Pasta with Mascarpone & Walnuts

Pasta with Mascarpone & Walnuts

Recently, I’ve been reading two mid-century cookbooks: one by Jeanne Carola Francesconi, La Cucina Napoletana (1965), considered by many to be the bible on Neapolitan cooking; the other by Elizabeth David, Italian Food (1954), one of the first English-language books to emphasize authenticity and seasonality in its exploration of the subject.

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Musing: An Epic Failure

What should have been a great dish

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.

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Braised Pork “Black Rooster”

Braised Pork “Black Rooster”

Serendipity triggered this post. A few weeks ago, a loyal reader in a comment recommended Mario Batali’s 2005 cookbook, Molto Italiano, averring it to be his best ever. I ordered a used copy of it online, and on the day it arrived in the mail, my supermarket had a half-price sale on pork that made a 4.3 perfectly butchered shoulder roast irresistible. This confluence of events ultimately led me to a recipe in Batali’s book for “Braised Pork Black Rooster.” The barnyard moniker derives from the Gallo Nero, Italian for “black rooster,” the emblem of the consortium for Chianti Classico, the wine called for in the recipe. Given my predilection for Chianti, I simply had to make this dish.

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Oven-Roasted Chicken Cacciatora

Oven-Roasted Chicken Cacciatora

You can find at least half a dozen recipes for chicken cacciatora or cacciatore on this blog; it’s truly one of my go-to comfort dishes. Unfortunately, as with most fricassee dishes, the required step of browning the chicken wreaks havoc on the stove top. However, my recent experiments with roasted chicken thighs prepared from one of Sam Sifton’s “You Don’t Need a Recipe” columns on the New York Times “Cooking” website led me to develop a version of cacciatora that eliminates the mess and has plenty of flavor. Moreover, because it doesn’t require  separately cooking the vegetables, it takes less time. Read more

Polpettone di Vitello al Sedano or Veal Loaf with Celery

Polpettone di Vitello al Sedano

For the last month, our schedule has been impacted by my husband’s undergoing a 17.5-hour surgery for an hiatal hernia, hence the irregular postings to my blog as well as commenting on others. The surgery has also affected our daily menus with temporary restrictions on what my better half can safely consume.

So far, he’s been home for only a couple of days and, surprisingly, we’ve been able to have enjoyable dinners both nights. On his first night home we had skin-on bone-in chicken thighs over roasted with onions and red bell peppers. Last night, following the surgeon’s suggestion, I prepared a new recipe for a meat loaf from Hazan’s Marcella’s Italian Kitchen: Polpettone di Vitello al Sedano, or Veal Loaf with Celery. (It’s amazing how almost everything sounds better in Italian. Polpettone, by the way, is Italian for “big meatball.”)

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Drunkard’s Spaghetti

Drunkard’s Spaghetti

My brother recently sent me a link to a recipe in the New York Times for “drunken spaghetti,” or spaghetti all’ubriaco and suggested that I do a blog post about it. I’ve seen the dish prepared several times on television by celebrity cooks like Rachael Ray and, over the years, have read about it in the press. Recipes for it also abound on the internet, some posted by travelers who first encountered it in Tuscany, others by food writers like Mark Bittman, who wrote a column about it in 1998, after having enjoyed the dish at Osteria del Circo in New York City.

I must admit that the dish, as well as its preparation, has a lot of wow factor, which makes for good television, especially when a celebrity chef dumps, with a flourish, an entire bottle of wine into a pot for cooking the spaghetti. As you might expect, some cooks go overboard and call for using status wines like Barolo or Rosso di Montalcino and the audience soaks it up with oohs and aahs. Indeed, all the razzle-dazzle associated with this dish may be the reason I’ve avoided making it until now.

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Musing: Finishing Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

A technique article on SeriousEats.com for preparing spaghetti aglio e olio prompted me the other night to prepare it for a late-night supper.

I’ve made this dish numerous times, but the article included an interesting video that demonstrated a technique for “finishing the pasta the right way” that made me rethink my own. What struck me most in the video was the cook’s rapidly swirling and tossing of the pasta in the sauce after adding the pasta water, which resulted in a beautiful emulsion.

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Lemon Chicken Revisited

Lemon Chicken

Today’s post is pretty much a repeat of one I did four years ago. It wasn’t until we sat down to supper that my husband asked if we hadn’t had this dish before. Well, I checked after dinner and, sure enough, he was right. There was, however, one major difference. The first time I prepared the dish, I used chicken thighs; last night, I used a whole chicken cut into 10 pieces as suggested by the recipe.

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Potenza-Style Pork Ragu with Farro

Farro with Pork Ragu

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.

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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