic cloves and however much hot pepper you can stand. I think a good kick of heat really enhances this particular soup, and so I used a good-sized fresh chili. It would not have been ruined by the addition of another.

Okay, I also threw in a few anchovy fillets, but most of you would rather be boiled in hot oil than eat an anchovy and so, well, don't. (The little fishes do not square with vegetarians either, and so please feel free to leave them out.)

After the onions are softened, add a chopped up medium-size head of cabbage, along with a good dose of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover the pot so that the cabbage can soften a bit before moving ahead.

After about 10 minutes uncover and add a half cup of white wine or dry vermouth, then turn up the heat so that the wine can burn off.

Add one quart of stock. I used chicken (uh-oh!), but vegetable stock would be fine. Also add a 19-oz. can of chickpeas (drained but not rinsed), then set the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

After about 30 minutes you should be all set to go.

Except for one VERY important final step: You have just got to grate some Pecorino-Romano cheese onto this soup. Believe me, the sharpness of the cheese really pulls it all together.

A little crusty bread to sop things up isn't such a terrible thing either. But you knew that.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Italian pot roast

I'm turning off my phone today. Not gonna check email either. My friend Joe would give me nothing but grief over the title of this post. I can hear him already.

"Italian pot roast? Really?" he would say (or type). If I let him, that is.

"If you're going to keep insisting that everything you put on Mister Meatball is Italian, a concept you know full well I do not agree with, then you can at least refer to the foods with their proper names, rather than trying to Americanize them so as to, what, be more reader-friendly?"

There is no telling how long my friend would go on like this, possibly the better part of the afternoon, but in the end he would undoubtedly complete his rant with the following:

"But, hey, it's your blog, do what you want."

Okay, Joe, here goes: I made some Stracotto di manzo (overcooked beef) this past week. But you may know it as Brasato di manzo (braised beef). Here in the States most recipes that you see for this just call it "Italian pot roast" because, well, that's what it is. So get off my back, would you. And give my love to Joel.

Okay, where was I? So, this is a 4.5-pound boneless chuck roast, which I've seasonsed very liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a dutch oven sear the roast on all sides in olive oil, then remove and set aside.

Add two chopped carrots, two celery stalks, one leek, an onion, 5 garlic cloves, 4 anchovy fillets (optional), and some herbs (rosemary, marjoram and oregano here, but knock yourself out with whatever you like). Saute until softened.

Add about a cup of red wine (I used a Nero d'Avola, and you'll need an entire 750 ml bottle) and turn up the heat.

Cook off the wine so that it begins to thicken, then scrape the pot all around with a wooden spoon to loosen any vegetables that may have stuck to the pan's surface.

Add the rest of the bottle of wine, a 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes, a bay leaf, and some salt and pepper. Cover the pot and turn the heat to a very slow simmer, not a boil. Every 20 minutes or so turn the meat over, or at the very least baste it frequently.

This roast simmered for nearly five hours, but I'd suggest that you start checking the meat for tenderness at the 3.5-hour mark. Just poke at it with a fork; when the meat feels tender you should be all set. After this roast was done cooking I allowed it to cool in the pot, then put the whole thing in the fridge overnight and served it for dinner the next evening. I strongly urge that you do this, as the flavor improves enough, I think, to make a difference.

After you reheat simply take the meat out and carve it.

I served this with a creamy polenta. Which, as my friend Joe will tell you, is a dish that is strongly associated with Italian cuisine.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Onions and eggs

When the garden gives you nice onions (or even if the good people at the supermarket sell them to you) ...

... you saute them in olive oil real slow, until they're nice and soft and caramelized, season with salt and pepper, toss in a couple eggs and scramble them up real nice.

A favorite comfort food around here — for breakfast, lunch or even dinner.

Not much of a story here, I know.

Damn fine thing to eat, though. So get on it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Whole braised veal shanks

I had the great pleasure of acting as witness to the nuptials of some very dear friends yesterday afternoon, an intimate affair at their home overlooking Casco Bay.

Somebody (I won't say who) decided that it might be swell if I prepared two of the five courses served. One was a pasta (of course), the other these veal shanks.

It's a really simple dish to prepare.

Salt the shanks well on all sides — and I do mean well. This is no time to be shy. Under-salting at this stage will substantially diminish the flavor of the meat.

In a Dutch oven brown the shanks in hot olive oil, then remove and set aside.

Add lots of leeks and plenty of garlic to the oil, lightly brown, and add some white wine. I also used several anchovy fillets, but you don't have to if you don't want to. You can also add carrots and celery if you like.

Place the shanks back into the pot and add enough chicken stock to nearly cover them. Also add plenty of herbs (there's rosemary, thyme, and marjoram here, and I tied them together with string so that they could be removed later on). Cover and place into a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, then lower the heat to 325-350 for another 2 hours.

With a fork check to see that the meat is super tender. Dishes like this are always better the next day and so I'd suggest allowing the whole thing to cool and putting the pot in the fridge overnight.

The next day simply reheat, carve up the shanks, and serve them like so. This was the last course of the afternoon, and it seemed to go over pretty well.

Scott Tyree & Giovani Twigge, 10-5-13

Except how do you compete with one of these jobs, am I right?

Nice job, gents!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Semi-dried cherry tomatoes

I know what you're thinking but you're wrong: This is not a summer recipe, meant for those of us who either grow or can get our paws on garden-fresh cherry tomatoes. All year long I see cherries at the markets, and so this is a condiment that can be made at any time.

All you need to do is preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Put the tomatoes in an oven pan, or even a tray if you prefer, and into the oven they go.

Around six hours later I took this bunch out of the oven.

They were still on the plump side, but had dried plenty enough for my taste. You can certainly allow them to dry longer or shorter if you like; it's really just a matter of personal preference.

After the tomatoes have cooled, put them into a container with a couple cloves of garlic and any herbs that you like (I used rosemary, thyme, oregano and some marjoram, and I also added a little hot pepper). Then fill the container with a good olive oil and you're done. I recommend allowing them to steep in the oil for at least a day or two before using (I add the tomatoes to sandwiches or just eat them with bread by themselves), and they'll keep in the fridge for a while.

Okay, so this is a good recipe for summer, when the local cherries are abundant. But it's October. Do you really want to wait months and months before giving it a try?