“Delicious simply” perfectly describes the pan-grilled pork chops from Mark Bittman’s best-selling tome How to Cook Everything. The recipe epitomizes simple cooking that exploits salt, fat, acid, and heat to yield some of the best pork chops I’ve ever had. Indeed, after preparing this dish, I better understand the popularity of Samin Nasrat’s award-winning Netflix series eponymously named for the same culinary elements.
After numerous requests from my husband for stuffed cabbage, I set out to make the dish. The recipe is from a now cancelled series on the Cooking Channel that featured Laura Calder, a Canadian chef who focused on French cuisine. In fact, I had made this dish with some success about five years ago; however, last night’s attempt was an epic failure.
Some of the responsibility for my culinary mega flop is mine. Rather than buying the savoy cabbage called for by the recipe, I mistakenly purchased a Napa, or Chinese, cabbage since it was marked “Savoy” on the shelf.
It’s been pretty wintry here in San Diego these past few weeks. Jeans have taken the place of shorts, and sweatshirts, the place of polos. The chilly temps have similarly impacted our menus, with hardier dishes taking precedence over lighter fare. A case in point was last night’s entree, punti e fagioli, or spare ribs with beans: thick, center-cut country-style pork ribs simmered slowly in tomato sauce with cannellini beans. The perfect comfort food for a winter night.
As we’re officially into winter now and even here in sunny San Diego it’s turned a tad chilly, I was in the mood for a winter stew. Having some cubed pork shoulder in my freezer contributed to my looking for a pork stew recipe. After looking through my cookbooks, I settled on a relatively simple recipe from Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Slow Cooker for a Pork Stew Agrodolce.
Over the past holiday week, it’s been chilly here in San Diego and the cool weather made me long for a hardy winter dish. Looking through my cookbooks, I came upon a recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy for a pork ragù with farro Potenza style. The combination of pork shoulder simmered low and slow in a spicy tomato sauce and then combined with nutty farro sounded most appealing.
Fortunately, our local grocery store was having a great half-price sale on fresh bone-in pork shoulder roasts, which added even more appeal to the recipe. Even though I only needed two pounds of meat, I picked up a six-pound roast that would allow me to practice my butchering skills and provide me enough meat for a couple of meals.
Having moved from New York City to San Diego a little more than a year ago, I’m amazed by the frequent sales my local Ralph’s grocery has on meat: sales like 2 for 1 on chicken, 50% off on shell steak, and the one responsible for this post $1.99/pound on fresh pork shoulder.
When I saw a well cut four-and-a-half-pound shoulder roast for a $9 and change, I couldn’t resist. Although I’ve never made one before, I’ve often read how tasty they are especially when cooked low and slow.
Because my husband had been asking me for a porchetta-style roast and thinking that I could fulfill his request with this bargain pork shoulder, when I got home I started to look through Italian cookbooks for a recipe, but had little success. Perhaps this cut of meat isn’t popular in Italy. I then went online and found several recipes using pork shoulder that were based on this popular Italian street food.
A true porchetta, like those seen in Rome’s Piazza Navona during the holidays, is a gargantuan spectacle. Its made from the full carcass of a 100 pound pig and stuffed with its prepared entrails along with herbs like rosemary and sage, wild fennel, garlic, citrus, salt and pepper. Roasted whole, typically in huge bread ovens, it’s often served cold at street fairs in central Italy, especially in the regions of Umbria and Lazio
Scaled-down home versions of porchetta are typically made with a pork loin rolled into pork belly and seasoned with herbs and citrus. You can find a video of one being made here.
The roast I made yesterday, however, is a much simpler version that only approximates a true porchetta but nonetheless does deliver a lot of its intoxicatingly delicious flavors. I adapted my version from a New York Times recipe as well as one from Food and Wine.
There’s minimal preparation, but with the overnight marinating and more than four hours of cooking, it’s a two-day affair. Indeed, the only difficulty with this dish is waiting patiently for so long while the enticing aromas whet your appetite as the meat roasts.
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.
The first recipe, Baked Pork Chops, I adapted from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen by Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca.
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 Cooking website. 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.
Wine Pairing: Dry Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc
Perhaps my favorite season in New York City was fall. It always seemed that the city somehow sprung back to life from a lazy hot and humid summer slumber. The atmosphere grew more vibrant as leaves changed color and cooler temps set in. The fall harvest seemed to energize the Union Square Farmers Market.
Alas, we don’t have as dramatic a seasonal change here in San Diego, “where the climate must be perfect all the year.” So to compensate for this, I cook the fall dishes I used to make back in the city.
One of these is Mario Batali’s “Mezzi Rigatoni with Sausage and Radicchio.” Made with sausage, radicchio, fennel, red onion, red wine and tomato sauce, its colors intimate fall foliage. On the palate, it delivers a kaleidoscope of flavors: sweet from the fennel, bitter from the radicchio, savory from the sausage, all balanced with a simple tomato sauce. (I use Marcella Hazan’s sauce made with five tablespoons of butter, an onion split in half, and Italian plum tomatoes with their juices.)
Batali’s recipe calls for mezzi rigatoni, and should you choose to make this dish, I strongly suggest using this pasta shape; it has the perfect size and weight for this rich sauce. Unfortunately, I had run out of them and substituted penne rigate, which were OK, but definitely not as good as the recommended rigatoni. Lack of availability also forced me to substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano for the recipe’s Asiago.
Batali’s recipe comes from his 2011 Simple Family Meals. Since I was cooking only for two, I pretty much halved the recipe’s amounts. However, you can find the original recipe, which serves 6 as a main course, here.
One final note: take your time with Step 10 of the recipe and so that the pasta is well coated with the sauce.
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled
½ tablespoon fennel seeds
½ tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
½ red onion, chopping into ¼-inch dice
½ fennel bulb, ribs and fronds discarded, bulb finely chopping
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 head radicchio, cored and finely chopped
½ cup dry red wine, such as Morellino di Scansano
1 cups basic tomato sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ pound mezzi rigatoni pasta
Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese, for serving
1. In a heavy-bottomed 12-inch sauté pan, cook the sausage over high heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes.
2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate.
3. Add the fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, onions, fennel, garlic, and radicchio to the pan and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are well browned, about 10 minutes.
4. Return the sausage to the pan, add the wine and the tomato sauce, and bring to a boil.
5. Lower the heat and simmer until the radicchio is very tender and the sauce as thickened, about 10 minutes.
6. Season well with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.
7. Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.
8. Drop the mezzi rigatoni into the water and cook for 1 minute less than the package instructions indicate. Just before the pasta is done, carefully ladle ½ of the cooking water into the sausage mixture.
9. Drain the pasta in a colander and add it to the sausage mixture.
10. Toss over medium heat for about 30 seconds, until the pasta is nicely coated.
11. Pour into a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately, with a bowl of grated Asiago on the side.
Wine Pairing: Morellino di Scansano, Sangiovese
Mention “spare ribs” and probably the last type of cuisine with which you’d associate them would be Italian. However if, like me, you’re of Italian-American heritage, one of the first associations may be with a long cooked Sunday pasta sauce together with meatballs and/or sausage. In fact, I’ve posted a recipe for my Neapolitan aunt’s version of them on this blog.
When I recently picked up some baby back ribs on sale at the market, my thoughts went to a recipe for them from way back by Marcella Hazan. Having lost many of my cookbooks to Super Storm Sandy, I did an internet search and was able to find the specific recipe I had been thinking of. It came from one of her later books in 2004 Marcella Says… and was adapted for The Times by Amanda Hesser. (Note: The recipe in this link is part of a review of Marcella’s book and includes an interesting profile of the author.)
Like many of Marcella’s recipes, it uses a modicum of ingredients, yet yields deep intense flavors that celebrate what Italians call “la prima materia,” the fundamental ingredients. After browning, the ribs are simmered with an abundance of thinly sliced onions and a generous dose of crushed red-pepper flakes for around three hours. During this time, onions caramelize and the ribs reach the perfect fall-off-the-bone texture. The spice of the red pepper serves as the perfect foil for the sweetness of the onions.
I served the ribs garnished with fresh sage along with a side of smooth polenta and a Chianti Classico.
Two points about this recipe I should mention: (1) Don’t skimp on the chili pepper. Although a 3/4 tablespoon may sound like a lot, it’s really necessary to balance the sweetness of the onions. (2) Keep in mind that this recipe requires about 3 1/2 hours. I somehow overlooked this requirement, and we wound up having a very late-night supper.
Spare Ribs With Caramelized Onions
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 pounds baby-back ribs, split into pairs
½ cup dry white wine
2 very large onions, sliced very thin, about 6 cups
Fine sea salt
½ to 1 chopped chili pepper or 3/4 tablespoon dried red chili pepper
1. Split the ribs into pairs.
2. Pour the olive oil into a 12-inch sauté pan, turn the heat to high, and when the oil is hot, slip in the meat. Turn the ribs two or three times to brown them well. If the pan is crowded, do a batch at at time, then return them all to the pan.
3. Pour in the wine and turn the ribs once or twice while the wine bubbles completely away.
4. Add the sliced onions, salt and chili pepper, cover the pan and turn the heat down to low.
5. Cook for 2 to 3 hours, turning the ribs occasionally, until the meaty part of the ribs feels very tender and the onions have cooked down to a creamy consistency.
Wine Pairing: Chianti Classico, Alsatian Pinot Gris
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.
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
1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
2. Parboil the sausages in water to cover for 8 minutes to rid them of excess fat.
3. Melt the butter in a large heatproof roasting pan, add the grapes, and toss to coat.
4. Over moderately high heat add the wine. Stir with a wooden spoon for a few minutes until the wine has reduced by half.
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.
6. Roast in the oven, turning the sausages once, until the grapes are soft and the sausages have browned, 20 to 25 minutes.
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.
8. Pour the sauce over the sausages and grapes and serve immediately, accompanied with fresh bread.
Wine Pairing: Chianti, Sangiovese, Merlot