Friday, June 19, 2015

Not your grandpa's red sauce

It was a sucker bet that I couldn't expect to win. My friend Peter had given me a taste of a tomato sauce that his grandfather used to be "famous for." The two main ingredients in the sauce, my friend had informed me, are chicken thighs and mint, neither one a staple in your average red sauce. Peter had boasted about his grandfather's creation on several occasions, speaking of how he both craves and prepares it many times a year for himself and his wife Claudia.

"Let me know what you think, Meathead," he said as I backed away from his driveway, a covered plastic container filled with leftover penne alla grandpa occupying the seat next to me. "If you like it maybe I'll even let you have the recipe."

Peter and I have what you might call an adolescent relationship. He did, after all, deliberately bury a rather large chicken bone inside the container of (overcooked) pasta, presumably so that I might choke on it. And so it was no surprise to either of us when I scoffed at his offer.

"Recipe? I don't need no stinkin' recipe," I grunted. "I'll know how to make your precious little sauce just by tasting it. A hundred bucks says mine'll be even better."

My friend, as they say, is careful with his money. At Peter's insistence the stakes were dropped to a tenth of what I had proposed. Claudia would judge my sauce against her husband's. Not the firmest ground that I have ever stood on when making a wager, but it was the only ground that I could manage.

Below is the version of the sauce that I prepared. It might not be Peter's grandfather's sauce but it is well worth preparing.

As for the wager, it was decided that the transfer of capital was to go not from my friend's pocket to mine but from mine to his. This decision was handed down—without explanation or debate, mind you—by the mother of Peter's children and, presumably, co-owner of however many dollars he has amassed.

Like I said, a sucker bet.

Start with a generous amount of olive oil in your favorite saucepot and add a chopped onion, two chopped celery stalks, four or five garlic cloves and a good dose of hot pepper.

Don't tell Peter but I also tossed in a few anchovy fillets. (He didn't even notice but now that he knows I guarantee that I will never stop hearing about it.)

Once the onion and celery have softened add four large bone-in chicken thighs and simmer. (Both my friend and I are adamant about bone-in meats having greater flavor, but go ahead and use boneless if you insist.)

After two or three minutes turn the thighs over.

After another couple minutes add two 28-ounce cans of tomatoes, a big handful of fresh mint leaves (at least twice as many as shown here), and salt and pepper to taste. Set the flame to a low heat and simmer slowly for at least two hours, then remove the fully cooked chicken thighs and allow to cool just enough so that you can handle them with your fingers.

Once the thighs have cooled pull away all the meat and discard the bones and skin.

Add the meat back into the sauce.

Then—and this is something I insist makes the sauce much brighter and more flavorful than my friend's version—add another good handful of fresh mint leaves and simmer for two or three more minutes.

Turn off the heat, stir in around three-quarters of a cup of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve over your favorite pasta.

You can bet on this one. Trust me.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Clams & chorizo

These clams were a big hit the other night. They were fresh and tender and super sweet, pretty much the perfect appetizer for four people to share.

If you're like me, though, a dish like this is really about only one thing: dunking bread in the broth. So make certain to have plenty of the crusty stuff on hand should you decide to give this a go.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Saute a large onion, 6 garlic cloves, two celery stalks and some hot pepper in olive oil until softened. I used a very large black iron pan here, but any pan that's oven-safe will do.

Add around a quarter pound of diced chorizo. I used cooked Spanish chorizo here.

Add some fresh herbs (thyme and marjoram here), freshly ground black pepper and a quart of stock. I used some of the homemade shrimp stock I had in the freezer but any light stock will be fine. Turn the heat up to high.

Let the stock reduce by around half.

While the stock is reducing clean your clams thoroughly to get rid of any sand or grit. I used three dozen medium-sized clams here.

Add the clams to the pan and place into the oven uncovered. I used the outdoor wood oven this time, as it was fired up to cook several other things that evening.

As soon as all the clams have opened, which shouldn't take more than a few minutes, you're ready to go. Either set the hot pan out where people can scoop out their clams or go the safer route and transfer to a large serving bowl.

Either way the clams will wind up in a few individual bowls like this one. We were four people on this night and so we each got eight clams as an appetizer.

Oh yeah, there wasn't any bread leftover either.