Greek Chicken Stew with Cauliflower and Olives

img_7266smAfter four turkey-sandwich lunches and several leftover-turkey improvisations, it was time for a change. We savored our first dinner without the bird–NY strip steaks with mashed potatoes and buttered peas. But then, given our cholesterol levels, it was time to get back to non red-meat meals. One of these was last night’s entrée, a recent New York Times recipe for Greek Chicken Stew With Cauliflower and Olives. Its use of cinnamon in the tomato-based sauce and feta-cheese garnish intrigued me.

I must admit that a shopping error gave me some pause when I discovered that rather than purchasing skinned chicken thighs, I had purchased not only skinless but boneless thighs. Despite this mistake, the dish turned out quite well, with moist meat and a succulent savory sauce. I still believe, however, that it would have been even better with bone-in thighs.

I should also note a few other changes that I made to the recipe. I used a little more cinnamon, dried thyme, vinegar, olives and parsley than was called for in the recipe. To heighten the Greek character of the dish, I also added some dried oregano. Most of these changes were done for flavor, but the additional vinegar was required to fully deglaze the pot after browning the chicken.

Rather than adding the cauliflower after the first twenty minutes of cooking, I added it at the beginning along with the chicken since I’ve learned from cooking this vegetable in a plain tomato sauce requires at least 40 minutes for my tastes.

I’m providing the recipe in its original format with my notations, but I think you can alter it in a variety of other ways to make it your own. One alternative cited in readers’ comments to the recipe was roasting the cauliflower in the oven before adding it to the pot.

Greek Chicken Stew With Cauliflower and Olives (adapted from the New York Times)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I needed a little more oil than was called for.)
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 2 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced (I used two large cloves.)
  • 6 to 8 chicken legs and/or thighs, skinned (I opted for nine thighs.)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I used at least 4 tablespoons.)
  • 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice, pulsed in a food processor (I chose Pomi’s Finely Chopped Tomatoes rather than pulsing.)
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon ( I used about ¾ teaspoon.)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (I used ¾ teaspoon dried.)
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano (This is my addition.)
  • 1 small or 1/2 large cauliflower, cored, broken into florets, and sliced about 1/2 inch thick
  • 12 kalamata olives (about 45 grams), rinsed, pitted and cut in half (optional) (I used about 24 olives.)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley (I upped this to 3 tablespoons.)
  • 1 to 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (optional) (The feta is essential.)

Preparation

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep, heavy lidded skillet or casserole and brown the chicken, in batches if necessary, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove the pieces to a plate or bowl as they’re browned. Pour off the fat from the pan. Add the vinegar to the pan and scrape up all the bits from the bottom of the pan.

    Browning the chicken
    Browning the chicken
  2. Add the remaining tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan, and turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low, cover and let the onion cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, until it is lightly browned and very soft.

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    The browned onions
  3. Add the garlic and stir together for a minute or two more, until the garlic is fragrant, then add the tomatoes and their juice, the cinnamon, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and simmer 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is reduced slightly and fragrant.

    The simmered sauce
    The simmered sauce
  4. Return the chicken pieces to the pot, along with any juices that have accumulated in the bowl. If necessary, add enough water to barely cover the chicken. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes. (As I said above, I added the cauliflower at this point.)

    Adding the chicken, cauliflower, parsley, and olives
    Adding the chicken, cauliflower, parsley, and olives
  5. Add the cauliflower and kalamata olives, (I also added some parsley here) and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and the chicken is just about falling off the bone. Stir in the parsley, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with grains, with the feta sprinkled on top if desired. (I served with steamed rice.)

    The finished stew
    The finished stew

Wine Pairing: Syrah, Cotes du Rhone

Roasted Sausages with Butternut Squash and Pears

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About a year ago while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, I saw a recipe on the Rachael Ray show for sausages roasted with butternut squash and pears. Well, after finding the recipe online, I finally got around to making it the other night for a small get together with friends. The colors and aroma of the dish echoed fall.

I made a few changes to the original recipe that included adding shallots and extending the cooking time. I also substituted a package of cut and peeled squash for the recipe’s large butternut squash.

Roasted Sausages with Butternut Squash and Pears (adapted from the Rachael Ray Show)

Ingredients

3 red pears, cored, cut into quarters
1 20-ounce package cut and peeled butternut quash
2 large shallots peeled and quartered
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Salt and pepper
5 sprigs thyme
8 sweet Italian sausages (about 2.5 pounds)
Balsamic vinegar

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Place pears, butternut squash and onions into a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with some salt and pepper. Scatter the sprigs of thyme over top of the vegetables. Place the sausages on top of the vegetables.

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Put the roasting pan into the oven and cook for about 35 minutes or until sausages are golden brown. (The original recipe called for 25 minutes of cooking, but I found that both the sausages and the vegetables needed more time to roast. I also turned the sausages after 30 minutes to makes sure they were browned evenly.)

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Drizzle the sausages and roasted pears, squash, and shallots with some balsamic vinegar.

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Wine Pairing: Zinfandel, Primitivo

Penne with Tomato and Goat-Cheese Sauce

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My go-to recipe for a simple tomato sauce is Marcella Hazan’s. With only 3 ingredients (plus some salt) and 3 steps, it’s the easiest sauce I know:

One 28-ounce can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, crushed, along with their juices
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, peeled and cut in half length-wise, so the root end keeps the layers together
Salt

1. In a heavy bottomed, non-reactive sauce pan, combine the tomatoes and their juices, the butter, and the onion. Add salt too taste.

2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and mashing any large pieces of tomatoes with your spoon.

3. Discard the onion; adjust for salt.

You can search the internet for more versions of this recipe, like this one from the New York Times Cooking site.

Hazan’s recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta. Given that I’m usually cooking for two, I often have a half portion of it on hand. Such was the case last night, when after a weekend of red-meat indulgence, I decided to make one of my favorite meatless dishes: penne with tomato and goat-cheese sauce.

Penne with Tomato and Goat-Cheese Sauce

Ingredients
1/2 portion of Marcella Hazan’s tomato onion sauce
2.5 ounces goat cheese or chèvre
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
8 ounces penne rigate, or any short cut pasta
Freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

1. In a large skillet slowly bring the tomato sauce to a simmer. When the sauce is warmed through, crumble the cheese into the sauce and still until well blended. Add the crushed red pepper. Be careful not to overdo the pepper flakes, which can overwhelm the flavor of the cheese.

2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until one minute before al dente (about 9 minutes). When the pasta is done, drain well and add it to the skillet with the sauce. Toss with sauce over low heat and allow the pasta to finish cooking, about 1 minute.

Tossing the pasta with the sauce
Tossing the pasta with the sauce

Before serving, sprinkle with some ground black pepper and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Wine Pairing: Rosso di Montalcino

Roasted Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

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Sausage and Peppers has been a family favorite for years. My aunt would often prepare this for lunch on Saturdays, after we returned from shopping in our neighborhood’s Italian section on Avenue U in Brooklyn. She would serve them with bread still warm from the baker and a selection of cheeses from her favorite salumeria. These days, I often make it for an easy weeknight supper.

Like most cooks, my aunt would fry up the sausages and then use their fat to fry the onions and peppers. This is the way I too have prepared this dish—that is, until last night.

Although I enjoy this Italian staple, I hate cleaning up the greasy mess it makes all over the stove. I thought there must be an easier alternative using my oven. I did a Google search and found several recipes that looked promising.  I combined a few of them and came up with the one below.

Once again, I hadn’t planned on writing about this dish, but it turned out so well that I had to share it with you. I don’t think I’ll ever use the stove top again to make it.

Roasted Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

Ingredients
4 Italian sweet sausages
4 bell peppers (2 red, 1 yellow, 1 orange) cored, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 large onion, thinly sliced or chopped
3 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, quartered for serving with the sausage (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Spray a large roasting pan with olive-oil spray.
  3. Place the sausages, peppers, onion, garlic, in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and toss, making sure the sausages are in a single layer.
  4. Roast the sausages and vegetables for about an hour. About mid-way through, turn the sausages to ensure even browning.

When the sausages and vegetables are browned to your liking, remove from the oven and serve. Squeeze some lemon on the sausage for added flavor.

Wine Pairing: Zinfandel

Beef Barley Soup with Oxtails

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With the first chill of autumn came a desire for a rich soup. My better half asked for beef barley, a childhood favorite. So after searching my cookbooks and the internet, I came upon a great recipe from Food Network star, Ina Garten. Served along with the recipe’s oxtails, the soup makes a complete meal that will satisfy even the most ardent carnivore.

It’s a relatively simple recipe, but I modified it slightly. The original recipe called for 10 cups of beef broth, but my local grocery only had two 32-ounce boxes available. Originally, I thought I would simple add some chicken stock to make up the difference. But then I thought that making up the difference with a broth made from soaking dried porcini would provide even more flavor with the added benefit of adding some mushrooms to the soup. I made my broth with a half cup of porcini, but regretted afterwards that I didn’t use more. So, as you will see in the recipe, I’ve upped the dried porcini to 1 cup.

As you may have noticed, this posting has far fewer photographs than is my norm. This is because I wasn’t planning on posting this recipe until I first tasted the soup for seasoning about mid-way through.

Rich Beef Barley Soup (adapted from Ina Garten recipe on foodnetwork.com)

Ingredients

1 tablespoon good olive oil
2 pounds beef oxtails
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts (2 leeks)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced carrots (4 carrots)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup (1/2-inch) diced celery (2 stalks)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
3 bay leaves
8 cups canned beef broth
2 cups wild porcini broth (made from soaking 1 cup of dried porcini in 2 1/2 cups of boiling water for about 30 minutes)
1 cup pearled barley

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset. Add the oxtails, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until browned all over. Remove the oxtails with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Add the leeks, carrots, onion, celery, and garlic to the fat in the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the vegetables start to brown. Tie the thyme sprigs together with kitchen string and add to the pot along with the bay leaves. Return the oxtails to the pot and add the broth, the soaked porcini,1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Discard the thyme bundle and the bay leaves, and skim off the fat.

Oxtails returned to the soup
Oxtails returned to the soup

Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of water to a boil and add the barley. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, drain, and set aside.

When the soup is ready, add the barley and cook the soup for another 15 or 20 minutes, until the barley is tender. Depending on the saltiness of the stock, the soup might need another teaspoon of salt and some pepper.

The finished soup
The finished, skimmed soup

Serve the soup hot together with the oxtails in heated bowls.

Wine Pairing: Zinfandel

Pasta with Cauliflower

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Recently, my brother called me to ask for my mother’s recipe for cauliflower in tomato sauce. It’s one of the dishes we had as kids that came from the Sicilian side of our family. More often than not it was served on its own, without pasta, as a primo, or first course. However, once I a while my mother would mix it with pasta most likely to satisfy my father who wanted pasta almost on a daily basis.

The dish calls for just a few ingredients and requires minimal preparation, which makes it perfect for a weeknight meal.

Pasta with Cauliflower

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Ingredients
1 small onion, sliced thin
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
1 small head of cauliflower, rinsed and cut into small florets
1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes, crushed, with their juices
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound pasta like farfalle, shells, orecchiette
½ cup grated Romano or Parmigiano
6 leaves basil, torn

Prepped cauliflower and onions
Prepped cauliflower and onions

In a heavy-bottomed 3 to 4 quart (preferably enameled cast-iron) casserole, over medium heat sauté the onion with a pinch of salt in the oil until translucent and just lightly colored. As the onions are sautéing you may add the optional ground cloves.

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When the onions are done, add the tomatoes and their juices and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook over medium heat until the tomatoes come to a simmer.

Simmered tomatoes
Simmered tomatoes

At this point, add the cauliflower, gently pushing down on them so that they are lightly covered with the tomatoes. If there is not enough sauce to cover the cauliflower add a little water.

After adding cauliflower to the sauce
After adding cauliflower to the sauce

Reduce the flame to low, cover the pot, and continue to cook , stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.

Cooked Cauliflower
Cooked Cauliflower

Meanwhile,cook the pasta until al dente. Then drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Add the cooked cauliflower, grated cheese, torn basil, and toss.

Cauliflower with Pasta
Cauliflower with Pasta

Wine Pairing: Nero d’Avola

Roasted Chicken Provencal

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Saw this 70s-style recipe for roasted chicken Provencal yesterday on the NY Times “Cooking” site and driven by memories of my first encounter with the classic mix of herbs had to make it. Here’s a link to the recipe.

I chose to drizzle the chicken with some olive oil before roasting and since neither the chicken nor the shallots had taken on much color, finished the dish under the broiler.

Wine Pairing: Cotes de Provence Rose

Chicken Paprikash

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A few weeks ago, I was reminiscing with some friends about our days as graduate students at Columbia in the early 70s.   After talking about friends, teachers, and seminars, it didn’t take us long before we started to recall some of our  favorite bars and restaurants near campus: the West End for drinks and burgers, The Symposium for Greek food, V & T’s for Italian and pizza, and The Green Tree for Hungarian.

The last of these was perhaps my favorite, for it served large portions at reasonable prices. At The Green Tree, I always ordered the same thing: chicken paprikash, which was served with a generous side of small Hungarian dumplings called nokedli. This was pure comfort food, especially during the winter.

Since our get-together, I’ve had a hankering for chicken paprikash and have made it a couple of times following recipes I’ve found on the Internet. (My copy of George Lang’s The Cuisine of Hungary having been lost to a flood after hurricane Sandy.)

My most recent attempt at this dish combined several recipes and came close to recreating the dish I enjoyed more than 40 years ago.

Chicken Paprikash

Ingredients

Ingredients
Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
4 bone-in, skin-on (preferably Kosher) dark-meat chicken quarters (about 3 pounds)
Salt
Freshly ground back pepper
2 large onions, finely chopped
1 green cubanelle pepper, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 heaping tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chicken stock
1 large beefsteak tomato, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
Thick egg noodles

Directions

Trim any excess skin and fat from the chicken, pat dry with paper towels, and season with salt and pepper.

In an enameled cast iron Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, heat the oil and the butter.

When hot, add the chicken skin-side down and cook each side until nicely browned, about 6 minutes a side.

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Remove the chicken from the pot and remove some of the excess fat from the pan.

Add onions scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and over medium heat cook the onions covered for 5 to 7 minutes. Make sure that the onions do not brown.

Then add the chopped pepper, cover and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring once to avoid browning. Finally add the garlic and cook covered for another 2 minutes, again making sure not to brown the vegetables.

Adding garlic to onions and peppers
Adding garlic to onions and peppers

Add the paprika and the flour and cook stirring for 1 minute until the spice becomes fragrant.

Toasting the paprika
Toasting the paprika

Add the broth, whisking until smooth, and then add the chopped tomato. Bring to a boil over high heat.

Adding the tomatoes
Adding the tomatoes

Return the chicken skin side up in a single layer, along with any accumulated juices, to the pot and reduce the heat to medium.

Cover and cook until the chicken is fully cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes.

The cooked chicken
The cooked chicken

Meanwhile, cook the egg noodles following package directions.

Remove the chicken from the pan and, if necessary, cook the sauce over medium high heat to reduce liquid and thicken the sauce. About 3 minutes.

Off the heat, stir the sour cream into the sauce.

Adding the sour cream
Adding the sour cream
The finished suave
The finished sauce

On plates, arrange the noodles and chicken and generously ladle the sauce over them.

Some of the recipes I consulted were Martha Stewart’s Chicken Paprikash, Rachael Ray’s Hungarian Paprikash, and one from We The Eaters. Ray’s use of brined chicken led me to select Kosher chicken for this dish and several Internet recipes, like the one form the We the Eaters website, influenced by use of the cubanelle pepper.

Wine Pairing: Merlot

Calabrian Pork Chops with Peppers and Potatoes

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Last week, a friend sent me a recipe for Calabrian pork chops. Upon reading I thought that it was a great example of Italian-American cooking and prepared it a few days later. It was simple and straightforward, required minimal prep, and yielded some of the most delicious pork chops I’ve ever made.

When I called my friend to report on the dish, he started to laugh and said “If you had known the source, you’d never have made it.” Later that day, he arrived at our apartment with a copy of the cookbook from which he had copied the recipe: Fabulicious!: Teresa’s Italian Family Cookbook. The author, Teresa Giudice, plays a leading role in Bravo’s Real Housewives of New Jersey and is known for flipping tables in restaurants, lavish spending, and yes, going to Federal prison for declaring fraudulent bankruptcy.

I doubt that I would have ever purchased this book even though I admit that the the Bravo reality show is one of my guilty pleasures. Having paged through the book, however, I think its a good collection of authentic Italian-American recipes, some of which may find their way into future posts on this blog.

When I prepared this dish, I opted to used jarred vinegar hot and sweet cherry peppers that I had in my cupboard and that author suggested as an alternative to fresh cherry peppers in her recipe. I also chose to deglaze the pan, after browning the pork, which I think enhanced the flavor.

I guess this experience confirms the adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Calabrian Pork Chops with Peppers and Potatoes (Adapted from Fabulicious by Teresa Giudice)
4 serving(s)

Ingredients
Ingredients

7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce) boneless pork loin chops, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup white wine for deglazing
1-1/4 pounds medium red potatoes, cut lengthwise into sixths
6 hot or sweet fresh cherry peppers, tops removed, seeded and quartered
(In a note to her recipe, Giudice writes “If you can’t find fresh cherry peppers, you can use pickled cherry peppers. . . .These won’t need cooking, so just add them to the potatoes with the browned pork.)

In a medium glass or ceramic mixing bowl, whisk 3 tablespoons of oil with the vinegar, basil, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper. Let stand for 15 minutes. Mix in the pork and let stand another 15 minutes.

The marinade
The marinade

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Remove the pork from the marinade, letting the excess marinade drip back into the bowl.

Marinating the pork
Marinating the pork

In batches, add the pork to the skillet and cook, turning occasionally, until the pork is browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer the browned pork to a plate. Leave any remaining fat in the skillet.

Browning the pork
Browning the pork

(At this point in the cooking, I chose to deglaze the pan with a 1/4 cup of white winning, scraping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan.)

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium. Add the potatoes and fresh peppers and stir well.

Browning the potatoes
Browning the potatoes

Cook, stirring often, until the potatoes begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates and the potatoes are almost tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Return the pork to the skillet; cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

The finished dish
The finished dish

Wine Pairing: Primitivo

Oven-Baked Ratatouille

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Perhaps owing to the bounty of summer produce at the market at this time of year, I inevitably wind up making ratatouille. Usually, I prepare it on top of the stove, cooking most of the vegetables individually. This year, however, I was lazy. (I’ll blame the excessive heat.) For this reason, I chose to make Mark Bittman’s oven-baked version from his book How to Cook Everything. What I especially liked about his recipe was that it called for cooking all the vegetables at the same time in the oven.

I admit that I was not totally faithful to Bittman’s recipe when it came to the amount of vegetables, the sizes in which they were cut, and the amount of olive oil. I also erroneously covered my casserole, which may have produced a more watery, though no less delicious result. The next time, I’ll choose the uncovered route. It will probably give the dish a more roasted flavor. I will also not make the mistake of scattering the fresh-herb sprigs over the vegetables, as removing them at the end of cooking was a chore.

Oven Baked Ratatouille (Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

Ingredients
Ingredients

1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 onions, chopped
2 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
2 round tomatoes, cored cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup grape tomatoes
10 cloves of garlic, halved
Several sprigs fresh thyme and rosemary tied with a string for easy removal
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to tasteThe prepped vegetables

The prepped vegetables

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Film a casserole or heavy oven proof skillet dish with a couple tablespoons of the olive oil, then make a layer onion, followed by one of eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and half the the garlic (the order doesn’t matter at all). Repeat and make a second layer. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil.

The layered vegetables
The layered vegetables

Bake for about 1 to 1.5 hours, pressing down on the vegetables occasionally with a spatula, until they are all completely tender. When they are tender remove.

About mid-way through
About mid-way through

Garnish with more herbs and drizzle with a little more olive oil, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

I chose to serve the ratatouille as a side dish with a roasted chicken.

Wine Pairing: Dry Rose