4 lime leaves, broken into 1/4ths
I know ham salad sounds so quaint and retro - I have visions of ham salad on toast points, perhaps with a pimento-stuffed green olive garnishing the top, at a party in the 50s. But the other day while I was shopping at Thurns, a man came in and said his family had recently developed an addiction to the ham salad, and so I thought "maybe I should get some, too." So, forget everything you know about ham salad, because this is Thurns we're talking about, and they wouldn't do anything without making it amazing, even ham salad.
I'm putting up this weird recipe and picture to prove that a) the options at Thurns are endless and b) I will put a fried egg on anything. I had this idea yesterday, and Husband and I ate these open-faced sandwiches and both came to the conclusion later on that what they needed were some raw onions. So today, when I made one for myself for lunch, I added the raw onion and then went to a meeting where even brushing my teeth twice and 5 Altoids probably didn't save me from reeking of said raw onions (sorry)...
This ham salad is really, really rich - just as with lots of things at Thurns, meaning they always do well with a nice acidic counterpoint such as pickles, onions, Dijon mustard, you get the idea. It is also really nice and smoky and generally really tasty. You should try it.
Here's the sandwich: toast 2 slices of bread. Slather one with really good Dijon mustard (Fallot is my mustard of choice, best price locally is the Anderson's general store) and spread with ham salad. Top with slices of raw onion (if you use a sweet local onion, you probably won't breathe onion breath all over your coworkers/loved ones/etc) and top that with fried eggs. Top the other piece of toast with butter (preferably homemade) and use to sop up any runny yolks. Sprinkle over some freshly cracked pepper. You should probably not talk about this sandwich with your cardiologist.
The older I get, the more I use meat more for a flavoring agent than the main attraction. Bacon & Sausage are perfect for this usage - bacon, because it's the most delicious of the meats, and sausage because it's already seasoned, so you can brown it and add practically anything to it and be lazy, not even adding other seasonings.
While it's true that sausage is fatty, consider how little you have to use to really pack a wallop of flavor - you can stretch one link of Italian sausage to serve 2-4 people, and end up with a meal with far less fat than if you used meat as the main component of the meal. And you'll end up with something far more tasty and good-for-you than if you would have used say, a chicken breast, which is the least flavorful of the meats.
One of my favorite things at the market is Northridge Organics' lamb products (Worthington Farmer's Market), especially the lamb chorizo. Lamb is fantastically suited to being made into chorizo, since its strong flavor is a good match for chorizo spices.
These recipes are pretty fast & easy, and can be made even easier by using a few shortcuts from Trader Joe's, a few lazy shortcuts which are favorites of mine. Trader Joe's sells boil-in-the-bag black "beluga" lentils and brown rice. Since brown rice takes forever to cook, this shortcut is a favorite of mine, and I love black lentils so much, and they are so easy - Husband and I love them when we are tired and getting home from work. Just boil them in the bag, top with a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and a sprinkling of feta cheese, and you have a nearly instant dinner. I also used Trader Joe's Roasted Red Pepper & Eggplant bruschetta topper instead of roasting my own red peppers. Because sometimes we need a shortcut!
Lamb Ratatouille - serves 2 (yes, I know it isn't real ratatouille, there are no tomatoes. sue me)
1 link lamb chorizo, or another soft sausage
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium-sized eggplant, peeled (if desired) and cut into 1/2" cubes, tossed with 1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine (if desired; all stock can be used)
1 cup chicken stock
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2" cubes
salt and pepper
1/2 cup Trader Joe's Roasted red pepper bruschetta topping (or 3 roasted red peppers, chopped finely)
In a large skillet, heat a tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble it into the pan. Break it up with a wooden spoon and brown until cooked through, then add the onions. Saute the onions for about 2 minutes and then add the eggplant. Toss everything and allow the eggplant to brown slightly, then add the wine. Cook until the wine is cooked out, about 3 minutes, and then add 1/4 cup chicken stock. When the chicken stock has cooked out, add the zucchini. Stir everything together and season with salt and pepper. Add another 1/4 cup chicken stock and cook it out and continue with the remaining stock. Cook until the eggplant is cooked to desired texture. Stir in the red pepper bruschetta topping, stirring until it is hot. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Lamb Chorizo with Brown Rice & Black Lentils - serves 2
1 link lamb chorizo or another soft sausage
1 package Trader Joe's brown rice, cooked in bag or 1 1/2 cup cooked, cold rice I used leftover brown rice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 package Trader Joe's black lentils, boiled in the bag (or 1 cup black lentils, cooked in plenty of boiling water and drained)
salt & pepper
10 dashes Tabasco, or to taste
2 tbsp feta (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble into the pan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Add the cold rice and stir everything together. Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock and cook until it has almost completely cooked down, and then add the lentils and stir everything together. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Serve hot or at room temperature with a little feat sprinkled over, if desired.
Hint - these two recipes are very tasty when combined!
Pea shoots are really delicious. I received some in my Elizabeth Telling CSA this past week, and the lady in line next to me said she loves them in salads, so I chose to use them as a crunchy garnish to this lunch; the taste very fresh and green, screaming Spring in a surprisingly subtle way (yes, I know, too much alliteration in an oxymoronic sentence. sue me). Aside from being an adorable garish, there is the occasional tiny pea amongst the shoots - like half a centimeter tiny. Very cute.
I bought a small, inexpensive Japanese pickle pot the other day, so of course I immediately set about making some very simple Japanese pickles (read: radishes and salt). But you can buy really good premade Japanese-style pickles at Tensuke or other Asian grocer stores. I am particularly fond of the bright yellow turnip pickles (in the refrigerated case).
This lunch is beautiful and comes together in the time it takes the rice to cook (30 minutes).
Ponzu is a marinade made from soy sauce and citrus juice. You can buy it already made, or you can make it yourself my mixing equal parts soy sauce and lemon or lime juice. I like to put it in a squeeze bottle so that you can squeeze it over the salmon under the broiler.
This far-too-simple-to-win-anything is going to be entered in Marx Foods' Summer of Salmon contest, which they invited me and all of my readers to join. Click here for more information. The deadline is Friday. The winning recipe wins 15 pounds of different kinds of wild salmon! YUM! And nice, since wild salmon is amazingly expensive this year due to a lot of the salmon runs being closed.
Ponzu-Basted Salmon with Seasoned Rice, Homemade Radish Pickles and Fresh Spring Pea Shoots - serves 2
For the Rice
1 1/2 cup short grain Japanese Rice
2 1/4 cups water
3 ounces rice vinegar
2 ounces sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp black sesame seeds
Place the rice and water in a small pan and bring to a boil. Stir the rice and reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 20 minutes, then turn the heat off and allow to sit, covered for 10 more minutes. Combine the vinegar, sugar and salt and stir together; set aside for a few minutes to allow the sugar to dissolve. Pour it over the rice and toss with a fork. Place rice into bowls and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
For the Salmon
2 5 ounce pieces of wild salmon, skin attached
1/2 cup rice vinegar (unseasoned, please)
1/2 cup ponzu (see above)
Preheat the broiler. About 15 minutes before you are ready to grill, place the salmon in a plastic bag and pour the rice vinegar over; this is optional but begins the cooking process with acid, and I think it leads to a very mellow-tasting and tender finished product). Place the salmon in a flame-proof, shallow baking sheet, skin side up. Douse with a little ponzu and sprinkle with salt. Broil for about 7 minutes, basting continuously with the ponzu sauce. Serve on the seasoned rice.
Tear the pea shoots into 1-2" pieces and drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil (I realize this is completely un-Japanese, but it how I rolls) and sprinkle with a tiny pinch of kosher salt. Place on top of the salmon, along with a few pickled vegetables, such as radishes or turnips.
At the North Market yesterday, I was talked into buying some homemade tempeh at Toad Hill Farms. As I mentioned in my Market Report, I had been wanting to buy this tempeh since a few readers mentioned they had tried it last year, and asked if I had any thoughts about what to do with it.
Tempeh is a soybean-based meat replacement which, unlike tofu, is a complete protein due to the fermentation process. The soybeans are partially cooked and then innoculated with a friendly mold. After 24 hours or so, voila! The soybeans have formed themselves, along with the bloomy mold, into a cake which can be sliced, crumbled or grated and cooked in whatever manner strikes your fancy. Tempeh has a mild, nutty flavor with a slight fermented taste on the finish.
Tempeh is available in many larger supermarkets, certainly at health food stores, and at Asian groceries. And of course, you can buy homemade Tempeh on Saturday mornings at Toad Hill Farms at the North Market.
If you are afraid of tempeh, but still want to try it, you might want to replace the black bean paste in this recipe with something more mild and sweet, such as hoisin. Since black bean paste is also fermented, it enhances the fermented flavor of the tempeh.
This recipe is really good for you, provides complete proteins, is vegetarian - actually, vegan even, now I think of it, although that is by pure accident, I can assure you. But eating it did inspire me for another vegan recipe, which maybe I'll share if I can work it out.
Tempeh with Chinese Broccoli & Mushrooms - serves 2-4, takes about 20 minutes
1 block (12 ounces) tempeh, cut into 3/4" cubes
2 tbsp black bean paste (or hoisin)
1 tbsp chili paste (sambal)
1 tbsp rice vinegar (unsweetened)
1 tbsp, plus more, light soy sauce
1 tbsp neutrally flavored oil, such as soybean or corn oil
1 red onion, halved and cut into half moons
1 large bunch (about 6-8 ounces) Chinese broccoli (kai lan), washed in several changes of water
8 ounces flavorful mushrooms, such as shitake or crimini, cut into 1/2" cubes
freshly cracked black pepper
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
Place the tempeh in a bowl, sprinkle with salt, cover with water and set aside (this is an optional step, but helps to neutralize any acidic flavors in the tempeh) for about 5 minutes, then drain and place it back in a bowl. Cover with 1 tbsp of soy sauce and leave to mingle.
Stir together the black bean paste, chili paste, rice vinegar, and soy sauce and set aside.
Cut any thick stems from the Chinese broccoli into 1" pieces.
Heat a wok over high heat until it begins to smoke and remove from heat. Add about 1 tbsp oil to the wok and swirl. Wipe the entire wok with paper towels, wiping out any additional oil, and return the wok to medium high heat. Add the onions and the Chinese broccoli stems. Stir fry until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and tempeh; add the black bean sauce and toss to cover everything. Cover until the mushrooms are almost completely cooked and then add the leafy parts of the Chinese broccoli. Sprinkle with black pepper, and stir with tongs until the greens have wilted and everything is coated with sauce. Turn the heat off and add the sesame oil, then toss to combine.
Serve with rice!
Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder & Hoppin' John::here's to the New Year!
*sigh of relief*
The holidays are finally over. It's finally the new year. I thought about doing a recap, a redux of the year, review of my least and most favorites, resolutions, and all of that good stuff. But instead, I decided to just give you my 2 favorite New Year's recipes. I promise they will give you the energy to start a new year. Special thanks to Chef Chef for teaching me to appreciate Hoppin' John and giving me guidance for making it, a few years ago.
First up, the pork shoulder. This recipe could not be easier - seriously. Last year, before my slow cooker exploded (not literally, it just burned a slow death on this very day), I put the whole mess in the slow cooker before going to work and then, when Husband and I arrived home after our long nights at work, the entire house was full of the smell of pork. Unfortunately, I don't like to leave my gas oven running while I'm at work for 10 hours, so I had to make it overnight. And, at about 5am, the amazing smell of yummy pork actually woke me up.
New Year's Day Pork & Kraut - serves however many you'd like. Husband and I like to leave it on the "keep warm" setting of the oven and pick at it all day, and then have leftovers. I'd say this serves about 6.
7 pound piece of bone-in pork shoulder, aka pork butt
salt & pepper
2 28 oz jars sauerkraut
5 whole allspice berries
1 tsp fennel seeds
1" stick cinnamon
5 whole cloves
2 (12 ounce) bottles of beer, preferably not a lite beer, but something fuller bodied - I used Columbus Brewing Company's Ohio Honey Wheat
Place the pork butt in a large Dutch oven or stock pot (mine fit in my trusty All Clad 8 quart stock pot) and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Turn it so that the fat side is up - my theory is that the fat will melt down over the pork and keep it delicious. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I've always done it that way. Dump the sauerkraut over - including the juices, add in the seasonings and the beer - the pork should be almost covered in liquid, and covered with the kraut. Cover the pot. Place in the oven and set the heat for 275 degrees - think low and slow. The pork should be done in about 7-8 hours, but you can pretty much leave it in for up to 10 hours without harm. Alternatively, you can cook it in a slow cooker set on low heat for about the same amount of time. You can pretty much tell the pork is done when you prod it with tongs and the meat just falls off. Serve hot with a good amount of sauerkraut on top. This recipe is also really good with the addition of a great knackwurst (slice them up and you only need about 1/2 per person when you have all of that pork butt). Alas, I didn't make it to Thurn's in time this past Saturday.
You might notice I did not brown the meat - you are certainly welcome to do so, but I am usually making this dish in a bad mood (ie, having to go to work on NYE), so I like to keep it criminally easy, and it's so delicious, there's no reason to stress out about it. It should be easy, especially if you have *ahem* indulged the night before. I'm just nursing my sore knees and feet.
Hoppin' John is a Southern tradition that I had never heard of until my previous restaurant job, where Chef taught me to love it and the basic principles of making it. More than a sum of its parts, Hoppin' John is cheap and nutritious, and tasty to boot. Basically, it is black eye peas and rice, with bell peppers and bacon. A good dose of Tabasco when eating never hurt anyone, either. A lot of people are scared of black eye peas, for some reason, but they are really good. They have a rich, full flavor - almost a little smoky, which makes them perfect with another delicious pork product - bacon! The story is, one should eat Hoppin' John & collard greens on New Year's day to bring prosperity in the coming year - the black eye peas are for coins, and the collards are for dollar bills. Alas, when I was doing my shopping (stupidly, last-minute) at Weiland's, and they didn't have any kind of fresh braising greens, so I guess Husband and I will only have lots of coins this year. Sounds about right. This recipe is just a guideline - you can adjust it however you'd like after you make this basic version the first time.
Hoppin' John - serves about 6
6 nice thick strips of bacon, cut into 4 strips lengthwise, and then into 1/4" dice
1 medium red onion, small dice
1 red bell pepper, small dice
1 green bell pepper, small dice
Pinch red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, mashed in garlic press
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
2 cans black eye peas, drained and rinsed
3 cups chicken stock (homemade, of course) or water, plus a little more if needed
salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp butter
Lots of Tabasco, to serve
Render the bacon over medium-high heat until it is nicely browned and crisp. Drain about half of the fat off. Leaving the bacon in the pan, add the onions and cook until they are soft, about 5 minutes, then add the pepper. Cook a few more minutes, until the peppers begin to soften, and then add the garlic and the red pepper flakes. Add the rice and stir everything to coat nicely. Add the peas. Add the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pot; simmer for 20 minutes, checking after 15, just to make sure you don't need anymore stock or water. After 20 minutes, lower the heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes. The stock should be absorbed and the rice soft. The taste actually improves after sitting for another 10 minutes or so on low heat, just letting the flavors meld together. Taste to check seasoning - because bacon can be very salty, I usually don't add salt at the beginning of the cooking process as I typically would when cooking rice (or any starch, really) - and add salt and pepper as needed. Stir in the butter. Turn the heat off and place in bowls with Tabasco on the side.
Serve with the bottle of Egly you brought home from work and didn't have the energy to drink.
Here's to a safe, healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!
It's early fall, and it's grape season. Here at Chez Widow, that means it's time for sausage and grapes. I've written about sausage and grapes before, of course, a seasonal dish traditionally fed to hungry grape harvesters in Italy. Those of you who came to my cooking demo at the North Market got to see a simple version of this recipe; hopefully you can see from the picture how this is supposed to look when one has adequate heat with which to cook!
The inspiration for this interpretation came last week, when Husband and I were leaving the house and he paused to pick a few fennel flowers from our "garden." (In quotes because we didn't plant anything this year, it's just whatever made it from last year: fennel, dill, oregano, sage, and thyme.) The fennel flowers were filled with a nectar-y, persistent sweet fennel flavor; it was amazing. We started thinking of how we might use this bounty, and decided on one of our fall favorites, sausage and grapes. Sadly, by the time we finally got to make the dish, the flowers had fallen! Ah well, there's always next year, right?
This dish is hearty, sweet, and comforting. We pair it with polenta; in this case, I made a creamy polenta (5 cups water to one cup of cornmeal) and stirred in a few tablespoons of butter and a little freshly grated Parmesan.
Sausage & Grapes with Braised and Fresh Fennel - Serves 4
4 fennel bulbs, trimmed of any brown bits. Quarter 3 bulbs, and shave the fourth bulb with a mandoline or a ceramic slicer
pinch of white sugar
1 tbsp rice vinegar, divided
4 hot or sweet Italian Sausages (preferably flavored with fennel)
2 pounds grapes; I like big fat Muscadine grapes, or another interesting fat grape, halved and pips removed
1/2 bottle red wine
pinch fennel seeds
2 tbsp brown sugar
extra virgin olive oil
Place about half an inch of water in a large saute pan and add the fennel. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and 1/2 tbsp of the rice vinegar. Heat over medium high heat until the water has evaporated, stirring or tossing to ensure even cooking. Remove the fennel from the pan and set aside.
Heat the same saute pan over high heat, drizzling in a tbsp of olive oil. Brown the sausages on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. There will be smoke! When the sausages are brown, tip in about 3/4 of the grapes. Deglaze the pan with half of the wine (about 1 cup) and add the fennel back to the pan. Add the sugar and fennel seeds. Cook over medium high heat, keeping a watchful eye on things and tossing the pan every now and again, for about 20 minutes, adding more wine when necessary to keep the pan from drying out or burning. The grapes will cook down to a syrupy consistency, coating the sausages in their tart sweetness. When this happens, add the remaining grapes and toss just to heat them through; you don't have to do this, but I like a combination of melty and firm grapes.
Place the reserved shaved fennel in a little bowl and toss with the remaining rice vinegar and a little drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.
Place a little polenta on a plate and add a sausage. Spoon over a good amount of grapes, fennel and sauce. Top with a little bit of the raw fennel salad and serve with some sort of hearty red wine. (We opted for Aglianico).
Local Sources for this recipe: these hot Italian sausage links came from Oink Moo Cluck at the Worthington Farmer's Market (they also sell at Clintonville); the fennel came from Sippel Farm at Clintonville (and they also sell at Worthington, most Saturdays). Grapes are available at lots of farm markets this time of year, although I will admit that I purchased these Muscadine grapes from Whole Foods.
I love walleye. One of things I enjoyed when I worked in a restaurant which had it on the menu was serving it to surprised out-of-towners. You see, walleye is really a northern, Great Lake State sort of thing. Wildly popular around the lakes, walleye remains virtually unheard-of in the south. Walleye is one of the few fish you can actually purchase locally which is fresh. By fresh, I mean never frozen - this is sometimes referred to as "day boat," ie the fish is caught on a boat and sold the same day. On larger bodies of water, the boat might go out for weeks at a time; fish caught in these conditions is always frozen, no matter what the sign says when you purchase it. Walleye is most prevalent in the spring and fall; it can be found in the summer months as well, although, as with this walleye I purchased at Weiland's, it was caught in the colder Canadian waters. Walleye prefer cold water, and when the top thermocline of water becomes too warm in the summertime, they will drop down to cooler waters, making them a little tricky to catch.
The walleye fillet is shaped like a large, thin mitten. Because of its shape, it is a little difficult for your fishmonger to separate into smaller fillets. Be prepared to purchase the entire fillet (around 8 ounces). Fortunately, one fillet is usually enough to feed 2 people if you have lots of other things to go along. If you are heavier eaters (1/2 of a fillet would never feed Husband), you might want to get 2 fillets. Leftovers can be used the next day in a nice spicy stew or curry.
The walleye fillet is almost too long to be cooked in one pan without being cut, unless you have a really big pan or are going to bake it in a baking dish. I like to cut off the "thumb" of the fillet, then cut the main part of the fillet into 3 parts. The reason for this is that the fillet has varying thicknesses; the wrist end of the mitten is thicker than the finger end. I like to start cooking the thicker part of the fillet first, and then add the thin end. Walleye is a firm yet flaky white fish, mild and sweet, it's the perfect "starter" fish - both for those wary of seafood and those wary of cooking it for the first time. It is really easy to cook, and its moist and tender flesh cooks quickly without overcooking super fast. The fillets don't fall apart the way some flaky white fishes do, maddening the cook.
I really think the only way to cook fish without losing your patience is to use a nonstick pan. I like to use an oven-proof saute pan, so that I can start the fish on the stovetop and finish it in the oven, the same method used in restaurant kitchens. That being said, if you don't want to heat up the kitchen in this heat, you don't have to. I'll give you two options in the recipe section of the post. Like many other delicate white fish, walleye lends itself to frying - whether beer battered, dipped into tempura batter, baked, or cornmeal dusted and then shallow fried - I've also had luck crusting it with panko - but I wanted to keep things like and healthy for this dish. Just a little salt and pepper and a quick saute with a touch of cooking spray and a squeeze of lemon. Do I even have to say it? The best ingredients, blah blah blah.
I think a lot of people are afraid to cook fish - you needn't be, it is very easy. Because most fish - especially these white flaky fishes - cook in a flash, I recommend you cook all of your side dishes first, set the table, pour the wine, and then get the fish going. If you are new to cooking fish, here's a little trick which is perfect with walleye; cook the little thumb of the fillet as a tester, that way you'll know exactly what you are doing when cooking for your friends, family, or self.
The recipe I used for the corn saute is very similar to this one; I used newly-arrived-at-the-market poblano peppers and a good dose of cayenne pepper. Walleye and sweet corn go really well together, and the side dish completely eliminates the need for a sauce. However, I will give instructions for making a pan sauce a la minute at the end of the recipe.
Sauteed Walleye - serves 1-2
1 Walleye fillet, cut into 4 pieces - see above
White wine (optional)
Drizzle the walleye pieces with juice of 1/2 of a lemon, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Spray the pan well with cooking spray. Carefully add the thicker walleye fillets and do not move them! Cook for 3 minutes and then turn them over - if they don't readily move, they aren't ready to be turned yet. When you turn the thick fillets, add the thin fillets. Cook 3 minutes and turn the thin fillets, then move the fish to the oven to finish cooking for about 5 minutes; if you don't want the kitchen all hot, you can turn the heat to low and cover the pan with a lid. A few of the flakes in walleye will spread apart when it is cooking. The fish is done when you can look into the cracks between the flakes and there is no translucence. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over, and sprinkle with a little more salt, if desired. The old adage that white fish is done when you can flake it off is incorrect - at that point it is overcooked. Like anything, the fish will continue to cook after being removed from the heat. It's better to undercook it and put it back into the oven for a minute or two then to overcook it right off the bat. The fish needs only to be opaque throughout. Walleye should have a large, silky, juicy flake with a sweet, delicious flavor. A gift from nature for being a so-called "flyover" state with no ocean!
If you want to make a pan sauce: After you remove the fish from the pan, turn the heat up to high and deglaze with about 1/2 cup of white wine and reduce by half. Squeeze in just a little more lemon juice (because the zing of the previous lemon juice will be lightened with cooking, and you want the acidity), turn the heat to low, then add about half a stick of butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, and stir with a whisk. You could even throw in a few capers. Serve over the fish.
First of all, what is a garlic scape? It is the flowering portion of the a garlic plant; it is a very long and green stem, which is loopy in appearance and has a little bud on top. The scape is discarded in order for the garlic bulb to grow properly, and until recently, the scape has been fed to the pigs or placed in the compost heap. I've seen a lot of scapes at the markets this summer, and we will still have them for a week or so. Garlic scapes have a mild garlicky flavor, almost reminiscent of roasted garlic in mellowness, but without the sugary taste. Scapes have a texture similar to green beans, and they take a little cooking to soften up.
My general rule is to cut the scapes into one inch batons and add them after the onions in a dish and before the mushrooms - just to say that the cooking time is somewhere in between the two. I think you can put scapes into any dish where you would put garlic - although I view it just as another veggie, albeit a flavor-packed one.
I hope I've given you a few ideas to use up those garlic scapes this year. They are always available from Just This Farm and Elizabeth Telling at the North Market, and From My Garden at the Worthington Market (in the Graeter's parking lot). Happy eating!!
We here at Chez Widow have a fondness for lesser cuts of meat - we tend to eschew that much-lauded tenderloin in favor of cuts with flavor. Ask any chef what he'd like to remove from his menu, and chances are, it's the beef fillet. Why? It's the most boring cut on the cow. I know, I know, you love fillet - it's so tender! Yes, it is tender, and it has its place, I suppose, but the truth is, the very thing that people love about a fillet or tenderloin is the very thing keeping it from reaching its full meaty potential - fat, bones, and connective tissue. The same is true in pork - in fact, it's even worse in pork, because for some reason, we have decided to breed all of the tasty fat out of pork - breed the fat out of pork! Pork fat is the tastiest of all the fats! I mean, schmaltz is good, too, but pork fat! I just had lunch and still I'm dreaming of pork fat . . .
Fortunately, some farmers have seen this travesty and are starting to breed their pigs to be fat again. Thanks for the fatty pigs! Oh, have I digressed...
I don't remember why I picked up my first country style pork rib, what it was that made me want to make it for dinner (although just viewing that jewel-like pinky flesh quickens my heart) - I think it might have been some sort of delicious beef short rib I'd had recently - whatever it was, it was a really, really good idea. Very similar to a short rib, the country pork rib is a meaty, fatty, connective tissue containing, braisable thing of beauty. We've tried this cut with Thai red curry and pineapple - that was really good but not very photogenic - but here I've just done a traditional, American pot roast style here, served up with some pork-laden beans and greens. It's the perfect comfort meal, full of rich and wholesome flavors. Choose ribs with more reddish meat than pink - it's the red part which cooks to a meltingly tender, succulent mess of porky goodness. Convinced? Country pork ribs can be found (bone in) at Blues Creek Farms at the North Market, or (boneless) at Weiland's; both are superb.
For this recipe, I used what will probably be my last ramps of the year - and my best, lovingly (I'm sure) harvested for me by my CSA farmer, these were delightfully mild and crunchy. I also used the cautiously harvested stinging nettles - my first stinging nettle experience. They were really good, very similar to spinach but without that weird, mouth-drying spinach affect. They are a little scary to prepare - brushing up against them will cause a reaction similar to a chemical burn, no fun (I dropped one on my toe without realizing and I kept wondering why it was burning!) This is my method for preparing the nettles: put gloves on. Hold the nettles with tongs in one hand, and snip the leaves off with clean scissors, directly into the salad spinner. Wash in a few changes of water. The sting is, of course, neutralized with cooking. Yum! I love eating dangerously! Can't wait to try some more!
Braised Country Style Pork Ribs with Beans & Greens - Serves 2 hungry people, with leftovers
For the pork:
3-4 country style pork ribs, bone in or out, although I tend to prefer them with a bone
salt & pepper
1 onion, rough chop
4 medium carrots, rough chop, or a handful of leftover, dried-out baby carrots (I know, you don't want to throw them away)
1 rib celery, rough chop
5 cloves garlic, skins removed and just crushed a little with the flat side of a chef's knife
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cups red wine
1 large 28 can tomatoes, with their juice, no need to chop or anything
1 cups chicken stock
For the beans and greens:
1 link mild Italian sausage, or 4 slices bacon, chopped finely
1 cup ramps, cleaned, blanched in salted water for 2 minutes
2 cans white beans or those fun enormous Italian "Gigante" beans
Lots of greens - I used a combination of nettles and spinach from my CSA along with 2 heads of escarole, chopped (you could also use tender kale or Swiss chard, although you might have to adjust cooking time; the greens I chose cook very quickly)
good extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
For the pork: preheat your oven to 325. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Season the ribs all over with salt and pepper. Place a small amount of oil in your pan and place the ribs in the pan, being careful you don't crowd them. Brown the ribs on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. The trick to searing is: do not move the meat! It will let you know it's ready to be turned when you nudge it gently with tongs and it lets go of the pan. When all of the meat is browned, remove it to a plate and add the onion, carrots and celery to the pan. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the veggies are just beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste and cook - it will stick to the brown bits on the bottom of the pan, but that's exactly what you want. You want the tomato paste to turn completely brown. When this happens, about 4 minutes or so, add the garlic, and then deglaze the pan with the red wine, scraping up all of the brown bits. Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock. Place the ribs back into the pan, nestling them down into the liquid. Cover loosely with foil and place in the oven, Cook for an hour, the turn the ribs over and cook another hour. These ribs take about 2-3 hours to cook, depending on the beginning size. They are done with they begin falling apart and off the bone.
When the ribs are done, remove them to a plate and strain the cooking liquid through a strainer - it doesn't have to be perfectly strained, a colander is fine. Discard the solids and place the sauce and ribs back in the pan and keep warm until serving. The liquid makes a nice thick sauce which doesn't need any sort of butter mounting or anything, it's rustic.
For the beans & greens: Brown your sausage or bacon in a large saute pan until well browned. Add the beans and toss to coat. Remove from pan and add the ramps, toss until they begin to brown lightly. Add a little olive oil to the pan, if necessary, then add the greens and saute. When the greens are almost wilted, add the bean & sausage mixture back to the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add a splash of balsamic vinegar (you're going to need the acidity) and stir. Place a mound of beans on a plate and drizzle liberally with good extra virgin olive oil. Place a rib on top of the beans and spoon a little sauce over. There now, don't you feel better?
I know, I know - two salmon recipes in one week?! But a very thoughtful reader reminded me that Copper River Salmon season is upon us, so when I saw this dark red beauty at Whole Foods today, I just had to buy some for dinner. This is how the "what to have for dinner" thought process went: I knew I wanted salmon, I knew I wanted fennel. While browsing, I caught sight of some favas and thought OH! FAVAS! Then I was shopping at Carfagna's and bought this cool pasta shape, "calamari" - it's shaped like calamari rings - and thought, hmm, maybe I can toss the favas in some pasta and olive oil with lemon juice. And fennel. Then, when I got home from shopping, I decided to taste the new brand of anchovies I bought, and then I had this open can of anchovies, and suddenly, the picture of my dinner was complete. I rarely use recipes, especially for pasta or entrees - recipes for me are usually relegated to baked goods, which require a particular ratio of ingredients to be successful. I just thought I'd give you a little insight into how I develop recipes for you.
So, what is Copper River Salmon and why is it so expensive? Well, the Copper river is a 300 mile long, glacier fed river in Alaska. Each Spring salmon begin the journey back to their home waters to mate. Because they have other things on their mind than eating, they bulk up and store fat for the long journey, which gives them their characteristically rich flavor, and adds an extra dose of important Omega 3 fatty acids, as well. (source) This fillet is a Copper River Sockeye (I should have taken a picture of it pre-cooking); the king variety will be arriving soon as well, and contains a big more fat and packs an even richer punch than the Sockeye or Silver varieties. According to the website linked above, Copper River Salmon is dressed immediately upon catching and is shipped fresh to market (most fish is frozen on boats).
The picture might look like the skin of the fish is burned; it isn't. I think it is very important to eat the skin of the fish, since much of the fat in the salmon is located just below it. Although I couldn't find a source that would confirm this exactly as fact, I have heard many times that the skin is where the good things are located, such as those all-important Omega 3s. Because I don't like mushy skin, I always start the fish out in a hot pan with a little oil to ensure a yummy, crisp skin.
Salmon and fennel are a classic combination which should be enjoyed whenever possible. Fennel is quite good for you, and tasty besides. 1 cup of fennel contains a mere 26 calories and is high in fiber, vitamin C and Potassium. If you get into super healthfoodiness, this meal is great for people who suffer from inflammation, as both fennel and salmon contain compounds which reduce inflammation. In fennel, the phytonutrient is called anethole, and is even thought to prohibit tumor growth and protect the liver from toxic chemicals. Talk about a wonderfood. (source) Salmon is another nutritional powerhouse - it is loaded with B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids. Niacin, vitamin B3, has been shown to lower cholesterol, and consuming fish such as salmon has been shown to improve cardiac function and reduce the occurrence of cardiac arrhythmia and it also lowers triglycerides. (source)
So I think your mission is clear: get out there and eat some salmon, preferably the fatty and tasty wild Copper River Salmon we'll have for the next few weeks. Your heart with thank you. The price tag might be a bit of a shock at first - the salmon I bought today was $24 a pound, but I only purchased 6 ounces for myself, and it was around $7 for one fillet. You're sure to pay far more than that if you eat it in a restaurant.
Super Healthy Pan Seared Copper River Salmon with Pasta, Favas and Fennel - serves 2
Two 4-6 ounce Copper River Salmon fillets, skin on, but looked over to be sure all scales have been removed
Olive Oil for cooking, and extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (I'm too cheap to be Mario Batali, using only $15 bottles of olive oil for sauteing. Maybe one day)
2 cups dried smooth pasta shape such as gemelli, or these fun calamari rings
1 small tin (1 ounce) anchovy fillets, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pasta water
1/4 cup white wine
1 juice from 1 lemon
1 pound fresh fava beans, hulled, blanched, hulled and shocked in ice bath (see my former fava post for more detailed instructions on how to do this)
1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed of any brown bits and sliced very thinly (on one of my favorite tools)
salt & pepper
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente, then set aside; you should cook it right next to the sauce, so that you can add the pasta water easily.
For the fennel: place shaved fennel in a small bowl and drizzle with about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Drizzle with juice of 1/2 lemon, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Set aside.
For the sauce: Heat one tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat and add the chopped anchovies and minced garlic; mash with a wooden spoon and cook until everything has practically melted together, about 10 minutes or so. I like to do this first and then get on with everything else. When they have melted, turn the heat up to high and add the pasta water (I like to add it directly from the boiling pasta, right before it's done); reduce until the water is almost evaporated, then add the white wine. Cook until you have just a nice, thick sauce (there will only be a small amount) and then add the drained pasta to the mixture. Turn the heat off and drizzle with about 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and juice from half of the lemon. Add the favas and stir to coat. Taste and correct seasoning: you probably won't need salt, because of the anchovies, but a nice crack of pepper will be nice.
For the salmon: Heat a nonstick saute pan over medium-high heat and add a little olive oil. Pat the salmon fillets dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the fillets skin side down in the pan (you should hear sizzling) and don't move them!! Allow to cook for about 3 minutes and the place the pan in the oven while you get on with everything else, or about 5 minutes for a nice medium - medium well. (Notice: I never turned the salmon. It won't stick, I promise. The trick is to not move it)
Place the pasta in bowls and put a salmon fillet on top. Top with the fennel salad and serve, maybe with some nice crisp white wine. Eat outside! It's nice out!
One of the things I love about late Spring is the proliferation of tasty green things growing, especially things we might typically over look: scallions, chives and chive flowers, flowering watercress, arugula, mizuna, green garlic, tiny little leeks, microgreens - the list goes on.
With all of this green bounty, there's no need to weight food down with a lot of fattening sauces. Of course, we all know fattening sauces are delicious, but a simple salad of peppery cress, chives and scallions with a few local hothouse tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil, and you have something fresh tasting, light, and good for you. So, this week while you're at the markets, take a second look at those tasty greens. Taste each one individually; you might be surprised to find that watercress can be horseradish hot, you can smell peppery arugula from across the room, and you won't believe how delicious beautiful chive flowers can be.
Salmon with Spring Green Salad - for 2
2 4-6 ounce pieces of good-quality salmon, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt & pepper, and grilled according to taste; I like to squeeze a lemon over after grilling
1 small bunch flowering watercress, large stems picked off
4 scallions, white and green parts, cut into thin discs
small bunch chives, cut into thin discs
2 chive flowers, flowers picked off from stem
1 handful microgreens (available at Whole Foods - the ones I bought, produced locally at Green Edge Gardens, even came with a few edible flowers)
Chopped grape tomatoes (optional)
Good Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
place the greens in a small bowl with the tomatoes and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, squeeze lemon juice over, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Place on top of your salmon filet and enjoy!
Local Sources for this Dish: Chive Flowers from Toad Hill Organics (North Market), I can't remember where the scallions came from, but somewhere at the Worthington Farmer's Market, Grape Tomatoes from Wishwell Farms (greenhouse grown; Wishwell sells at Worthington, North Market, and Clintonville), microgreens came from Whole Foods and are produced in Amesville, OH at Green Edge Gardens.
Winter weather got you down? Tired of your frozen pipes and drains? Afraid to leave your house for fear you'll get the car stuck in the alley behind your house? Tired of slipping and sliding down unplowed city side streets? Tired of slogging through a foot of snow covering the sidewalk, tripping and lurching to the bus stop in sub-zero temperatures to wait 35 minutes for a bus that never comes? Already living in fear of opening next month's gas bill? You need some comfort, don't you?
You look like you could use some schmaltz, dearie.
I'm not quite sure what it is about the humble chicken, but for those of us Midwesterners, there are few things as comforting as chicken in its many forms - fried, made into soup with noodles, topped with dumplings, or simply roasted and placed on some potatoes. Well, for this Midwesterner, anyway. I'm not saying this recipe is a dieter's dream, but it will certainly soothe your winter-weary soul. Don't mess around with cheap, miserable chickens. For fifty cents extra a pound, you can get a delicious Amish chicken, like this one I bought from Weiland's. You might notice the lack of vegetables on the plate. This dinner is all about comfort, remember? I don't really find steamed veggies very comforting, although I do love them. In truth, this dinner lends itself to a nice refreshing dish of fruit after, so you don't have to feel guilty about skipping the veg.
Perfectly Simple and Delicious Roasted Chicken - serves 2
1 2 1/2 - 3 pound fryer, preferably a good free-range bird
Preheat oven to 475. Remember that the perfect roasted chicken needs nothing more than salt and pepper. Dry the skin thoroughly with paper towels. Remove any giblets from inside, fry and serve to your cats or do whatever you wish with them. Sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper (liberally). Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat (I like to use an ovenproof nonstick skillet for ease of cleanup. It's winter, remember? We're in lazy mode) and add the chicken, breast side up. Place in oven and roast 20 minutes. Carefully turn the bird over and roast for another 20 minutes. Turn over again and return to oven for 10 minutes. The chicken is done when the juices from the cavity run clear. Remove the chicken to a cutting board to rest (I don't tent because I love crisp chicken skin). Place the skillet, with all juices and fat still in, on the stovetop, and commence with the potatoes.
Schmaltzy Potatoes - serves 2
Scrub 20 very small Yukon Gold potatoes and place them, whole, skin on, into a large pot filled with boiling salted water. Boil about 20-25 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain and set aside whilst the chicken finishes. When the potatoes have cooled slightly, cut each in half. Place your skillet full of chicken juices over high heat and add the potatoes - be careful! There might be splattering! Toss the potatoes in the chicken fat and juices until they are lightly browned, and then remove them to plates with a slotted spoon. Sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Top with chicken and consume, feeling your bones thaw and your heart warm.
It worked for me, anyway.
Okay, this isn't really a recipe, but a good dinner, nonetheless, and it continues my Thurn's adventure. Thurn's knackwurst is a rich, dense sausage - very rich, evidenced by the fact Husband could barely consume 1.25 of these links. To be honest, they are a rather large wurst, with a cracking casing and a meaty, juicy interior. They must have mustard, kraut, pickles, or something to take the edge off the richness. I was pining for a little ligonberry compote or something sweet and tart on the side, but, as it didn't occur to me until just before serving, I didn't have a chance to whip one up.
I don't use my slow cooker very often, as a matter of fact, it's almost exclusively used for pork & sauerkraut on New Year's Day. It's used well here, where the sausages can release their yumminess into the kraut. I suppose you could throw your potatoes in as well, but I prefer potatoes to be cooked in loads of salty water, so did mine separately and mashed them with a simple blend of milk, butter, salt and pepper.
Knackwurst & Kraut for 4
Dump a package of sauerkraut in a slow cooker
Add 4 links of knackwurst
Add a bottle of beer
Cook on high for 2 hours or low for 4 hours, taste to adjust seasoning - I added a pinch of salt, pinch of brown sugar and a splash of white vinegar. Place on plates and serve with mashed potatoes, good hearty mustard, pickles, etc. Serve with a nice big mug of beer.
Well, it's about that time of year again. I realize I posted this same think last year, but, as Thanksgiving comes every year, it's that time again. Here are a few of my tried and true recipes (they are not, of course, all original to me, I just mean I've made them all a hundred times and they never fail me):
Sweet Potato Casserole (don't let the term casserole scare you - I promise, even lifelong sweet potatoe haters will love this)
Lisa's Perfect Sprouts
Bon Appetit's Creamed Corn Gratin
Alton Brown's Turkey
Alton Brown's Cranberry Sauce
Lisa's Green Beans with Bacon
Monk fish is a great "beginner" fish, because it is relatively easy to prepare, is mild and delicious, and it tolerates overcooking better than most fish (not that I think you'll overcook it on your first try, of course). Unfortunately, it isn't the most beautiful fish in the world, which is why it's kind of hiding behind the prettier squash. This meal is very healthy and, although the side dishes take a little time in the oven, the hands-on time is very low.
Ponzu is a Japanese vinegar-based citrus marinade, sometimes mixed with soy sauce. The ponzu I used has no soy sauce, making it light and tangy in flavor. It's the perfect partner for fish, and it has virtually no calories.
Ponzu-Braised Monk Fish - serves 1
1 4-5 ounce monk fish fillet (or any firm white fish)
olive oil spray
1 cup ponzu, or water with juice of one lemon and 2 tbsp rice wine thrown in
Salt & pepper
Heat a medium-sized non-stick skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Carefully add the monkfish and brown for a minute or 2 on all sides, then add the ponzu, turn the heat to medium-high and simmer for about 8 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through. If the pan runs dry, add a little water. Remove the fish to a plate, season with salt and pepper, and reduce any remaining ponzu to a tablespoon or so; pour over the fish.
Beet Stuffed Sweet Dumpling Squash - serves 1
2 small or 1 medium beet, scrubbed and trimmed of root and stem end
1 sweet dumpling or other small squash, top cut off and innards scooped out
salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 350. Place beets in a baking dish with one inch of water. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until they are almost soft, remove to a cutting board to cool. Place the squash in a separate dish, cut sides down, in 1/2 inch of water and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until squash is soft. When the beets are cool, the skins should slip off. Cube the beets. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over high heat and spray with cooking spray. Toss the beets in the pan with a little salt and pepper until they begin to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle the inside of the squash with salt and place the beets inside the squash. Simple and good!
This dinner (fish, squash and beets) contains 362 calories, 9 grams of fat, 39 grams of carbs, 11 grams of fiber, and 35 grams of protein. It satisfies 4-5 ounces of protein and 3 servings of veggies (including the important orange veggie category!)
It's winter. Well, it's winterish. We had our last fleetingly beautiful day this past Monday, when the too early sunset arrived it was still nearly 70 degrees, but we are all set for a hard freeze tonight, which will probably mean the death of all that remains of flora in my back yard. Even the autumnal mums on the front porch are drooping their previously cheery heads. I bought myself a new green scarf and I'll be be sporting it to dinner tonight. It's also time for some comfort food. We have to have new scarves and comfort food in the winter or we'll go crazy from the short days!
The subject of comfort food reminds me of last night's Top Chef. I had to laugh at all of the snobby hotel and casino chefs who said things likes "I don't do this king of food," and were at a total loss. As much as I love (and I really love) Nob Hill, I thought that Emily girl deserved to go. What do you mean you don't do that sort of food? What do you cook at home? Can you honestly tell me you never go home and cook a pound of spaghetti and throw in only butter and maybe a little cheese? You've never mashed a potato? Made a roast chicken? Short ribs? These are mainstays of the American diet, and there is nothing wrong with them. Now, if they all come from a box and are full of unpronounceable ingredients, we have a problem, but I can't believe the idiocy and self-righteousness of these so-called chefs. As I write this, suddenly I remember one of the courses Husband and I had from Nob Hill's tasting menu was truffled mac 'n cheese. That was a few years ago, but there were numerous things on the menu which recalled one's childhood. Thomas Keller, too, states he likes to invoke childhood memories in his cooking - everyone wants to be comforted. These chefs have a lot to learn about how to make their guests happy; dining is not all about insane "creativity" and presentation and eating food from wires. I think most diners want at least some amount of comfort in their food, and by that I don't mean everything should be overcooked and mushy and covered in gravy, but sometimes, after a hard day at work, when sitting down in a restaurant to dine alone or with a loved one, what you really want is someone to take care of you - to pour your wine and bring you hot soup - you want to feel as though someone cares. It might be the Midwesterner in me, but so be it - no matter what the cuisine, if there's no comfort in it, I'd like to think it's a passing fad.
I have just checked out Nob Hill's menu, and I have decided this girl was just an idiot: their first four menu items include: butternut squash risotto, Kobe short ribs, sage gnocchi and shallot potato cakes. Not to mention, the tetrazzini truffled mac 'n cheese is still on the menu. If those aren't comfort foods, then I don't know what is. She could have made any of these recipes (which she should know by heart; I can still recite the recipes and processes of my baking days, a year later) with great success, but she let her incredulity at being asked to do something so clearly below her get in the way. Something is wrong with today's "up and coming" chefs, or someone is not teaching this girl properly; she's cooking comfort food and doesn't even know it because the people in her restaurant are paying $100 a person for it, so she thinks she's too good for mac 'n cheese, even when she's probably made thousands of orders of it. But!! I have digressed!
Hmm. That whole diatribe, just to talk about some simple risotto. Ah, well, I have a tendency to be long-winded on occasion. . .
So, let's just get down to the risotto, shall we? While bored at work the other night, I began perusing Marcella Cucina (and, because we're about to get a new Cameron Mitchell restaurant in the Short North called Marcella's, let's just get the pronunciation out of the way: it's mar-Chell-uh) and wandered across a recipe for risotto and cranberry beans. Being that I had purchased some cranberry beans at Saturday's market, and had just cooked them that day, I decided it would be lunch the following day. The recipe is easy, although it does, as all risotto does, take a good deal of time. Don't be intimidated by risotto; I know all the books say it takes skill and practice, etc. and while that might be true somewhat, you'll never know unless you try. What it definitely does take is patience and a strong stirring arm.
To make risotto, you absolutely must use a specific type of rice called Arborio rice (Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are also used, some say superior, but are more difficult to find). These types of rice release starch when stirred in a liquid; it is this process which makes risotto, otherwise you just have a starchy mess of mush. These types of rice are identified by their fat round grains and pearly appearance. They can be used to make other sorts of rice dishes, such as pilaf, but other types of rice cannot be used for risotto. Arborio is no longer that much of a specialty product; it can be found in most large, well-stocked grocery stores in the Italian section. Or sometimes, misguidedly, in the Asian section.
Okay, so now we have the rice. You will also need some good, low-salt stock or broth - it should be low-salt not for health reasons, but because a good deal of it will evaporate, leaving its salt behind, and I like to have more control over the salt in a dish. It can be homemade, but I'm not going to be a snob about it because, in truth, we go through gallons of store-bought stock in this household and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Furthermore, risotto is actually a dish which can be whipped up out of thin air when it seems as though you have nothing to eat, as long as you have butter, rice, stock, maybe a few herbs, and some leftover Parmesan. I like the kind of stock purchased in tetrapak cartons, because they are resealable and can be put in the fridge and used as needed. If you really want to use homemade but you don't have time to make stock or don't like the aroma of roasting bones in your house (I don't blame you), you can buy really great stock at North Market Poultry and Game - it is expensive, but can be diluted with a 2- or 3-to-1 ratio of water to stock, so it stretches. My general guideline is to plan on 1/4 cup dry rice per person, and about 4 cups of stock to 1 cup of rice. Of course, this isn't exact and will vary depending on your elevation and the phases of the moon, but it's a good place to start. I usually just use 4 cups of stock and then dilute with water or wine (or sometimes beer, if that's all I have) if I feel I'm going to run out.
Well, we have rice and stock covered, now we just need our setup: place the stock in a saucepan on your rear burner, bring to a simmer, and leave it there with a 6-8 ounce ladle in, and place a large, wide saute pan (must be really large, plan that your rice will at least quadruple in size) or Dutch oven on the burner in front. Get out your favorite wooden spoon and flex your stirring arm.
The nice thing about using sausage is it's so full of flavor you can leave out the usual onion/garlic/shallot/celery nonsense if you're tired and don't feel like chopping. Furthermore, sausage goes from the freezer to the pan without suffering too much. Okay, let's go!
Risotto with Sausage and Cranberry Beans - serves 4
2 links Italian sausage, or 1 pound bulk (or hot, or a combination - definitely with some fennel), casings removed
2 cups cooked cranberry beans or one can white beans, drained
1 cup Arborio rice
4-5 cups beef, chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp butter
3/4 cup freshly, finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1 package (an ounce) flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
1/2 tbsp lemon juice, or juice from 1/2 lemon
salt and black pepper to taste
red pepper flakes to taste, optional
Good balsamic vinegar, optional
Your stock is simmering, right? Heat your large saute pan over medium-medium high heat and crumble in your sausage. Brown the sausage thoroughly, breaking it into very small bits, then add the beans - if there is a lot of fat (more than a tablespoon) in the pan, carefully drain it off first. Add the rice to the pan and stir it all around for a minute or two; the rice should begin to transluce, looking very pearly with a white center. Add a ladleful of stock and stir until the stock is absorbed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Continue to repeat for about 20 minutes, adding a pinch of salt after 10, and then begin to taste the rice; it should be soft with a slightly chewy center, without being powdery or hard. The entire mixture should be soft and creamy above all, with no broth sitting in pools. Turn the heat off and add the butter, parsley, Parmesan and lemon juice, stirring vigorously to incorporate and melt everything. Taste for salt and add a few good grinds of black pepper and a few pinches of red pepper flakes, if desired. Place in bowls and top with a few shreds of Parmesan and a tiny drizzle of balsamic vinegar, if desired. Preferably eaten while in pajamas in front of fireplace with loved on, or other cozy location.
To read about other times I've made risotto, click here and here for the vegan option. To read about what to do with leftover risotto, click here. To read about the worst risotto I've eaten in a restaurant which the Columbus Dispatch gave 5 stars, click here. To read about the best risotto I've eaten in a restaurant which the Columbus Dispatch gave 3 stars, click here.
Husband cooked the other day, and I thought it was a very tasty example of how good the simple things can be. So often we try to outdo ourselves and our last meal by adding more and more, making sauces, garnishes, adding too many flavors, etc., and I wanted to remind everyone how delicious things can been when the best ingredients are prepared in a simple way which allows their flavors to shine through. This was something I noticed when I had my meal at the Chez Panisse Cafe - care was taken to showcase the individual greatness of each ingredient. Of course, such simplicity doesn't work with grocery store tomatoes purchased in Ohio in January, mass-marketed beef from miserable feedlot cows, or greens which have traveled more than 2000 miles and 8 different middle men to get to your table 10 days after being picked (haven't we learned anything from the whole spinach fiasco?).
The arugula salad makes a nice compliment to any rich meat, such as pork, veal or duck. It's a refreshing side dish instead of something heavy, such as a mound of potatoes. Although mashed potatoes are, of course, delicious. Here, lemon juice plays the part normally played by vinegar in the light, tart vinaigrette.
Husband's Pork with Arugula - serves 2
2 rather small pork chops, butterflied
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
salt and freshly cracked pepper
Pound the pork chops until they are about a centimeter thin - less than 1/2 inch; this is easiest to do by placing the each chop in a large zip top bag or in between sheets of plastic wrap and banging on them with a meat mallot. Combine the flour and bread crumbs and season liberally with salt and pepper. Dredge the pork chops in the flower and set aside.
Heat a tbsp or so of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet (or use 2-3 tbsp in a regular skillet, ensuring your pan has heated for severa minutes before adding pork to avoid sticking) over medium-medium high heat for a few minutes. When the pan is hot, gently place each chop in - if your pan is too small for both to fit with room to spare, you can do them separately and keep warm in the oven. Cook for about 5 minutes without shaking or moving around - this prevents sticking and ensures nice browning), until you can see the cooked part showing through the top, then flip and cook another 2 minutes or until both sides are nicely browned. Serve with the arugula salad.
Simple Arugula Salad - serves 2
1 large bunch arugula, trimmed of stems and washed in several changes of water
juice of one lemon
zest of one lemon
3 tbsp olive oil
1 small shallot, cut into small dice
3 Tbsp chopped capers
salt and pepper
Combine the lemon juice, zest, oil, shallot and capers and allow to stand for a few minutes - I think I've mentioned before that, in my mind, this allows the capers to "cook" a little and release a little of their onioniness. Season with salt and pepper and toss with the arugula. The salad might taste a little tart, but keep in mind it is to be eaten alongside the pork, in lieu of any sort of sauce or the like; it will go very nicely, trust me.