A wicked nor’easter and a plethora of sagging leeks pretty much determined the choice of recipe for this week’s post. Originally, I had planned to prepare Marcella Hazan’s Pan Roasted Pork Loin with Leeks after the grocery store delivered two bunches of the leafy alliums rather that the two individual ones I had ordered. However, when Mother Nature graced us with the worst snow storm of the season, getting to the market to procure the loin was no longer an option.
Housebound by the weather, I looked through my cookbooks for other leek recipes but most that I found used a single leek and I had five on hand. I then turned to the web, where I found a recipe that called for three and for which I had almost all the other ingredients on hand except for drumsticks and half-and half, for which I respectively substituted thighs and heavy cream: Pan Roasted Chicken with Leeks.
After preparing this dish, from Carol Fields’ In Nonna’s Kitchen, I am forced to question its attribution to a contadina, the Italian word for a farmer’s wife. Indeed, given some of the recipe’s ingredients like nutmeg and lemon zest as well as some of its directions like using a separate skillet to sweat the aromatics and a fine-mesh sieve or a food processor to puree the sauce, the only farmer’s wife I could imagine making the dish is Lisa Douglas, played by Eva Gabor in the ‘60s television show, “Green Acres.”
For a recent dinner party, I thought a slow-cooker dish would allow me to have everything prepared well before our guests arrived. Michele Scicolone’s The French Slow Cooker provided the perfect recipe for a blustery mid-winter evening: “Short Ribs with Red Wine and Prunes.”
With a cooking time between 8 to 10 hours on low and our guests arriving at 6PM, I figured I’d have to get everything into the slow cooker by 8 or 9AM. So, with prepping the aromatics and browning two batches of ribs, I planned a starting time around 6AM.
Well, as the saying goes about “the best laid plans,” things went astray when I over slept and arose after 9 that morning. My only solution was to pass on the slow cooker and go with the tried-and-true enameled cast-iron Dutch oven for the braise. Fortunately, the internet provided some helpful guidelines for converting the recipe for the stove that suggested reducing the cooking time to approximately 3 hours at 325°F and increasing the amount of braising liquid by about a cup since there is more evaporation with an oven than with a slow cooker.
More often than not, our weekday dinners are determined by an item in the fridge that’s near its “use-by” date. Such was the case on Monday, when my husband announced that we had a pound of Italian sausage that needed to be used or tossed. When I suggested making my go-to sausage and roasted peppers, he said: “Again? Why not try something new and use it for the blog.”
While making something new might not pose a problem for those of you who have a nearby market or a car, for those of us who don’t, it often involves seeing what’s on hand and then searching for a suitable recipe. After discovering a package of green lentils in the pantry, I turned to my cookbook collection, where I found the perfect match, “Lentil and Sausage Casseroles,” in a volume from the Good Cook series by Time-Warner: Dried Beans and Grains.
Way back in the early 70s, I used to watch “The Romagnolis’ Table,” a cooking series on PBS that attempted to do for Italian cooking what Julia Child did for its French counterpart in the United States. Featuring a husband-and-wife team, Margaret and G. Franco Romagnoli, it sought to bring authentic Italian dishes to an audience who thought spaghetti and meatballs with its long simmering Sunday sauce epitomized Italian cuisine. In a Christian Science Monitor interview, he declared: “Ninety percent of pasta sauces are made by the time you bring that pasta to a boil.”
My Neapolitan aunt, with whom I used to watch the show, enjoyed it as much as I did and found their style of cooking similar to hers. Her only objection to their no-frills show came at the end of each episode when Margaret and George sat down to sample their food at their kitchen table. “Why can’t they be like Julia,” she said, “and have their meal in the dining room.”
Because I’ve always been intimidated by dried beans, I thought it might be a good idea to join the Rancho Gordo Bean Club. The company has a well-deserved reputation for high-quality products and offers a wide variety of heirloom beans, many of which cannot be found on supermarket shelves. So, when, after two years on their waiting list, they notified me a club membership was available, I quickly signed up for quarterly shipments of six packs of beans. To date, I’ve received three deliveries and have only cooked four packs of beans, the last of which inspired today’s post: Royal Corona Bean and Wild Mushroom Stew.
Having had some success with my three previous segues into bean cooking, I decided to attempt something more daring. Rather than following the package direction for cooking the beans, I used a recipe from Alison Roman that called for cooking the beans without soaking them, uncovered, at a bare simmer for one to two hours in a rather unorthodox broth. In addition, the bean-stew recipe from the Rancho Gordo newsletter called for a couple of brand-name ingredients as well as for Swiss chard that I didn’t have on hand. But being in a daring mood, I decided to make some substitutions.
Well, my intrepid foray into bean cooking hit a few snags along the way. My beans took close to five and a half hours to cook and still were a little more al dente than I would have preferred. Likewise, the supermarket’s replacement of baby kale for the fresh kale I ordered didn’t deliver the flavor or texture I had expected. On the brighter side of things, however, the cooking method of the beans yielded a mighty flavorful broth owing largely to its use of caramelized onions, garlic, and lemon along with dried chiles. Similarly, my substituting more dried porcini for the recipe’s brand-name seasoning blend as well as replacing the called for miso with tahini spiked with soy sauce gave the stew the woodsy and umami flavors I was looking for.
Spotting two perfectly plump pork chops on a recent trip to the market inspired this week’s post. Each weighed a little more than a pound and measured at least 1½-inch thick; the ideal size for an Italian-American recipe I’ve been wanting to make for some time: Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers from Patsy’s Cookbook by Sal Scognamillo.
Similar to a dish I wrote about here almost 9 years ago that was based on my mother’s recipe, this one also has a family tie. My father was the attorney for Patsy Scognamillo and urged him to buy the building on New York’s West 56th Street, where Patsy’s continues to be one of the city’s landmark restaurants. It was one of the few restaurants that met my father’s stringent standards for the Neapolitan (or at least Italian-American) food with which he grew up. Who knows; these pork chops could have been a favorite.
We keep reading over and over in the news about the rising cost of food owing to the rate of inflation. Indeed, even so-called economy cuts like short ribs and oxtails might today be considered luxury items. In my opinion, one of the best options these days, in terms of value and flavor, is pork; and for entertaining, a boneless pork loin a great choice.
I’ve posted a couple of recipes on this blog for this cut: one for a Bolognese roast braised in milk and another for a Tuscan pork loin roasted with rosemary and garlic. This post, however, features a recipe from a pioneer of California cuisine, Sally Schmitt, who perhaps is best known as the founder of two of Napa Valley’s most famous restaurants: Mustard’s Grill and The French Laundry. Her recently published, beautifully illustrated cookbook, Six California Kitchens, traces her culinary career in Northern California from her childhood kitchen through her five restaurants accompanied by recipes from each of them. The recipe I chose, “Roast Loin of Pork with Mustard Caper Sauce” was from the French Laundry, where she worked from 1978 to 1994.
Growing up as a first-generation Italian, I regarded food not only as nourishment but also as a link to the flavors and traditions of my forebears. In fact, that strong ethnic bond has motivated much of my cooking over the last 50 years. And while the cuisines of other countries have always intrigued me, none has inspired me more than Italian. Whenever I’m in the kitchen, memories of my Sicilian mother or Neapolitan aunt at the stove or of my family around the dinner table come to mind.
Recently, I had one such recollection while I was preparing the pasta dish that is the subject of this post, Christmas Eve Sicilian Anchovy Pasta. As a child, I hated anchovies. The way they looked—dark, shriveled, when packed in salt or rusty and slimy when tinned in oil— totally turned me off even before tasting them. “Yuck,” I would say out of earshot. But I was forced to eat or, at least, try them every time they appeared in one of the dishes on the table. When I would resist, my father would say: “They’re an acquired taste; you’ll eventually grow to like them.” It may have taken some time before the acquisition, but, as usual, my father was correct.
I first made Marcella Hazan’s Tuscan meat loaf almost 45 years ago. I was a graduate student on a research fellowship in Cambridge, Massachusetts and had kitchen privileges at the home where I was rooming. As the owners were away for the summer, I felt free to invite a couple over for dinner who were as passionate about food and cooking as I was. At that time, pre-internet, I only had a few cookbooks in my room and Hazan’s The Italian Classic Cookbook was my most recent acquisition. I combed through the book looking for something different, something that might surprise my guests as much by its novelty as by its flavor. About midway through, I found it: Polpettone alla Toscana, Meatloaf Braised in White Wine with Dried Wild Mushrooms. Read more