Lentil & Orzo Stew

Lentil & Orzo Stew

Serendipity led us to last night’s scrumptious vegetarian dinner. On Friday, my husband sent me a recipe by Yewande Komolafe he found in The New York Times for a lentil and orzo stew with roasted eggplant. Little did he know that, just the day before, I had already chosen the very same dish for a future post.

Given the recent dank and dreary weather, atypical for San Diego, the stew was the perfect entree: earthy lentils, slowly simmered with aromatic vegetables and orzo, brightened by finishing with the juice and zest of lemon, and then topped with meaty chunks of eggplant roasted with warm and citrusy coriander. A few shavings of salty ricotta salata or even some crumbled feta completes the dish.

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Pork Stew Agrodolce

Pork Stew Agrodolce

As we’re officially into winter now and even here in sunny San Diego it’s turned a tad chilly, I was in the mood for a winter stew. Having some cubed pork shoulder in my freezer contributed to my looking for a pork stew recipe. After looking through my cookbooks, I settled on a relatively simple recipe from Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Slow Cooker for a Pork Stew Agrodolce.

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Musing: Winter Cherries

Winter Cherries

Ever since Proust memorialized his madeleines, novelists as well as food writers have been forever writing about memories evoked by the aromas or flavors of culinary delights. Well, I’m about to join the crowd with a simple recollection recently elicited by a plate of winter cherries presented to me on Christmas Eve by my better half.

I’d forgotten that I had told him how on one Christmas Eve in the mid 1960s, after a traditional multi-course Italian fish dinner, my aunt proudly presented a cut-class bowl full of bright red cherries. We were all amazed: cherries in December?

My aunt explained that they were imported from South America and weeks later confided to me that they had been quite expensive. If my memory serves me well, she said that they cost $3.00 a pound. In today’s currency that would be about $27.00. I believe, however, that the joy she took in sharing them with us, which was so apparent on her face as she made the presentation, made her feel they were worth every penny.

And from his facial expression, I think my husband, who knew how special that childhood memory was to me, experienced a similar feeling when he surprised me with the plate of winter cherries after our Christmas vigil supper.

Ah the snows of yesteryear.

Potenza-Style Pork Ragu with Farro

Farro with Pork Ragu

Over the past holiday week, it’s been chilly here in San Diego and the cool weather made me long for a hardy winter dish. Looking through my cookbooks, I came upon a recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy for a pork ragù with farro Potenza style. The combination of pork shoulder simmered low and slow in a spicy tomato sauce and then combined with nutty farro sounded most appealing.

Fortunately, our local grocery store was having a great half-price sale on fresh bone-in pork shoulder roasts, which added even more appeal to the recipe. Even though I only needed two pounds of meat, I picked up a six-pound roast that would allow me to practice my butchering skills and provide me enough meat for a couple of meals.

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Lobster Fra Diavolo

Lobsters Fra Diavolo

Despite growing up in an Italian-American household, I never heard of the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” until much later in my life. For us, Christmas Eve meant one thing: lobsters fra diavolo. They were the focal point of an elaborate dinner that started with appetizers, which included an insalata frutta di mare, a seafood salad with calamari, shrimp, and celery dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Occasionally there was also a plate of white-fish salad. After the cold appetizers, came a platter of baked clams, which concluded the antipasto portion of the meal.

We then went on to the pasta, which was always linguine alle vongole, linguine with clam sauce, always white, which was then followed by the main course: lobsters fra diavolo. Each of us was served an individual lobster. Even as a child, I had my own. Of course, my dad had to help me battle with it to extract its sweet meat napped with my aunt’s spicy tomato sauce. But as a child, it was the lobster’s savory bread stuffing that I enjoyed the most.

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Potato Gnocchi

Potato Gnocchi

During the hectic holiday season, I sometimes find myself way behind schedule and therefore need to rush to get dinner on the table. It’s at times like these that I’m grateful to have recipes like the one I found on Italian wine maven John Fodera’s impressive website, Tuscan Vines, for Gnocchi San Marzano.

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Pollo alla Cacciatora Umbrian Style

Pollo alla Cacciatora

Say “chicken cacciatore” to most people and, more than likely, it will conjure up an image of sautéed chicken pieces simmered in tomato sauce along with vegetables like peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc. Until the other day I was among those people. In fact, I’ve posted several recipes for the dish on this blog.

Yesterday, however, I came across a recipe in Italian Country Cooking by Loukie Werle for an Umbrian-style version of the dish that has neither tomatoes nor peppers but in their place uses olives, capers, and pea-sized cubes of lemon. Its sauce starts with a savory and aromatic soffritto of minced pancetta, onion, rosemary, and garlic and then finishes with white wine, vinegar, capers, lemon and chili flakes.

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Musing: Comfort Food

At the Stove

Recently, I was going through some photos on my computer and came across one of myself. It’s a candid shot snapped in the kitchen by my husband, who, by the way, deserves credit for most of the photos on this blog.

In the picture, I’m just sautéing the aromatics for a braise of lamb shanks, but what struck me about it is the hint of contentment on my face. Was this expression due to the satisfaction I get from cooking or could it be attributed to anticipating the gratification I would get from sharing the finished dish with family and friends?

I’m really not sure, but perhaps that tranquil look explains why dishes like braised lamb shanks are called “comfort food” and may indicate that the comfort derives not only from eating but also from preparing them.

Porchetta-Style Pork Shoulder

Porchetta Style Pork Shoulder

Having moved from New York City to San Diego a little more than a year ago, I’m amazed by the frequent sales my local Ralph’s grocery has on meat: sales like 2 for 1 on chicken, 50% off on shell steak, and the one responsible for this post $1.99/pound on fresh pork shoulder.

When I saw a well cut four-and-a-half-pound shoulder roast for a $9 and change, I couldn’t resist. Although I’ve never made one before, I’ve often read how tasty they are especially when cooked low and slow.

Because my husband had been asking me for a porchetta-style roast and thinking that I could fulfill his request with this bargain pork shoulder, when I got home I started to look through Italian cookbooks for a recipe, but had little success. Perhaps this cut of meat isn’t popular in Italy. I then went online and found several recipes using pork shoulder that were based on this popular Italian street food.

A true porchetta, like those seen in Rome’s Piazza Navona during the holidays, is a gargantuan spectacle. Its made from the full carcass of a 100 pound pig and stuffed with its prepared entrails along with herbs like rosemary and sage, wild fennel, garlic, citrus, salt and pepper. Roasted whole, typically in huge bread ovens, it’s often served cold at street fairs in central Italy, especially in the regions of Umbria and Lazio

Scaled-down home versions of porchetta are typically made with a pork loin rolled into pork belly and seasoned with herbs and citrus. You can find a video of one being made here.

The roast I made yesterday, however, is a much simpler version that only approximates a true porchetta but nonetheless does deliver a lot of its intoxicatingly delicious flavors. I adapted my version from a New York Times recipe as well as one from Food and Wine.

There’s minimal preparation, but with the overnight marinating and more than four hours of cooking, it’s a two-day affair. Indeed, the only difficulty with this dish is waiting patiently for so long while the enticing aromas whet your appetite as the meat roasts.

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Ricotta Gnocchi: A Recipe Gone Wrong

Ricotta Gnocchi

A few days ago while online, I came across a relatively stress-free recipe from Mark Bittman for ricotta gnocchi. Although I was tempted to use it as a subject for a post, the recipe’s gnocchi looked more like huge rounded dumplings than the more typical small pillow-shaped pasta most people associate with gnocchi.

So I looked elsewhere on the web for other ricotta gnocchi recipes and eventually settled on one by Geoffrey Zakarian. The recipe, accompanied by a video of his preparing the dish on a Food Network show, yielded gnocchi that resembled the potato versions I’ve made before.

In the video, the process looked not only effortless but foolproof. Executing the recipe in real time, however, proved to be quite another story. I should have known better than to follow blindly any recipe from the Food Network since, more often than not, the printed recipe doesn’t match the videoed one. Moreover, it’s my belief that the proverbial “magic of television” often shows a finished dish that’s been tweaked behind the scenes and touched up by a food stylist. But this is a subject for a future “musing” here.

My experience last night is chronicled. In retrospect, could’ves, should’ves, and would’ves keep echoing in my brain. I could’ve gone to trusted cookbooks; I should’ve trusted myself and used drained ricotta; I would’ve used less flour. . .

I believe that the photos in this post will show where I went wrong, especially the one of the finished ball of dough. Perhaps “sinkers”  is an apt description of the gnocchi.

Fortunately, I used my own recipe for a pancetta-tomato sauce and had enough remaining to serve two helpings of perfectly al’ dente gemelli.

Ingredients

Ingredients

Kosher salt
2 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Semolina flour, for dusting

Directions
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan, olive oil, eggs and 1 teaspoon salt with a whisk in a large mixing bowl.

Ricotta, Parmigiano, Oil, and Eggs
After whisking

3. Add the all-purpose flour in 3 parts, stirring with a rubber spatula.

Adding the flour

4. Bring the dough together in a ball and cut off one-quarter of it. Dust the work surface with all-purpose flour to prevent sticking

The Dough Ball

5. Roll the cut- off piece of dough into a dowel shape about 5/8 inch in diameter.

Dowel-shaped dough

6. Cut the dowel into 5/8-inch pieces. Dust some parchment paper with semolina flour and place the gnocchi on it to prevent sticking. Repeat with the rest of the dough, quarter by quarter.

Cut Gnocchi

7. Cook the gnocchi in the boiling water for 2 minutes.

The cooked gnocchi

8. Serve tossed with a bit of the Pancetta Tomato Sauce. Alternatively, you can freeze the  uncooked gnocchi for up to 2 weeks.

My save-the-day gemelli alternative:

Gemelli with Pancetta-Tomato Sauce

Wine Pairing: Dolcetto d’Alba