Musing: An Epic Failure

What should have been a great dish

After numerous requests from my husband for stuffed cabbage, I set out to make the dish. The recipe is from a now cancelled series on the Cooking Channel that featured Laura Calder, a Canadian chef who focused on French cuisine. In fact, I had made this dish with some success about five years ago; however, last night’s attempt was an epic failure.

Some of the responsibility for my culinary mega flop is mine. Rather than buying the savoy cabbage called for by the recipe, I mistakenly purchased a Napa, or Chinese, cabbage since it was marked “Savoy” on the shelf.

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Eggs in Purgatory

Eggs in Purgatory

Failing to go shopping on Sunday left us with limited choices for supper. Sure, we had plenty of pasta and cheese on hand, but I had served pasta the night before. There were also a few dishes we had in the freezer, but defrosting would take too long. A search through the fridge yielded a fresh supply of eggs that eventually led me to prepare a long-time favorite: Uova in Purgatorio, or Eggs in Purgatory.

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Braised Pork “Black Rooster”

Braised Pork “Black Rooster”

Serendipity triggered this post. A few weeks ago, a loyal reader in a comment recommended Mario Batali’s 2005 cookbook, Molto Italiano, averring it to be his best ever. I ordered a used copy of it online, and on the day it arrived in the mail, my supermarket had a half-price sale on pork that made a 4.3 perfectly butchered shoulder roast irresistible. This confluence of events ultimately led me to a recipe in Batali’s book for “Braised Pork Black Rooster.” The barnyard moniker derives from the Gallo Nero, Italian for “black rooster,” the emblem of the consortium for Chianti Classico, the wine called for in the recipe. Given my predilection for Chianti, I simply had to make this dish.

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Musing: The Frittata

My flipped frittata

A frittata, an Italian omelet,  was one of my family’s go-to dishes for Friday suppers or Lenten meals, when as devout Catholics, we needed to abstain from meat. I remember how my aunt hovered over the frying pan in which she had just sauteed the fritatta’s filling, which ranged from onions and peppers to left-over spaghetti to potatoes, to even a hunk of fresh ricotta. Using a wooden spoon, she would gently push the setting eggs towards the center of the pan, allowing the uncooked portion to take their place.

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Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe & Sausage

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe & Sausage

Perhaps the most classic pasta from Puglia, orecchiette, Italian for “little ears,” provide the perfect shape for one of the region’s most popular dishes, Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage. Italian food authority Michelle Scicolone explains why in her Williams Sonoma cookbook, Essentials of Italian: “As you toss, both ingredients [broccoli rabe and sausage] become trapped in the hollows of the ear-shaped pasta, making every bite wonderfully flavorful.”

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Oven-Roasted Chicken Cacciatora

Oven-Roasted Chicken Cacciatora

You can find at least half a dozen recipes for chicken cacciatora or cacciatore on this blog; it’s truly one of my go-to comfort dishes. Unfortunately, as with most fricassee dishes, the required step of browning the chicken wreaks havoc on the stove top. However, my recent experiments with roasted chicken thighs prepared from one of Sam Sifton’s “You Don’t Need a Recipe” columns on the New York Times “Cooking” website led me to develop a version of cacciatora that eliminates the mess and has plenty of flavor. Moreover, because it doesn’t require  separately cooking the vegetables, it takes less time. Read more

Braised Lamb Shanks with Leeks and Grapes

I know that braised meat dishes serve typically as cold-weather fare, but I had some lamb shanks in the freezer that were reaching their use-by date. Moreover, since I usually prepare lamb for Easter dinner, I thought that Mario Batali’s recipe for “Braised Lamb Shanks with Leeks and Grapes” from his book Molto Batali was a good choice.

What I found interesting about the recipe was the absence of any herbs. So many lamb recipes use at least one, most often rosemary, but this had none. Even the seasoning was minimal: just salt and pepper. In addition, I was intrigued by the addition of red grapes at the end of cooking, which I thought would serve the same role as a mint sauce or red-currant jelly does with a lamb roast. I should perhaps note that until my husband mistook a garlic clove for a grape, I hadn’t realized that I had failed to stir in the grapes at the end of cooking. Consequently, I stirred them into the sauce after serving and then placed a few on each plate.

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Hasselback Kielbasa

Hasselback Kielbasa

Every so often, our local grocery store gives away something for free; sometimes it’s a protein bar; other times, a can of soup. The most recent giveaway was a kielbasa, which coincided serendipitously with the publication of a recipe for Hasselback Kielbasa on the New York Times “Cooking” website.

The site’s stunning photo of the dish, along with the above confluence of events, pulled me from my typical traditional stance in the kitchen to give this recipe a try. With so few ingredients involved, most of them, including the kielbasa, already on hand, there wasn’t too much at risk.

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Polpettone di Vitello al Sedano or Veal Loaf with Celery

Polpettone di Vitello al Sedano

For the last month, our schedule has been impacted by my husband’s undergoing a 17.5-hour surgery for an hiatal hernia, hence the irregular postings to my blog as well as commenting on others. The surgery has also affected our daily menus with temporary restrictions on what my better half can safely consume.

So far, he’s been home for only a couple of days and, surprisingly, we’ve been able to have enjoyable dinners both nights. On his first night home we had skin-on bone-in chicken thighs over roasted with onions and red bell peppers. Last night, following the surgeon’s suggestion, I prepared a new recipe for a meat loaf from Hazan’s Marcella’s Italian Kitchen: Polpettone di Vitello al Sedano, or Veal Loaf with Celery. (It’s amazing how almost everything sounds better in Italian. Polpettone, by the way, is Italian for “big meatball.”)

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Lemon Sole Oreganata

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Lemon Sole Oreganata

After a rather heavy rib dinner on Friday night, we both thought dining “light” was a must for Saturday’s supper. For us, lighter fare typically means fish, and one of the lightest I know how to prepare is sole. So after a day of watching classic films on TCM, I headed off to the fish market, where I found some sparkling white, wild lemon sole.

Although I am trying to expand my limited seafood repertoire, sole for me usually equates with sole oreganata, one of the mainstays of Friday night meals and Lenten suppers from my Italian-American boyhood. Boyhood dining memories also include my father’s taking us to one of the most famous Italian-American restaurants in New York City, Patsy’s. In fact, my dad was the attorney to Patsy Scognamillo, the restaurant’s founder. This is one of the reasons I was gifted not long ago with a copy of Patsy’s Cookbook: Classic Italian Recipes from a New York City Landmark Restaurant written by the founder’s grandson, Sal.

As I thought, the book had, along with many celebrity tales, an appealing recipe for fillet of sole arreganata and I opted to pretty much follow that for cooking the fish.  However, out of deference to my Sicilian mother and Neapolitan aunt, I chose to make their breadcrumb topping.

Topping
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 Tbs Italian parsley, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

In a bowl, stir all the dry ingredients and then add the olive oil a tablespoon at a time, stirring with a fork until the breadcrumbs are moistened. You may use a little more or less olive oil depending on the breadcrumbs. The mixture should have just enough oil to clump together lightly when pinched with your fingers and to allow the breadcrumbs to brown and not burn when under the broiler.

Fish
1 1/2 pounds lemon sole (2 large fillets)
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Bread crumb topping
Lemon wedges for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Place the fish fillets in a baking dish large enough to hold the fish in a single layer and dot with the butter.
3. Combine the lemon juice and wine in a small bowl and spoon over the fish. The juice should be just enough to come up to the sides of the fish but not cover it. Season with the paprika.
4. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the fish flakes when tested with a fork.
5. Remove the fish and set the oven to broil.
6. Sprinkle the topping on the fillets and broil until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Serve with white rice sauced with the juices from the fish and with lemon wedges as garnish. Serves 2 as a main course.

Wine Pairing: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Sauvignon Blanc