Musing: When a Recipe Doesn’t Seem Right

Sometimes recipes just don’t work out the way you hoped. Take, for example, my recent version of a chicken fricassee with lemon juice: Pan-roasted-chicken-with-lemon-juice.

Although it quite tasty, its appearance left a lot to be desired.

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Lemon Juice

Other times, they work out even better than you had expected. As a case in point, take this version of almost the same dish by the same author, Marcella Hazan, that I prepared over four years ago: Chicken-fricassee-with-lemon-and-rosemary.

Not only was it better in appearance, but the flavor was richer and more concentrated.

From this recent experience, I’ve realized that you have to trust your instincts when a recipe just doesn’t seem right and tweak it the way you think it needs to be changed–even if it’s from a highly respected author. Remember, it’s your kitchen.

Abruzzese Lamb Stew

Abruzzese Lamb Stew

Having now lived in San Diego for just over a year, I’ve come to accept as a given that we really don’t have the typical four seasons here. Sure there are some changes as the year goes by, but the variations in weather are never as dramatic as in New York. Recently, when our local weather reporter announced that fall had arrived, she claimed there was a “chill in the air.” “Chill!” I shouted back at the television, “It’s 69 degrees and sunny.”

Despite Mother Nature’s lack of cooperation here, I’m determined to keep seasonality in my kitchen throughout the year by cooking the same seasonal dishes here that I did in New York.

Such was the case last night, when I chose to prepare an Abruzzese lamb stew from a recipe I found in the “Fall” section of Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca’s The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. (The book is now available in a Kindle version on Amazon.)

Like many authentic Italian recipes, it uses only a few ingredients and requires minimal preparation. In fact, the only work I had to do was to slice some onion, chop some parsley, and toss it into a heavy-bottomed casserole together with a little olive oil, a few sage leaves, and a couple of pinches of salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir everything together, cover, and set over low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. That was it.

I must admit, however, that the recipe caused me some concern. I read it several times. Where. I thought, was the cooking liquid? No wine? No stock? Not even water? No browning of the meat? The authors did say it was “close to effortless,” so I took them at their word. I decided that if things didn’t look right after the first 30 minutes of cooking, I’d add some wine to the pot.

But after the first half hour of cooking, I was happy to find that the lamb had started to exude what looked like an adequate amount of its juices and the thinly sliced onions had softened. To maintain a moist cooking environment, I limited my stirring to every 30 minutes. Each time I uncovered the pot, everything looked right; the meat was browner, the juices a little darker and more concentrated, and the aroma. . . ah . .We couldn’t wait to sit down to dinner.

I followed the recipe pretty closely; however, because I was unable to get bone-in stew meat or a peperoncino rosso, I settled for boneless lamb chunks and substituted crushed red pepper flakes. Moreover, since I was cooking only for two, I reduced the amount of meat from 3 pounds to 2; also given the size of my casserole, I added an extra tablespoon of oil. I also thought that the dish could use a little more salt than the recipe called for, but that’s always a matter of individual taste. Finally, I opted for polenta to capture the dish’s sauce rather than toasted bread.

Ultimately, this had to be one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever made. With so few ingredients, the flavors of the lamb were robust and were nicely complemented by the sweetness of the onion and the heat of the red pepper. The rich sauce was deeply flavored and went perfectly with a simple polenta.

Abruzzese Lamb Stew (Adapted from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen by Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca.)

Ingredients

Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds boneless lamb stew meat (do not dry the meat; the stew needs its moisture.)
1 cup thinly sliced onion
4 large fresh sage leaves
3 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt

Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed casserole. Stir to coat the meat and the onions with the oil and evenly distribute the ingredients.

The stirred ingredients

Set over low heat and cook for 2 hours, stirring about every 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes
After 1 hour
After 90 minutes
After 2 hours

When the lamb is tender, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on warmed plates or a platter. Optionally, skim off any excess fat from the sauce and pour it over the lamb. Serve with polenta or toasted country bread.

Wine Pairing: Sangiovese, or if like me you prefer well done lamb with a dry white, opt for an Abruzzese Pecorino or a Sauvignon Blanc.

Pan Roasted Chicken with Lemon Juice

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Lemon Juice

Sometimes a recipe doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped, and I guess that’s OK—especially if the final dish is, despite its faults, delicious.

Such was the case last night when I prepared a recipe from Marcella Hazan’s second cookbook More Classic Italian Cooking. This is the same volume that introduced us to one of her most famous recipes, Pollo al Limone, Roast Chicken with Lemon, which uses only two ingredients, a young chicken and two lemons, along with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to yields one of the best roast chickens I’ve ever made.

Perhaps because of my success with this dish, I chose the recipe for today’s post: Pollo in Tegame al Limone, Pan Roasted Chicken with Lemon Juice. It’s a little more involved than her roast chicken recipe and uses a few more ingredients. But what immediately caught my eye and led me to make it was that it called for browning the chicken without using any fat. After being washed under cold running water but not dried, the chicken pieces are placed in a skillet without any oil to brown. “The moisture clinging to the washed chicken pieces and their own fat,” says Marcella, “will suffice.” I simply had to see if this would work.

She does warn you to watch the chicken pieces and “turn them before they stick.” Yet even though I followed these directions and hovered over the pan like a mother hen, my chicken only attained just a tinge of brown. And maybe this is what was called for, since even if the chicken had browned normally, the skin would never have been crisp as the dish is cooked covered for 40 to 45 minutes. In fact, the recipe does specifically call for “lightly browning” the chicken.

Moreover, both in appearance and in flavor, this dish reminded me of one of my favorite dishes from the Roman trattoria Da Gino, coniglio al vino bianco, rabbit in white wine. The meat was wonderfully moist, tender, and flavorsome. But alas the skin was disappointingly slimy or rubbery. Perhaps I should have served the chicken without the skin.

Eventually I’ll make this dish again, but with a few tweaks, the first of which will be drying the chicken and browning it with some fat.

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Lemon Juice

Ingredients

2 ½ to 3 pound chicken (I used thighs.)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 sprig rosemary
3 whole garlic cloves peeled
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 or 6 thin julienne strips of lemon peel

Procedure

1- Cut up the chicken into 6 or 8 pieces, and wash these under cold running water. Do not dry them.

Washed Chicken

Put the chicken pieces skin side down in a sauté pan in which they will fit without overlapping.

Chicken skin-side down

Turn the heat on to medium high, drying and lightly browning the chicken on all sides. No cooking fat is required at this point. The moisture clinging to the moist chicken pieces and their own fat will suffice. You must watch them, however, and turn them before they stick to the pan.

Chicken lightly browned

 

2-When this chicken is lightly browned on all sides, add the oil, butter, rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning the chicken pieces over once or twice.

Adding rosemary, garlic, etc.

3-Add the wine, turn the heat up a bit, and let the wine bubble for half a minute or so. Then turn the heat down to medium low, and cover the pan.

Adding wine

Cook until the chicken is tender, testing one of the thighs with a fork. It should take about 40 to 45 minutes.

4-Turn off the heat, and transfer just the chicken pieces to a warm serving platter.

5-Tip the pan, and with a spoon remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Add the lemon juice and lemon peel, turn the heat on to medium low, and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping loose any cooking juices that have stuck to the pan.

Lemon juice & peel
The finished sauce

Pour this light sauce over the chicken, and serve at once.

Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Frascati

Musing: A Broken Dressing

Salad Tossed with Broken Dressing

My go-to salad dressing is what’s sometimes called in culinary circles a “broken dressing,” that is, a dressing that is not totally emulsified as is, for example, a classic vinaigrette. Growing up in an Italian-American household, we had a salad at the end of every meal, typically iceberg but occasion it was mixed with arugula, frisee, or even escarole. But the dressing was always the same: plenty of vinegar (either red-wine or cider), a splash of oil, a little dry mustard, a pressed garlic clove, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar.

When I started to cook for myself in the early 70s, influenced by the likes of Claiborne, Beard, and Child, I started to make the classic vinaigrette that used far more olive oil and considerably less vinegar than my family’s dressing and replaced the dry mustard with Dijon. I mastered it and motivated by compliments always used it at dinner parties. Yet when I dined alone, I returned to my familial broken dressing, but kept the change in mustard.

The other night, however, at a small dinner party, in a rush to get a salad onto the table, I used this dressing on a salad of hearts of romaine. Our guests remarked that they found the dressing light and refreshing. Those comments made me think that maybe my family’s retro dressing is ready for a revival at future get togethers at home.

Here’s my recipe; the measurements are approximate as I only make this dressing by eye.

1/3 cup red-wine vinegar, or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, grated
1/4 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

One final note. Owing to the amount of vinegar, only dress the salad immediately before serving to avoid wilting the greens.

 

Spicy Beef Meatballs with Bell Peppers

Spicy Beef Meatballs

Although I attribute my passion for cooking to my Neapolitan aunt, who I used to observe closely whenever she prepared, solely from memory, one of the multitude of dishes in her repertoire, it was Marcella Hazan who really taught me how to cook classic Italian dishes.

I remember how her first book, published in 1976, inspired me to try so many new dishes like baked semolina gnocchi, vitello tonnato, pork loin braised in milk, her unique ragu Bolognese, etc. etc. Over the years, I’ve collected almost all of her books and often refer to them either for new recipes or for cooking wisdom. It is the latter of these, sage advice, that makes up the greater part of her last book, Marcella Says, published almost 30 years after her first.

From that final collection, comes the recipe for today’s post, Polpettine di Manzo con i Peperoni, Spicy Beef Meatballs with Bell Peppers. These are nothing like the spicy meatballs one may associate with the legendary Alka Seltzer commercial or with the Italian-American versions that are part of many a Sunday sauce. Rather, they are small and delicate bundles of meat, gently mixed with parsley, chopped onion, and jalapeño pepper, and bound with egg and a white-bread panade, made from torn white bread soaked in milk.

Another difference is that there’s no tomato sauce. After frying, the meatballs are simmered along with a load of bell peppers, peeled and sliced. How long the peppers are cooked is up to you. If you like your peppers with some body, you can opt to cook them for as little as ten minutes. Or if, like me, you prefer a more tasty, succulent sauce, you can continue the simmer for about 30 minutes, or when the peppers just begin to dissolve.

My only problem with this recipe was with the size of the meatballs. The recipe says they should be the size of a very small egg, which I interpreted to be about 1 inch in diameter and made 16 meatballs. However, when I reread the recipe, I noticed that the yield should have been 30 to 35 balls.(I guess Marcella may have had a different egg in mind.) Nevertheless, I thought my size choice made for the perfect bite especially when accompanied by a piece of the soft red pepper. (Should you choose to make smaller meatballs, you may want to chop the onions, pepper, and parsley a little finer than I did.)

One final note. I was surprised by the inclusion of a jalapeño and almost substituted some crushed red-pepper flakes. But Hazan made a good case for using it since in her words it adds a “fine fragrance and mellow style of spiciness.”

Ingredients

Ingredients

4 meaty red bell peppers
2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
½ cup chopped onion
Chopped fresh jalapeño pepper, 2 to 3 tablespoons, or to taste
⅔ cup torn fresh breadcrumb—the soft crustless part of a slice of bread
⅔ cup whole milk
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 egg
Fine sea salt
1 ½ cups fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs, spread on a plate or a sheet of wax paper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
A warm serving platter

Yield: 30 to 35 meatballs. serving 4 persons

Procedure

1  – Cut the bell pepper lengthwise along the creases, remove the stem, seeds, and pithy core, and skin them with a swivel-blade vegetable peeler. Cut the pepper into strips about 1/2 inch wide.

Peeling the peppers
Peppers sliced

2  – Put the parsley, onion, and jalapeño pepper in a bowl and mix together well.

Parsley, onion, jalapeno

3  – In a small bowl soak the fresh bread crumb in the milk.

Soaking the bread

As soon as the bread is saturated with the milk, squeeze it out gently in your hand and add it to the onion mixture, working it until combined.

Adding bread to onion mixture

4  – Add the ground chuck, egg, and salt, kneading the mixture very gently with your hands.

Gently kneaded meat

5  – Pull off a piece of the meatball mixture about the size of a very small egg and shape it in your hands into a ball, being careful not to squeeze it too hard.

Shaped meatballs

6  – Roll the meatball in the bread crumbs. Pull off another piece of the meat mixture and repeat the procedure until you have used all of it and the balls have been rolled in bread crumbs.

Breading meatballs
The breaded lot

7  – Pour the oil into a 12-inch skillet and turn the heat on to high. When the oil is hot, slip in the meatballs. Brown them to a dark color on one side, then turn them to do the other side. Do not turn them more than once. If the meatballs do not fit into the pan in a single uncrowded layer, do a batch at a time. When you have browned them all, put the meatballs into the pan before continuing. (I used a little more oil than called for in the recipe, but removed it after the meatballs were browned.)

Browning the meatballs

8  – Add the peppers with a little bit of salt, turn the contents of the pan over using a wooden spoon and a light touch, lower the heat, and cover the pan.

Adding the peppers

You have a choice of how long to continue cooking. If you want the peppers to star—that is, if you would like them to maintain enough of their shape to show on the plate—cook them just until a fork slips easily into them, about 10 minutes. If you think that you may enjoy them more as a sauce, and a very tasty sauce it would be, just continue to cook them until they begin to dissolve. When the peppers are done to taste, transfer the contents of the pan to a warm platter and serve at once.

The cooked meatballs

Wine Pairing: Barbera d’Alba

Pasta with Sausage & Radicchio

Penne with Sausage & Radicchio

Perhaps my favorite season in New York City was fall. It always seemed that the city somehow sprung back to life from a lazy hot and humid summer slumber. The atmosphere grew more vibrant as leaves changed color and cooler temps set in. The fall harvest seemed to energize the Union Square Farmers Market.

Alas, we don’t have as dramatic a seasonal change here in San Diego, “where the climate must be perfect all the year.” So to compensate for this, I cook the fall dishes I used to make back in the city.

One of these is Mario Batali’s “Mezzi Rigatoni with Sausage and Radicchio.” Made with sausage, radicchio, fennel, red onion, red wine and tomato sauce, its colors intimate fall foliage. On the palate, it delivers a kaleidoscope of flavors: sweet from the fennel, bitter from the radicchio, savory from the sausage, all balanced with a simple tomato sauce. (I use Marcella Hazan’s sauce made with five tablespoons of butter, an onion split in half, and Italian plum tomatoes with their juices.)

Batali’s recipe calls for mezzi rigatoni, and should you choose to make this dish, I strongly suggest using this pasta shape; it has the perfect size and weight for this rich sauce. Unfortunately, I had run out of them and substituted penne rigate, which were OK, but definitely not as good as the recommended rigatoni. Lack of availability also forced me to substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano for the recipe’s Asiago.

Batali’s recipe comes from his 2011 Simple Family Meals. Since I was cooking only for two, I pretty much halved the recipe’s amounts. However, you can find the original recipe, which serves 6 as a main course, here.

One final note: take your time with Step 10 of the recipe and so that the pasta is well coated with the sauce.

Ingredients

Ingredients

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled
½ tablespoon fennel seeds
½ tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
½ red onion, chopping into ¼-inch dice
½ fennel bulb, ribs and fronds discarded, bulb finely chopping
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 head radicchio, cored and finely chopped
½ cup dry red wine, such as Morellino di Scansano
1 cups basic tomato sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ pound mezzi rigatoni pasta
Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese, for serving

Chopped, sliced, crumbled

Directions:

1. In a heavy-bottomed 12-inch sauté pan, cook the sausage over high heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes.

Browned Sausage

2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate.

3. Add the fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, onions, fennel, garlic, and radicchio to the pan and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are well browned, about 10 minutes.

Cooking vegetables

4. Return the sausage to the pan, add the wine and the tomato sauce, and bring to a boil.

Adding wine
Adding tomatoes

5. Lower the heat and simmer until the radicchio is very tender and the sauce as thickened, about 10 minutes.

Thickened Sauce

6. Season well with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.

7. Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.

8. Drop the mezzi rigatoni into the water and cook for 1 minute less than the package instructions indicate. Just before the pasta is done, carefully ladle ½ of the cooking water into the sausage mixture.

Adding pasta water

9. Drain the pasta in a colander and add it to the sausage mixture.

10. Toss over medium heat for about 30 seconds, until the pasta is nicely coated.

Tossed Pasta

11. Pour into a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately, with a bowl of grated Asiago on the side.

Wine Pairing: Morellino di Scansano, Sangiovese

Musing: An Anniversary. . .with Salsa Verde

Tonight we celebrated our one-year anniversary of moving to San Diego from New York City. We had originally planned to dine out for the occasion, but given all the social and political turmoil, we lost our appetites. We’re saddened by what’s going on, but nevertheless we wanted to mark the occasion and, at least for the moment, leave political furor behind.

Eventually, we opted for a quiet celebration at home and chose to make a recent recipe from the New York Times for a hanger steak with a salsa verde that touted the wonderful flavor that could be obtained from a value cut of beef with a salsa verde made from kale, scallions, a modicum of grated garlic, salt and olive oil.

Alas, I could not find the recommended hanger steak or any other of its value-priced alternatives at my local market. But mirabile dictu, choice rib-eye steaks were on sale at a price even cheaper than any of the recommend value cuts.

As has happened before, I did not think the this evening’s meal was going to be subject of a post so we took no photos of the prep or even of the finished dish. But as we completed dinner and reflected on how this leafy-greens salsa enhanced the steaks, my husband snapped a photo of me smiling over the remains of the meal.

Celebration!

The sauce requires a minimum of preparation: Cut 4 scallions into 2-inch pieces; set aside. Finely chop 2 or 3 additional scallions and add to a medium bowl with 2 1/2 cups of finely chopped kale, finely grated garlic clove and 1/3 cup of good olive oil; season with salt and pepper.

When the steaks are almost done, spread the sauce on plates. (The kale will have softened some.) When the steaks are done, place them over the salsa and let them rest, during which time the juices from the steak will marry with the salsa. While the steaks rest, lightly char and season the set aside scallion slices the meat’s remaining fat. Top the steaks with the charred scallions and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Here’s a link to the recipe online that includes directions for cooking the meat.

Skillet Chicken aka. Chicken Pizza

Skillet Chicken

My family was pretty traditional when it came to Italian cooking. Both my mother and my aunt prepared recipes passed down to them by their mothers and took pride in preserving their traditions.

Perhaps because of this adherence to the past, I never had had the ever popular Italian-American Chicken Parm until I was in high school. I remember my first time with it. My friends raved about the dish so much that I simply had to try it. I thought it would be similar to the only other “parm” I knew, namely my aunt’s eggplant parmigiana, with perfectly fried slices of eggplant baked in layers with a light tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano.

However, when my order of chicken parm appeared, my disappointment with the dish hit me before I even tasted it. The sight and smell of an overly fried and similarly over breaded skinless chicken cutlet drowning in a thick, sweetened tomato sauce and topped with a rubbery piece of “mozz” were, to put it mildly, less than appealing. The taste was not much better. Nevertheless, to fit in with the crowd, I ate most of it and said “Wow, the best chicken parm I ever had.” It was also my last.

Back to the present. Intrigued by a tempting picture of what was called “Chicken Pizza” in a NY Times “What to Cook Now” newsletter, I clicked my way to the recipe by Melissa Clark. My intrigue lessened, however, when I read in her introduction that the dish was “reminiscent of Chicken Parmesan.” Yuck! But that picture was so still tempting.

Well last night, I finally made the dish and am happy to report it was a huge success, or as my better half proclaimed “a keeper!” The sauce had layers of flavor from the anchovies and pancetta; the bocconcini, perfectly melted, complemented the sauce; and the chicken thighs were moist and juicy. A far cry from that first chicken parm.

I followed the recipe pretty closely, only adding one extra anchovy, upping the amount of olive oil to 2 tablespoons, and using chopped rather than whole imported Italian tomatoes. I also chose to deglaze the pan with a little white wine after browning the chicken and frying the garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes.

Skillet Chicken With Tomatoes, Pancetta and Mozzarella
Ingredients

Ingredients

3 ½ pounds bone-in chicken pieces (or use a 31/2 pound chicken cut into 8 pieces)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (I used 2 tablespoons.)
5 ounces pancetta, diced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 anchovy fillets (I used 3 anchovies.)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1½ ounces dry white wine for deglazing (My addition to the recipe.)
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes (I used chopped imported Italian tomatoes.)
1 large basil sprig, plus more chopped basil for serving
8 ounces bocconcini, halved (or use mozzarella cut into 3/4-inch pieces)

Preparation

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.
In a large oven-proof skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until browned.

Browning the pancetta

Use a slotted spoon to transfer pancetta to a paper-towel-lined plate.

The browned pancetta

Add chicken to skillet. Sear, turning only occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. (My chicken took almost 20 minutes to brown.) Transfer to a large plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil.

The browned chicken

Add garlic, anchovy and red pepper flakes to skillet; fry 1 minute.

Frying garlic, anchovies, and red pepper

 

I chose here to deglaze the pan with wine.

Deglazing

Stir in tomatoes and basil. Cook, breaking up tomatoes with a spatula, until sauce thickens somewhat, about 10 minutes.

Cooking the sauce

Return chicken to skillet. (Turn the pieces in the sauce to coat the chicken. My addition,)

Adding the chicken

Transfer skillet to oven and cook, uncovered, until chicken is no longer pink, about 30 minutes.

The chicken, baked

Scatter bocconcini or mozzarella pieces over skillet.

Adding the mozzarella

Adjust oven temperature to broil. Return skillet to oven and broil until cheese is melted and bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes (watch carefully to see that it does not burn). Garnish with pancetta and chopped basil before serving.

The finished dish

Wine Pairing: Dry Lambrusco

Musing: Oven Braising

IMG_8982sm
Oven-Braised Pot Roast

Yesterday, inspired by the photograph on the September cover of Cooking Light magazine, I prepared an Oven-Braised Pot Roast. The recipe was part of the magazine’s “Guide to Fall,” a season we really don’t have here in San Diego, but the photo made the dish so enticing, I simply had to make it.

The recipe was relatively straightforward: brown the meat well, briefly saute some pearl onions, garlic, and tomato paste, deglaze the pot with red wine, add stock followed by carrots, potatoes, and rosemary, cover, and cook at 325ºF for about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Over that low-and-slow cook-time, however, the braise filled our apartment with a mellow savory aroma that I haven’t experienced in quite some time.

It then struck me that I haven’t done an oven braise for at least a year or so; I’ve come to rely, perhaps too heavily, on my slow cooker or pressure cooker for post roasts and stews and neither one, especially the latter, makes for such an aromatic experience.

In addition to the aroma, the oven braising also produced a roast with far better texture and deeper flavor than either of the above appliances.

Now all I have to do is wait for cooler temperatures here in SD, or more likely adjust the AC, to start enjoying more of these fall/winter oven-braised dishes.

Spare Ribs with Caramelized Onions

Pork Ribs with Caramelized Onions

Mention “spare ribs” and probably the last type of cuisine with which you’d associate them would be Italian. However if, like me, you’re of Italian-American heritage, one of the first associations may be with a long cooked Sunday pasta sauce together with meatballs and/or sausage. In fact, I’ve posted a recipe for my Neapolitan aunt’s version of them on this blog.

When I recently picked up some baby back ribs on sale at the market, my thoughts went to a recipe for them from way back by Marcella Hazan. Having lost many of my cookbooks to Super Storm Sandy, I did an internet search and was able to find the specific recipe I had been thinking of. It came from one of her later books in 2004 Marcella Says… and was adapted for The Times by Amanda Hesser. (Note: The recipe in this link is part of a review of Marcella’s book and includes an interesting profile of the author.)

Like many of Marcella’s recipes, it uses a modicum of ingredients, yet yields deep intense flavors that celebrate what Italians call “la prima materia,” the fundamental ingredients. After browning, the ribs are simmered with an abundance of thinly sliced onions and a generous dose of crushed red-pepper flakes for around three hours. During this time, onions caramelize and the ribs reach the perfect fall-off-the-bone texture. The spice of the red pepper serves as the perfect foil for the sweetness of the onions.

I served the ribs garnished with fresh sage along with a side of smooth polenta and a Chianti Classico.

Two points about this recipe I should mention: (1) Don’t skimp on the chili pepper. Although a 3/4 tablespoon may sound like a lot, it’s really necessary to balance the sweetness of the onions. (2) Keep in mind that this recipe requires about 3 1/2 hours. I somehow overlooked this requirement, and we wound up having a very late-night supper.

Spare Ribs With Caramelized Onions

Ingredients

Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 pounds baby-back ribs, split into pairs
½ cup dry white wine
2 very large onions, sliced very thin, about 6 cups
Fine sea salt
½ to 1 chopped chili pepper or 3/4 tablespoon dried red chili pepper

Preparation
1. Split the ribs into pairs.

Split Ribs

2. Pour the olive oil into a 12-inch sauté pan, turn the heat to high, and when the oil is hot, slip in the meat. Turn the ribs two or three times to brown them well. If the pan is crowded, do a batch at at time, then return them all to the pan.

Browning Ribs

3. Pour in the wine and turn the ribs once or twice while the wine bubbles completely away.

Reducing the Wine

4. Add the sliced onions, salt and chili pepper, cover the pan and turn the heat down to low.

Adding Onions & Chili

5. Cook for 2 to 3 hours, turning the ribs occasionally, until the meaty part of the ribs feels very tender and the onions have cooked down to a creamy consistency.

After about an hour

 

The Finished Ribs

Wine Pairing: Chianti Classico, Alsatian Pinot Gris