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Exactly one year ago, Tom and I were booked on a flight to Rome, for a week’s stay. We so miss that city! Even if Italy reopens to Americans this summer, we won’t be joining the first wave of post-pandemic visitors. While waiting, we try our best to reproduce the Roman foods that we love, here in our own kitchen.

Pollo alla romana, chicken braised with sweet red peppers, is a homely, comforting dish served in every trattoria in Rome. It was one of the earliest recipes we recreated for our first cookbook, La Tavola Italiana, and is still one of my favorites.

Trouble is, not even the best variety of red Bell peppers grown in the USA can compare with the huge, gorgeous ones available in Rome’s vegetable markets. Still, even domestic peppers can make this a very good dish. And this week, long before there are any local peppers, I found big, good-looking ones from Mexico (we’ve been grateful for Mexican fruits and vegetables all winter) at my best local vegetable stand. Each weighed about 9 ounces and cost all of 50 cents.
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We can’t get chickens as flavorful as those in Italy either (I think Roman birds must lead more interesting lives than American ones), but I try for the best I can.

Scaling down my own recipe, I began browning two cut up chicken legs in olive oil, along with a sliced garlic clove. This didn’t go well. Whatever I had last cooked in that pan had totally unseasoned it, and the chicken pieces persisted in sticking, tearing the skin and pasting it to the bottom of the pan.
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Chicken stickin’

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The pieces also thought it was fun to spatter their olive oil all over the stove every time I struggled to dislodge them, as you can see in the picture. Oy.

When they had gotten as brown as they were going to (not very), I deglazed the pan with white wine and scraped up all the remnants of the tasty skin, leaving them in to contribute whatever they could to the dish. The wine also persuaded the chicken pieces to release their death grip on the pan, so I could comfortably stir in about a cup’s worth of puree made from canned Italian-style tomatoes, plus salt and pepper.
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The chicken simmered along quietly in the liquid for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I had been peeling and quartering two of my favorite German butterball potatoes and also cutting up one of the big red peppers. I added them to the pan.
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I should admit that potatoes are totally non-canonical in pollo alla romana, but for an occasional variation on the recipe, they’re awfully good. Potatoes love tomatoes, and vice versa.

Covered, the pan simmered along for half an hour, getting an occasional stir that wafted up an increasingly mouth-watering aroma. I don’t know how it happens, but I’d swear there’s some sort of chemical interaction among chicken, peppers, and tomatoes that makes for an unexpectedly rich and luscious dish. My partially mangled chicken pieces even came out looking not too bad.
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And tasting fine too. So, while pollo alla romana in the USA is not as great as it is in Rome, it is a consolation, until we can get back across the ocean for the real thing. Moreover, this is a chicken dish that even Tom likes!

 

Mushrooms and onions are workhorses of my cooking repertoire: essential support players in many dishes, on many dinner plates, but rarely the stars. When I found a recipe in the American Cooking volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series that gives leading roles to both vegetables, I was happy to try it.

Here are all the ingredients. The mushrooms are cremini, the sliced onions are Spanish, and the condiments are salt, pepper, lemon juice, parsley, butter, and sour cream.

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The cooking was quite easy, and I did most of it well in advance, though the recipe doesn’t say you can. First I sautéed the onions in the butter until they were lightly colored. That took seven minutes.
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Next, I added the mushrooms, mixed them around a bit to get acquainted with the butter and onions, covered the pan tightly, and cooked for another seven minutes.

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At that point I turned off the heat and moved the pan, partially covered, to the back of the stove, where it sat peacefully for a couple of hours.

When it was time to eat, I pulled the pan up to a front burner and stirred in salt, pepper, lemon juice, and sour cream. I brought everything to a simmer, stirring until the sauce was heated through and taking care not to let it boil, lest the sour cream curdle.
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The final step was to sprinkle chopped parsley over the mushrooms in the serving bowl.

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At the dinner table, the mushrooms, onions, and sauce shared the plates with a pan-roasted rib steak and braised bok choy. It all would have been more attractive if the sauce had coated its vegetables evenly!
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I’m sorry to say the dish was disappointing. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it mediocre, but the good-in-themselves components didn’t mesh in a way to enhance each other. The mushrooms were just mushrooms, the onions just onions. The sauce was all right, as long as you like sour cream, but it was just as pleasant on the steak and bok choy as on its own vegetables.

Another time I may well make the dish entirely without the sauce. I’d slice the mushrooms rather than leave them whole, double the quantity of onions, and maybe deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine just before serving. I bet it would be very good, done just that simply.

 

A whole (or even half) ham is not something you choose lightly when cooking for a two-person household. But it’s spring, tulips and daffodils are blooming, and life in our city is opening up a little at last, allowing us to gather vaccinated friends around our dinner table: Just the occasion for a festive ham.
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I can’t even remember the last time I cooked a ham, but I knew I didn’t want to smother this one with sweet glazes or sticky tropical fruits. Rather, something more restrained, amenable to whatever excellent wine Tom would bring out for us from his collection. In Julia Child’s The Way to Cook I found the perfect recipe: Braised Whole Ham in Wine and Aromatic Vegetables. It’s quite a big deal, occupying a two-page spread in the book, and though it calls for a 14-pound bone-in whole ham, it turns out to be perfectly adaptable to a half ham.
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In fact, the half ham I ordered from our butcher weighed in at 12 pounds. They’re growing pigs mighty big these days! I had him slice off a thick ham steak, which left me with a hefty 10-pound hunk of meat.
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I set it on a rack in my biggest roasting pan and strewed the pan with sliced carrot, onion, and celery, black peppercorns, allspice berries, sage leaves, and bay leaves. The recipe gave several options for the wine, which was to be poured in next: dry white, French vermouth, or Port. By the rarest of coincidences, I happened to have 3/4 of a bottle of a pleasant dry white Port in the refrigerator. In it went.
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After adding about a pint of good broth, I covered the roasting pan and braised the ham for three hours at 325°, basting with the pan juices every half hour.

When the ham came out, the knife work began. Tom manned the cutting board and painstakingly trimmed off all the bits of rind, fat, and hard, tough, ragged pieces.
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Julia says it’s normal for the ham to look a mess after this step. I’m proud to say my ham was absolutely normal.
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All the above work was going on in the afternoon. Per the recipe, it should have been done much closer to dinner time, to be ready for its final metamorphosis in the oven. But, with all the rest of the meal to manage, a lot of it needing similar late-stage work, I took a risk that the ham would tolerate a lengthy pause at room temperature. (Which it did, thank goodness.)

Meanwhile, I strained the juices from the roasting pan, to be warmed and served in a gravy boat, and turned several slices of my homemade white bread into fresh crumbs. Later, but still before the guests arrived, I transferred the ham to a shallow roasting pan, brushed some of the juices all over the ham, and pressed the bread crumbs onto the entire surface. I must say, I was very dubious that the crumbs would adhere but, by golly, they did. That made the ham look much more civilized.
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As time for the main course finally approached, I drizzled some melted butter over the breadcrumbs and put the pan into a 500° oven, uncovered, for just 15 minutes – enough time to brown the crumbs and warm the ham. (Julia assured me the ham could even be served tepid, if desired.) Then it was ready to slice.
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I’d like to have shown you the ham and its accompaniments on a full dinner plate, but I got so absorbed by the conversation with the guests that I forgot to take any further photos. It was a wonderful ham: not at all heavily smoky, but rich with the essences of the braising ingredients. The light gravy was equally rich, with just a touch of fruitiness from the port.

To complete our pleasure, the ham and the wine Tom had chosen for it – a white 2017 St. Joseph from the Rhône – could have been born for each other. He is a great fan of Rhône whites, and here the earthiness and roundness of the St. Joseph, and the distinctively intense fruit of its southern French grapes, meshed perfectly with the meat sweetness and light smokiness of that ham. As Italian cooks would say, un buon abbinamento.

Deviled Short Ribs

It seems I’ll never learn to leave well enough alone. I essentially ruined a nice slab of beef short ribs this week, because I wanted to oven-roast them.
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Short ribs are wonderful for braising. Long, moist cooking makes them meltingly tender, the meat just falling off the bone. Why can’t I be content with that?

Well, I can truly say “the devil made me do it,” because the recipe that led me into temptation is called Deviled Short Ribs. I found it while browsing in the Beef and Veal volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series, where it’s credited to the American Cooking: Eastern Heartland volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series. Both sets of books have given me many excellent recipes.

I had to start early in the afternoon to make a marinade for the ribs: mixing minced onions and garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt and black pepper in a large bowl. That seemed a promising start.
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I cut my ribs into three pieces and turned them around in the marinade to coat thoroughly.
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I covered the bowl and left it on the kitchen counter for two hours, turning the ribs every 20 minutes to give all the surfaces good contact with the marinade. Then I transferred the ribs to a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
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The ribs were to roast at 400° oven for 20 minutes, then at 350° for another 1¼ hours, “or until the meat shows no resistance when pierced.” That was where my trouble began. Checking initially at one hour – just in case – I found the meat still very firm. After the next 15 minutes, it had softened only a bit. Another 15 minutes brought an improvement, but there was still resistance. The ribs were looking quite dark and somewhat shrunken. I was afraid they were drying out. A final, nervous 10 minutes, and out they came.
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The ribs were far from meltingly tender. Many outside bits were hard and dry. The thicker parts of the meat were chewable and even tasty, though the marinade hadn’t made any noticeable contribution to the flavor. And the abundant collagen layer that in short ribs holds the flesh to the bone – and that melts away in braises – remained as a tough skin that was hard to cut away from the meat.
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When we’d eaten what we could, there was much left to be discarded, alas. But, to look on the bright side, it all went into Tom’s soup scrap bag in the freezer, to ultimately join with other odds and ends of vegetables, meats, and bones in a big kettle of water and be cooked into excellent all-purpose broth.
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Maybe the devil likes his short ribs this way, but I won’t be inviting him to dinner any time soon. So I’ll just draw the curtain over this whole incident, listen to my better angel, and go back to braising for all the short ribs in my future.

Some heavy dental work a member of my household is undergoing has me thinking about soft, gentle dishes that can soothe an aching jaw. One good candidate is an onion soup from Umbria known as la cipollata. That name is given to many dishes in Italy’s regions, in most of which the onions (cipolle) are served as a vegetable on a plate. The Umbrian version is almost thick enough for that, but it’s definitely a soup.

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This is my own recipe, from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen, and while it bears a slight family resemblance to classic recipes for French onion soup, it’s much easier to make. It does take several hours’ time, but most of that involves only the soup itself, not the soup maker.

For four portions, you start by thinly slicing a pound’s worth of mild, sweet onions. I recommend Spanish, as less candylike than Vidalias. To prevent copious weeping, do this with a food processor.
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Soak the onions in a big bowl of cold water for two hours, while you go off and do something interesting.
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In a large pot, melt four tablespoons of lard in a tablespoon of olive oil. For authenticity, the lard should be lardo, the Italian cured pork fat; but lardo wasn’t available here when I was developing the recipe. No matter: it’s fine with commercial hydrogenated lard.

Drain the onions and toss them in the melted fats, adding salt, pepper, and a few basil leaves.
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Cover the pot and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. The onions will give off a fair amount of liquid, and they shouldn’t brown.
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Then add two cups of a well-flavored broth (beef, chicken, or mixed; homemade, if you have it) and three-quarters of a cup of drained, canned, Italian-style plum tomatoes, chopped or pulsed in a food processor.
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Stir, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover the pot and cook very gently for an hour. You can occasionally stir the soup if you’re passing through the kitchen during that time.
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At this point you can stop the cooking and let the almost-finished soup sit for several hours, or even overnight in the refrigerator. It’ll only get better as it ripens.

When it’s time to eat, reheat the soup well. Turn off the heat, dump in an egg beaten with three tablespoons of grated parmigiano, and stir well.
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The proper finishing touch is a slice of toasted, crusty, country-style bread set in the bottom of each bowl. I didn’t do that this time, in consideration of the dental depredations. It’s a very comforting soup, just perky enough to be interesting without overly challenging the palate. A “medicinal” glass or two of red wine goes very well with it too.

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P.S.  A few days later, when the jaw was recovering, I served the remaining soup as a gratinata – the Italian equivalent of French onion soup gratinée – just replacing the gruyère cheese with a young Tuscan pecorino. Quite delicious!

 

 

 

Long-married couples who hope to remain that way have to learn to tolerate each other’s idiosyncrasies, not least those involving food. I loved the new dinner dish I tried a few evenings ago. Tom ate a tiny portion, patiently waited while I finished mine, and made most of his meal on the subsequent cheese course.

When I first suggested trying this Carolina chicken and shrimp pilau from James Villas’ book Country Cooking, Tom was actively interested in the recipe. But it didn’t come out as he’d expected: too heavy on the chicken for him. “Arroz con pollo,” he said, resignedly. I didn’t agree, but even if I had, I also love a good arroz con pollo. (He doesn’t.)

With that little domestic contretemps as background, I’ll tell you about making this unusual poultry-and-seafood dish. The recipe gives quantities to serve eight, and I was cutting it down for just two of us. So my protein ingredients were:

  • Two chicken thighs, simmered in water with celery and peppercorns, then skinned, boned, and the meat shredded
  • Two slices of bacon, crisped in a frying pan and crumbled
  • A dozen medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

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After a recent unhappy encounter with mediocre chicken, this time I made sure to use free-range, vegetable-fed chicken thighs. The bones and skin went back into their boiling pot, to cook with the celery and peppercorns long enough to make a light broth. The bacon’s fat I scraped into a heavy casserole for the initial cooking of the rice.

I chopped half an onion and a tiny garlic clove; briefly sauteed them in the bacon fat; added half a cup of long-grain rice and tossed it to coat with the fat. Next in went ¾ cup of the chicken broth, a little chopped tomato, ½ teaspoon of lemon juice, ½ teaspoon of Worcestershire, several gratings of nutmeg, and a speck of cayenne. (Though Worcestershire sauce is in the ingredient list, it never appears in the recipe instructions. I figured this would be the place for it. No salt or pepper requested yet, either. I gave it some anyway.)
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Stirred, covered, and brought to a boil, the casserole went into a 350° oven for 20 minutes. Though I worried that might be too long for my small quantity, it was OK – just. When I took it out, the rice had absorbed all the liquid and was clearly beginning to think about sticking on the bottom. Quickly I stirred in a little more of the chicken broth and added the chicken, shrimp, and bacon, along with more salt and pepper, though the recipe still didn’t ask for any.
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The casserole went back into the oven for 15 minutes. Again, I was concerned about the time: Would 15 minutes toughen the shrimp? No, fortunately, it didn’t. (And here at last the recipe said to correct for salt and pepper, which I no longer needed to do.)
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As I said above, I loved this dish. The chicken was tender and tasty, the shrimp plump and juicy, the rice gently infused with all the aromatic ingredients. The shrimp and chicken hadn’t actually mingled their flavors, but they neighbored surprisingly well on the plate with each other and with the toothsome rice. I was sorry that Tom didn’t think so too, but for me, the pilau was an excellent new discovery.

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P.S.  That yellow hockey puck you see on the plate above is a sweet potato biscuit. I baked a small batch because Villas calls for them as a good accompaniment to the pilau. They didn’t work for me. Made only with flour, baking powder, Crisco, and a boiled sweet potato, the biscuits hardly tasted of anything. Maybe you had to grow up in the South to appreciate these.

My household is very fond of oxtails. A dinner staple in cold weather, they lend themselves to interesting preparations from many different countries. I’ve done posts about Italian, French, Spanish, and British oxtail recipes, only one of which wasn’t thoroughly rewarding. And every year, before winter ends, I look for new oxtail recipes to try.

This time around, I created a sort of hybrid French-American version: a combination of braising and broiling, working with a recipe published in a French cookbook of 1876 and some changes suggested by a present-day illustrated procedure – both of which I found in the Beef and Veal volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series.
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I started by blanching my oxtail pieces in plain water for 10 minutes. This was probably unnecessary with clean, modern oxtails, but it’s a way to shorten the main cooking time a bit. While they cooked, I chopped a cup each of carrots and onions and spread them in the bottom of a heavy casserole. (The French recipe wanted chopped turnips also, but we’re not fond of turnips.)
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In went the drained oxtails, and over them I poured ⅔ cup of white wine and 2 cups of Tom’s rich homemade broth. (The little white things you see in the picture below are the onions, which mostly floated. The carrots didn’t.)
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I brought the pot to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, covered it, and put it in a 300° oven for 3 hours, until the meat was done enough to be loose on the complex bones of the vertebrae.
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The oxtail pieces then had to cool completely before the final cooking. The French recipe would have had them cool in the braising liquid, but that would have taken a long time, so I drained them immediately and set them on a platter.
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While they cooled, I strained the braising liquid, pressing down on the vegetables and discarding them, and reduced the liquid by about half.

Then it was time for the final broiling of the meat. I salted and peppered the oxtail pieces, brushed each one with a thin coating of Dijon mustard, rolled them in fine dry breadcrumbs, and put them into a broiler pan.
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Then I drizzled a little melted butter over each piece; broiled them 5 minutes on the first side at 6 inches away from the heat; turned them over and broiled 3 minutes on the second side, until they were crisp and very tender.
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The French recipe wanted the oxtails served with a chestnut puree. I thought that would be stultifyingly heavy, so I compromised by making a modest amount of soft polenta. The modern procedure recommended braised red cabbage, glazed carrots, or a vegetable purée. Again, I thought those would be too heavy, so I made just a green salad with vinaigrette dressing.

The oxtails were excellent. The salad was a good, refreshing choice, because even the polenta struck us as a little too heavy. Mashed potatoes might have been better, and they’d have loved the delicious gravy. But whatever you put with them, oxtails are great cold-weather food. The long, slow cooking they need is just perfect for those icy days when you’re happy to have the oven warmth in the kitchen and appetizing aromas all over the house.

Gattò Santa Chiara

Naples’ church of Santa Chiara is world-famous for its exquisite 18th Century majolica-tiled cloister and garden.

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Dating from the same period, and similarly famous in Italy, is its culinary specialty: il gattò Santa Chiara. This is a savory bread-cake hybrid (gattò is an Italianization of the French gâteau) created by the nuns of the convent..

The yeast-raised dough is enriched with mashed potato, eggs, and lard, then speckled with meats and cheeses – most often cooked ham and mozzarella. There’s a gattò recipe in Tom’s and my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen, but I haven’t been totally satisfied with the results, so this week I tried giving it a few tweaks.

 

On the morning of baking day, even before my coffee was ready, I started a yeast sponge, stirring together two teaspoons of dry yeast, two tablespoons of water, and two tablespoons of flour.

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The little bowl sat on the kitchen counter for two hours, until it was puffed and bubbly. Later in the morning, I prepared the other ingredients you see below: clockwise from top left, half a boiled russet potato, two beaten eggs, an ounce and a half of lard, three ounces of boiled ham, the risen sponge, and four ounces of mozzarella.

I’d increased my recipe’s quantities of all those items except the sponge.

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After beating the potato (mashed), the lard (melted and cooled), and the eggs into the recipe’s specified two cups of flour and teaspoon of salt, I let my heavy-duty mixer knead the dough. It smoothed out very readily, not needing any additional flour. The next step was to work in the ham and cheese, which I did by hand.
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The finished dough went into a greased nine-inch cake pan, which I covered and left on the countertop to rise. In two hours, it was threatening to overflow the shallow pan, so I wrapped it with a collar of aluminum foil before putting it in the oven at 350°.

 

After 40 minutes in the oven, it had turned a nice golden brown, though it hadn’t risen very much more.

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It took some persuasion to get it out of its pan, but eventually it emerged and allowed itself to be set on a rack to cool. It might be wise to use a springform pan next time.

That evening I warmed wedges of the gattò in the toaster oven and served them as our antipasto, along with slices of prosciutto.
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Sometimes gattò is served alongside simple grilled meats. I haven’t tried that, but the combination should be very good.

As a part of our antipasto, this loaf was quite tasty, as the warmth of the toaster oven intensified the ham and cheese flavors. The soft, dense crumb was almost cake-like, and the crust was pleasantly crunchy. I can’t say it was as fine as the loaves made by the nuns of Santa Chiara, but it was definitely an improvement on my previous version. And the next day, toasted and buttered gattò slices were very nice for breakfast.

Mardi Gras snuck up on me this year. It was only one day in advance that I realized it was here. We don’t normally celebrate it any special way, but in this Covid-confined year anything different is welcome. So I draped myself in strings of Carnival beads and changed my dinner plan for the evening.

A shrimp adaptation of a crawfish étouffée recipe in The New Orleans Cookbook by Richard and Rima Collin seemed like just the thing. It was less complicated than other versions of the dish that I’ve seen, and all I’d have to buy for it was one green Bell pepper and some scallions. It turned out to be a very good choice.
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I did the preliminary cooking in the late afternoon. Here are all the prepped ingredients for a two-person portion.
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To the right of the shrimp are butter and flour. To the left, chopped onion, celery, pepper, and garlic. In the back, salt, lemon juice, cayenne, parsley, black pepper, and thinly sliced scallion greens.

The first step, in classic New Orleans style, was to make a light brown roux with the butter and flour.
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The chopped vegetables then went into the pot, to cook over low heat, stirring often, until softened. The recipe said that would take about 20 minutes, but my smaller quantities were ready in 10. Things were beginning to smell good already.
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Next, I stirred in the shrimp, all the condiments, and half a cup of water, which was absorbed immediately.
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The recipe wanted this cooked for 12 minutes. Now, I don’t know anything about crawfish, but I do know that my shrimp would’ve turned into vulcanized rubber if cooked that long. I gave them 5 minutes, still stirring, then turned off the heat, covered the pot, and left it on the back of the stove.

At dinner time, I reheated the shrimp mixture and very slowly added about a cup of hot water, stirring constantly to prevent the developing sauce from lumping. It smoothed out nicely and was ready to eat.
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As soon as the rice to accompany my étouffée was also done, I put everything on a serving platter and added a frivolous decoration of Carnival beads. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
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This was a delightful dish. The shrimp were plump and tender, cooked just right. The fragrant sauce was spicy and sweet, creamy and zingy, vegetal and seafoody, in a way that simply sang of Mardi Gras and New Orleans. In a grungy February in pandemic-restricted New York, these flavors were like a breath of life.

Though potato is the one food named in the title above, it refers only to the casing for a rich baked assortment of meats, mushrooms, herbs, and spices. In Italy’s Piedmont region, La Finanziera is an extravaganza of a stew, involving delicacies such as cockscombs, sweetbreads, and truffles. Applying the approach to more everyday ingredients still makes an excellent dinner dish.

This was the special dish I chose to match with the second of the 12 special wines Tom picked out from his collection to drink, one a month, this year. February’s wine was a 2001 Gaja Costa Russi – also from the Piedmont. I found the recipe on Italian Home Cooking, a blog by Stefano Arturi that I follow. Stefano is a London-based former restaurateur, cookbook author, and cooking teacher. His version of the timbale is an adaptation of one in Il Talismano della Felicità, the great seminal cookbook by Ada Boni. And mine is a slight adaptation of Stefano’s.

I want to show you what the finished dish should look like. (Regular readers may suspect why.) Here’s Stefano’s timballo di patate alla finanziera. The free-standing drum is made of mashed potatoes, with a crust of browned, buttery breadcrumbs. Quite a culinary feat!
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I was making my usual half amount of the recipe, which would still be too much for just two of us, but it wouldn’t have been feasible in a smaller quantity.

I started by preparing the potato. I boiled a big russet potato, mashed it, and mixed in beaten egg, grated parmigiano, ground nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
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My faithful knife man cut up the meats for me. I used luganega sausage, chicken gizzards already prepared in confit, and a small amount of veal sweetbread – not exactly what the recipe calls for, but all things I had on hand.
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In a sauté pan I softened minced onions in butter and olive oil, with bay leaf, sage leaf, ground cloves, cinnamon, crushed juniper berries, grated nutmeg, and black pepper. I added each of the meats in turn, cooking them gently, and ended by deglazing the pan with white wine.
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Earlier, I had soaked, softened, and cut up dried porcini mushrooms and also sliced a few fresh cremini mushrooms. Separately, I sautéed those, also in butter and olive oil, and stirred in the porcini soaking liquid and a little tomato paste.
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When I’d mixed the mushrooms and their juices into the meats, the timbale filling was ready and could be set aside. Now came the tricky part!

A bit intimidated by the prospect of using the recommended tall metal charlotte mold, I chose a broader, shallower Corning ware casserole dish. I slathered the interior heavily with softened butter and coated it with fine, dry, homemade breadcrumbs. On top of that I gingerly poured in some beaten egg, tilted the dish around until the egg covered all the crumbs, and followed with another coat of crumbs.
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Per the recipe directions, I put the mold into the freezer for a while, to make it easier for the potato lining to cling. Which it did, surprisingly easily: With wet fingers, it was just like applying modeling clay.
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In went the filling, with butter dotted on the top. Then a covering of the rest of the potato casing and yet more butter..

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I put the dish in a 350° oven with a sigh of relief. But I was not out of the woods yet. It was supposed to be done in 45 to 60 minutes, when the top was firm and golden. It firmed in about an hour, but it absolutely wouldn’t go golden. I gave it several extra minutes, then took it out anyway and let it rest for the indicated 10 minutes before unmolding.

Disaster! Even after loosening the sides, when I topped the dish with a serving plate and reversed the two, the timbale wouldn’t come out. With repeated shaking, the filling and some of its crust let go and spilled out. The original bottom layer of the crust was stuck to the dish and had to be pried out in chunks, to be laid over the filling.

I refuse to show you what the whole mess looked like. Instead, here’s one of the portions I rescued to put on our dinner plates.
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Despite its total collapse, the timbale was delicious. The meats and mushrooms had retained their individual characteristics, enhanced each other, and picked up more flavor from the gentle medley of spices, herbs, wine, and tomato. The potatoes – even the obviously overcooked layer from the bottom of the dish – had also taken on some of the shared flavors and were delicious too. And it all went perfectly with Tom’s special wine.

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I’d like to add that this dinner was special for us in two further ways. That day, we were celebrating Tom’s birthday, and also, we’d gotten our first Covid vaccine shots. Happiness and relief!

I do wonder why my timbale fell apart, though. Dish the wrong shape or made of the wrong material? Not enough butter or crumbs lining it? Potato layer too thin? Too long in the oven? Or just bad culinary luck?  Stefano, if you’re reading this, I’d be grateful for any thoughts you might have about that!