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.

Sun-dried tomato pesto

This is a burst of summer sunshine during the gray, gusty November chill. 

3 oz package sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 c golden raisins

Soak in hot water 15 minutes, drain (retain the liquid), set aside. 

1 large bunch basil (a generous two cups of tightly packed leaves)
1/2 bunch of parsley   

The amount and balance of the green herbs isn’t critical; use what you can get.  In November, you’re only likely to find parsley.

3 cloves garlic
A couple tablespoons of the soaking liquid
Olive oil, about 1/2 cup
1/2 pecorino romano cheese
2 oz chestnuts (about 6; I find these in the local Korean grocery store in a foil pouch.  If you can find them, use other nuts of your liking.)
1/2 cup pistachios
1 tsp salt
Optional additions:  capers, olives

Start by processing the green herbs. Add the tomatoes and raisins, with a bit of the liquid, and process until coarsely chopped.  Add garlic, cheese, chestnuts, pistachios, salt (olives and capers, if you’re using them) and process again until a paste has formed.  With the processor running, add the olive oil until a smooth paste is achieved. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

Dress a pound of rigatoni with the pesto, adding a bit of the pasta cooking water as needed to ‘loosen’ the dish.  Mix well.  Pass cheese at the table.  Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.