While paging through an old cookbook the other day, I came upon a printout of a recipe that I found in December 2006. Titled, “Roast Lamb for One,” it was Nigella Lawson’s recipe for roasting a single lamb shank, a perfect meal for the bachelor that I was back then and why I had tucked it away.
No longer single, however, I decided to double the recipe and make roast lamb for two. The only ingredient that I didn’t have was a red currant jelly for the finishing sauce, so I decided to check out the recipe online to see if any readers had suggested an alternative. That’s when I discovered that the recipe had received a considerable number of negative reviews that shared a common problem; in the words of one reviewer: “. . . just a burnt mess on the bottom of the pan and no juices left at all to make a gravy. The meat was nowhere near tender. . .”
Serendipity led us to last night’s scrumptious vegetarian dinner. On Friday, my husband sent me a recipe by Yewande Komolafe he found in The New York Times for a lentil and orzo stew with roasted eggplant. Little did he know that, just the day before, I had already chosen the very same dish for a future post.
Given the recent dank and dreary weather, atypical for San Diego, the stew was the perfect entree: earthy lentils, slowly simmered with aromatic vegetables and orzo, brightened by finishing with the juice and zest of lemon, and then topped with meaty chunks of eggplant roasted with warm and citrusy coriander. A few shavings of salty ricotta salata or even some crumbled feta completes the dish.
Despite growing up in an Italian-American household, I never heard of the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” until much later in my life. For us, Christmas Eve meant one thing: lobsters fra diavolo. They were the focal point of an elaborate dinner that started with appetizers, which included an insalata frutta di mare, a seafood salad with calamari, shrimp, and celery dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Occasionally there was also a plate of white-fish salad. After the cold appetizers, came a platter of baked clams, which concluded the antipasto portion of the meal.
We then went on to the pasta, which was always linguine alle vongole, linguine with clam sauce, always white, which was then followed by the main course: lobsters fra diavolo. Each of us was served an individual lobster. Even as a child, I had my own. Of course, my dad had to help me battle with it to extract its sweet meat napped with my aunt’s spicy tomato sauce. But as a child, it was the lobster’s savory bread stuffing that I enjoyed the most.
A few days ago while online, I came across a relatively stress-free recipe from Mark Bittman for ricotta gnocchi. Although I was tempted to use it as a subject for a post, the recipe’s gnocchi looked more like huge rounded dumplings than the more typical small pillow-shaped pasta most people associate with gnocchi.
So I looked elsewhere on the web for other ricotta gnocchi recipes and eventually settled on one by Geoffrey Zakarian. The recipe, accompanied by a video of his preparing the dish on a Food Network show, yielded gnocchi that resembled the potato versions I’ve made before.
In the video, the process looked not only effortless but foolproof. Executing the recipe in real time, however, proved to be quite another story. I should have known better than to follow blindly any recipe from the Food Network since, more often than not, the printed recipe doesn’t match the videoed one. Moreover, it’s my belief that the proverbial “magic of television” often shows a finished dish that’s been tweaked behind the scenes and touched up by a food stylist. But this is a subject for a future “musing” here.
My experience last night is chronicled. In retrospect, could’ves, should’ves, and would’ves keep echoing in my brain. I could’ve gone to trusted cookbooks; I should’ve trusted myself and used drained ricotta; I would’ve used less flour. . .
I believe that the photos in this post will show where I went wrong, especially the one of the finished ball of dough. Perhaps “sinkers” is an apt description of the gnocchi.
Fortunately, I used my own recipe for a pancetta-tomato sauce and had enough remaining to serve two helpings of perfectly al’ dente gemelli.
2 cups ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Semolina flour, for dusting
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
2. Combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan, olive oil, eggs and 1 teaspoon salt with a whisk in a large mixing bowl.
3. Add the all-purpose flour in 3 parts, stirring with a rubber spatula.
4. Bring the dough together in a ball and cut off one-quarter of it. Dust the work surface with all-purpose flour to prevent sticking
5. Roll the cut- off piece of dough into a dowel shape about 5/8 inch in diameter.
6. Cut the dowel into 5/8-inch pieces. Dust some parchment paper with semolina flour and place the gnocchi on it to prevent sticking. Repeat with the rest of the dough, quarter by quarter.
7. Cook the gnocchi in the boiling water for 2 minutes.
8. Serve tossed with a bit of the Pancetta Tomato Sauce. Alternatively, you can freeze the uncooked gnocchi for up to 2 weeks.
The other day, my “Daily Briefing” email from The New York Times led me to a recipe for a Cheesy White Bean Tomato Bake. The photo accompanying the recipe looked so good that I simply had to make the dish that night.
When I started to cook, however, I began to find elements of the recipe that I needed or wanted to change. First off, because my pantry only had one can of cannellini beans, I had to substitute a can of chickpeas for the second can called for by the recipe. I believe this forced change was fortuitous since the chickpeas added another layer of flavor to the dish.
Next, I thought that cooking the garlic in heated oil for only one minute over medium-high heat wouldn’t yield the depth of flavor as would adding the garlic to unheated oil and slowly simmering it over low heat for five of six minutes. I similarly extended the time for “frying” the tomato paste from 30 seconds to a minute and a half, but made sure that the tomato paste didn’t burn by stirring it.
In addition, to add a little heat, I added a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to simmer with the garlic and oil.
In the recipe’s second step, I opted for the longer cooking time in the oven, a full ten minutes, at which point the mozzarella had started to melt. And as the recipe had anticipated, the cheese still was not as toasted as depicted in the recipe’s photo, so as suggested, I ran the skillet under the broiler for at least 2 minutes.
Although the final dish was very good, a perfect comfort food, I believe the recipe still needs some tweaking. Perhaps rendering some pancetta at the beginning or using a smoked mozzarella would do the trick. I’ll let you know how it turns out the next time around.
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 generous tablespoons double concentrated Italian tomato paste
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup boiling water
Kosher salt and black pepper
⅓ pound mozzarella, coarsely grated (about 1 1/3 cups) Preparation
Heat the oven to 475 degrees.
1) In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, simmer the olive oil, garlic, and pepper flakes over low heat, until the garlic turns slightly golden, about 5 or 6 minutes.\
2) Raise the heat to medium low and stir in the tomato paste (be careful of splattering) and fry for 1 ½ minutes, reducing the heat as needed to prevent the garlic from burning.
3) Add the beans, water and generous pinches of salt and pepper and stir to combine.
4) Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top, then bake until the cheese has melted and browned in spots, approximately 10 minutes.
5) If the top is not as toasted as you’d like, run the skillet under the broiler for a 1 to 2 minutes. Watch closely to avoid burning.
How often have you heard or even said “I don’t have time to cook.” Despite the rise of home-delivery meal kits from companies like Blue Apron, Plated, etc, which require one to cook, it seems to me from observing packages left at our condo that ordering-in from local restaurants via a similarly wide array of online meal-delivery companies like Grub Hub, Door Dash, etc. are even more popular since all they require one to do is click on items and press ENTER.
Perhaps, I’m too old for these millennial driven trends and therefore, when I know that my time is limited, I look for and collect recipes that take a minimum of prep, usually about 10 minutes, and require as few pots or pans as possible. This last requirement is typically met with either a sheet pan or a hefty cast-iron skillet.
This week, I prepared two recipes that took about 10 minutes to assemble and used only a sheet pan or a Dutch-oven as the cooking vessel. The 40 to 60 minutes of required cooking provided ample time for a leisurely cocktail with my husband. Okay, there’s the postprandial cleanup; but that too can be a time for family conversation and just winding down.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. With paper towels, pat-dry thick bone-in pork chops (1 to 1 1/4 inches) and place each chop on a 12-inch square of aluminum foil.
Season each chop with salt and freshly ground black pepper and coat with a mix of finely minced garlic and fresh sage or rosemary (about 1/2 teaspoon per chop). Drizzle each chop with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil, close the foil packets tightly, and place on a sheet pan.
Cook in the oven for 1 hour. The chops can be served on plates and drizzled with their cooking juices or in the foil packets folded back and shaped into boats.
These were some of the juiciest pork chops I’ve ever had since pork is lately being raised more to be lean than flavorful. The herbs, garlic, and olive oil compensate for any lack of browning.
I found the second recipe on the New York Times Cookingwebsite. Olive Oil Braised Chickpeas and Broccoli Rabe.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. In a large enameled-cast-iron Dutch oven, combine extra-virgin olive oil, smashed garlic cloves, a sprig of fresh rosemary, fennel seeds, and chili flakes. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the mixture is fragrant and the garlic lightly golden.
Turn the heat off, add a bunch of rabe, woody stems removed, and toss until coated with the oil mixture. Scatter a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas around the rabe and stir to coat with the oil. Season well with salt and pepper.
Cover and bake for about 40 minutes. The beans should be soft and crispy in parts and the rabe tender but the stems not mushy.
Cool slightly before serving and remove the rosemary.
I served the broccoli and chickpeas over some farfalle, but crusty bread would certainly provide a delicious and more expedient alternative for mopping up the seasoned oil.
One of my all time favorite restaurants in Rome is La Matricianella, and one of my favorite Roman pastas is one of its specialties, bucatini all’Amatriciana, a dish that hails from a mountain town southeast of Rome, Amatrice. You may have read about this town a few years ago, when it was devastated by an earthquake in August of 2016.
Among Roman chefs, however, there is some controversy over this dish related primarily to the use of onion and garlic. In fact, the city of Amatrice eventually issued guidelines for the dish that list the “official” ingredients: spaghetti, guanciale, extra-virgin olive oil, white wine, either fresh or canned tomatoes, hot chili pepper, freshly grated Pecorino Romano, and salt.
The last time I wrote about this pasta here, I used a Marcella Hazan recipe, which I’m sure would rile many a purist by its use of onion, pancetta as opposed to guanciale, butter and vegetable oil, Parmesan, and bucatini. Yet despite the substitutions, perhaps even because of then, Hazan’s recipe yields a delicious dish.
But last night I wanted to replicate, as closely as possible, the version I enjoy in Rome. La Matricianella does use bucatini; therefore, so did I. My only other variation from the official recipe as well as from Downie’s, was substituting pancetta for the guancialeI was unable to find a good piece of it here in San Diego.
I also prefer having the pork for this dish in larger chunks than Downie’s “roughly-chopped” style, approximately 1/4” thick, 1/2” wide, and 1” long.
Bucatini all’ Amatriciana (adapted from Cooking the Roman Way: Authentic Recipes from the Home Cooks and Trattorias of Rome, by David Downie Serves 4
4 ounces pancetta (If you can find guanciale, use that.)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (If available, use 1 Italian peperoncino)
1/2 cup Italian dry white wine (Roman Frascati would be ideal.)
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
1 pound bucatini
About 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1. Cut the pancetta into chunks approximately 1/4” thick, 1/2” wide, and 1” long.
2. Scatter the pancetta around a thick bottomed, high-sided sauté pan/ Add the oil and the red pepper flakes. Sauté over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the pork fat, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
3. Once the pancetta colors, but before it begins to crisp, pour in the wine and boil to evaporate it, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes and their juice to the pan, crushing them in your hands. Lower the heat and simmer until the tomatoes are reduced almost by half, stirring often, for 30 to 40 minutes. Taste for salt. (If using pancetta, add some freshly ground black pepper.)
5. Bring at least 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add a generous amount of salt Cook until the pasta is barely al dente, about 1 to 2 minutes less than the package’s suggested cooking time.
6. Using tongs or a pasta grabber, transfer the pasta directly from the pot to the sauté pan. Stir and toss it vigorously to finish cooking it, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat, stir in 4 heaping tablespoons of the Pecorino Romano and toss to coat the pasta. (Note: Do not drain the pasta for this dish in a colander; transferring the pasta directly from the pot to the sauce, adds just the right of pasta water to loosen the sauce. This is not a sauce you want to thin out with reserved pasta water; it should be thick.)
7. Serve immediately in heated pasta bowls, with the remaining Pecorino Romano on the side.
This recipe serves at least four and when I’m cooking for two I’ll often make the full recipe to have enough sauce for another night. In fact, I may use the remaining sauce for an Amatriciana frittata as suggested by Downie.
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.
I love it when friends and family pass along recipes that they’ve read about and think of me. Sometimes, however, they may over estimate my culinary capabilities and propose dishes that are far beyond my skills and sometimes even my budget.
But recently a close friend from back home sent me a link to a New York Timesrecipe for sheet-pan chicken thighs with shallots and grapes. When I first saw the recipe’s photo, I thought I had already made it, but soon realized that I had only made a similar sheet-pan supper but with sausages.
This is an easy recipe and perfect for a mid-week dinner. The flavors of the shallots and grapes blend beautifully and provide the perfect complement to the crispy chicken.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find the za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix, which I think would have added more complexity to the dish. I also found the recipe’s cooking time a tad too short to render the chicken as brown and crispy as I like it. I cooked mine for about 40 to 45 minutes, followed by two to three additional minutes under the broiler.
Finally, don’t forget the recommended flaked salt for serving. It adds a lot to the final dish.
2 ½ to 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, patted dry
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon za’atar (optional)
Kosher salt and black pepper
6 medium to large shallots, peeled and quartered root to stem
8 ounces seedless red or green grapes, or a combination of both, broken into small clusters on the vine
4 to 5 sprigs thyme, plus 2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
Flaky salt, for serving
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss together the chicken with 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic and za’atar, if using. Season well with salt and pepper.
Place the shallots and the grapes on the sheet pan and gently toss with the remaining olive oil and season well with salt.
Nestle the chicken skin side up in between the shallots and grapes and lay the thyme sprigs on top of the mixture.
Roast for 25 to 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the shallots and grapes begin to soften and caramelize around the edges of the pan.
Turn the oven to broil and move the oven rack to sit right below it. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and broil the chicken for 1 to 2 minutes until the skin of the chicken is crispy and golden. Scatter with chopped thyme and season with flaky salt.
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.