Risotto with Saffron

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Risotto with Saffron

Once again, I ventured into the world of risotto and once again my performance anxiety struck. I’ve written about this affliction before on this blog a number of times and, by now, one would think I’d have overcome it. But no. One failure at making risotto years ago and visions of my guests politely chewing chalky grains of under-cooked rice keep haunting me. Out, out, damned spot!

Nevertheless, a few nights ago I faced my fears and made another risotto. It was a success; in fact, my better half admitted to scraping the pot with his finger to savor the last morsels of rice as he was cleaning up. If I had had more confidence, there would have been more pictures illustrating this post. But I think that my recent achievement with the dish has left me far more confident.

My recipe comes from a small book by famed New York City restaurateur Tony May titled Italian Cuisine. Although, like most recipes for the famed Risotto alla Milanese, it called for beef marrow and meat broth, I omitted the marrow and used chicken broth.

I heated 1 1/4 quarts of chicken broth on a burner close to my enameled cast-iron risotto pot.

To the pot I added 2 ounces of butter with a little olive oil and sauteed a cup of finely chopped yellow onion sprinkled with a little salt. Once the onions became tender, I added 12 ounces of Carnaroli rice and, over medium high heat, toasted it until the fat was absorbed. I then added 1/2 of a dry white wine and stirred until the wine had evaporated.

Next, I added a ladle of the warm broth and, still over medium high heat, stirred constantly until the rice absorbed the broth. I continued to add broth, one ladle at a time, and to stir until each ladleful was absorbed before adding the next one.

About 10 minutes into the cooking, I added to the rice a large pinch of saffron that I had dissolved in a little broth.

I continued adding broth and stirring until the rice was cooked, al dente, but not chalky, about 20 minutes. I then turned off the burner and added another ounce of butter and 6 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. I stirred the rice until the ingredients were blended thoroughly and the risotto was smooth.

Success. Delicious. Confident. Now I just have to hold on to this feeling.

Wine Pairing: Frascati

Roasted Sausages & Grapes

Roasted Sausages & Grapes

Although I enjoy serving on the board of my condo, it can at times throw me off my schedule for dinner. Such was the case last night. I had planned one dish and, owing to an emergency board meeting, had to substitute another that could be on the table at a reasonable hour for a weeknight.

Fortunately, we had some sausages on hand that were intended for another dish as well as some delicious seedless red grapes. This combination of ingredients brought to mind a dish I prepared a few years ago, but a quick internet search uncovered an easier alternative. Unlike the earlier recipe, which called for sautéing the ingredients, this approach called for roasting them. And I must admit that on a weeknight I prefer roasting as a cooking method because it makes for easier cleanup than sautéing.

The recipe I found comes from an Ina Garten episode on The Food Network in which she has chef, Johanne Killeen, from a favorite Italian restaurant, Al Forno in Providence RI, prepare the dish called simply: “Roasted Sausages and Grapes.”

I made a few changes to the original recipe, substituting 1 pound of Italian mild sausages for 3 pound mix of sweet and hot and halving the amount of grapes. I also added about a cup of chopped red onion and a couple of tablespoons of chopped sage to the grapes and sausage before roasting. Finally, rather than using the suggested focaccia as an accompaniment, I served a simple polenta.

Ingredients

Ingredients

1 pound Italian mild sausage

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups (approx. 1 pound) red seedless grapes, stems removed

4 tablespoons dry red wine, preferably Chianti

3 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar

Polenta, to serve

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

2. Parboil the sausages in water to cover for 8 minutes to rid them of excess fat.

Parboiling the Sausage

3. Melt the butter in a large heatproof roasting pan, add the grapes, and toss to coat.

Coating the Grapes

4. Over moderately high heat add the wine. Stir with a wooden spoon for a few minutes until the wine has reduced by half.

Reducing the Wine

5. Using tongs, transfer the parboiled sausages to the roasting pan and push them down in the grapes so the sausages will not brown too quickly.

Adding the Sausage

6. Roast in the oven, turning the sausages once, until the grapes are soft and the sausages have browned, 20 to 25 minutes.

Turning the Sausage

7. Place the roasting pan on top of the stove over a medium-high heat and add the balsamic vinegar. Scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the roasting pan, and allow the vinegar and juices to reduce until they are thick and syrupy. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausages and grapes to a serving platter.

Reducing the Balsamic

8. Pour the sauce over the sausages and grapes and serve immediately, accompanied with fresh bread.

The Finished Dish

Wine Pairing: Chianti, Sangiovese, Merlot

 

Eggs a la Tripe

Eggs a la Tripe

A recent post by veteran food blogger Diane Darrow inspired me to make a 60s recipe from Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cook Book, “Eggs a la Tripe.” Have no fear; despite the name there’s no tripe involved. The recipe derives its title from the texture of the dish, which is supposed to resemble the creamy character of the organ meat when it’s been cooked to perfection.

As we sat down to dinner and looked at our plates of richly sauced hard-boiled eggs accompanied by steamed rice, and had our first taste, we felt transported for a while from today’s tempestuous political climate to the Kennedy years in the White House where, if I may use the lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner, “once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”

You can find more details about this dish on Darrow’s blog, Another Year in Recipes.

String Beans and Spaghetti

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String Beans and Spaghetti

Here’s a simple dish based on memories of my Sicilian mother in the kitchen. I hadn’t planned on posting this recipe, so the only photo I have is of the plated pasta. However, the preparation is so straightforward that illustration might appear excessive.

My mother would often serve this dish during Lent, but also during the summer when she preferred the patio to the kitchen. Although she would French her string beans by hand, I use good-quality frozen ones.

Sometimes if they’re on hand, I’ll saute some thinly sliced scallions along with the garlic or add some toasted pine nuts to the sauteed beans.

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Crushed red pepper to taste
8 ounces French-cut string beans (I used frozen.)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces spaghetti or linguine broken into 1-inch pieces
Grated Pecorino Romano

Preparation

  1. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. When it reaches a boil, add a good amount of salt.
  2. When the water returns to a boil, place the string beans in a sieve and blanch in the water for about two minutes.
  3. When the beans are tender but still crisp, remove them in the sieve and shock in a bowl of iced water. Lift the beans from the water and set aside.
  4. Bring the water used to blanch the beans back to a boil and add the broken pasta. Cook until al dente.
  5. Meanwhile, in a wide skillet, over medium-low heat saute the garlic and crushed pepper until the garlic softens but does not get brown. Then add the drained beans to the pan and saute for two to three minutes.
  6. When the pasta is done, transfer to the skillet and toss with the beans over low heat for about a minute. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Turn off the heat and add a generous amount of the grated cheese.
  8. Serve on warmed plates along with some grated cheese for sprinkling.

Wine Pairing: Grillo, Greco di Tuffo

 

Garlicky Chicken Thighs with Scallion and Lime

Garlicky Chicken

Our markets in downtown San Diego frequently seem to have extraordinary sales on chicken; for example, today I found bone-in skin-on chicken thighs for 77 cents a pound. Consequently, my plans for a pasta dinner were put on hold and replaced with a dish that caught my eye on the New York Times “Cooking” site: Garlicky Chicken Thighs with Scallion and Lime.

It’s a relatively simple dish to prepare and requires a minimum of ingredients. My only substitution was 2 tablespoons of olive oil for the 1 tablespoon of canola oil. And while the recipe gave the choice of using “a large Dutch oven or a high-sided skillet” for cooking the dish, I opted for my trusty 12″ cast-iron skillet. Sure, it made a mess of my stove, but I think the skillet was a better choice as it allowed for a better reduction of the sauce.

I was also tempted to substitute white wine for the water, but went with the latter to let the flavors of the garlic and scallions to stand on their own. And although the recipe calls for discarding the halved garlic head at the end, I served it with the chicken because it was packed with sweet roasted flavor. Finally, to absorb the sauce, I served steamed Basmati rice.

Ingredients

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil (I substituted 2 tablespoons of olive oil.)
1 bunch scallions
1 head garlic, unpeeled and halved crosswise
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus 1 lime
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce

Preparation

1. – Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.

Seasoned Chicken

2. – Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. (I think the skillet is the better choice.)
3. – Add chicken, skin-side down and cook, undisturbed, until chicken is crisped and the fat has begun to render, 8 to 10 minutes. Using tongs, carefully flip chicken skin-side up. Cook until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes.

Browned Chicken

4. – Meanwhile, thinly slice two scallions; set aside.

Prepped Garlic and Scallions

5. – Add both halves of the head of garlic, cut side down, and remaining whole scallions to the pot and season with salt and pepper, tossing to coat in the chicken fat.

Adding Garlic and Scallions

6. – Cook until scallions are lightly blistered and browned, about 3 minutes. Add grated garlic and stir a minute or two, but do not brown.

Blistered Scallions

6. – Add lime juice, soy sauce and 1 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and partly cover. Cook until chicken is completely tender and nearly falling apart on the underside and liquid is reduced by three-quarters, 15 to 20 minutes. Discard the halved head of garlic. (I think this step might be tricky for some. Be sure to partially cover the skillet to keep the chicken from drying out; but also allow enough time for the sauce to reduce properly.)

After cooking

7. – Scatter sliced scallion over chicken and using a Microplane or zester, zest lime over. Cut lime into quarters and serve alongside.

Ready to Serve

Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc

Shrimp in Tomato Sauce with Feta

Shrimp in Tomato Sauce with Feta

I really started cooking seriously in the late 70s, always inspired by my Neapolitan aunt’s and Sicilian mother’s cooking, but sparked even more so by the not yet celebrated Julia Child on my local PBS channel. I read and read books by chefs like Elizabeth David and later on Alice Waters who focused on seasonal cuisine; on fundamental cookbooks like the Grammar of Cooking by Carol Braider or The Saucier’s Apprentice by Raymond Sokolov; on the standard cookbooks like The James Beard Cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, The New York Times Cookbook. I consulted huge tomes like the Larousse Gastronomique and the two-volume Gourmet Cookbook as well as tiny books like The Omelette Cookbook by Narcissa Chamberlain. And at the same time subscribed to almost every food magazine there was. I read and experimented; often failing but sometimes blissfully successful.

Perhaps I’m growing nostalgic (I just turned 70), but I think there was a golden age of cookbooks between the mid 80s and early 90s when I saw more serious and scholarly writers like Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Lynn Rosetto Kasper, Fred Plotkin, to name a few, and Paula Wolfert, who introduced today’s recipe in her 1985 cookbook Mediterranean Cooking.

Before I knew it, I had amassed quite a collection of cookbooks, somewhere between two and three hundred. Disaster struck, however, and I lost 90% of my collection in 2012 to a flood caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Finding Wolfert’s recipe online started me thinking about cookbooks and motivated me to make it once again.

For a side dish, I served orzo sprinkled with olive oil and seasoned with fresh mint and lemon zest

Shrimp and Feta Cheese a la Tourkolimano

Ingredients

Ingredients

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

2 cups fresh or canned tomato sauce

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/4 cup chopped parsley

Freshly ground pepper and a dash of salt

Pinch of cayenne

1 1/2 to 2 pounds raw shrimp (about 50)

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preparation

1.- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Peel and de-vein the shrimp.

2.- In a skillet cook the onions in olive oil until translucent.

Sweating the onions

3.- Add the garlic, tomato sauce, wine, half the parsley, salt, pepper and cayenne. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring often. The tomato sauce should be rather thick.

Prepared Sauce

4.- Add the shrimp to the sauce and cook 5 minutes.

Adding shrimp to sauce

5.- Place the cheese in the baking dish.

The cheese

6.- Cover with the shrimp and tomato sauce and set in the oven to bake 10 minutes.

The cooked shrimp

7.- Sprinkle with remaining parsley and serve very hot.

Ready to serve

Makes 4 servings.

Wine Pairing: Syrah, Rose

Penne with Cauliflower Ragu

Penne with Cauliflower Ragu

Sometimes I find that it’s the end of the week, and I’ve served nothing but meatcentric meals. More often than not this is due to buying what’s on sale at the market, re-purposing leftovers, or just my hankering for a steak.

It’s at times like these that I start to look for a non-meat dish, which usually winds up being pasta or, as my better half bemoans, “all too seldom,” fish. In my search, I came across this recipe from Mario Batali’s cookbook Molto Gusto. Just the word “ragu” made my mouth water.

Except for the frequent stirring of the cauliflower, it’s a relatively simple dish to prepare and, as the recipe points out, it can be made days in advance. I did find, however, that I needed to extend the three cooking times for the cauliflower, especially at the third stage. I’ve given the recipe’s original times, but strongly suggest that you taste the cauliflower for tenderness at each stage.

Ingredients

Ingredients
Serves 6 people

1 medium cauliflower (about 2 pounds)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 medium white onion cut into 1⁄4-inch dice

3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

Maldon or other flaky sea salt

1 ½ to 2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Kosher salt

1 pound pennette

¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for serving

½ cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs fried in olive oil until golden brown

1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

Directions
1.  Halve the cauliflower. Cut off the leaves and reserve them. Cut out the core and reserve it. 2. Cut the cauliflower into small bite-sized florets, reserving the stalks.

Core, stalks & leaves

3. Chop the core, stalks, and leaves. (I used a food processor for this step.)

Chopped core, stalks & leaves

4. Combine the oil, onion, garlic, and cauliflower leaves, stalks, and core in a large pot, season with Maldon salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the leaves are just beginning to wilt, about 3 minutes. (This step took me at least six minutes.)

After 3 to 5 minutes of cooking.

5. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower leaves are just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. (This step took me at least 26 minutes.)

After 18 to 25 minutes of cooking

6. Add the cauliflower florets, red pepper flakes, and 1 cup water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is very soft and almost falling apart, 22 to 25 minutes. (I added about 10 minutes to this step.)

Cooked florets with red-pepper flakes

7. Add the butter, stirring gently until it melts, then season well with Maldon salt and remove from the heat.

Adding the butter

The cauliflower ragú can be prepared up to 3 days ahead. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate; reheat in a large pot over medium-low heat before adding the pasta.

Ragu awaiting cheese and pasta

8. Bring 6 quarts water to a boil in a large pot and add 3 tablespoons Kosher salt. Drop in the pasta and cook until just al dente.

9. Drain the pasta, reserving about 2/3 cup of the pasta water.

10. Add the pasta and 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water to the cauliflower ragú and stir and toss over medium heat until the pasta is well coated (add a splash or two more of the reserved pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce).  Stir in the cheese.

Stirring in the cheese

11.  Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the bread crumbs and rosemary, and serve, with additional grated cheese on the side.

Bread crumbs and rosemary

As you can see, I opted for big boy breadcrumbs.

Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio

Zucchini Salad

Zucchini Salad

One memory I have about my childhood summers was my aunt planting zucchini at our country house and harvesting vast quantities of them through the season. This routine assured her an adequate supply of zucchini flowers, which she would fry or use to make fritters, frittatas, and even pizza. (In the 50s and 60s, zucchini flowers–not then known as “blossoms”–were hard to come by.)

With the zucchini themselves, she would prepare a variety of dishes: among them, ciambotto, an Italian version of ratatouille; cocozelle (zucchini sauteed with onions and then combined with gently scrambled egg); a simple saute with garlic and oil as a side dish; scapece (fried slices of zucchini marinated with vinegar, garlic, and mint) and this simple salad similar to scapece but not fried.

Ingredients

Ingredients

2 small zucchini
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs mint
salt
1/4 cup apple cider or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon oil

Preparation

1- In a 3 quart sauce pan bring water to a boil.

2- Partially peel the zucchini in alternating strips. If the zucchini are very young, you can leave the peel on.

Peeled Zucchini

3- Quarter the zucchini and then slice into 2-inch wedges and thinly slice the garlic.

Prepped Zucchini & Garlic

4- Tear the mint leaves.

Torn Mint Leaves

5- Add salt to the boiling water and slide in the zucchini wedges. Blanch for approximately 3 minutes.

6- When done, place the blanched zucchini in an ice bath.

Zucchini Chillin’

7- Drain the zucchini and transfer to a small serving dish just big enough to hold them in a single layer.

8- Salt the zucchini and then drizzle with the vinegar and oil. Add the garlic and mint leaves.

8- Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours stirring once or twice.

Serve as a side dish or with crusty bread as an appetizer or salad.

Served as a salad

I served this as a salad after Mark Bittman’s Deviled Chicken Thighs.

Deviled Chicken Thighs

Wine Pairing: Southern French Rose

Calabrian Chili Pasta

Calabrian Chili Pasta

I know this recipe may offend some traditionalists; nevertheless, I’m posting it for two reasons. First of all, it’s my first encounter with Calabrian chili paste, an unctuous spicy condiment that I see becoming a staple in my pantry. Secondly, the recipe takes an innovative approach to cooking pasta that eliminates using a dedicated pot for its boiling. I admit that I was skeptical about this method, but for someone who cooks at home almost every night, having one less pot to clean seemed most appealing.

This relatively quick and easy recipe is from an episode of Giada DeLaurentiis’s “Giada at Home” that I saw while having breakfast early on a Sunday morning. The finished dish looked so good that immediately after church I made a trip to my local Italian specialty store to look for the chili paste. I was surprised to find there a couple of varieties, both imported and domestic, but chose the imported one from Tutto Calabria.

My only variation on the recipe was using heaping tablespoons of the chili paste, which although quite spicy, is not very hot.

Rather than pairing this dish with a southern Italian red, I opted for a Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo–perfect for a warm spring evening.

Here’s a link to the original recipe and video.

Ingredients

1 pound penne pasta
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup grated pecorino
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 tablespoons Calabrian hot pepper paste
1/3 cup chopped chives
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon juice, from 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a 10-inch high-sided saute pan, bring 1 inch of water (about 4 cups) to a boil over high heat. Add the penne and the salt.

Pasta with about an inch of water

Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is al dente, about 9 minutes; there should be a little water left in the pan.

The cooked pasta

Sprinkle the pecorino over the pasta; toss to coat. (Work quickly, making sure that the cheese doesn’t clump together and is evenly distributed.)

Add the tomatoes, chili paste, chives, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil, and toss.

Wine Pairing: Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo or Sauvignon Blanc

Pasta con Ceci

Pasta Con Ceci

A few years ago, I posted my family’s recipe for pasta with chickpeas, Pasta Ceci. It’s always been one of my favorite dishes passed down to me during my grad-school days from my Sicilian mother.

Recently, however, I came across another version of this dish on the Food52 website, adapted from Victoria Granof’s cookbook, Chickpeas. This recipe seems to have Neapolitan roots, with much of its flavor derived from frying tomato paste in garlic infused olive oil.

What made this dish immediately appealing for a weeknight meal is that it requires only one pot, as the pasta is cooked along with the chickpeas with a minimal amount of water. My only variations on the recipe were sautéing some crushed red pepper flakes along with the olive oil and garlic, adding some chopped rosemary during the last five minutes of cooking, and doubling the amount of pasta.

I also recommend using the imported double-concentrate Italian tomato paste in a tube. I find it has deeper flavor than most canned varieties.

While this may not be the most authentic version of this dish, it is nonetheless most delicious and quite satisfying.

VICTORIA GRANOF’S PASTA CON CECI Adapted from FOOD52

Ingredients

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons good tomato paste (I used heaping tablespoons.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
1/2 cup uncooked ditalini pasta (or another small shape, like macaroni) (I used a full cup)
2 cups boiling water (You may need to adjust the amount of water if you add more pasta.)
Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving (I added the crushed pepper to the pasta during the last 5 minutes of cooking.)

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until it becomes lightly browned and fragrant.

Browning the Garlic

Stir in the tomato paste and salt and fry for 30 seconds or so.

Frying the tomato paste

Add the chickpeas, pasta, and boiling water.

Adding chickpeas and pasta
Adding the water

Stir to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, lower the heat, and simmer until the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Adding the rosemary
The finished dish

Taste and adjust seasoning. To serve, ladle the pasta into shallow bowls, sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes, and drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil on top.

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo