Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easter pies: sweet (ricotta)

It's tha-a-at time of year, when we eats lots of pie...

Apologies for that....but this time of year, Italians do eat lots of pie, both sweet and savory. 

After abstaining from meat, dairy, and eggs for the forty days of Lent (back when one did abstain from them for the forty days of Lent), one’s craving for meat and "i latticini" must have been immense.  It’s then easy to understand how a savory pie that contains pounds of meat and cheese bound together only with eggs came about.

The sweet cheese pie, in contrast, is even by today’s standards, pleasantly light and satisfying.  It is nothing at all like a New York-style cheesecake.  This pie is light, sweet, tender, moist, and has a very nice citrus background flavor.  I think you’ll like it.

The meat pie recipe makes a mountain of’ll likely need to double the crust recipe to accommodate all the filling, or halve the filling recipe.

Both pies freeze well.  Sweet pie here, savory pie in the next post.

Crust for sweet pie
2 c  flour
1/2 c  sugar
1 tsp  baking powder
pinch  salt
1 c butter (2 sticks)
1  egg yolk
1/2 c  ice-cold water

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Cut in margarine.  Add egg yolk.  Drizzle water into mixture until it holds together.  Refrigerate 15 - 30 minutes.  Roll out and line pie tins.

Filling for sweet pie
1 1/2 lb  ricotta
6  eggs
1 c  sugar
2 Tbp   cooked rice
2 tsp     vanilla
juice of ½ lemon
grated rind of 1 orange
pinch  nutmeg
cinnamon for top

Beat all ingredients until smooth.  Pour into pie crusts.  Dust top with cinnamon.  (You may also put a lattice top crust, if you desire).  Bake at 350°F until cheese is set and a knife comes out clean, about 35- 40 minutes.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Pasta e ceci

Simple, filling, nutritious, delicious.

A variation on pasta and beans (pasta e fagioli), and like pasta and beans, can be made wholly meatless for Lenten suppers.

2 medium onions, chopped fine
3 carrots, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
1/4 c olive oil
4 strips bacon, chopped or 4 oz salt pork, skin removed, chopped fine (optional)
1 28-oz can tomatoes (I used the "chef's cut" or diced tomatoes.  Whole tomatoes lightly crushed work fine, too.  You can also use canned crushed tomatoes, but I find them a insufficiently chunky for my tastes.)
4-5 cups water (or optionally, chicken stock)
1 19-oz can chick peas ("ceci"), drained and rinsed
bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup ditalini pasta

In a 5- or 6-qt Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat.  If you're using the bacon or salt pork, add it to the pot, and cook until lightly browned and partly rendered.

Add the onions, carrots, garlic, hot pepper flakes.  Saute about 5 minutes, until softened.

Add the chick peas, tomatoes, stock or water, bay leaf, thyme.

Bring to a simmer, lower heat, cover, and let simmer gently for about 30 minutes.  Taste for seasoning, and adjust accordingly.

Bring back to a robust simmer, add the pasta, stir, reduce heat to a low flame, and cook about 12 minutes until pasta is tender.  The soup will thicken considerably as the pasta cooks.  If you prefer it "soupier," add additional stock or water. 

Serve immediately, and pass grated pecorino cheese and hot pepper flakes at the table.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Finding and keeping culinary traditions

I love this article from the New York Times. 

"'Ndunderi" are mentioned in the article.  I've never heard that word, but a quick online search shows them to be essentially gnocchi, though the common thread is that they're gnocchi made with ricotta.  Seems they're a specialty of Ravello, a lovely town atop a cliff on the Amalfi Coast. 

I'm frankly surprised I've not heard of "'ndunderi," as they come from the provincia di Salerno, which is where my family comes. 

Will have to do a bit of investigative work!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Gemelli with cauliflower, olives, anchovies

Pasta with cauliflower, olives, anchovies

I'm not aware this has a particular name (comparable to "puttanesca" or "carbonara"), but it's a family favorite, and easy to pull together in just a few minutes.  Omit the chicken stock and the anchovies, and it's completely vegan. 

Beyond the cauliflower, everything is a pantry item.  Dinner on the table within the half-hour.

You can easily substitute broccoli for the cauliflower.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 c olive oil
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 anchovy fillets
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
(salt) and pepper to taste
1/2 c pitted olives, chopped coarsely (like Sicilian oil-cured, or Kalamata, but green Spanish olives from a jar will do, too)
2 Tbp capers, drained
2 c chicken stock (or a combo of stock, wine, water, depending on what you have on hand)
2 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbp lemon juice (optional)
1/4 c chopped parsley
1 lb pasta, such as rigatoni, penne rigate, gemelli, rotini, or similar short pasta.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium flame.  Add sliced onion, garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes, black pepper.  (You might need salt, but with the anchovies, unlikely.)  Sauté until the onions are tender, about 4 minutes.

In a separate pot, cook pasta until just barely al dente in amply salted water.  Set aside, reserving some of the pasta cooking water.

Add cauliflower to the onions, stir to coat in olive oil, then add stock.  Bring to a brisk simmer, stir, then cover, and reduce heat to low, allowing the cauliflower to steam until just tender, about 5 minutes. 

Uncover, add cooked pasta, olives, capers, lemon zest, parsley.  Mix well, and let simmer briefly until much of the stock has been absorbed by the pasta.  Add pasta cooking water as desired to ‘loosen’ the pasta as you see fit.  (Any hot liquid you add will certainly be absorbed by the pasta, so tread carefully not to oversaturate it.)  Drizzle with a bit more fresh olive oil at the end.  For an added kick, squeeze lemon juice over the pasta just before serving, if desired. 

Serve, passing grated pecorino cheese at the table. 

If you have any leftovers, definitely add the lemon juice, and serve cold or at room temperature as a pasta salad.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Pi(e) Day!

Pi Day -- March 14 (3/14) is today.  I'm celebrating by posting a photo of many of the pies I've known and loved.

Top row: blueberry, lemon meringue, peach/blueberry being assembled, peach/blueberry being eaten, cherry pandowdy.
Middle row: banana cream, shepherd's, Easter meat, lemon meringue, apple crumb.
Bottom row: whoopie (from Beiler's at Reading Terminal Market), chocolate chiffon, sweet potato, chicken pot, apple pandowdy.

With the exception of the whoopie pies, these are all of my own creation. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Irish soda bread

I wrote about my travails with Irish soda bread a couple years ago, but never included a recipe.

I finally found a sturdy recipe in Saveur magazine that produced a robust loaf, but found it lacking in sweetness, and containing far too few raisins. 

This is my adapted recipe, sweeter, and with double the raisins.  I also used both baking powder and baking soda (and more than the original recipe) to give it a bit more leavened character.

There are soda breads out there that add caraway seeds to the loaf.  This is to be understood as an abomination.  

4 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 Tbp butter
2 cups raisins (I use a cup each of black and golden raisins)
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk
        (N.B.  If you don't have buttermilk, use sweet milk that's been soured with a couple teaspoons of vinegar, or use sweet milk, omit the baking soda, and increase the baking powder to 2 tsp.)

1.    Preheat oven to 425°. Grease a cast iron, 10-inch skillet with baking spray.  Set aside.
2.    In a mixing bowl, work butter into flour until it resembles coarse meal, just as you would do for baking soda biscuits or scones.  Add sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and raisins.  Mix well.
3.    Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Beat egg in buttermilk, pour into the well, and mix with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir. Dust hands with a little flour, then gently knead dough in the bowl just long enough to form a rough ball. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and shape into a round loaf. 
4.    Transfer dough to the greased skillet. Using a serrated knife or kitchen scissors, score top of dough about 1/2'' deep in an "X" shape.
5.    Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400°F and bake 20-25 minutes more, until bread is golden and bottom sounds hollow when tapped with a knife.
6.    Transfer bread to a rack to let cool.  

Serve bread warm, at room temperature, or sliced and toasted.

Store tightly wrapped in plastic film or foil.

I imagine you could halve this recipe, but why would you want to?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Guest blogger -- Adoom's Awesome Saucesome (Pumpkin) Bread Recipe

A very special guest blogger recipe, from Adoom Cusack, who makes the BEST pumpkin bread I've ever had.  Sweet, moist, full of raisins, appropriately spiced, but not overly so....just the best.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee and start nibbling....

This recipe works well for zucchini, pumpkin, or banana bread.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of all spice
1/2 teaspoon of ground clove
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
3 eggs
1 cup of vegetable oil
3 cups of brown sugar
2 cups choice of grated zucchini, pumpkin (canned) and banana
1 cup of chopped walnuts if you want
2 cups of raisins (a must!)
1/2 cup of milk
1/2 cup of either apple sauce, apple juice or apple cider
2 to 3 teaspoons of pumpkin spice extract (optional, for extra spicy kick)
2 to 3 teaspoons of gingerbread flavoring or molasses (optional)

1. Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. I use Pam and spray a good even coat. Preheat oven to 325°F.

2. There are methods to put ingredients in separate bowls and beat eggs etc., but the style I choose is to put all the ingredients in one large wide bowl. Starting with the flour, eggs, salt, sugar, oil and whatever you want the bread to be, followed by all other ingredients in no particular order.

3. Mix everything thoroughly until it becomes smooth with a dark brown color and the raisins or walnuts, if you choose to have them, are evenly spread in the bowl.

4. Bake between 40 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.

5. Enjoy!

Sausage gravy on biscuits

It's a gray, cold, snowy day, and I needed a reminder that Sunday brunch on the patio in the backyard isn't too far away.

Sausage gravy with homemade biscuits. I've done this recipe before, but add this variation:  if you're so inclined, or if you don't have sausage on hand, this works equally well with any kind of ground meat -- beef, turkey, pork.  I would be sure to saute half an onion or a shallot, and maybe add a crushed garlic clove before browning the meat, to add extra flavor to unseasoned ground meat (unlike sausage, which is fully seasoned, and often flavored, ground pork). I also really like adding Worcestershire and Tabasco to jazz up the flavor. 

And after you've finished the sausage gravy, you can always slather a biscuit with sweet butter and homemade peach jam.  Yes, you can.

The recipe I've been using for biscuits is from the New York Times (Melissa Clark).  It's a very good all-purpose recipe, though written in an annoying style, as the NYTimes seems convinced of late, that all its readers are cooking with metric measurements.  Odd.

And though the recipe calls for part cake flour (to approximate the soft flours used in 'classic' Southern biscuit recipes), I typically use just all-purpose flour, and it works just fine.  

I don't use a biscuit cutter.  After rolling out the dough, I cut with a knife into triangles.  No fuss, no bother.  

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits (source: The New York Times)
Yield 10 to 12 biscuits

Time 30 minutes
    230 grams (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
    50 grams (about 1/2 cup) cake flour
    15 grams (about 1 tablespoon) baking powder
    8 grams (about 2 teaspoons) sugar
    6 grams (about 1 1/4 teaspoon) fine sea salt
    9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
    1 cup buttermilk, chilled.

    1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
    2. In a bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork, quickly cut in 8 tablespoons butter until it forms pea-size crumbs and is uniformly mixed it (for flaky biscuits you want the butter to remain cold). Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in buttermilk. Stir together until it just forms a moist, slightly tacky dough.
    3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 2 or 3 times, then pat out into a 3/4-inch-thick round. Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut the biscuits. Twisting the cutter prevents proper rising; to prevent sticking, dip the cutter lightly in flour between biscuits. Do not re-roll the scraps, but pat them together and cut into rounds. Transfer biscuits to the baking sheet.
    4. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Brush butter lightly over the tops of hot biscuits. Bake until puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

Fried stuffed peppers

This is one of those dishes from every Italian mother's repertory -- long, sweet peppers (sometimes called "cubanelle" in grocery stores), that have been stuffed with a savory bread mixture, then fried until tender.

It's filling, frugal, vegetarian, and delicious. Makes a great side dish to a roast, or chicken cutlets, or a main course for a Lenten Friday. 

For the savory bread stuffing, to fill 6 - 8 peppers, depending on size:

6 slices good-quality white sandwich bread (like Pepperidge Farm or Arnold's), crusts and all, pulsed into crumbs in a food processor
Enough milk to moisten the crumbs, maybe a scant half cup
A clove or two garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
A couple tablespoons chopped parsley
A couple tablespoons capers, drained and chopped
A dozen olives, chopped (any sort will do -- from green olives with pimentos from a jar, to Kalamata, to oil-cured Sicilian)
1/4 cup grated pecorino
A good drizzle of olive oil
An anchovy filet or two, if desired.

Moisten the crumbs with the milk.  You want to have a soft mass, but not a soupy one.  Add the other ingredients as you have and as you like.  You're aiming for a savory mixture, and very accurate measurements are not too critical.  I like to add an anchovy filet for savor, but feel free to leave it out if you don't like it. If you want to taste the mixture prior to filling the peppers, take a tablespoon of it, place it in a ramekin, and pop it into the microwave for a few seconds to cook.  Taste for seasoning.  Adjust as necessary.

Prep the peppers:  cut the tops off, and remove the seed pod.  Spoon a couple tablespoons of the stuffing mixture into each pepper, being very careful not to overstuff.  The stuffing will expand as it cooks, as you can plainly see in the photo below.

Heat a skillet over a medium burner, film with olive oil, and add the peppers.  I find the easiest way to cook these is in a 350°F oven, for about 15-20 minutes, turning every so often so they cook evenly.  Alternately, you can continue to cook them on the stovetop.

You will likely notice that as the peppers cook, the skins will darken and begin to peel.  No need to worry, but if you're so inclined, you can peel them off before serving -- they come off very easily. 

Serve hot, or at room temperature. 

By the way, that skillet in the photo is my 12-inch DeBuyer steel skillet.  Steel (not stainless, mind you), get very 'ugly' very quickly as they are used and seasoned, but they conduct heat nicely, and can be used on the stovetop or in the oven.  A nice investment, and compared to stainless pans (like All-Clad), much less expensive. 

Pasta alla carbonara, sort of.

Not quite authentic carbonara, but close.  I used plain old bacon, not guanciale or pancetta, and onion in this. 

It's still very good.

1 lb pasta -- I used gemelli, "twins," 2-in long helices  (or other short pasta of your liking)
1/2 lb bacon, chopped into small pieces
1 large yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 egg yolks
Black pepper
Chopped parsley (optional)
Grated cheese -- pecorino or parmigiano

Saute the bacon in a skillet -- you can add a bit of olive oil to get things started -- until it is browned, but not fully crisp.  Add onions and garlic, and cook until the onions are softened. 

While the bacon and onions are sauteing, boil the gemelli in ample salted water, and drain, reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid. 

Tip the cooked gemelli into a serving bowl, add the sauteed bacon/onion/garlic mixture to it, mixing well.  Add two egg yolks, and toss well, to let the yolk coat the pasta and create a creamy sauce.  Add pasta cooking liquid as necessary or desired to loosen the mixture.  Grind a generous amount of black pepper over all, and give one final toss. 

Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.  Pass cheese at the table.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Slow-roasted perfection

Roasted pork shoulder, studded liberally with garlic and herbs, then roasted in an open pan at 325°F for about 4 hours. 

Tender, juicy meat, basted continually by the layer of fat, and an an irresistibly crisp skin, which you can peel off, break up, and snack on while finishing up your meal preparations. 

This was an 11-lb, bone-in, whole shoulder roast. 

I made some stock in the morning, and used a few tablespoons of the rendered fat to make a silky gravy. 


Seven-word wisdom

Eat everything.  It's not medicine.  Nor poison.

My entry in a long-ago New York Times contest for a seven-word 'haiku,' mimicking Michael Pollan's words of wisdom: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.   [For you sticklers out there, yes, I understand that it's not a haiku, as typically defined, but more an aphorism, a distilled, concise statement of principle.]

I didn't win, but I still like my entry. 

It's a sentiment echoed recently by chef/writer Michael Ruhlman in recent blog entries, which led me to dig out that 'haiku' I entered into the contest. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cinnamon-raisin swirl bread

Wonderfully easy.

1 loaf frozen white bread dough, defrosted
3-4 Tbp cinnamon-sugar butter (see below)
1/4 cup raisins

Defrost the loaf of frozen dough, and roll out on a floured surface to about 15" x 6".  Smear the surface with the cinnamon-sugar butter, sprinkle the raisins on top, and then roll it up from the short end into a loaf.

Drop into a well-greased loaf pan, and let rise for a couple hours in a warm spot.  (I heat my oven for a few minutes, then turn it off.  That gives a nice, toasty environment for proofing the bread.)

When well risen, bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 30 minutes, until golden on top.  Remove from loaf pan, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Cinnamon-sugar butter

1 stick butter (4 oz, 1/4 lb), fully softened, but not melted
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch salt (if you're using unsalted butter)

Combine ingredients into a paste.  Spread over hot toast or use in the cinnamon-raisin swirl bread above.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Now THAT'S good stock

I made a big pot of turkey stock the other day, to have on hand for making my Thanksgiving stuffing and gravy.

I got some turkey necks and wings at Reading Terminal Market, and roasted them along with carrots, onions, and celery for about 2 hours at 325°F (along with a few turkey thighs -- more on that later).  I put the roasted meat and veggies into a big 12-qt stockpot, and added a roasted chicken carcass that I had in the fridge from dinner the other night, and a bone from a recent pork shoulder roast that I had saved and popped into the freezer.

Covered everything with water, brought the pot to a boil, lowered it to a simmer, and let the stock simmer gently for about 3 hours.

Discarded all the bones (not much in the way of meat to retain), and let the stock cool fully.


Now THAT'S good stock -- jiggly when cold, full of gelatin, which adds considerably heft and substance to a stock.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Eggs in purgatory, or shakshuka

Interesting dish -- seems there are versions of this throughout the Mediterranean -- Italy, Israel, North Africa, and I'd imagine the Spanish, Greeks, and French do it, too. 

Italians call this "eggs in purgatory," though why is unclear.  This dish is pure heaven, especially if you make the tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes in the height of summer. 

First, a simple, spicy tomato sauce:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 28-oz can whole plum tomatoes, crushed lightly with your hands
Salt & pepper
1 tsp thyme

In a skillet, warm the olive oil.  Add onion and garlic, and saute a few minutes until the onion is translucent and beginning to color.  Season with salt and pepper  Add the hot pepper flakes. 

Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, reduce heat, add thyme, and let simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes. 

Crack a few eggs into the sauce while it is simmering over a low flame, and let them cook gently for about 4 minutes.  You're essentially poaching eggs in a tomato sauce rather than water.

Serve immediately in wide soup plates, with toasted French or sourdough bread that has been rubbed with a raw garlic clove, and drizzled with olive oil.

 Eggs poaching in spicy tomato sauce.

You could clearly do this with other sauces -- a vegetable ragout like ratatouille would be great, or just a simple stew of yellow summer squash and fresh tomatoes.  Adding olives or capers to the tomato sauce would be an excellent choice, too.  If you had some grated pecorino or parmigiano, please do sprinkle some on top. 

Mushroom barley soup

On a frigid night like tonite, the allure of a bowl of hot soup cannot be underestimated.  

I love making soup -- simmering the stock, and getting it rich and flavorful, sauteing veggies for the base of the soup, adding those little 'hidden' ingredients that you really can't 'taste,' but improve the character of the soup so drastically, like a dollop of tomato paste, a glug of sherry or port, a couple teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, a tiny bit of cream.  

There are few soups that aren't better the day after they're made, and this is certainly one of them.  I suspect that the reason has much to do with the starch that's added to the soup -- barley, rice, noodles.  As the soup sits, starch leaches from the barley into the stock, and consequently thickens it, gives it body, which adds a pleasant mouthfeel to the soup, and improves overall flavor. 

3/4 c pearl barley, cooked in copious amounts of salted water until tender, about 45 minutes. 

1 lb button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
2 Tbp each, fresh sage and parsley, chopped

In a skillet, melt 4 Tbp butter in 2 Tbp olive oil, and sauté one finely chopped shallot about 2 minutes.  Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté until tender and lightly browned.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add chopped parsley and sage.    Set aside.

1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, grated/shredded
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbp tomato paste 
6 cups stock (beef or chicken)

In a Dutch oven, sauté onion, carrot, garlic until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add tomato paste, and sauté a minute or two more.  Add stock.  Add the sautéed mushrooms and barley.  Bring to a simmer. 

Best served the next day.  

Quick cassoulet – bean-and-sausage casserole

Julia Child does cassoulet in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and it is a triumph of exhausting preparation and long cooking.  The recipe goes on for four pages, and includes pork loin, sausage, beans, bacon, and optionally duck or goose confit. 

Probably not the best choice for dinner on a Tuesday evening.

My version does require a tiny bit of forethought – soaking the beans, but not much beyond that.  

1 lb dry white beans (like Great Northern, navy, or cannellini)
About 8 – 10 cups water, to cover
2 tsp baking soda

8 cups fresh water (not the bean soaking liquid)
1 onion
1 rib celery
A couple cloves of garlic
Bay leaf
Salt & pepper
Olive oil

2 cups fresh bread crumbs
2 Tbp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
Dry herbs – thyme, sage, marjoram

Cover 1 lb white beans  with about 8 cups of cool water.  Add baking soda (which aids the cooking later).  Cover, and let sit in a cool place overnight. 

Drain the beans and discard the soaking water, and dump the beans into a Dutch oven.  Cover with another 8 cups of water, and toss in a peeled, halved onion, a stalk of celery, a couple cloves of peeled garlic, a bay leaf, and a few sprigs of thyme (or a teaspoon dried thyme), and a sprig of sage (or a bit of dried sage), and good teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper.  Drizzle a glug of olive oil over all.  

 Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and let simmer gently partly covered until the beans are tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Having been soaked earlier in water containing baking soda, the beans will cook fairly quickly, and should be fully tender within an hour’s simmering.  The water level should be at the top of the beans or just below.  Test the beans carefully for doneness, and test for seasoning, too.  Remove the veggies and herb sprigs if you’d like. 

While the beans are cooking, roast a pound of Italian sausage in the oven until browned. 

Nestle the sausage links into the beans.

Film a heated skillet with the olive oil, add the crushed garlic, and cook very briefly until fragrant.  Add the fresh bread crumbs and the herbs, and saute briefly until the crumbs are very lightly toasted (they’ll have the opportunity to brown more later). 

Sprinkle toasted crumbs atop the beans and sausage, and pop the Dutch oven, uncovered, into a 375°F oven for about 15 minutes, until the casserole is bubbly, and the crumbs nicely browned.  

Optional additions: you can pretty much add whatever meat you’d like to the beans prior to baking.  I’ve done this with sausage and big chunks of pork belly.  No reason you couldn’t add a broiled lamb chop or two, or a couple roasted chicken thighs. 

Stracotto, Italian-style beef stew

This is the Italian version of boeuf bourguignon or beef stew.  Stracotto” means “extra cooked,” or “well cooked,” an apt description of a long-simmered dish.  Unlike boeuf bourguignon, for which the meat is cubed and browned prior to braising, all the ingredients for stracotto are dumped into the pot, brought to a simmer, then stewed slowly until the meat is tender. 

There are many, many dishes in my family’s Italian and Italian-American repertoire, but this isn’t one of them.  Perhaps surprisingly, my grandmothers would have made more conventional American-style beef stew, rather than this decidedly Florentine piatto.  And perhaps that’s the reason: this is a Tuscan dish, and like balsamic vinegar, basil pesto, and parmigiano reggiano cheese, they were not well known in the southern Italian kitchen, and likely would not have emigrated to the US in the same way that mozzarella, provolone, pecorino romano, and ragù alla napoletana did. 

A 3-lb beef chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat, and cut up into 1-inch cubes.
Olive oil
2 medium onions, slices
A few cloves garlic
Salt & pepper
Optional: thyme, bay leaf
Most of a bottle of dry red Italian wine, like a Chianti

Beef, onions, just barely covered with red wine.

Film the bottom of a sturdy Dutch oven with olive oil.  Add beef, season it well, then onions and garlic.  Add wine until the meat is very nearly covered.   Though most recipes one sees don't call for it, I think a bit of thyme and a bay leaf make a fine addition to the preparation. 

Bring to a simmer, cover, then place in a 325°F oven for about 3 hours until the meat is very tender. 

To thicken, add a few teaspoons of cornstarch or flour mixed with water, and stir over heat until thickened. 

Serve with buttered noodles, gnocchi, polenta, or buttered boiled potatoes.  

 Stracotto fiorentino, served with potato gnocchi tossed in butter and sage.