Every so often, our local grocery store gives away something for free; sometimes it’s a protein bar; other times, a can of soup. The most recent giveaway was a kielbasa, which coincided serendipitously with the publication of a recipe for Hasselback Kielbasa on the New York Times “Cooking” website.
The site’s stunning photo of the dish, along with the above confluence of events, pulled me from my typical traditional stance in the kitchen to give this recipe a try. With so few ingredients involved, most of them, including the kielbasa, already on hand, there wasn’t too much at risk.
For the longest time, I’ve been wanting to make oxtails like the ones I enjoyed years ago on my first trip to Rome. It was in that city’s Testaccio district that I had coda alla vaccinara, a dense stew of oxtails braised with vegetables, primarily celery, tomatoes, and white wine.
The Testaccio was the location for Rome’s slaughterhouse from 1888 to 1975. Here the need to use every part of an animal led to the district’s reputation for offal, or in Italian, the quinto quarto, the fifth quarter. The best known dishes of the variety include pajata, veal intestines; trippa alla Romana, tripe, and the subject of today’s post coda alla vaccinara. All dishes that are associated with Italy’s cucina povera, or peasant cooking.
I looked through a number of cookbooks for a recipe and found some excellent ones in Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds (the most authentic), David Downie’s Cooking the Roman Way, and Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook. Ultimately, however, I chose a recipe by Amanda Hesser in the New York Times. It seemed the most straightforward; though I did modify it with elements from the other recipes, for example increasing the amount of celery and onion or adding raisins during the last hour of braising.
The dish required at least 30 minutes of prep and more than 3 hours of cooking. And there were some hiccups along the way. Lacking marjoram (either fresh or dried), I substituted fresh oregano. Increasing the amount of onion and carrot required using a bit more oil than called for; my pancetta being somewhat lean didn’t render enough fat to thoroughly brown the oxtails; my soffritto (diced onions, carrots, celery and pancetta) always looked like it was about to burn. Nevertheless, the end result was exceptional. A richly flavored thick sauce, with hints of cinnamon and cloves, coated succulent fall-of-the bone pieces of meat accompanied by silky slivers of celery.
As I was cooking for two, I used a little less than two pounds of meat; however, I kept close to the original amounts of the recipes other ingredients. Fortunately, doing so yielded plenty of left over sauce for pasta later this week.
Finally, don’t be tempted to substitute red wine for the white. The latter allows the flavors of the meat and the celery to take center stage.
Oxtail Braised with Tomato and Celery Coda alla Vaccinara (Adapted from Amanda Hesser in the New York Times) Ingredients
¼ pound pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large carrot, peeled, finely diced
1 medium onion, peeled, finely diced
7 inner stalks celery, 1 finely diced, 6 sliced into thirds (about 3-inches long) pieces ¼ cup raisins
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds oxtail (trimmed weight), severed at each joint into pieces about 3 inches long
Sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups white wine
3 sprigs fresh oregano
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (28-ounce) can peeled Italian tomatoes, partially drained
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a deep, heavy casserole or pot that can fit all the oxtails in one layer, combine pancetta, carrot, onion and diced celery and enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan (about 3 tablespoons). (Note that the size of your pan will play a part in determining the amount of olive oil; I had to use 4 tablespoons.)
2. Place pan over medium heat and cook until pancetta renders its fat, about 15 minutes.
Season oxtails on all sides with salt and pepper, add to the casserole, and brown well on all sides, turning them only after they’ve browned. Using tongs, remove oxtails from pan and place in a bowl. Set aside.
3. Add the tomato paste to the vegetables in the casserole and cook, stirring, until paste caramelizes, about 2 minutes. Stir in wine and mix, being sure to scrape up any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. Heat to boiling and cook 3 minutes. Add oregano, cloves and cinnamon and then tomatoes, squishing them between your fingers as they fall into the pan.
4. Return oxtails to pan. Liquid must be as high as one-third of the ingredients. If not, add a little water. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover pan and place in oven. Braise for 1 1/2 hours, turning the oxtails now and then.
5. Add the remaining celery and the raisins, then continue cooking until the meat is tender and falling off the bone, about 30 to 60 minutes longer. (I opted for 60 minutes.)
6. Remove the pan from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a large platter or in shallow bowls, making sure everyone gets a bit of the pulpy sauce and celery.
Keeping with my seasonal-cooking bent, I chose on Sunday to make a stew of beef short ribs, mushrooms, and potatoes from Jacques Pepin’s Fast Food My Way. I selected this particular recipe for two reasons: 1) it’s fall, the perfect time for short ribs; 2) the shortened cooking time made possible by the pressure cooker.
Fortunately, I was able to find some beautiful, thick, and relatively lean bone-in short ribs at my local market. The recipe called for 2 pounds of meat (4 ribs) “as lean and meaty as possible.” Mine weighed about 2.4 pounds. The other ingredients were similarly easy to find, even the dried shiitake mushrooms, which were surprisingly small. I was off to a good start.
The prep was also straightforward: trimming the meat, chopping the onion and the parsley, breaking the mushrooms in half and removing the stems, washing the potatoes, etc. Next was browning the meat, a simple task in an electric pressure cooker. All that was left was to add the remaining ingredients to the pot, lock the lid, set the cooker to high-pressure for 30 minutes.
Of course, as with any pressure-cooker recipe, there’s the wait time for the cooker to reach full pressure. So altogether the cooking time was 45 or 50 minutes, during which time the aroma from the stew whetted our appetites. Because I was craving carbs, I also prepared some whole-wheat couscous as a side even though the stew had plenty of potatoes.
The timer went off; I released the pressure, carefully lifted the lid, and wow everything looked perfect.
The mushrooms, which as directed by the recipe had not been soaked, were wonderfully chewy and packed with flavor; the potatoes were smooth and silky and had absorbed the cooking juices; the ribs. . .Well, that’s another story.
After taking his first bite of the meat, my husband shot me a glance that immediately let me know something wasn’t right. So I took a bite and yep; something was definitely wrong. The flavor was exceptional, beefy and woodsy from the mushrooms; but the texture was tough, far from tender.
I’m not sure what went wrong; maybe the ribs were too thick; perhaps I should have extended the cooking time by another 15 minutes. Not being an expert with the pressure cooker, I’m not certain. Most of the cookbooks I checked afterwards seemed to agree with Pepin’s 30 minutes.
Thankfully, we had two ribs with loads of sauce, mushrooms, and potatoes left over. I was determined to get a better meal the next time around. So yesterday, Monday, I decided to reheat the stew in a small enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, covered and placed on a very low flame for an hour. To provide some moisture, I added a good splash of the same white wine I had used the night before.
I’m happy to report that this time the meat was perfectly tender and, as is often the case with left-over stew, even more richly flavored. I’ll definitely make this recipe again, but more than likely, I’ll forego the pressure cooker in favor of my dependable cast-iron Dutch oven—even if it takes 4 times as long to cook.
2 pounds beef short ribs (4 ribs) as lean and meaty as possible (I used about 2.4 pounds.)
1 tablespoon canola oil
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, and caps broken in half
12 small Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 pound total) peeled or unpeeled
8 dried shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps broken in half (Do not soak; becuase mine were so small, I used 12.)
1 1/2 cups chopped (1 inch) onions
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1-Remove any surface fat and sinews from the short ribs. Place them in a pressure cooker with oil and brown over high heat for about 8 minutes, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides. Remove from the heat and pour off any fat.
2-Add the mushrooms, then the remaining ingredients, except the parsley, and cover tightly with the pressure-cooker lid. Cook over high heat until the gauge indicates that the stew is cooking on high pressure. Reduce the heat to maintain the pressure and cook for 30 minutes.
3-Decompress the pressure cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Open the pressure cooker and taste for seasonings, adding additional salt and pepper if needed. Divide the stew among four warmed soup plates, sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.
As with any pressure-cooker recipe, be sure to follow the instructions of your cooker’s manufacturer.
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.”
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
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
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.
2 – Put the parsley, onion, and jalapeño pepper in a bowl and mix together well.
3 – In a small bowl soak the fresh bread crumb in the milk.
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.
4 – Add the ground chuck, egg, and salt, kneading the mixture very gently with your hands.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
It wasn’t that long ago when I was eating steak four or five nights a week. Excessive? Yes. But I was single then, often on the road, and a simple strip or sliced steak was my comfort food as well as the perfect foil for the Italian wines I was representing at the time. Alas, my quasi Paleo diet caught up with me when my cholesterol level neared 300 and my doctor, along with my spouse, said basta.
Now on a more healthful diet, which has brought my cholesterol way down to normal levels, I enjoy red meat at most once a week. More often than not, when indulging, I still opt for steak, but once in a while I go for grilled, roasted, or braised dishes like short ribs or lamb shanks or, as I did the other night, a roast beef.
This roast, however, was not the typical rib, sirloin, chuck, or round roast. It was a tri-tip roast. I had never heard of this cut before, but a quick search on my phone informed me that it’s a popular west-coast cut and so tender that it’s sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s prime rib or filet mignon.” I was still hesitant to try it, but when my better half pointed out that it was on sale at 60% off, I thought I’d give it a go.
When we returned home, I went back online to search for a recipe and found many. I finally settled on what was perhaps the easiest and fastest, which I found on the New York Times “Cooking” website, Grilled or Oven-Roasted Santa Maria Tri-tip. It had two ingredients: a tri-tip roast and a beef-rub of your choice. As I’m not much into grilling or rubs, I opted for the oven-roasted version and followed the recipe’s link to an All-Purpose California Rub.
This roast proved to be perfect for a weeknight meal, taking around 40 minutes to cook, or a little more if you prefer your beef more cooked. The rub takes only minutes to prepare. After it’s massaged into the meat, the roast should be covered and refrigerated for at least an hour or even better overnight.
I think our tri-tip lived up to its reputation for being tender and I would say had more flavor than a filet mignon. I served the roast with steamed herbed potatoes and peas. A few days later, we enjoyed it sliced thin at room temperature accompanied by a salad.
Below is the recipe for the oven-roasted version of this dish. If you prefer grilling, click on the New York Times link above for the full recipe.
1 whole tri-tip, about 2 pounds
3 tablespoons beef rub of your choice
2 tablespoons finely ground coffee
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
1 ½ tablespoons granulated garlic
1 heaping teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container
1. Trim silver skin. The meat may have a thick layer of fat, some of which can be sliced off, but keep a good amount to help baste meat.
2. Sprinkle meat with rub and massage lightly all over.
3. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour or as long as overnight. Remove from refrigerator an hour before cooking.
4. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil or other cooking oil to a large, heavy ovenproof pan. On stove top, heat on high until pan is very hot, then add tri-tip, fat side down. Turn heat to medium-high and sear roast for about 4 minutes.
5. Turn the roast and put it in the oven. Cook it for about 10 minutes a pound, checking with an instant-read thermometer until it reaches 130 degrees for medium-rare.
6. Rest roast on a cutting board 10 to 20 minutes. Slice against the grain. The roast is shaped like a boomerang, so either cut it in half at the center of the angle, or slice against the grain on one side, turn the roast and slice against the grain on the other side.
Two days later, the roast made its way back to our table.
Wine Pairing: Rosso di Montalcino, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon
This is not a Polish joke: What do you do when your husband asks you to make kielbasa? You make it. After five years of marriage, my better half, who is of Polish heritage, asked me for the first time in our relationship to recreate a dish his mother often made: Kielbasa with Sauerkraut.
I admit I was somewhat intimidated to attempt to replicate a childhood memory. But this was the first time he’s ever requested an eastern European meal.
When I agreed, he informed me, most enthusiastically, that he had already found a recipe that reminded him of the original. It was from a 1995 issue of “Bon Appetit” that had been published on the “Epicurious” website.
Although it takes almost two and a half hours to prepare, most of the dish’s cooking time is devoted to a long braise in the oven and the prep is relatively simple. I departed from the recipe only slightly by using chopped onions as opposed to sliced and substituting fennel seeds for the caraway. For the wine, I opted for a California Dry Riesling.
My husband’s only other request was to serve the dish with a boiled potato to which I added butter and dill.
Given that the evening weather was beautiful, we dined on the terrace just as the sun was setting. Maybe it was the lighting, but as I caught a glimpse of my husband’s face as he took his fist taste, he appeared to be aglow with contentment.
6 smoked bacon slices, cut into 2-inch-wide strips
1 large onion, sliced
1 carrot, chopped
1 2-pound jar sauerkraut, rinsed, drained well
2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
4 juniper berries, crushed, or 1 tablespoon gin
1 1/2 pounds kielbasa sausage, cut into 3-inch lengths
1- Preheat oven to 300°F. Place bacon, onion and carrot in heavy large ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sauté until onion is tender but not brown, about 5 minutes.
2- Squeeze as much liquid as possible from sauerkraut. (I placed my drained sauerkraut in a clean dish towel and twisted until the sauerkraut gave up most of its liquid.) Add sauerkraut to Dutch oven. Add wine, stock, caraway seeds and juniper berries.
3- Bring to simmer. Cover tightly, place in oven and bake 1 hour.
4. Add kielbasa to Dutch oven, pushing into sauerkraut.
6. Cover and bake 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat, stirring frequently.)
Given the reluctance of spring to appear in New York City and finding a $6.00 off a pound sale on short ribs at my local market, I chose to make a braised dish more suitable for winter. The recipe is from the New York Times Cooking website and its blend of spices and prunes with fennel and leeks made it most appealing for a chilly weekday night supper.
I had also planned to photograph the preparation of this dish, but just as I started to cook, our cable repairman showed up. What I thought would be a twenty-minute service call wound up taking almost three hours, including assisting the repairman with un-mounting a wall-mounted 55” television, which given the disparity in our heights (he stood 6’ tall and I’m 5’3”), was not an easy task. As a result, I had to rush to get the ribs into the oven for a three-hour braise so that we could have supper on the table by 9PM.
Despite the gloomy cold day and the cable madness, our day ended well thanks to this truly delicious braise. Although the recipe calls for a pressure cooker, the website gave options for a Dutch oven as well as for a slow cooker. I chose to braise the ribs in a enameled-cast iron Dutch oven in a 325°F oven for 3 hours.
If you’re not a fan of highly spiced food, you may want to reduce the amount of chipotle chile powder. I also found that the amount of liquid called for (1 cup of wine) resulted in a rather thick sauce. This amount may work for a pressure cooker, but if you choose to oven braise, I’d recommend at least doubling the amount of liquid.
2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 to 4 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
1 tablespoon olive oil or other fat (like bacon fat or duck fat), more as needed
3 leeks, whites only, chopped
2 large fennel bulbs, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chipotle chile powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
½ cup pitted prunes, diced
Fennel fronds or sliced scallions, or both, for serving
If time permits, rub salt, coriander and pepper all over beef and let marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, or, ideally, overnight.
Set electric pressure cooker to sauté function and add oil (or use a large skillet on the stove over medium-high heat). Sear beef until evenly browned on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. You’ll probably have to do this in batches. Transfer to a plate as the pieces brown. Or if using a skillet, transfer them to pressure cooker
Add leeks, fennel and pinch of salt to hot pan and cook until soft, about 8 minutes, then add garlic, chile powder and tomato paste; cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in wine. Add prunes and beef (or add prunes and fennel-wine mixture to the meat in the pot).
Cover, then cook for 35 minutes on high pressure. Manually release pressure. If sauce seems thin, pull out beef pieces and reduce sauce using sauté function. Serve with fennel fronds or scallions, or both, for garnish.
Last night we entertained several friends and decided to keep things simple. It was going to be a busy day for me and the forecast was for a chilly night. So I turned to my slow cooker to free me from the kitchen. I thought a pot roast would be perfect. For a recipe, I turned to Martha Stewart’s collection of one-pot recipes, one of which called for beef chuck roast that didn’t need to be browned before braising. Even better–more free time. The recipe along with a video is also available here online.
I particularly like this recipe because, without any herbs and a minimum of seasoning, it really lets the flavor of meat shine. My only changes to the recipe were the addition of a bay leaf, a few more carrots and potatoes as well as a slightly larger roast than called for. I also opted for 8 hours on low rather than 5 on high since I think it makes for a more tender roast.
I served the meat with egg noodles tossed with chopped flat leaf parsley and olive oil.
Our guests must have enjoyed this dish as much as we do as there were no leftovers whatsoever.
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons tomato paste (I recommend the Italian imported paste in a tube.)
1.5 pound small Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and halved
3 large carrots, quartered and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 beef roast (3 pounds), preferably chuck, trimmed of excess fat and well tied
4 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste
In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, stir together cornstarch and 2 tablespoons broth until smooth.(I prefer to make this slurry in a small dish and then add it to the cooker.) Add remaining broth, tomato paste, potatoes, carrots, onion, bay leaf, and Worcestershire. Season with salt and pepper and toss.
Season roast with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and rub with garlic.
Place on top of vegetables. Cover and cook on high until roast is fork-tender, 5 hours (or 8 hours on low).
Transfer roast to a cutting board; thinly slice against the grain. Place vegetables in a serving dish; skim fat from pan juices, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve, if desired. Serve roast and vegetables drizzled with juices.
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)
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
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.
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.
Serve the soup hot together with the oxtails in heated bowls.
As a child, I often accompanied my mother or my aunt when they went food shopping, which they did on an almost daily basis. Much to my chagrin, however, these excursions took considerable time since they opted to shop at small mom-and-pop stores rather than at the supermarket. Typically, we’d start at the salumeria for cold cuts and cheese, move on to the greengrocer for vegetables, and then end up at either the butcher or fishmonger. At each stop, they seemed to have a warm relationship with the proprietors, asking after their children, listening to their stories, offering them advice, or lending a sympathetic ear.
On one of these trips, it seemed to me that my mother was having a rather long talk with the butcher. She kept smiling and laughing, just a little too much I thought. After we left, I told her that I was going to tell dad that she was flirting with Tony. She grinned at me and said winking, “Maybe I do, just a little, but that’s how I get the best cuts.”
It’s then that I realized one of the reasons why my mother and aunt were always so pleasant with all the shop owners: they were sure to get the best ingredients for our family.
In Italian cooking, it’s essential that the basic ingredients, the prima materia, be of the highest quality because the cuisine is so minimalist. This was a continuing theme of Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks and it seems to have influenced her son, Giuliano. An example is his recipe from Every Night Italianfor beef slowly simmered with onions and juniper berries, which I prepared recently for a weekday supper and served with garlic-roasted potatoes and peas.
Slow-Cooked Beef with Juniper Berries adapted from Every Night Italian by Giuliano Hazan
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups onions, thinly sliced crosswise
2 pounds beef chuck, cut in 2 or 3 pieces so as to comfortably fit in the pot
1 teaspoon juniper berries, lightly crushed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Choose a heavy-bottomed braising pot with a tight-fitting lid, preferably enameled cast iron, just large enough to accommodate the meat.
Put the olive oil and the onions in the pot and place the meat on top. Add the crushed juniper berries, the vinegar, and season with salt and pepper.
When you hear the contents of the pot bubbling, remove the lid and adjust the heat so that meat cooks at a very gentle simmer. Replace the lid and simmer until the meat is extremely tender when prodded with a fork, about 2 hours. You can begin checking it after 1 hour. If all the liquid evaporates before the meat is tender, add a little water.
When the meat is done the sauce should be thick enough to cling to a spoon. If it is too thin, remove the meat and raise the heat until it has reduced.
Slice the meat, return it to the pot to coat with the sauce, and serve.
Note: This dish may be prepared up to 3 days ahead of time and reheated over gentle heat with a 2 tablespoons of water.