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Archive for the ‘Meat’ Category

After you’ve been eating high on the hog for some time – and we’re now moving into that season – you need a day or two with a homely dinner of comfort food: something easy, familiar, and unchallenging, to get your overstimulated palate back onto an even keel. Lately what fills that bill for me is a dish of baked Italian sweet sausages, green Bell peppers, Spanish onions, and plain white potatoes.
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Oven baking is key here. Of course, these foods take very well to being sautéed or pan-fried, alone or in combination, but sizzling in hot oil over a direct flame is a harsh sort of treatment. The slower penetration of surrounding heat in an oven softens foods more gently, allows their flavors to blend more, and gives them quite a different effect in the mouth.
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Baking also needs only a fairly minimal effort and very little tending. The four named items do have to be cut up, in more or less equal-sized pieces..
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And the potatoes do have to be parboiled in salted water until they begin to soften enough that they’ll be fully cooked when the other components are. After that, you just put everything in a broad baking dish, slosh on as much olive oil as you like, stir, and add salt and pepper.
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The dish goes into a 400° or 425° oven for 30 to 45 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft. You can give it a stir occasionally if you like, when you’re testing things for doneness. Then just take it to the table and serve it out, sighing comfortably as you consume it..

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Tom wants me to mention that a bottle of young Chianti Classico is the final touch that exalts this homely, delicious fare.

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Tom and I are beginning to feel one of our periodic urges to revisit Rome. We’ve loved that city for many years, one major reason being its food. We haven’t yet planned our next trip there, but the impulse – along with a rack of pork spareribs fresh from the butcher – led me to make a characteristically delicious Roman dish for dinner one recent evening.
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Spuntature al pomodoro
, spareribs in tomato sauce, is from Michele Scicolone’s cookbook 1,000 Italian Recipes. It’s her version of a dish she’d had at Enoteca Corsi, a long-established wine bar and osteria in Rome’s historic center. Even at first reading, I recognized the recipe’s unmistakable Roman style and simplicity. It would be just the thing for us.

Four meaty individual ribs cut from the sparerib rack made a generous portion for two, and enough for a half quantity of the recipe.
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My mini-food processor did a quick job of mincing carrot, onion, celery, and garlic for the sauce. A battuto like this is the foundation of many good down-home Italian preparations.

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In a Dutch oven I browned the ribs in olive oil. Just a little oil, since the heat quickly began to melt down their own flavorful fats.
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I removed the ribs to a plate and sprinkled on salt and pepper. After spooning off some of the rendered fat, I added the battuto to the pot and sautéed it for a few minutes. (The dark green bits in the photo are basil – a last-minute substitute for sage, which I’d forgotten that I had no more of. It was OK in the sauce, but sage would have been better.)
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After deglazing the pan with white wine, I put the spareribs back in, along with a cup of pureed, canned, plum tomatoes and additional salt and pepper. I covered the pan and let it simmer, turning the ribs occasionally, for an hour and a half, until the pork was almost falling off the bones.
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For most of that cooking time, we were tantalized by the rich aromas emanating from the kitchen. And at the dinner table, every taste of the succulent spareribs activated our fondest palatal memories of Rome. We’d better start consulting calendars and airline schedules!

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A few weeks ago I wrote about making a very good dish I’d rediscovered while reorganizing my big recipe binder. This week I made another one like that.

I don’t know where or when I found the recipe for Pork Chops with Coriander-Cumin Spice Rub. Though I must have made it once, since I’d made a few notes on the ingredient list of the clipping (which is printed in a font I don’t recognize from any magazine or newspaper), I had no recollection of it. And when I read the recipe carefully, I was dubious about a few things.
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The note saying I’d used fresh butt – i.e., boneless pork shoulder – rather than regular pork chops didn’t surprise me. I’m not good at cooking pork chops: too often they come out dry and tough, so I sometimes replace standard loin chops with equally thick slices of fresh butt. Its interstitial fat melts and dissipates when gently cooked, keeping the loose-textured meat moist and tender.

The rest of the ingredients were simple enough: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, olive oil, garlic, and a lime.
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The first thing I had to do was toast cumin and coriander seeds for the spice rub. From making Indian recipes, I’ve come to love the rich scent of toasting cumin.
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Next was to grind the seeds coarsely, which I did in a mortar and pestle.
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The texture of the ground spices worried me a little, because all that rough fiber would have to be left on the meat right to the end. I feared it might be unpleasant to chew. But I mixed it with olive oil and minced garlic and rubbed it into both sides of the pork, as directed.
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Then came the frying – to be done with just a little oil in a very hot skillet for just 5 to 7 minutes on each side. That worried me too: Would the high heat burn the spices or toughen the meat? Would the brief time be enough to release the meat’s fats and to cook it through?
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Happily, the answers were No, No and Yes, Yes.
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I still thought we’d have to scrape off the spices on our plates, but once the meat was sliced, we found the coating had softened enough to be eaten, and its amount was fine. The pork was tender, succulent, and lightly imbued with the spices. A squeeze of lime juice perfectly finished the blend of flavors. One more recipe not to forget again!
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My big fat three-ring recipe binder had gotten out of hand – again. Its patchwork pasted-up pages, accumulated over many years, its progressively inconsistent arrangement, and its sheer bulk made it hard to find things I knew were in there somewhere. Time to take it all apart, cull the contents, and reorganize it more sensibly. It was quite a job.

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I found recipes I’d completely forgotten about, some of which I couldn’t think why I’d ever saved. I discarded several dozen clippings – many that probably would produce excellent results – that no longer interested me enough to devote the required time or effort. For example:

  • A tripe dish that had to be simmered on top of the stove for “at least 8 hours”
  • A Brazilian feijoada with eight kinds of meats, including pig’s tails, feet, and ears; also oranges, collard greens, rice, and toasted manioc flour
  • A flourless chocolate cake that carried 950 words of instructions

On the positive side, redoing the binder recalled to me some recipes that I’d never gotten around to making but would still like to try, and other recipes for dishes that I’d enjoyed long ago but let slip out of mind. One of the latter is Bavette aux Échalotes, a recipe I’d clipped from 2002 issue of Saveur magazine and at some later date had written “Good” next to the title. It’s a very simple preparation for skirt steak with shallot sauce.
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I had some pieces of skirt steak in the freezer, as well as three plump shallots in the refrigerator, so there were the makings of a meat dish for a weeknight’s dinner for two.
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Tom minced the shallots for me while I salted and peppered the little steaks and sautéed them in butter and olive oil.
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When the steaks were nicely rare, I transferred them to a platter, covered them loosely with foil, put them in a warming oven, and returned to the stove to make the sauce. I stirred the shallots into the fat remaining in the sauté pan and cooked until they were just browned.
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Then, a quarter cup of red wine vinegar stirred into the pan and cooked down to a syrup, a good chunk of butter dropped in and swirled around until it melted, and the sauce was ready to be poured over the steaks for serving.
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The dish was delicious. So easy and yet so sophisticated – so quintessentially French. Skirt steak, like hanger steak, is one of the gamiest-tasting of all the beef cuts, as well as one of the easiest to prepare. This is a treatment for it that I hope never to forget again.

 

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Veal Francese

The Italian dish vitello alla francese came to America with the great wave of immigration from southern Italy that started in the late 1880s. As “Veal Francese,” it became a staple of the rapidly growing New York City Italian restaurant culture, and it’s still found – in varying degrees of quality – on almost every southern-Italian-style restaurant menu in the US.

Tom, who grew up just across the river in Jersey City, remembers it well from those days:

Veal francese was a standard dish – although one of the more expensive ones – of every Italian-American restaurant I ever frequented. Veal in all sorts of preparations was a lot more common than beef, and a restaurant of any ambitions had to offer several. I remember veal francese fondly as one of simplest and most elegant of them: no tomatoes, no peppers, no onions, just a modest sauce and a thin, tender, delicious, golden slice of meat.

Yielding to Tom’s nostalgia, we made veal francese together for a dinner this week, using a pair of large, well-pounded veal scallops from our butcher shop (owned by an Italian-American family).
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I’d done some recipe checking and found that, to start, the veal is typically dipped in egg and coated with flour, but Tom recalls the New Jersey version always using breadcrumbs instead of flour for a lighter casing. We did it that way.
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While the breaded scallops were firming up in the refrigerator, we took advantage of an unexpected trove of morel mushrooms we’d seen that morning at Eataly.
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Where in this country the store had found morels in August is a mystery – they’re spring mushrooms, and I don’t think they’ve ever been successfully cultivated. But even at their outlandish price, we grabbed some. And sautéed them in butter to accompany the veal.
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We then sautéed the veal in butter with a little olive oil – quickly, to retain all its juiciness. Butter may not be authentic to the Jersey City style: Tom’s memory is hazy on that point.
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The cooked veal waited in a warming oven while we deglazed the pan with white wine, stirred in a few big spoonsful of broth, added salt and pepper, and reduced the liquid until it was almost syrupy. There was just enough sauce to moisten the pieces of veal on their serving platter. Veal francese should never be awash in sauce: On that point Tom’s memory is solid.
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The dish was brilliant. And the morels alongside were a match made in heaven. The interplay of flavors from the veal, the sauce, the mushrooms, and even a plain baked potato was intricate and harmonious, the wild earthy notes of the mushrooms counterpointing the meat-sweetness of the veal and its delicate sauce.
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Glorious as it was, this veal francese is obviously a dish of great simplicity. For that very reason, it’s imperative to have ingredients of absolute top quality. Thus, our veal was thinly cut slices, fresh from the butcher; the breadcrumbs were homemade, as was the broth; and the cooking medium was Kerrygold, a fine Irish butter.

It’s regrettable that in some restaurants veal francese has become a tired, boring, last-choice menu item. That’s almost certainly due to cost-cutting practices like mediocre meat and old, stale cooking oil, as well as careless handling – meat cut badly, coating too heavy, cooking time too long, too much too-gloppy sauce. Treatment like that is what has given Italian-American cooking a bad name, which it definitely doesn’t deserve.
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Good to the last bite!

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BTW, should anyone be interested in more information about Italian-American cooking, here’s a link to an article Tom and I wrote some years ago for The Journal of Gastronomy, called “Italian-Americans in New York: a Bicultural Cuisine.”

 

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Planning for a casual dinner party last week, I turned to the summer section of TSOTIK (rhymes with exotic), our family name for Tom’s and my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. There I found recipes for several perfect-for-hot-weather dishes that I hadn’t made in a long time, so I built the evening’s menu around them.

 

Insalata Caprese – Zucchini a Scapece

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Insalata caprese
hardly needs a recipe at all: just pair the best available mozzarella with the best available tomatoes, and offer salt, pepper, and olive oil for diners to dress their own portions. The great white puffball you see above is a very fresh 1½-pound buffalo milk mozzarella, and the red cartwheels around it are local heirloom tomatoes. The combination is always wonderful.

Zucchini a scapece is a classic Neapolitan antipasto that I’ve written about before. For it I lightly floured rounds of zucchini, fried them in olive oil, and marinated them overnight in a simmered mixture of vinegar, water, garlic, and chopped mint leaves. The dish is best when made, as here, with the costata romanesco variety of zucchini, the prince of the summer squash family.

 

Fettuccine all’Abruzzese

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If you think this bowl of pasta looks as if there’s barely any sauce on it, you’re right. There isn’t much. But this simple peasant dish always surprises people by how unexpectedly delicious it is. The sauce is just a sauté of finely chopped pancetta and onion; chopped basil and parsley, salt, and pepper; with a little broth stirred in and nearly evaporated. The fettuccine – homemade, and rolled very thin: that’s essential – are tossed first with grated pecorino cheese and then with the sauce. The pasta readily absorbs the sauce, and the diners just as readily absorb the pasta.

 

Abbacchio in Umido – Ciambotta

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For the book I translated this meat recipe as “Summertime Lamb Stew” because, in Italian, in umido means stew, but there are no substantial vegetables in it, as there are in most cold-weather stews. It’s simply chunks of boneless lamb shoulder braised in tomato sauce, with seasonings of chopped pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and marjoram. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get really young lamb these days, so the dish can take much longer to cook than the recipe suggests. Not a problem, though: just start early – even a day in advance – simmer however long it takes until the lamb is tender, and reheat it when needed. This is a reliable dish: It’ll be fine.

To accompany the vegetable-less lamb stew, I made a big sauté of summer vegetables from the greenmarket: eggplant, celery, onions, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini. We also had plenty of crusty bread available to soak up the delicious juices they generated, along with the equally good sauce from the lamb.

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The dinner wasn’t confined to these three courses. We also had a few hors d’oeuvres before coming to table, a cheese platter after the lamb, and a simple dessert of homemade lemon ice with cookies. Altogether, a very relaxed and comfortable summer repast. And Tom had picked out five wines from his collection to match with the food. He has written about those wines on his own blog.

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We celebrated Independence Day this year by having good friends over for an American dinner. This was a bit of a menu challenge, since my palate, my pantry, and my parties mostly tend toward Italian and French. But I dug into my recipe collection and came up with an all-American lineup, while Tom dug into his wine storage for American wines.

We started modestly in the living room with aperitifs of Gruet brut, a champagne-method sparkling wine from New Mexico, with cocktail peanuts, cheese straws, and pickled herring to nibble on. I made the cheese straws with New York State cheddar, and the little tidbits of herring in mustard sauce were from Russ & Daughters on Houston Street, one of Manhattan’s many noted immigrant success stories.
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At table, our first course was a New Orleans favorite, Crabmeat Maison as served in Galatoire’s restaurant. I’ve written here before about making this luscious preparation for Atlantic blue-claw crabmeat. This day it paired beautifully with a 2016 Chenin Blanc from Paumanok Vineyards on Long Island.
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From there we moved to a rolled rib roast of beautifully rare beef, sourced from Ottomanelli’s of Bleecker Street, one more noted Manhattan immigrant success. This delicious centerpiece was accompanied by picnic-style vegetables: first-of-the-summer corn on the cob, new potato salad (I’ve written here about this too), a colorful heirloom tomato salad; and an ever-reliable three-bean salad, with black beans, kidneys, and chickpeas. The corn, potatoes, and tomatoes were from local farmers at my greenmarket. Our wine was a fine 2010 Petite sirah from California’s Ridge Vineyards.
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Even our cheese board held only US cheeses: Leonora, a goat; Harbison, a soft-ripening cow; Grayson, another cow; and one called Simply Sheep. All but the Grayson were new to us, and all were very good. With them we drank another excellent Ridge wine: 2010 Geyserville. (Tom has written about all these wines in his blog.)
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We concluded with small strawberry shortcakes, that quintessentially American summer dessert. Again, I’ve written about this classic recipe from the American Cooking volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series. They were local strawberries, of course. This particular batch came out quite messy looking, but they tasted perfectly good.
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All that definitely made a Glorious Fourth dinner. For the final aspect of the patriotic theme, our evening’s music program was also all-American. The guests arrived to the tune of John Philip Sousa marches, and when they were all played, we listened to quiet jazz by Teddy Wilson, who, in Tom’s opinion, probably has the lightest touch of any jazz pianist ever.

Expressing patriotism is a tricky business these days, but culinary patriotism can win all available hearts, minds, and stomachs.

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