Beef Short Ribs with Red Wine and Mustard

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“Simply the best short ribs we’ve ever had” was all we could say after finishing these succulent and flavorful braised ribs. Although not typical summer fare, the short ribs looked irresistible when I saw them at the market and I thought we both could use a little comfort food.

For me, braising is the best way to cook this cut of meat, and the most convenient method is slow cooking. And for slow cooking, I usually turn to one of Michele Scicolone’s slow-cooker cookbooks. For last night’s supper, I selected her recipe “Beef Short Ribs with Mustard and Red Wine” from The Mediterranean Slow Cooker.

After browning the trimmed bone-in ribs well on all sides in olive oil, I removed them from the pot and discarded all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. I placed the ribs in the slow cooker and seasoned them generously with salt and pepper.

In the remaining fat, I quickly sautéed some chopped shallots and finely minced garlic followed by a generous amount of concentrated tomato paste. I decided to toast the paste for about a minute, which I believe gave the dish a deeper tomato flavor.

I deglazed the pan with some Côtes du Rhone along with several tablespoons of whole grain mustard. After bringing the contents of the pan to a simmer, I poured them over the ribs, tossed in a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and cooked the ribs on low for 8 hours. The recipe does call for skimming the fat from the sauce after removing the ribs from the pot. But, as you may have noticed in the first photo, I did a cursory job of this as we were so hungry.

Just after cooking
Just after cooking

I must admit that browning the ribs can make an oily mess on the stove, but it makes a big difference in the finished dish. The whole grain mustard adds a luscious complexity to the sauce.

A Google search will yield other versions of this dish by chefs like Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. Scicolone’s recipe, however, delivers both a richness and a purity of flavor with a minimum of work.

Does this say how good they were?
Does this say how good they were?

I must admit that waiting for the ribs, as their aroma permeated the apartment, was torture, but the wait was worth it. Next time, I’ll just be sure to schedule my slow cooking for when I’m not at home for most of the day.

Wine Pairing: Côtes du Rhone, Zinfandel

Pasta Ceci

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Having survived the Great Depression, my Sicilian mother often spoke of those days when her family didn’t have much and had to make the most of what they could afford. Pasta Ceci, a simple mix of pasta and chick peas, was one of those dishes from my mother’s past that she continued to make frequently, even after her fortune improved.

Because it was so inexpensive and easy to prepare, I too made it many times when I was in grad school. I still remember when I first called my mother up for the recipe and how surprised and happy she was to share it with me. Although I have tried and enjoyed other recipes for this dish, it’s the one my mother shared with me that remains my favorite.

Pasta Ceci
For the chick peas:
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove smashed and peeled
1 bay leaf
1 can (15.5 oz) chick peas, rinsed and drained
Salt, to taste.

For the topping:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs

For the finishing oil:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 garlic clove minced fine
1/8 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

8oz farfalle, bow-tie, pasta

To prepare the beans, place the water, olive oil, garlic, and bay leaf in a small sauce pan and cook covered, over medium-low heat for 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the chick peas, cover, and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. When finished, remove the bay leaf and taste for salt. Keep warm.

Chick peas cooked
Chick peas cooked

While the chick peas are cooking, prepare the the topping. In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat for one or two minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and toast until light brown. Stir often, to avoid burning the crumbs. When toasted, place aside.

Breadcrumbs toasted
Breadcrumbs toasted

At the same time, prepare the finishing oil. In a small skillet, heat the oil, minced garlic, and pepper flakes over low heat for about 10 minutes. The garlic should become fragrant and take on only a minimum of color. When finished, place aside.

Finishing oil
Finishing oil

Meanwhile, in plenty of boiling, well-salted water, cook the pasta, according to package directions, until al dente. Before draining, reserve a cup of the pasta water.

After draining, place the pasta in a warmed serving bowl, add the chick peas and their cooking liquid. Toss lightly; if too dry, add a tablespoon or two of the pasta water. Add the finishing oil, followed by half of the bread crumbs. Toss lightly and serve. Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs on the individual portions of the pasta.

Wine Pairing: Grillo, Falanghina, Torrontes

Pizza Crust

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Recently a friend on Facebook asked me for a simple pizza dough recipe. Over the years, I’ve accumulated quite a few of them, each with its own tip or trick to achieve the ideal crust. But since easy execution was the determining factor, I opted to send him the one below. (Unfortunately, I do not know the source of this recipe.)

In addition to being simple, it yields a very crisp, crunchy pizza and it’s the one I’ll typically turn to for a last-minute pie.

I use half of the recipe’s dough at a time to make a 12-inch pizza. I bake it on a pizza stone on the lowest shelf of a 500° F oven for about 15 minutes or just until the crust turns a light brown. (I store the other half of the dough in the fridge and bring it to room temperature before rolling it out.)

While we enjoy this pizza a lot, I am still looking for a way to increase its “chew factor.” Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Pizza Crust
Ingredients
3 scant cups of 00 flour
½ T salt
¾ cup warm water
½ tsp sugar
1 package yeast

Mix with paddle of a stand mixer. When it forms a ball change to dough hook and knead for 3 minutes.

Allow to rise for 2+ hours in a greased bowl, covered with plastic wrap. It should double in size.

Punch it down with your fist and divide into two equal parts.

Roll out each half into 12” or 13” pizzas. You will need some extra flour on your board or table and on your rolling pin.

More often than not, I use this crust for a Pizza Margherita and sometimes top it with either arugula and prosciutto or a fried egg. The sauce for the pizza is made from uncooked, canned crushed San Marzano style tomatoes, a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano. For cheese, fresh mozzarella and some grated pecorino Romano. I finish it with some torn fresh basil and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Wine Pairing: Chilled Gragnano or Lambrusco

Pork Chops with Sweet Vinegar Peppers

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Recently it seems that dishes from my childhood are finding their way to our dinner table. Whether it’s nostalgia or appetite that’s to blame, I’m not sure. But, as with last night’s pork chops with vinegar peppers, one of my mother’s favorites, reliving my past through food is always a pleasure.

For quite some time now, I’ve been trying to recreate this dish with varying degrees of success. Most of my attempts have yielded good results, but last night’s was the closest I’ve come to duplicating my mother’s. Most of the recipes I’ve read, and there are many for this Italian-American favorite, call for hot cherry peppers or pickled pepperoncini. However, my mother never used them and opted for pickled bell peppers, whose sweetness she tempered with cider vinegar.

Despite being cooked for a longer time than is fashionable these days, my mother’s chops were always moist and succulent. But back then, hogs were bred more for flavor than leanness. In order to recapture this quality, I use heritage pork when available that’s sourced locally.

The only hurdle left in trying to duplicate this dish perfectly is finding the brand of peppers she used, namely B and G Sweet Vinegar Peppers. Although last night’s Roland brand’s were good, they somehow were not just the same.

Pork Chops with Sweet Vinegar Peppers
Ingredients
2 1-inch thick, bone-in pork chops
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly smashed
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 whole red long peppers, sliced 1-inch thick

Dry the chops well with paper towels and season one side with salt, pepper, and a small pinch of sugar

Heat the oil and garlic clove in a sauté pan large enough to hold the chops comfortably.

When the oil is hot, add the chops seasoned side down and brown for about 5 minutes. Season the top side with salt and pepper, and then turn and brown on the second side for about another 5 minutes. Be sure to remove the garlic when it starts to brown.

Pork chops browned
Pork chops browned

When the chops are browned, place them on a plate and discard most of the fat from the pan, retaining a tablespoon.

Add the wine and the vinegar, scraping up any of the browned bit on the bottom of the pan. Return the chops, along with any juices from the plate, to the pan turning once to coat with sauce. Add the sliced peppers, cover, and cook over low heat for about 5 to 8 minutes or until the chops are cooked.

Chops and peppers in the pan
Chops and peppers in the pan

I served the chops last night with some of the sweetest summer corn I’ve had this season. Thought not a traditional accompaniment, it provided a perfect counterpoint to the savory chops.

Wine Pairing: Syrah, Chardonnay

Slow-Roasted Salmon

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Sometimes when entertaining you need to adjust your menu to a guest’s needs. For a recent dinner party, I was planning a menu around grilled baby lamb chops, when one of my friends called and announced that she just had gone through oral surgery. “Chewing may be a problem,” she said.

Although a meatloaf was the first dish that came to mind as a replacement, I opted for a more elegant alternative: slow-roasted salmon with cherry tomatoes and couscous that I haven’t made in quite a while. The center-cut piece of salmon slowly roasted over a bed of herbs would pose no problem and the tomato and parsley studded couscous would be an easy-to-chew side.

Slow-Roasted Salmon with Cherry Tomatoes and Couscous from Bon Appetit. (Click here for the original recipe.)

INGREDIENTS
YOGURT SAUCE
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used full fat.)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
Kosher salt

SALMON
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided (I didn’t measure, but used considerably more, especially in the pan.)
1/2 bunch dill fronds
1/2 bunch thyme sprigs
1 3-pound piece center-cut skin-on salmon fillet, preferably wild king, pin bones removed (I opted for farmed salmon, which almost eliminates hunting for pin bones.)
Kosher salt
8 ounces small cherry tomatoes on the vine (optional)

TOMATOES AND COUSCOUS
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons za’atar (optional)
Kosher salt
2 cups Israeli couscous (I went for quick cook, regular couscous.)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (I omitted the butter.)

PREPARATION

YOGURT SAUCE
Mix first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl until well combined. Season with salt. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill.

SALMON
Preheat oven to 325°. Pour 4 Tbsp. oil in a roasting pan just large enough to fit the salmon. Make a bed of herbs in bottom of pan; top with salmon, skin side down. Drizzle salmon with remaining 2 Tbsp. oil and season with salt. Top with tomatoes, if using. Bake until salmon is just cooked through in the center (a small knife will slide easily through flesh), 25–30 minutes.

TOMATOES AND COUSCOUS
Toss tomatoes with 3 Tbsp. oil, parsley, and za’atar, if using, in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.

Bring a medium pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add couscous and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Drain couscous; transfer to a large bowl. Stir in butter and remaining 1 Tbsp. oil. Season to taste with salt. Gently fold tomatoes into couscous.

Use a large spoon or fork to serve salmon, leaving skin in pan. Serve with yogurt sauce and couscous.

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc