Roasted Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

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Sausage and Peppers has been a family favorite for years. My aunt would often prepare this for lunch on Saturdays, after we returned from shopping in our neighborhood’s Italian section on Avenue U in Brooklyn. She would serve them with bread still warm from the baker and a selection of cheeses from her favorite salumeria. These days, I often make it for an easy weeknight supper.

Like most cooks, my aunt would fry up the sausages and then use their fat to fry the onions and peppers. This is the way I too have prepared this dish—that is, until last night.

Although I enjoy this Italian staple, I hate cleaning up the greasy mess it makes all over the stove. I thought there must be an easier alternative using my oven. I did a Google search and found several recipes that looked promising.  I combined a few of them and came up with the one below.

Once again, I hadn’t planned on writing about this dish, but it turned out so well that I had to share it with you. I don’t think I’ll ever use the stove top again to make it.

Roasted Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

Ingredients
4 Italian sweet sausages
4 bell peppers (2 red, 1 yellow, 1 orange) cored, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 large onion, thinly sliced or chopped
3 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, quartered for serving with the sausage (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Spray a large roasting pan with olive-oil spray.
  3. Place the sausages, peppers, onion, garlic, in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and toss, making sure the sausages are in a single layer.
  4. Roast the sausages and vegetables for about an hour. About mid-way through, turn the sausages to ensure even browning.

When the sausages and vegetables are browned to your liking, remove from the oven and serve. Squeeze some lemon on the sausage for added flavor.

Wine Pairing: Zinfandel

Italian Sausage with Grapes, Onion, and Balsamic Vinegar

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Early on Sunday evening, we usually sit down with a cocktail and some appetizers to watch the string of cooking shows on PBS. They’re a welcome calm alternative to the increasingly competition-driven line-up on the Food Network.

One of our favorite shows is America’s Test Kitchen, which is both entertaining and instructive. A recent episode of the series included a relatively simple weeknight recipe for sweet Italian sausages with seedless red grapes and balsamic vinegar that we both thought had to be on our table before the end of the week. We found the combination of ingredients intriguing and came away with a better all-purpose method for browning and cooking sausage. I’m including a link to the show’s website, which, if you’re not a registered user, requires you to sign up. Registration is free. It’s worth the time and this page has an informative article on cooking sausages.

https://www.americastestkitchen.com/print/recipes/8420-italian-sausage-with-grapes-and-balsamic-vinegar

I served the sausages with my aunt’s Italian potato pie, but they would also go well with polenta.

Italian Sausage with Grapes and Balsamic Vinegar (Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

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INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
1 pound seedless red grapes, halved lengthwise (3 cups)
1 large onion, halved and sliced 1/8” thin
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
2-3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

INSTRUCTIONS
1. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet or sauté pan over medium heat until shimmering. Arrange sausages in pan and cook, turning once, until browned on 2 sides, about 5 minutes.

Browned sausages
Browned sausages

2. Take off the heat, tilt skillet and carefully remove excess fat with paper towel.

3. Return the pan to the stove and distribute grapes and onion over and around sausages.

Adding grapes and onions
Adding grapes and onions

4. Add water and immediately cover. Cook over medium heat, turning sausages once, until they register between 160 and 165 degrees and onions and the grapes have softened, about 10 minutes.

Softened grapes and onions
Softened grapes and onions

5. Transfer sausages to paper towel–lined plate and tent with aluminum foil.

6. Return skillet to medium-high heat and stir pepper and salt into grape-onion mixture. Spread grape-onion mixture in even layer in skillet and cook without stirring until browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

Cooking grapes and onions
Cooking grapes and onions

7. When browned, stir and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is well browned and grapes are soft but still retain their shape, 3 to 5 minutes longer.

Browning onions
Browning onions

8. Reduce heat to medium, stir in wine and oregano, and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until wine is reduced by half, 30 to 60 seconds.

Browned onions
Browned onions
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After deglazing pan with wine.

9. Return sausages to the pan to heat briefly.

Sausages returned to the pan
Sausages returned to the pan

10. Remove pan from heat and stir in vinegar. Sprinkle with mint and serve.

Finished dish
Finished dish

Wine Pairing: Dry Riesling, Morellino di Scansano

Pork Roast Braised in Milk Bolognese Style

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One of my fondest memories of my years as a young academic in Boston was spending Friday evenings with a couple of colleagues, cooking dinner, and watching “Dallas” and “Falcon Crest.” As we dined and intermittently glanced at the television, we’d offer a running, often cynical, commentary on the show’s lack of any redeeming social value and eventually wind up discussing politics and thus missing the end of the show.

Since I was often the guest, my friends typically prepared the meal, which more often than not was a roast beef. One evening, however, I offered to cook at their apartment. During these years, the late 70s, Marcella Hazan was my go-to authority on authentic Italian cooking; her two volumes of The Classic Italian Cookbook provided me with many recipes that would stun my friends with their simplicity and flavor. So the night I cooked for our Friday get-together I chose Hazan’s Bolognese-style pork roast braised in milk. I could start at 6PM and it would be ready just in time for “Dallas.”

This recipe may be one of her most popular; versions and tales of it abound on the Internet. I believe it first appeared in her the first volume of her classic series. It was so simple: brown a small pork roast in olive oil and butter; season with salt and pepper; add milk, cover the pot with the lid slightly ajar and braise for about 3 hours. When finished, remove the roast, skim the fat from sauce, and serve. The roast was moist and succulent and the milk turned into a sauce of creamy brown nutlike clusters.

I noticed that in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which is a compendium of the earlier two volumes, the procedure for cooking the roast is more complicated, calling for adding the milk at three intervals, in varying quantities. I chose, however, to follow the original method, adding all of the milk at the beginning, but followed her advice of having the butcher remove the bones from the roast to enable a more thorough browning of the meat and of cooking the bones along with the roast to maximize flavor.

Note that the size of the cooking vessel is essential to the success of this dish. The pot should be no bigger than is necessary to, in Hazan’s words, “snugly accommodate the pork,” which allows about 2/3 to 1/2 of the roast to be submerged in the milk while braising. I used a small 2.5 quart Le Creuset dutch oven.

My only real variation from her recipe is the addition of some fresh nutmeg after adding the milk. I guess this comes from following Hazan’s recipe for béchamel sauce.

Pork Loin Braised in Milk Bolognese Style Adapted from The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan

The ingredients (missing the olive oil)
The ingredients (missing the olive oil)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
21/2 pound pork loin roast. (Have the ribs detached from the loin and split into two or three parts. Do not removed any fat from the meat. The roast should be tied. See picture below.)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups whole milk (You may need a little more in the unlikely event that the milk evaporates too much.)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

The roast with bones separated and cut
The roast with bones separated and cut by great butcher at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in NYC

1. Heat butter and oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed pot that that can later snugly accommodate the pork.

The browned roast
The browned roast

2. When the butter foam subsides, put in the roast fat-side down. Brown the meat evenly on all sides. If the fat is becoming very dark, lower the heat. Season the roast with salt and pepper. Add the milk slowly to avoid it boiling over. Add the nutmeg.

The roast in the milk
The roast in the milk

3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and set the lid slightly ajar. Cook slowly for about 21/2 to 3 hours, occasionally turning and basting the meat. If before the meat is fully cooked, you find that the liquid in the pot has evaporated, add another 1/2 cup of milk.

Roast simmering in the milk
Roast simmering in the milk

4. When the pork has become tender and all the milk has coagulated into small, brownish clusters, transfer the roast to a cutting board and tent with foil.

The finished roast
The finished roast

5. Tip the pot and spoon off most of the fat, being careful to leave behind all the coagulated milk clusters. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of water and boil away the water over high heat using a wooden spoon to scrape loose cooking residues from the bottom and the sides of the pot.

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The skimmed sauce

6. Carve the roast into 3/8-inch slices and arrange on warm platter. Spoon all the pot juices over the pork and serve immediately.

Wine Pairing: Dolcetto d’Alba, Dry Lambrusco

Farro with Pork Ragù

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In New York City, fall has definitely arrived and so has my appetite for heartier as well as comforting dishes like braises and stews. Perhaps this is why a recipe for farro with pork ragu looked so appealing. The fact that I had almost everything on hand except for the pork shoulder and a fresh bay leaf also increased the recipe’s appeal and thus it found its way to our table last night.

The recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italyis yet another example of the simplicity of Italian cooking: a minimum of ingredients prepared with a modicum of technique.

The finished dish was exquisite: succulent pork cooked slowly in a subtly spicy tomato sauce, which is then combined with earthy farro. Paired with a rich, plummy Aglianico, it met all my requirements for comforting fall fare.

Since I was cooking only for two, I prepared only 8 ounces of the farro and combined it with only half of the ragu. I also found that the pork required a longer cooking time than the one and half hours specified in the recipe. I cooked it for a full two hours, after which the meat was perfectly tender. Finally, for maximum flavor, be sure to scrape up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan after adding the wine and again after adding the tomatoes.

Farro with Pork Ragù Potenza Style from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy
Makes about 4 cups, serving 6 with farro

The Ingredients
The Ingredients

For the ragù
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. chopped garlic (about 5 cloves)
1/2 tsp. peperoncino flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup white wine
3 cups (one 28-ounce can) canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

For the farro and serving
1 pound farro
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated pecorino (or half pecorino and half Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), plus more for passing (I used pecorino.)

Recommended equipment: A heavy saucepan, such as an enameled cast-iron French oven, 5-quart capacity, with a cover; a heavy 3- or 4-quart saucepan.

For the ragù: Trim the fat from the exterior of the pork. Cut it into bite-sized morsels, about 3/4-inch cubes, trimming more fat and bits of cartilage as you divide the meat. Pat the pieces dry with paper towels.

Pour the olive oil into the big pan, set it over medium heat and toss in the pork. Spread the pieces in the pan and season with the salt. Cook the pork slowly for 15 minutes or so, turning and moving the pieces occasionally as the meat releases its juices and they cook away.

Browning the pork
Browning the pork

When the pan is dry and the pork starts to sizzle and crackle, clear a hot spot on the bottom and drop in the chopped garlic and peperoncino. Stir and toast them for a minute or so in the hot spot until the garlic is fragrant and sizzling, then stir and toss with the meat cubes. Raise the heat a bit, pour in the white wine, stir and bring to a boil. Let the wine bubble until it is nearly evaporated and the pork is sizzling again.

Reducing the wine
Reducing the wine

Pour in the crushed tomatoes and a cup of water that has been sloshed around to rinse out the tomato can, grate on the fresh nutmeg and stir.

With the tomatoes
With the tomatoes

Cover the pan and heat the tomatoes to a boil, then adjust the heat to maintain a steady, gentle perking. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours until the pork is tender all the way through and falls apart under gentle pressure, and the sauce has thickened. If the liquid is still thin toward the end of the cooking time, set the cover ajar and raise the heat a bit to reduce it rapidly.

The finished ragu
The finished ragu

Meanwhile, prepare the farro, first rinsing it well and draining it in a sieve. Put it in the smaller saucepan with 6 cups cold water, the bay leaf, salt and olive oil.

The cooking liquid for the farro
The cooking liquid for the farro

Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then set the cover ajar and adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the grains are cooked through but still al dente. Turn off the heat, pour off excess liquid and keep the farro warm until the ragù is done.

The cooked farro
The cooked farro

To finish the dish: Have the ragù simmering and stir in the farro thoroughly. Cook together for a minute, so the grain is very hot. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese on top and stir in.

The sauced farro
The sauced farro

Spoon the dressed farro into warm bowls, and serve immediately with more grated cheese at the table.

Wine Pairing: Aglianico

Italian Spare Ribs

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Because of Labor Day, racks of pork ribs were plentiful in the supermarket this weekend and thus found their way into our kitchen. Of course, bottles of BBQ sauce were also on display, which I guess suggested the way most of these ribs would be cooked.

Now, I’ve been lucky enough to travel throughout the United States and to have had the chance to sample some of the best BBQ ribs. And during these travels, I have heard the merits of dry vs. wet, sweet vs. hot, oak vs. cherry, and so on debated by my hosts and their friends in the south and midwest.

With one or two exceptions, all the ribs I tasted were extraordinarily good, with those in Greenville, South Carolina taking the prize. None of them, however, came close to the ribs I had growing up, which my aunt would occasionally make for Sunday dinner. Coming from Italy, she knew nothing about BBQ, but her ribs were without a doubt the most succulent I’ve ever had. Simmered slowly for hours in a simple tomato sauce, they were almost always served with a large cut of dry pasta, tubular in shape, known as occhio di lupo, wolf’s eye.

So last night, I decided to recreate this dish, but not being able to find occhio di lupo, I substituted the more widely available rigatoni. I also opted to serve the pasta with the same cheeses my aunt would use, namely, pecorino Romano and ricotta salata.

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The Ingredients

Ingredients
3 pounds pork spare ribs cut into 2-inch pieces. (I had the butcher saw the ribs lengthwise through the racks and then I cut them into double-rib pieces. See the picture above.)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
2 28-ounce cans Italian crushed tomatoes
1 large clump of basil (about 6 leaves)
2 to 3 cups hot water
1 pound rigatoni
1/2 cup pecorino Romano
1/4 cup ricotta salata

Directions
Season the ribs with salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed dutch oven over medium heat. Brown the ribs well on both sides, not over-crowding the pot. Work in batches if necessary. This will take about 10 minutes per batch.

Well browned ribs
Well browned ribs

After they are browned, transfer the ribs to a platter lined with paper towels.

Drain the fat from the pot, reserving 4 to 5 tablespoons. Add the onions to the reserved fat, sprinkle with a little salt, and brown them until they are soft and nicely browned. About 10 minutes. As the onions are browning, scrape up most of the brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pot.

The browned onions and garlic
The browned onions and garlic

A minute or two before the onions are done, add the garlic. Cook for about a minute, watchong the pot closely to ensure that the garlic does not burn.

Add the crushed tomatoes and basil, again scraping any remaining brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Adjust for seasoning.

With the tomatoes amd basil
With the tomatoes and basil

When the tomatoes start to boil, add the ribs. Press the ribs down so they are covered with the sauce.

When the sauce returns to a boil, reduce the flame to low and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the ribs are tender, stirring occasionally. If the sauce reduces too much, add some of the hot water so that the ribs remain covered.

The cooked ribs
The cooked ribs

When the ribs are done, cook the pasta in abundant, well salted water. Cook the pasta until a minute before the al dente stage.

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Separating the sauce and the ribs

Meanwhile, remove the basil from the sauce and transfer about 2 to 3 cups of the sauce to a large skillet. When the pasta is done, using a spider, transfer the pasta to the skillet and toss with the sauce over a low flame. Sprinkle with some of the two cheeses and cook for about a minute or until the pasta is done.

Tossing the pasta with the sauce
Tossing the pasta with the sauce

Serve the pasta along with ribs accompanied by the two cheeses for individual sprinkling.

Serves 6.

Wine Pairing: Sangiovese

Pork Chops with Capers

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More often than not, when we have pork chops at home, I prepare them, as my mother did: pan seared and simmered with sweet vinegar peppers and their juice. As they are a classic Italian-American dish, recipes for them abound both in books and on the internet. In fact, I’ve even written about them on this blog.

This weekend, however, I found a new way to prepare them in Lydia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy.  Although more labor intensive than my mother’s version, this recipe yields wonderfully succulent chops, coated with a silky savory sauce that acquires a bright piquancy from brined peperoncini and capers.

Although I was preparing only two pork chops, I maintained the recipe’s proportions for all the other ingredients. Since the sauce takes considerable time to thicken, I also opted for chops that were thicker than the one inch called for in the recipe. Mine were about 1 ½-inch thick and weighed at least 12 ounces each.

Should you choose to make this dish, I highly recommend using heritage pork which makes for juicier chops.

Italicized parenthetical comments in the recipe are my own.

Pork Chops with Capers from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy

The ingredients
The ingredients

Ingredients
6 bone-in pork loin chops, 1-inch thick, 6 to 8 ounces each (I opted for thicker pork chops, about 1 ½-inch thick.)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

½ cup all-purpose flour, for dredging, plus more as needed

1 large lemon, sliced in thin rounds

6 whole Tuscan-style pickled peperoncini, drained

3 tablespoons small capers, drained

¾ cup white wine (I used a Sardinian Vermentino that I had on hand.)

1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed

2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Directions

You will need a heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 14-inch diameter.

Trim the fat from the pork chops, if necessary, leaving only a thin layer, and salt them lightly on both sides, using 1/2 teaspoon salt in all.

Put the butter and olive oil in the skillet, and set it over medium-low heat. When the butter begins to bubble, scatter in the garlic; let it heat and gently sizzle. (You want to keep an eye on that garlic to ensure that it doesn’t burn.)

Meanwhile, spread the flour on a plate or tray, and dredge the chops on all sides. Shake off excess flour, and lay the chops in the skillet in one layer. (It may appear at first that there’s not enough room for all, but as the meat shrinks you will be able to nestle the chops in.)

The floured chops
The floured chops

Strew the lemon slices on top of the chops, and drop the peperoncini in between them. Cook the chops slowly, keeping them at a gentle sizzle, turning and moving them in the pan about every 5 minutes, as they take on color gradually and evenly. (To achieve maximum browning of the chops, let the lemon slices remain in the sauce after turning the chops the first time.)

Browning the first side
Browning the first side

After 20 minutes or so, when the pork is lightly browned and caramelized on both sides, scatter in the capers, shake the pan to drop them onto the bottom and turn up the heat to medium-high. When the capers are sizzling, push the chops aside, and pour the wine and lemon juice into the clear hot spot.

Adding the capers
Adding the capers

Bring to a boil, and shake the pan so the wine flows around all the chops. Sprinkle over pan the remaining salt, and adjust the heat to keep the pan juices bubbling, steadily reducing and thickening. Turn the chops occasionally, so both sides are moistened and evenly cooked.

Cooking the chops
Cooking the chops

After about 10 minutes of reducing the liquid, when the juices are syrupy and glaze the chops, remove the pan from the heat.

Reducing the sauce
Reducing the sauce

Sprinkle the chopped parsley all over, and give the chops a final turn in the pan. Serve right away, drizzling a bit of the remaining pan sauce over each chop. (Keep testing the chops for doneness during this stage. If they’re done, remove them to a plate, retuning them to the pan after the sauce has reached the desired texture.)

Wine Pairing: Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Pork Chops with Potatoes

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While pork chops may not live up to everyone’s idea of a Valentine’s Day dinner, for us they made the perfect late-night supper, especially when prepared as they were last night. We had seen them prepared a few weeks ago on the Cooking Chanel’s “French Food at Home” by Canadian chef Laura Calder and were eager to prepare them at home.

When we found the recipe on line, however, we were surprised by how many discrepancies there were between the television and website versions. For example, the online recipe calls for 4 fatty pork chops rather tan the 4 fat, thick chops used on the show. Similarly, the online version listed 1.5 pounds potatoes thinly sliced, while on television Calder specifically specified waxy potatoes sliced thick.

Consequently, I modified the recipe to follow the dish prepared on the show and was extremely pleased with the result. Although I had some reservations about cooking the chops for close to two hours, they came out perfectly succulent and tasty.

The next time I prepare this dish, I’ll probably use chops a little thicker than an inch and extend the cooking time a tad. But even if you only have inch-thick chops, you’ll enjoy this French country dish.

Pork Chops with Potatoes adapted from Cooking Channel Chef Laura Calder
INGREDIENTS
4 thick bone-in rib pork chops (a least 1-inch thick)
2 cloves garlic, sliced (try to have 3 slices per chop)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 pounds waxy potatoes, peeled and sliced thick, about 1/2 inch
1 large sweet onion, sliced 1/4 inch
2 to 3 thick slices bacon, cut into 1/4 inch lardons
1/2 teaspoon juniper berries
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

The chops and other ingredients
The chops and other ingredients

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees.
Cut 2 to 3 slivers along the fatty edge of each pork chop and slide in the slices of garlic.

Heat the oil and the butter in skillet large enough to accommodate the 4 chops on high heat. Season the chops with salt and pepper and brown them well, about 3 minutes per side.

Browning the chops
Browning the chops

Transfer the chops to a plate and deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine. Transfer the pan juices to a large enamel-cast iron Dutch oven.

Arrange half the potatoes and onions over the pan juices in the Dutch oven. Season with salt and pepper lay two chops on top of the potatoes and onions.

First layer of potatoes and onions
First layer of potatoes and onions

Then stack the remaining two chops on top of the chops in the pot. Scatter the bacon and juniper berries over the stacked chops.

Stacked chops
Stacked chops

Cover with the remaining potatoes and onions. Season this layer with additional salt and pepper. Pour over the wine.

Cut a piece of parchment to fit over the potatoes and pork chops and lay it in on top.

Bake the dish for about 1 hour and 45 minutes (longer if using thicker chops), pouring in the chicken stock halfway through baking. Sprinkle with parsley to serve.

After cooking
After cooking

Wine Pairing: Brunello di Montalcino

Stewed Sausages with Fennel and Tomato

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Owing to our work schedules, Saturdays are typically filled with running errands and housekeeping. As a result on these days, I often look for dishes that are relatively easy to prepare and that can cook on their own while we catch our breath and linger over an aperitivo.

I came across this recipe on the Food and Wine website and thought it would be perfect for a wintry Saturday evening. Including prep, it only requires about an hour and a half and as the sausages cook, the aromas tantalize the appetite.

I’ve modified the original recipe slightly, reducing the number of sausages to 6 from 12 and the number of fennel bulbs from 3 to 2. The recipe recommends serving with creamy polenta and here, I opted for a quick-cooking 5 minute version.

The prep
The prep

Stewed Sweet Sausages in Fennel-Tomato Sauce adapted from Food and Wine.com

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 sweet Italian sausages (about 2 pounds)
2 large fennel bulbs—trimmed, each bulb cut into 8 wedges, fronds chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
Kosher salt
One 28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes, crushed, juices reserved
1 cup dry white wine
2 whole chiles de árbol

In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil. Add the sausages and cook over medium heat, turning, until nicely browned all over, 5 minutes. (Don’t rush this step, but also be careful not to overcook the sausages at this point.)

Transfer to a plate.

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Browned sausages

Add the fennel wedges to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes.

Browning the fennel
Browning the fennel

Add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds and 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring, until the fennel is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.

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After adding the onion and garlic

Add the tomatoes and their juices, the wine, and chiles.

With the tomatoes, wine, and chili
With the tomatoes, wine, and chiles

Tuck the sausages into the sauce.

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During the last 45 minutes of cooking

Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer until the sausages are cooked through and the sauce is thickened, about 45 minutes longer.

Garnish the stew with fennel fronds and serve over polenta.

Wine Pairing: Dolcetto d’Alba, Merlot

Braised Pork Shanks with White Beans

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When it comes to winter comfort food, nothing beats something braised. During cooking, the heat from the stove warms the house, while the aromas tantalize the appetite. At the table, the unctuousness of the meat and the sensuousness of the sauce caress the palate. And if you’re lucky enough, or had the foresight to double the recipe, you have the leftovers, which more often than not are even better than when you first enjoyed the dish.

Last weekend, I found some great looking locally sourced, farm-raised pork shanks, each about a pound, at my butcher in Chelsea Market, Dickson’s.

Tied pork shanks
Tied pork shanks

When I got back home, I looked through my files and found a recipe from Williams-Sonoma for a classic braise with broth, wine, and aromatics complemented by cooked white beans.

The success of this dish depends a lot on thoroughly browning the shanks to develop deep meaty flavors. Finely dicing the onions, carrots, and celery makes for a richly textured sauce. My only variation from the recipe was using whole, rather than chopped, fresh thyme and removing the springs before finishing the sauce. I also used a smaller quantity of beans than called for.

Braised Pork Shanks with White Beans Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

The prepped ingredients
The prepped ingredients

4 fresh pork shanks, well-tied, each 1 1/2 to 2 lb.
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
2 yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste (I recommend the imported concentrated tomato paste from a tube.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme (I prefer to use the whole springs and remove then after cooking.)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups cooked cannellini beans (I recommend starting with 2 cups, and adding more to your taste.)

Directions:
Preheat an oven to 375°F.

Season the pork shanks with salt and pepper. Dredge the shanks in the flour, shaking off the excess. (I’m rather liberal with my salt and pepper.)

In a large braiser (enameled cast iron works best) over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until just smoking. Add the shanks and brown on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer to a plate. (Take the time to brown the shanks well.)

The browned shanks
The browned shanks

Add the onions, celery and carrots to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

The aromatics cooking
The aromatics cooking

Add the tomato paste and allow to toast for about a minute. (The original recipe adds the tomato paste along with he garlic and thyme and does not call for toasting.)

Toasting the tomato paste
Toasting the tomato paste

Add the garlic, the 1/4 cup parsley and the thyme and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broth and wine and bring the mixture to a boil.

The garlic and thyme
The garlic and thyme

Return the shanks to the pan, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the shanks once about half way through, until the meat is fork-tender and almost falls off the bone, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Transfer the shanks to a platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil. (The original recipe says to turn the shanks occasionally; I think once is enough.)

The finished shanks
The finished shanks

Skim the fat off the braising liquid, set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Simmer until the liquid is thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the cooked beans, mashing some of them into the sauce.

Beans added to the sauce
Beans added to the sauce

 

Garnish the shanks with parsley and serve immediately with the beans and braising juices. Serves 4.

Wine Pairing: Cotes du Rhone, Syrah

Braised Pork Shoulder Roast

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Yesterday morning, we went to our local butcher to purchase some pork shanks, which I had planned to braise with smoked paprika. Unfortunately, they only had two: one large, one small. That wouldn’t do. As I scanned the display, I espied a pork shoulder roast that prompted me to think of a Facebook post by cookbook author Michele Scicolone on braised pork, which called for, you guessed it, a pork shoulder roast.

Even though we weren’t having dinner guests, I bought the almost four-point roast, and used my phone’s Facebook app to bring up Michele’s post for the recipe and shopping list. She claimed that “nothing is better than a pork shoulder especially when made in the classic Italian way, braised with aromatic vegetables, rosemary and wine.” Well after making it for dinner last night I have to agree—this was indeed the best pork roast I have ever made. Succulent, juicy, and aromatic, perfectly textured, it was absolutely delicious.

I made a few variations, using one large sweet onion rather than the two medium onions called for, increasing the amount of wine and decreasing the amount of water, and adding a tad more fresh rosemary and a pinch of fennel pollen.

The most difficult part of this recipe was waiting for this roast to finish cooking while being tantalized by its seductive aromas that wafted from the oven. We were salivating as it came out of the oven.

As recommended by the author, I served the dish accompanied by white beans and chose a young Barbera d’Alba for our wine.

Here’s a link to Michele’s post: Brasato di Maile for a Festive Dinner Party. Note that a misprint in the recipe erroneously calls for a 14 pound roast as opposed to a 4 pound one.

Onions, Carrot, and Celery are finally chopped

Chopped aromatics
Chopped aromatics

The roast is patted dry and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper:

The seasoned roast
The seasoned roast

The roast is browned on all sides. It’s essential for flavor to take the time to brown the roast well.

Bronwed roast
Browned roast

After browning the roast, I removed it from the pot and sautéed the vegetables, added the garlic, rosemary, fennel pollen, and the wine, and brought them to a simmer. I then returned the browned roast, along with its juices, to the pot.

The roast cooks for about 2.5 hours, or until easily pierced by a fork.

The finished roast
The finished roast

Wine Pairing: Barbera, Chianti Classico, Petite Sirah