Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

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

Ingredients

Ingredients

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

Directions
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.

Scattered pancetta

3. Once the pancetta colors, but before it begins to crisp, pour in the wine and boil to evaporate it, about 2 minutes.

Sauteed pancetta with wine
Wine evaporated

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.)

Reduced sauce

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.)

Tossing the pasta
Adding the cheese
The finished pasta

7. Serve immediately in heated pasta bowls, with the remaining Pecorino Romano on the side.

Plated pasta

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.

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

 

Braised Oxtails – Coda alla Vaccinara

Coda alla Vaccinara

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

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

Preparation

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.)

Soffritto

2. Place pan over medium heat and cook until pancetta renders its fat, about 15 minutes.

Rendering pancetta fat

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.

Browned Oxtails

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.

Soffritto with spices
Reducing the wine
Adding tomatoes

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.

Oxtails ready for the oven

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.)

Adding the celery and raisins

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.

The Finished Dish

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Chicken Thighs with Shallots & Grapes

Chicken with Shallots & Grapes

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 Times recipe 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.

Ingredients

Ingredients

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

Preparation

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.

Oiled grapes and shallots

Nestle the chicken skin side up in between the shallots and grapes and lay the thyme sprigs on top of the mixture.

Nestled chicken thighs

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.

After the broiler

Wine Pairing: Beaujolais

Beef Short Rib, Mushroom, and Potato Stew

Beef Short Rib Stew

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.

The First Time Around

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.

Ingredients

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

Browned Ribs

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.

Everything in the pot

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.

Wine Pairing: Cotes du Rhone

Musing: When a Recipe Doesn’t Seem Right

Sometimes recipes just don’t work out the way you hoped. Take, for example, my recent version of a chicken fricassee with lemon juice: Pan-roasted-chicken-with-lemon-juice.

Although it was quite tasty, its appearance left a lot to be desired.

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Lemon Juice

Other times, they work out even better than you had expected. As a case in point, take this version of almost the same dish by the same author, Marcella Hazan, that I prepared over four years ago: Chicken-fricassee-with-lemon-and-rosemary.

Not only was it better in appearance, but the flavor was richer and more concentrated.

From this recent experience, I’ve realized that you have to trust your instincts when a recipe just doesn’t seem right and tweak it the way you think it needs to be changed–even if it’s from a highly respected author. Remember, it’s your kitchen.

Pan Roasted Chicken with Lemon Juice

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Lemon Juice

Sometimes a recipe doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped, and I guess that’s OK—especially if the final dish is, despite its faults, delicious.

Such was the case last night when I prepared a recipe from Marcella Hazan’s second cookbook More Classic Italian Cooking. This is the same volume that introduced us to one of her most famous recipes, Pollo al Limone, Roast Chicken with Lemon, which uses only two ingredients, a young chicken and two lemons, along with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to yields one of the best roast chickens I’ve ever made.

Perhaps because of my success with this dish, I chose the recipe for today’s post: Pollo in Tegame al Limone, Pan Roasted Chicken with Lemon Juice. It’s a little more involved than her roast chicken recipe and uses a few more ingredients. But what immediately caught my eye and led me to make it was that it called for browning the chicken without using any fat. After being washed under cold running water but not dried, the chicken pieces are placed in a skillet without any oil to brown. “The moisture clinging to the washed chicken pieces and their own fat,” says Marcella, “will suffice.” I simply had to see if this would work.

She does warn you to watch the chicken pieces and “turn them before they stick.” Yet even though I followed these directions and hovered over the pan like a mother hen, my chicken only attained just a tinge of brown. And maybe this is what was called for, since even if the chicken had browned normally, the skin would never have been crisp as the dish is cooked covered for 40 to 45 minutes. In fact, the recipe does specifically call for “lightly browning” the chicken.

Moreover, both in appearance and in flavor, this dish reminded me of one of my favorite dishes from the Roman trattoria Da Gino, coniglio al vino bianco, rabbit in white wine. The meat was wonderfully moist, tender, and flavorsome. But alas the skin was disappointingly slimy or rubbery. Perhaps I should have served the chicken without the skin.

Eventually I’ll make this dish again, but with a few tweaks, the first of which will be drying the chicken and browning it with some fat.

Pan-Roasted Chicken with Lemon Juice

Ingredients

2 ½ to 3 pound chicken (I used thighs.)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 sprig rosemary
3 whole garlic cloves peeled
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 or 6 thin julienne strips of lemon peel

Procedure

1- Cut up the chicken into 6 or 8 pieces, and wash these under cold running water. Do not dry them.

Washed Chicken

Put the chicken pieces skin side down in a sauté pan in which they will fit without overlapping.

Chicken skin-side down

Turn the heat on to medium high, drying and lightly browning the chicken on all sides. No cooking fat is required at this point. The moisture clinging to the moist chicken pieces and their own fat will suffice. You must watch them, however, and turn them before they stick to the pan.

Chicken lightly browned

 

2-When this chicken is lightly browned on all sides, add the oil, butter, rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning the chicken pieces over once or twice.

Adding rosemary, garlic, etc.

3-Add the wine, turn the heat up a bit, and let the wine bubble for half a minute or so. Then turn the heat down to medium low, and cover the pan.

Adding wine

Cook until the chicken is tender, testing one of the thighs with a fork. It should take about 40 to 45 minutes.

4-Turn off the heat, and transfer just the chicken pieces to a warm serving platter.

5-Tip the pan, and with a spoon remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Add the lemon juice and lemon peel, turn the heat on to medium low, and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping loose any cooking juices that have stuck to the pan.

Lemon juice & peel
The finished sauce

Pour this light sauce over the chicken, and serve at once.

Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Frascati

Musing: A Broken Dressing

Salad Tossed with Broken Dressing

My go-to salad dressing is what’s sometimes called in culinary circles a “broken dressing,” that is, a dressing that is not totally emulsified as is, for example, a classic vinaigrette. Growing up in an Italian-American household, we had a salad at the end of every meal, typically iceberg but occasion it was mixed with arugula, frisee, or even escarole. But the dressing was always the same: plenty of vinegar (either red-wine or cider), a splash of oil, a little dry mustard, a pressed garlic clove, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar.

When I started to cook for myself in the early 70s, influenced by the likes of Claiborne, Beard, and Child, I started to make the classic vinaigrette that used far more olive oil and considerably less vinegar than my family’s dressing and replaced the dry mustard with Dijon. I mastered it and motivated by compliments always used it at dinner parties. Yet when I dined alone, I returned to my familial broken dressing, but kept the change in mustard.

The other night, however, at a small dinner party, in a rush to get a salad onto the table, I used this dressing on a salad of hearts of romaine. Our guests remarked that they found the dressing light and refreshing. Those comments made me think that maybe my family’s retro dressing is ready for a revival at future get togethers at home.

Here’s my recipe; the measurements are approximate as I only make this dressing by eye.

1/3 cup red-wine vinegar, or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, grated
1/4 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

One final note. Owing to the amount of vinegar, only dress the salad immediately before serving to avoid wilting the greens.

 

Spicy Beef Meatballs with Bell Peppers

Spicy Beef Meatballs

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.”

Ingredients

Ingredients

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
1 egg
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

Procedure

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.

Peeling the peppers
Peppers sliced

2  – Put the parsley, onion, and jalapeño pepper in a bowl and mix together well.

Parsley, onion, jalapeno

3  – In a small bowl soak the fresh bread crumb in the milk.

Soaking the bread

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.

Adding bread to onion mixture

4  – Add the ground chuck, egg, and salt, kneading the mixture very gently with your hands.

Gently kneaded meat

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.

Shaped meatballs

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.

Breading meatballs
The breaded lot

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.)

Browning the meatballs

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.

Adding the peppers

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.

The cooked meatballs

Wine Pairing: Barbera d’Alba

Musing: An Anniversary. . .with Salsa Verde

Tonight we celebrated our one-year anniversary of moving to San Diego from New York City. We had originally planned to dine out for the occasion, but given all the social and political turmoil, we lost our appetites. We’re saddened by what’s going on, but nevertheless we wanted to mark the occasion and, at least for the moment, leave political furor behind.

Eventually, we opted for a quiet celebration at home and chose to make a recent recipe from the New York Times for a hanger steak with a salsa verde that touted the wonderful flavor that could be obtained from a value cut of beef with a salsa verde made from kale, scallions, a modicum of grated garlic, salt and olive oil.

Alas, I could not find the recommended hanger steak or any other of its value-priced alternatives at my local market. But mirabile dictu, choice rib-eye steaks were on sale at a price even cheaper than any of the recommend value cuts.

As has happened before, I did not think the this evening’s meal was going to be subject of a post so we took no photos of the prep or even of the finished dish. But as we completed dinner and reflected on how this leafy-greens salsa enhanced the steaks, my husband snapped a photo of me smiling over the remains of the meal.

Celebration!

The sauce requires a minimum of preparation: Cut 4 scallions into 2-inch pieces; set aside. Finely chop 2 or 3 additional scallions and add to a medium bowl with 2 1/2 cups of finely chopped kale, finely grated garlic clove and 1/3 cup of good olive oil; season with salt and pepper.

When the steaks are almost done, spread the sauce on plates. (The kale will have softened some.) When the steaks are done, place them over the salsa and let them rest, during which time the juices from the steak will marry with the salsa. While the steaks rest, lightly char and season the set aside scallion slices the meat’s remaining fat. Top the steaks with the charred scallions and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Here’s a link to the recipe online that includes directions for cooking the meat.

Skillet Chicken aka. Chicken Pizza

Skillet Chicken

My family was pretty traditional when it came to Italian cooking. Both my mother and my aunt prepared recipes passed down to them by their mothers and took pride in preserving their traditions.

Perhaps because of this adherence to the past, I never had had the ever popular Italian-American Chicken Parm until I was in high school. I remember my first time with it. My friends raved about the dish so much that I simply had to try it. I thought it would be similar to the only other “parm” I knew, namely my aunt’s eggplant parmigiana, with perfectly fried slices of eggplant baked in layers with a light tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano.

However, when my order of chicken parm appeared, my disappointment with the dish hit me before I even tasted it. The sight and smell of an overly fried and similarly over breaded skinless chicken cutlet drowning in a thick, sweetened tomato sauce and topped with a rubbery piece of “mozz” were, to put it mildly, less than appealing. The taste was not much better. Nevertheless, to fit in with the crowd, I ate most of it and said “Wow, the best chicken parm I ever had.” It was also my last.

Back to the present. Intrigued by a tempting picture of what was called “Chicken Pizza” in a NY Times “What to Cook Now” newsletter, I clicked my way to the recipe by Melissa Clark. My intrigue lessened, however, when I read in her introduction that the dish was “reminiscent of Chicken Parmesan.” Yuck! But that picture was so still tempting.

Well last night, I finally made the dish and am happy to report it was a huge success, or as my better half proclaimed “a keeper!” The sauce had layers of flavor from the anchovies and pancetta; the bocconcini, perfectly melted, complemented the sauce; and the chicken thighs were moist and juicy. A far cry from that first chicken parm.

I followed the recipe pretty closely, only adding one extra anchovy, upping the amount of olive oil to 2 tablespoons, and using chopped rather than whole imported Italian tomatoes. I also chose to deglaze the pan with a little white wine after browning the chicken and frying the garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes.

Skillet Chicken With Tomatoes, Pancetta and Mozzarella
Ingredients

Ingredients

3 ½ pounds bone-in chicken pieces (or use a 31/2 pound chicken cut into 8 pieces)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (I used 2 tablespoons.)
5 ounces pancetta, diced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 anchovy fillets (I used 3 anchovies.)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1½ ounces dry white wine for deglazing (My addition to the recipe.)
1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes (I used chopped imported Italian tomatoes.)
1 large basil sprig, plus more chopped basil for serving
8 ounces bocconcini, halved (or use mozzarella cut into 3/4-inch pieces)

Preparation

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.
In a large oven-proof skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until browned.

Browning the pancetta

Use a slotted spoon to transfer pancetta to a paper-towel-lined plate.

The browned pancetta

Add chicken to skillet. Sear, turning only occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. (My chicken took almost 20 minutes to brown.) Transfer to a large plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil.

The browned chicken

Add garlic, anchovy and red pepper flakes to skillet; fry 1 minute.

Frying garlic, anchovies, and red pepper

 

I chose here to deglaze the pan with wine.

Deglazing

Stir in tomatoes and basil. Cook, breaking up tomatoes with a spatula, until sauce thickens somewhat, about 10 minutes.

Cooking the sauce

Return chicken to skillet. (Turn the pieces in the sauce to coat the chicken. My addition,)

Adding the chicken

Transfer skillet to oven and cook, uncovered, until chicken is no longer pink, about 30 minutes.

The chicken, baked

Scatter bocconcini or mozzarella pieces over skillet.

Adding the mozzarella

Adjust oven temperature to broil. Return skillet to oven and broil until cheese is melted and bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes (watch carefully to see that it does not burn). Garnish with pancetta and chopped basil before serving.

The finished dish

Wine Pairing: Dry Lambrusco