“Best.” In the six years that I’ve been writing this blog, I don’t think I’ve used the word too often. But after preparing the recipe for Braised Oxtails with White Beans, Tomatoes, and Aleppo Pepper from “America’s Test Kitchen” on PBS, the subject of today’s post, I believe it ranks among the best dishes I’ve ever prepared. In fact, I can easily say that I’ve never made a better braise in all my years of cooking.
Being a somewhat less than hip septuagenarian, I wasn’t familiar until recently with the phrase “Winner winner, chicken dinner” that’s often used at casinos to celebrate a victory. But after hitting the jackpot with last night’s chicken dish, my better half thought it an apt expression to accompany a toast.
Slow and steady, so they say, wins the race. A perfect example is Marcella Hazan’s Ragu Bolognese, which requires six hours of simmering to yield “when clinging to the folds of homemade noodles,” to quote Marcella, “one of the most satisfying experiences accessible to the sense of taste.” But when you’re really hungry, especially after a nerve-racking day, sometimes quick and easy is the way to go.
My friend, Italian-wine aficionado Ciro Pirone, recently posted a photo of pasta with zucchini on his informative Twitter feed @Vinofilosofia. It looked so appetizing that I asked him for the recipe. His response: “Senza ricetta…tutto ad occhio (No recipe, all by eye.) I sauté a little onion and then add thinly sliced zucchini, salt and pepper, and cook low, covered; halfway I add half a glass of water and let cook till they fall apart. Toss in the pasta and some parmigiano!”
Our Christmas Eve menu is always the same. The main course is lobsters fra diavolo, made according to a recipe I developed from watching my Neapolitan aunt make them every Christmas eve and only on that vigil. If I requested them on any other occasion, she refused. For her, as they are for me, they were special; something to be anticipated and then consumed with great relish. I still remember my diminutive aunt slaughtering the live lobsters; a task that as she got older she relegated to me. “Center the cleaver right between their eyes,” she said. “And press down hard; don’t hesitate.” And this memory brings me such great joy.
“Technology.” It’s a word that doesn’t come up much in my posts. In fact, I think this may be the first time it has, since my focus is usually on food and not the appliances that I use to make it. But today, this musing is on an appliance that I believe will help me prepare some spectacular dishes as it did earlier this week as well as last night.
Not since I purchased my first Cuisinart food processor in 1978, have I been so impressed with culinary technology. Back then, on a graduate-student budget, $160, the price of the “economy” Cuisinart model, was a challenge; but even after using it once, I thought it was worth every penny.
Our local public library has a used-book store with an outstanding, ever changing, selection of cookbooks, usually in near-perfect condition and at extraordinarily low prices. I used to visit it at least once a week and buy one or two books each time I went. For the last couple of months, however, I’ve cut back on all my cookbook purchases primarily because of space. My shelves are literally full.
But a few weeks ago my husband, who works close to the library, came home one evening and presented me with, you guessed it, another find. It was a pristine copy of Michael Lomonaco’s Nightly Specials. “Where are we going to put it?” I asked. I’m sure that was not the response my better half expected, since he knew I had enjoyed the author’s cooking both at Windows on the World and more recently at Porterhouse Bar and Grill at the Time-Warner Center. “It only cost $2,” he replied. Just look through it and. . .”
Researching the recipe for this post made me think of the popular children’s game of telephone, where participants stand in line and the first person whispers a message to the second, who whispers what he heard to the next person in the line, and so on. The object of the game is to keep the message as close as possible to the original. At the end of the line, the final message is compared to the original and, as you’re probably aware, the differences between the two can be quite dramatic. Indeed, it’s the variation that provides the chief source of enjoyment.
We do indeed have much to be thankful for: our health, our family, our friends, . . . The list could go on and on; but at its end, for at least this year, there would be our best roast turkey ever. Without exaggeration, this year’s bird was beautifully bronzed, with tender juicy white meat; perfectly cooked dark; and had the crispiest skin. All this, in about 1.5 hours for a 14.5-pound bird.
Ever since we’ve given up driving, one sure way to get me to make a dish is that it requires no trip to the market. Another inducement is a request for it from my better half. Recently these two incentives merged and led me to prepare Lidia Bastianich’s Garlic Risotto.