Meat

Happy Holiday Table!

Spaghetti alla pescatrice e finocchio

Spaghetti alla pescatrice e finocchio

Yes I am still around, just had a busy few months and writing took a backseat. If you're interested in finding out what kept me so busy, I just finished writing and end-of -year-recap newsletter which you will receive soon. This year, I had to pare down from last December's 12 Days of Christmas recipes extravaganza. For the 2015 Holiday table I am sharing 2 recipes, a pasta with monkfish for Christmas Eve and a rabbit with olives which can make a lovely dish anytime throughout the season.

I developed and taught both these dishes while leading my food tour of Maremma last September. More details on it and on upcoming tours for 2016 will be in my newsletter, or you can email viola@violabuitoni.com for details.

Just one more reminder: cooking classes make great holiday gifts, check my newsletter for details on where I will be teaching in 2016.

Please enjoy the merriest of holidays!

 


Spaghetti con pescatrice, finocchio e pinoli tostati al profumo d’arancio

Spaghetti with orange scented monkfish, wild fennel and pine nuts sauce

 

for 6 to 8 people

3 sweet yellow onions

2 cups wild fennel

1 whole monkfish of about 3 pounds, skin off

(or fillets will do in a pinch and skate or a small bass can sub for the monkfish)

salt and pepper to taste

grated zest of one orange

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup pine nuts

1 pound box spaghetti

 

Slice the onions in very thin half moons.

Clean and wash the fennel very well. Dry it and chop it quite finely.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper.

Reserve 1 tablespoon of chopped fennel and one pinch of grated zest.

Heat the olive oil in a shallow, wide mouth sauce pot add the onions, all but the reserved fennel and zest and a generous pinch of salt.

Slowly soften everything over gentle heat for about 20 minutes, until the onions appear translucent and quite soft.

Raise the heat and add the monkfish. As soon as the color of the fish changes to whitish, deglaze it with the white wine.

When you no longer smell the acidity of the wine, add 1 cup of water, turn the heat down and cover the fish.

Braise it slowly until the eyes are sunken in the orbits and the flesh is falling off the skeleton, it should take about 30 minutes.

Check it often and add a little bit of water to the bottom of the pot if it looks like it’s sticking or too dry.

In the meantime, toast the pine nuts on low heat until they are gold, appear oily and you can effortlessly smell their distinctive flavor.

Remove the fish from the pot being mindful to let all the liquid, onions and fennel fall back into the sauce.

Pick the flesh off the bones and spine. There will be some gelatinous parts that come from the spine and fins, keep them as they will make for just the right sauce texture.

Also, do not forget to pick the cheeks and all the tasty little bits off the head.

Return the bits of fish to the pot and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, just so that all the ingredients come together well.

Adjust salt and pepper.

Drop the spaghetti in salted boiling water and cook quite al dente, about 4 minutes less than the recommended time.

Strain the pasta from the water using tongs or a handheld strainer and add them to the pot with the sauce in it.

Add a bit of the pasta cooking water and finish cooking the pasta with the sauce, tossing and turning all the while.

You might need to add a little more pasta water, but do so gradually as to not overcook the pasta.

When the spaghetti reaches your preferred toothsomeness, sprinkle with olive oil, turn off the heat and toss with energy.

The oil and starch in the cooking water will bind, giving the dish just the right creaminess and moisture.

Scatter the toasted nuts on the pasta, toss and transfer to a warm platter.

Dust with the reserved fennel and zest and serve right away.

 


Very tasty rabbit

Very tasty rabbit

Coniglio alle olive in teglia

Stove top rabbit with olives

for 4 people

1 rabbit

salt to taste

1 cup black olives with pits

2 sage sprigs

2 wide strips orange peel

2 garlic clove

olive oil

1/2 tablespoon grated orange zest

1/2 cup red wine

1 cups hot chicken stock

pepper to taste

 

The day before making the dish, have the butcher cut your rabbit in 8 to 10 pieces.

Salt the pieces generously, cover and refrigerate.

When ready to start cooking, remove the from the refrigerator and place on the counter to come to room temperature.

In the meantime, rinse the olives well and place them in a small bowl. Squeeze them lightly with your fingers to loosen the flesh.

Pick the leaves off 1 sage sprig and rub them and the orange peel strips between your palms to release their essence. Smash the garlic clove without peeling.

Add the rubbed sage and orange and the smashed garlic clove to the olives then cover everything in olive oil. Leave to marinate while you get the rabbit started.

Mince the garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt and mix with the grated zest.

Pick the leaves off the remaining sage sprigs and rub them between your palms to release their essence.

Select a sauté pan wide enough to accommodate the rabbit pieces in one comfortable layer. Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in it and add the zest and garlic mince.

Set on gentle heat and add the sage leaves. Soften very gently for 2 to 3 minutes stirring often to prevent burning and sticking.

Add the rabbit and bring the fire to medium to brown lightly on both sides, still stirring to ensure the garlic doesn't burn.

Raise the heat to high and deglaze with the wine. When you no longer smell the acidity, but just the sugar, pour the stock all over the meat.

When the stock start boiling, lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan.

The rabbit will need to cook for about 20 minutes at a lively simmer. It will get quite tender. You will have to return to it often to ensure it is not burning nor sticking and has a bit of liquid on the bottom.

In the meantime, remove and discard the garlic clove from the olives and pour out some of the excess oil. Stir them into the rabbit.

Braise for another 10 to 15 minutes, adjust salt and pepper. Transfer the rabbit pieces to a warm platter and pour the cooking liquid over them. Serve warm to hot.

Note that there should be a good amount of slightly dense sauce. If it seems too liquid, remove the rabbit and keep it warm by covering the warm platter in aluminum, let the sauce boil a little longer to thicken slightly before pouring it on.

For Susan: fegato alla veneziana Liver in the style of Venice

Posting from Boston today, where I have been invited to speak on a panel focusing on why it is important to maintain the flavor of traditions when scaling food production and how to to do it. My focus is on the why, obviously, and I am very excited to be in a group that includes industry leaders and scientists who work tirelessly to bring good, healthy food to as many as possible at the right price.

Oh and of course I had lobster last night and a bouquet of Mother's Day flowers from the delightful young man who looked me up after reading an interview with Chicago's Italian American newspaper Fra Noi and invited me here. Last but not least, I am staying steps away from the famous park where ducklings were made way for.

Enough about me, though, as this is for Susan.

Dear Susan-of course a great Southern woman like you would ask for a liver recipe!

I hope to see you soon in my classes again, until then, here is the recipe from my Facebook post.

Hugs.


 

Fegato alla veneziana

Venetian style calf's liver

for 4 to 6 people

1 pound sweet onions

1 scant handful parsley

1/2 stick butter

1/4 cup olive oil

salt to taste

1 pound calf’s liver in 1 piece

pepper to taste

1/2 cup very hot beef stock

 

Slice the onions quite thinly. Mince the parsley.

Over lively heat, melt the butter into the oil in a sauté pan. Add the onions and parsley with a very generous pinch of salt.

Sweat for about 5 minutes stirring often then cover and bring the heat to medium low.

Continue braising for about an hour, checking often to ensure the onions are not sticking to the bottom and adding a bit of hot water if necessary.

In the meantime, cut the liver in 1/8” slices. Note that this is easier to do if you chill the liver in the freezer until it begins to harden without being actually frozen.

Season the liver slices with salt and pepper and set aside.

When the onions are ready, arrange the liver slices on them and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Mix in the stock, adjust salt and pepper and serve right away with grilled buttered bread and lemon wedges.

NOTES:

  • You know I am all for subbing, but this dish really needs the delicate sweetness of calf's liver
  • As I was researching this dish, I saw a way to turn its leftovers into more deliciousness: weigh how much you have leftover then grab an equivalent measure of room temperature soft butter. Mix and process into a paste in your favorite small kitchen appliance. To make it even fancier you can push through a sieve and get that high end restaurant velvetiness we so prize in this type of preparation
  • I have yet to try this, because the original dish is so good there are never any leftovers and also because the richness of it sounds like something best left for a holiday table

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 5: cappone bollito con 2 salse

I am a little off with my countdown, I just realized. If my limited math skills serve me correctly, 12-5=7 but 25-20=5. Instead of cramming 7 recipes in 5 days, we will continue our journey past Christmas to make the best out of leftovers. And nothing produces better leftovers than the capon my mother unfailingly poached every Christmas. In case you are wondering, a capon is a chicken whose renounces his manhood-possibly not willfully-tobecome larger, fattier, tenderer, juicier and much more flavorful.

I am lucky enough that in San Francisco, I actually get to pick which butcher will do me the honor of purveying the ingredient without which Christmas just isn't Christmas for me, elsewhere in the US capons might not be terribly common, so order it in advance from your specialty butcher.

 


Cappone bollito con 2 salse

Poached capon with 2 sauces

 

for the bird

1 onion

6 cloves garlic

2 celery stalks

3 carrots

2 leeks

1 lemon

2 to 3 bay leaves

6 to 8 peppercorns

1/2 cup white wine

1 handful coarse salt

1 capon

 

for the salsa verde

1 tablespoon capers in salt

1 clove garlic

1 bunch parsley

1 lemon

3 to 4 anchovies fillets

thick slice stale country bread

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

splash of vinegar

 

for the salsa gialla

1 pinch saffron

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons butter

1 pint capon stock

1 egg yolk

juice of 1 lemon

salt and pepper to taste

 

Peel the onion and spike it with the cloves. Peel the celery and carrots. Remove the green leaves from the leeks. Score them along the middle and remove the dirt under cold running water. Cut 2 slices from the lemon.

Fill a pot with water big enough to hold the capon fully submerged. Add the spiked onion, celery, carrots, leeks, lemon slices, bay leaves, peppercorns, wine and salt and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat to a simmer and lower the capon into the water. It will need to poach gently until very tender, for about 1 hour.

While the capon is cooking, make the sauces.

For the salsa verde: rinse the capers off the salt and soak them in hot water.

Pick and wash the parsley leaves, dry them well.

Smash and peel the garlic.

Grate the zest of the lemon and juice it. Drain the anchovy fillets from the oil.

Remove and discard the crust off the bread slice. Tear the remaining soft part in chunks.

Place the parsley, garlic, zest, juice, anchovies and bread chunks in the food processor bowl.

Drain the capers and add them to the food processor.

Lock and start processing while adding oil in a thick stream. Keep the motor running until you have a homogeneous paste.

Transfer to a bowl adjust the balance of salt, vinegar and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The salsa gialla will need to wait until the capon is almost done as you are using the stock in which it is poaching.

Ladle a pint of capon stock out of the poaching pot and filter through a paper towel.

Crumble the saffron threads in between your thumb and index finger into a small sauce pot and toast it gently for 2 to 2 minutes.

Add the flour and very lightly toast for 2 to 3 minutes, whisking it around constantly.

Add the butter, It will melt with the flour and saffron into a deliciously fragrant, golden roux to which you will add the hot stock in a thin stream, whisking continuously.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens and emulsifies well.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the yolk and lemon juice.

Adjust salt and pepper and transfer to a cool container right away to avoid curdling the yolk.

When the capon is ready, drain from the stock and cut as you would a chicken.

Arrange in a shallow bowl with a few ladlefuls of the stock on the bottom to keep warm.

Place the capon in the middle of the table with the 2 sauces alongside it.

NOTES

  • A capon can easily serve 10 to 12 people, for a smaller party, you can use a chicken
  • The stock is like a chicken's to the Nth power, you will have a lot since the capon is quite large, keep it for a myriad other uses
  • Keep the vegetables in the stock, we will use them in our Christmas leftover project

March 19: saints, fathers and oxtails

Papà L'Unità anni 70
Papà L'Unità anni 70

 

The day I turned legal for a scooter I pleaded with him for one. He stalled. I rounded my most doe-like eyes and asked "Don't you trust me, daddy?" knowingly straddling that line between sweet and indignant which I knew would tug at his heart and mind, both of which, I also knew, had to be in concord for him to cave.

"I'll always trust you - he answered - I just do not trust others." I was more tenacious than he was mistrustful, and eventually I got my scooter.  The other promise, the one to always trust me, he always kept without question.

The last time he visited New York's Memorial Hospital in 2004 for his cancer treatments, he asked for my company. I flew in from San Francisco, glowing and round with 7-months of baby in my belly. I asked him what he wanted. He said he had been jonesing to cook coda alla vaccinara - Roman style oxtail stew and that he wanted to do so in a clay pot.

My belly and I taxied all over Manhattan, chasing what we needed. Each tool finally found, each ingredient successfully purveyed seemed to keep the fast approaching end of my father's life at bay. Somewhere in there, I found the time to acquire the perfect dress for an oxtail-eating pregnant woman: a form-fitting, tobacco brown stretchy sheath with a big and bright red dot positioned to showcase my round stomach.

After I returned, victorious, to the apartment father was renting just a block away from Sloan Kettering, we made a round of overseas phone calls to various expert sources: mothers, aunts, sisters, cooks trained by grandmothers. I organized the information and sat in prenatal yoga pose with a book, aware that my father did not feel kindly toward interferences while cooking. He asked me, instead, to make the coda, an unusual show of trust for anyone who knew my father, and yet for me one more link in the chain of the unspoken emotional and intellectual chemistry which had always gathered the two of us.

My father and I in NYC, 1986
My father and I in NYC, 1986

The dish turned out exquisite, as love is always a surefire ingredient for the success of anything in the kitchen, I say. We sat and ate and chatted, forgetting why we were where we were. I spilled a forkful of coda right on the red dot of my oxtail eating dress while we were laughing, for reasons I now forget. The stain never came off, but I kept wearing the dress all the way through labor pains and delivery, as if that dot in my dot rooted the future into the world of love I was reared in.

March 19 is Fathers' Day in Italy, aptly celebrated the same day as St.Joseph's, who, for Italians, defines the no-matter-whatness of fatherly love. Sweet fritters and beignets of all sorts and flavors are made all over the country. But for me, coda alla vaccinara will always be the dish to which I celebrate the extraordinary luck of being born my father's daughter.

Coda alla VaccinaraOxtail in celery and tomato sauce

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 10.45.52 PM
Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 10.45.52 PM

for 6 people 2 small onions 4 cloves 2 carrots 1 head celery 2 bay leaves 3 peppercorns salt 1 oxtail 1 beef cheek black pepper 2 tablespoons fatback 1 garlic clove 1 handful parsley 2 tablespoons lard 2/3 cup red wine 1 cup tomato puree

Peel one onion and spike it with the cloves. Peel and chunk one carrot and one celery stalk. Place the vegetables in a pot with the bay leaves, peppercorns and a small handful of salt. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.

In the meantime, chunk the oxtail and cheek and rinse them. Mince the remaining onion, carrot, garlic clove, parsley and fatback together.

Place the meat chunks in the boiling water and when the water comes back to the boil, fish them out. Pat dry them and generously season them with salt and pepper.

Melt the lard in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the oxtail and cheek and brown gently to a golden color.

Remove the meat chunks and add the minced ingredients with a generous pinch of salt. Saute until soft and lightly caramelized.

Put the oxtail back in the saucepan and deglaze everything with the red wine.

Dilute the tomato puree in a pint of warm water and pour over the tail. Cover and braise very gently and slowly for 4 hours.

In the meantime, tear off the outer fibrous celery stalks until you are left with the inner heart, the stalks of which are thinner, tenderer and a greenish to yellowish white in color.

Cut each tender stalk in half lengthwise then cut each half stalk in 2" sticks. Boil the celery sticks in the same boiling water where used to blanch the meat. Drain and set aside.

Four hours into the braising, add the cooked celery and put back on the low, gentle heat for another 30 to 45 minutes.

Transfer the meat chunks to a warm serving platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Let the sauce rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then skim the fat that floats to the surface. The sauce should be dense, dark and VERY flavorful sauce. If it seems too thick, dilute it slightly with 1 or 2 tablespoons of the blanching water.

Pour the warm sauce over the meant and serve. Note that leftovers can be picked off the bones shredded and served as a sauce to rigatoni topped by grated pecorino.

NOTES:

  • You can save the outer stalks of the celery for uses in soups, stocks, gratins, salads, etc. If you can find it, Chinese celery (known as sedano fino in Italy) is ideal for this dish. It is tenderer than its regular big brother and has a smell more similar to celery seeds and celery root. It is sometimes available in farmers’ market or local ethnic markets.
  • Coda alla vaccinara is a peasant dish made with what the tables of rich families disdained. Discovered by the aristocracy, it saw the addition of some rarefied ingredients.
  • There are later versions that include one or all cocoa powder, pine nuts and raisins. Purists scoff at those, though in my opinion and experience, they can be perfectly delicious. I listen to my mood when I cook: if it feels chocolaty and nutty and raisiny, then I yield to it. When in a more somber disposition, I stick to the basic recipe.
  • If you add cocoa powder (2 tbsps for the above proportions) mix it with a few tablespoons of the blanching water and stir into the hot cooking sauce before it drapes the meat on the platter. Raisins and/or pine nuts can be added in a quantity that suits your taste for them at the same time as the boiled celery sticks.

More Italian Thanksgiving: chestnuts, porcini and sausage stuffing

This is the Thanksgiving stuffing that convinced my mother-in-law Elisabeth I was worthy of her youngest and sweetest, after all. I don't have a picture of this dish, since last time I made it I was not blogging. In lieu, I thought you might enjoy this candid shot of my delightful mom-in-law outside her London flat with her new youngest and sweetest, my little Ernesto. Note that I do not actually stuff the turkey, but bake the dressing separately using a homemade turkey stock (recipe below) to impart it that due and expected Thanksgiving flavor.

Farcia ai porcini e castagne Porcini and chestnuts stuffing

for 10 to 12 people 1 large sweet yellow onionDSC01554 2 celery stalks 3 to 4 thyme sprigs olive oil salt grated zest of 1 lemon 1/2 cup dry porcini 2 pounds mixed wild mushrooms 2 sweet Italian sausage links 4 slices stale country bread 1/2 cup grated parmigiano + 1 handful 2 cups cooked and peeled chestnuts (see note) pepper to taste nutmeg to taste 1 stick butter + 3 tablespoons 1 quart turkey stock (see recipe below)

Slice the onion in thin half moons. Peel and slice the celery thinly. Pick the leaves off the thyme sprigs and mince.

In a sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil and soften the onion in it seasoned with a very generous pinch of salt.

Add the celery, thyme and lemon zest. Cover and braise slowly over low heat for about 30 minutes, adding liquid if necessary, until the onions are fully caramelized and a light golden brown.

In the meantime, soak the porcini in boiling water. Clean and slice the wild mushrooms.

Place the fresh mushrooms in a sauté pan with a very generous amount of salt. Cover and place over high heat. They will sweat lots of liquid, let them braise completely in it. It will take about 10 to 15 minutes.

In the meantime, drain the porcini and chop them roughly. Keep the soaking liquid and filter it through a fine sieve to eliminate any grit.

Remove the sausage from the casing and tear in small pieces with your hands. Cube and toast the stale bread.

Add the porcini to the wild mushroom with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, finish cooking adding the porcini soaking liquid if necessary. Deglaze with a bit of white wine and let all the liquid evaporate.

Crumble the chestnuts with your hands and place in a bowl. Add the caramelized onions, mushrooms, bread cubes, sausage, and grated parmigiano. Season to taste with pepper and nutmeg and adjust salt.

Melt the stick of butter rest and pour it and the stock over of the ingredients combined in the bowl. Toss well.

Grease a lasagna baking dish with one tablespoon of butter. Pour the stuffing in the dish and press it down lightly. Dust with the handful of grated parmigiano and dot with the last 2 tablespoons of butter.

Bake at 375˚F for about 40 minutes, until the sausage is fully cooked and slightly browned on top.

NOTES:

  • You can use fresh chestnuts if you have the time and patience to score, roast and peel them, while cursing yourself all the way through this endeavor. Or you can do as I do, and get precooked and peeled vacuum sealed chestnuts easily found in many markets.
  • Making the fresh turkey stock really does make a difference to the end result and it is so easy and fast, it is worth it. If you are, however, cinched for time, get a good chicken stock, prepacked or made fresh by your local butcher.

 

Brodo di tacchino Turkey stock

for 2 to 3 quarts of stock turkey neck turkey wingtips turkey gizzards (not the liver, keep that for the gravy) 1 carrot 1 celery stalk 1 yellow onion 5 to 6 cloves 2 bay leaves 2 lemon slices 4 peppercorns 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt

Crack the bones of the neck and wingtips with a cleaver. Peel the carrot and snap it in two pieces. Wash and snap the celery stalk. Peel the onion and spike it with the cloves. Throw everything in a stock pot.

Add the rest of the ingredients and cover with cold water up to almost the brim of the pot.

Bring to a boil and turn down the heat. Simmer for about 2 hours, skimming the top often to ensure a clear stock.

Strain the stock through a fine sieve. Discard the vegetables, but keep the neck.

You can serve that tender, tasty bit to your mother in law with some salsa verde or homemade mayonnaise and make her just a little happier about how well her son married every year...

Brasato in red wine part II

Remember my musings on loss and sadness last week and how I assuaged them by braising meat? First of all, sorry about the whining.  I swear I am fine and thank you so for letting me exorcise demons on the page. I was touched by how many reached out to me. Once again, food, family, friend proved to be my all-healing holy trinity. The brasato was every bite as soothing as needed for my passing blues. Its powers, heightened by sharing its consumption, kept on gifting in different guises as I re-purposed it into a pasta sauce first and then into meatballs.

Those who come to my classes know that one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is re-purpose leftovers. I have actually taught 2 series of classes at 18 Reasons on the subject.

Until another leftover class makes it on the docket, I am sharing the two dishes that gave my brasato a second and a third life.

Rigatoni al sugo di brasato Rigatoni with braised beef sauceRigatoni al brasato

for 4 to 6 people 1 small yellow onion 1/2 tablespoon lard or olive oil 1 teaspoon grated orange zest 6 slices brasato 1/2 cup dry marsala (or sherry or madera) 1/2 cup pureed vegetable sauce from brasato 1 pound box of rigatoni (or other short ribbed pasta of your choice) grated pecorino (optional)

Slice the onion thinly and soften it in the lard heated in a skillet, with the zest and a generous pinch of salt. Continue cooking over medium low heat until the onion starts turning beige, adding a bit of water if necessary.

In the meantime dice the brasato slices quite small and add to the colored onions. Turn up the heat and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Deglaze with the marsala.

When the smell of the wine has gone from pungent to sweet, add the pureed sauce and simmer everything for about 10 minutes to reduce and thicken.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in a generous pot of salted boiling water until very al dente. Strain it with a colander and transfer it into the skillet. Finish cooking it in the brasato sauce adding 2 to 3 spoonfuls of cooking water and a splash of olive oil for sheen.

Serve hot with the grated pecorino on the side.

 

Polpette di brasato Brasato meatballs

no spaghetti here, just great meatballs

for 6 to 8 people 2 slices day old bread milk for soaking the bread 1/2 pound leftover brasato 2 slices prosciutto 1/4 pound ground veal 1/4 pound ground pork 1 small handful parsley leaves 1 egg + 1 yolk 1 tablespoons grated parmigiano grated zest of half lemon nutmeg to taste salt and pepper to taste 1/2 yellow onion 1 carrot 1 celery stalk 2 tablespoons lard or olive oil splash white wine 2 tablespoons tomato concentrate

Soak the bread in milk until soft. Squeeze it lightly and place it in a food processor bowl. Add the brasato and prosciutto slices. Process until ground finely but not into a paste. Transfer to a bowl.

Pick and mince the parsley.

Add the ground meats, egg, yolk, parmigiano, parsley and zest. Season to taste with nutmeg salt and pepper. Mix all ingredients together well with your hands.

Wet your palms and roll round meatballs of about 2" in diameter. Set aside on a plate.

Slice the onions, carrot and celery thinly.

Heat half the lard in a sauté pan and brown the meatballs in it, in batches if necessary to keep them from overcrowding the pan. Transfer to a platter.

Add the rest of the lard to the sauté pan and soften the sliced vegetables in it for about 10 minutes over medium heat and with a generous pinch of salt.

Place the browned meatballs back in the pan and turn up the heat.

After approximately 2 minutes, deglaze with the wine. When the smell of the wine has gone from pungent to sweet, add the tomato concentrate and about 1 cup of hot water. Bring to a simmer and turn the heat down to medium low.

Cover the meatballs and braise them slowly for 20 to 25 minutes, adding small amounts of water if necessary. Keep in mind that the liquid should come to no more than 1/3 of the way up the meatballs.

The sauce will darken and thicken while the meatballs cook.

Transfer to a platter and douse with the cooking sauce. Serve hot with a salad and some crusty bread.

 

Loss and comfort: brasato in red wine

It's been such a couple of weeks, marred by losses of various entity, none earth-shattering standing alone, but all rather unsettling in compound. Some were luxury losses, like finally watching the last episode of Breaking Bad or realizing San Francisco's brief summer is surrendering to winter. Some were collective, like the passing of Marcella Hazan and that of Lou Reed. But others were more personally touching: a close girlfriend losing her mother, the realization that my child's attention to me is waning, my aging, beloved aunt undergoing surgery, a friendship lost along the way.

There is just no ignoring that I have been feeling sad. Laurie Anderson's piece on her life with Lou Reed on Rolling Stone magazine gave me pause to reflect about how we feel and are in the face of sadness.

Losses and endings are change, part of life really, which is often less than perfect but always right in the end. I feel sad but am still happy. I like to feel sad, because accepting the occasional sadness serves to crystallize happiness and temper arrogance. Sadness makes me a little happier every time I am smart enough to let it in.

And when I do open the door to sadness, it is an inspiration for cooking. In the face of feeling sad, I am my best as a cook, because cooking is the happiness in which I am always comforted.

In the fragrance of cinnamon, orange and red wine braising meat, I found shelter from winter cold, comfort from loss and my ongoing happiness.

ready for the oven

Brasato di manzo e pancetta fresca al vino rosso Beef and pork belly braised in red wine

3 pound piece beef cut for braising (brisket, chuck, flat iron, shank) 1.5 pounds pork belly salt 1 yellow onion 2 carrots 2 celery stalks 1/2 bunch red chard or red beet tops 2 cups chicken stock 2 tablespoons tomato concentrate 2 tablespoons lard (or olive oil) 1 cinnamon stick grated zest of 1 orange 2 bay leaves 1/2 bottle of good, full bodied red wine pepper to taste

The evening before, season the meats generously with salt and place in the refrigerator. Take them out about an hour before you plan to start cooking to let them come to room temperature.

In the meantime, slice the onion in thin half moons, chop the carrots and celery, wash and chop the chard or beet tops. Warm the stock and dilute the tomato concentrate in it.

Heat the lard in a Dutch oven on the stove top. Carefully brown the beef and pork in it on all sides and over a medium low flame. Transfer to a plate.

just out of the oven

Soften the vegetables in the Dutch oven with the cinnamon stick, zest and bay leaves. Turn the heat off and place the meat back in the Dutch oven. Cover with the wine and stock and season with salt and pepper.

Lid the pot and place it in a 350˚F oven for 2.5 to 3 hours, until the meat is fork tender.

Discard the bay and cinnamon. Rest the meat on a cutting board while finishing the sauce.

Using a hand held blender, puree the vegetable chunks in the liquid where the meat has braised. Let the sauce simmer while cutting the meat and adjusting it on a platter.

Pour the sauce over the sliced meat and serve.

NOTES:

  • Perfect accompaniments for this recipe are polenta, mashed or steamed potatoes, or gnocchi with butter and parmigiano
  • Brasato is even better the day after. For maximum effect, let it rest in its cooking liquid overnight before preparing it for serving

Lamb and Lake Trasimeno beans stew

I entertained last night, a delightful intimate gathering of adults for my friends Howard and Kristina Case, importers of perfectly and lovingly selected Italian food products. There is much for which my cooking is thankful to the Cases, and one thing in particular: deciding to import fagiolina del Trasimeno, despite the fact that its price makes it an almost impossible to sell good. Indeed, I believe I may be it for clients who purchase this legume.

FagiolinaFagiolina is a tiny, multicolor bean, autochthonous to the Lake Trasimeno area in my native region, Umbria. It is ancient, documented as early as Etruscan times. It requires no soaking, has thin skin and a creamily firm consistency. Cultivating and harvesting this bean is a task so labor intensive to almost have caused its disappearance.  Now-a-days, and after a designation as one of the Slow Food Presidia, fagiolina is finally carving a name on Italian tables outside its area of production.

The flavor of fagiolina is this side of ashy enough, that it prompted one of my sisters to include it in the group our family jokingly and affectionately calls atonement foods: think of it as a delicate version of black eye peas, with a much smoother texture and a remarkable creaminess for a bean that holds its shape so well even after lengthy braising.

To me, fagiolina is the tug I feel  when hit by the memory of my mother's minestra con l'osso del prosciutto-soup with prosciutto bone. It is the exhilaration of a child roaming unsupervised in a mound of dry beans, chasing field mice, and that child's certainty that home is the smell of those very beans and clay inside a crock overnighting on embers. Fagiolina carries the inextricability that food, mind, heart hold for me. And that's what shapes the passion I have been lucky enough to turn into work.

Below is the recipe it inspired last night.

Spezzatino di agnello con fagiolina del TrasimenoSpezzatino agnello e fagiolina Lamb and Lake Trasimeno beans stew

for 6 people: 3 to 4 pounds lamb shoulder salt to taste 8 very small onions 1 carrot 2 celery stalks 2 marjoram sprigs grated zest of 1 lemon 1/2 tablespoon paprika 4 tablespoons lard 2 cups fagiolina del Trasimeno splash dry white wine 2 cups tomato passata 2 tablespoons tomato concentrate pepper to taste

Ask your butcher to cut the lamb shoulder in largish stew chunks leaving the bones in. Bones do wonders for the flavor of any stew. Salt the meat generously and let it come to room temperature.

In the meantime, peel and quarter the onions, chop the carrot and celery, pick and mince the marjoram leaves and mix them with the lemon zest and paprika.

Melt and heat 3 tablespoon of the lard in a skillet and brown the lamb on all sides in it. Do so in batches if necessary as to not overcrowd the skillet. Transfer the meat to a roasting pan and add the fagiolina.

Add the remainder of the lard to the skillet and stir in the marjoram, zest and paprika mix. Toast for 2 to 3 minutes, lower the heat to medium and add the onion. Season with a generous pinch of salt and soften until translucent. Lastly add the carrots and celery and sautè for another 8 to 10 minutes, until everything is soft and fragrant.

Deglaze with the wine. Add the passata and 4 cups warm water. Stir in the tomato concentrate and bring to a boil. Pour the liquid over the lamb and beans. The meat should be about 2/3 of the way submerged while the fagiolina should be completely covered by water.

Season with salt and pepper, cover with aluminum foil and place in a 400˚F oven for about 2.5 to 3 hours. Stir occsionally until the beans are thoroughly cooked and meat comes easily off the bone.

Serve hot.

NOTES:

  • Fagiolina doesn't come by easily. Contact Howard and Kris to see if they can send you some, otherwise, you can make do with any kind of small, thin skinned bean. If it requires soaking, do so the night before
  • I suggest making more stew than you think you will eat as this dish is even better the day after
  • I find that using lard for browning imparts stews with one more layer of depth, but feel free to use olive oil

Fear of flying, roast chicken and marriage

I believe in indulging in negative feelings when they arise. For me, it is the only way to reason myself to the other side. But considering in the last 15 years I have boarded airplanes an average of once a month, my fear of flying is not an easy one to handle. I have tried everything to quell the slithering sense of mild anxiety that seizes me the 2 to 3 days before I take off for my long Italian summer break every year: from sleeping it off, to acupuncturing it away to distracting it out of my system. Nothing works. Pills can soften the edge, but they leave me foggy and unsure of where to next.

As I walk through this particular bout of travel related fret, I find it is more than the uncontrollable panic that being in an airplane can cause me (though those who experience it, will understand what I am describing). It is the unease of leaving behind whom, where and what make the fabric of a life I love.

The old friends who might need me through a rough patch, the new ones with whom I just started a conversation I do not wish interrupted, the students who enjoy my classes. The goods of the summer markets, my colorful loft, my neighborhood, my causes.

Johnny and Pie for blog

And of course, and most of all, my husband John. I have far from the perfect marriage. In fact, my marriage is being deeply tested right now. But our choices, our brains, our hearts, our laughter overlap on so much and so often, that I have known from our first kiss he'd be the companion of however many years there would still be for me.

I know he will spend the next two months buried even more than usual in his work, that he will be soothed and saddened by the echoes of a situation on temporary hold, that he will miss our child more than he can voice, that he will be relieved and pained by my absence at the end of a challenging year.

 

And though he will not make an effort to assuage my fear of flying, I know he loves me and that he alone knows the why of my wistful smile as we let each other go for a bit. His foibles make me love him all the more, so I strengthen the bonds the only way I know how, by cooking his favorite roast chicken.

 

Pollo arrosto con pane raffermo e verdure Roast chicken with day old bread and vegetablesPollo arrosto

for 6 people 1 chicken salt 2-3 thick slices stale bread in large cubes 4 medium yellow potatoes peeled and wedged 1 onion in chunks your choice of seasonal vegetables in chunks pepper olive oil 1 lemon zested and cut in half 2 garlic cloves a generous bouquet of your choice of herbs

The day before, season the chicken very, very generously generously inside and outside with salt and let sit over night in the fridge. When ready to roast, take it out to bring to room temperature.

In the meantime, season the vegetables and cubed bread with salt, pepper, lemon zest, olive oil and the juice of half the lemon. Toss well and distribute evenly on the bottom of a roasting pan. Place a roasting rack on top.

Season the chicken well inside and outside with salt and pepper. Stuff its cavity with the remaining half lemon, garlic cloves and herbs.

Place the chicken on the rack breast side down untied and somewhat splayed. Bake at 450˚F for about an hour, depending on its size.

When about 15 to 20 minutes from done, turn the chicken breast side up to crisp the skin.

When done (test by all the usual methods: loose leg joints, clear liquids from the thickest part), remove and let rest for 5 minutes. Carve as you usually would and serve on a platter over the roasted vegetables.

NOTES:

  • For this recipe, I have used everything from carrots, to fennel, to Brussels sprouts, to zucchini. Let the season be your guide. And the same goes for the herbs.
  • I have re-purposed many types of bread for this dish, from Italian to country, from baguette to pullman. I do advice leaving the crust on only if you like the crunch, otherwise remove it.
  • If you do not have a roasting rack, you can use a cooling rack or simply place the chicken directly on the vegetables.