Cooking Italy~Pot Roast braised in Red Wine

14 02 2010

This item on the Cooking Italy curriculum reminds me very much of a dish we prepared at Whisk Wednesdays, with some very minor exceptions.  Mostly more herbs and seasoning ingredients and marination time.  A chuck roast, red wine, the vegetable trinity – onions, celery and carrots – and olive oil to brown the meat.  Oh…let’s not forget the beef broth for simmering the roast either.

Although this isn’t a quick fix recipe, it doesn’t require much attention once you get it in the oven, or the back of the stove.  I put mine in the oven.   Browning the meat creates a nice fond, and a nice carmelization on the meat.  The small cut on the veggies lets them release their essences more quickly into the broth and wine mixture, which makes those flavors available to flavor the meat.  The wine and the tomato offer a bit of acid to break down the tougher tissues in the meat, and it all works in about 3 hours.

Our roast was hiding all kinds of goodies beneath it.  When it was removed, we loosened the pan drippings with the remaining beef stock (I had opened my last 16 oz. jar of beef stock for this recipe), and water, tasted for seasonings and made a pan gravy.  Seriously yummy.  We had the roast with mashed potatoes and a green salad on the side to round out our dinner.

Tasting Notes:
You’re going to love the way this makes your house smell!!  This really was good!   We didn’t get to eat the roast the night we cooked it.  We actually had to chill it down for another night.  I was pleased at how well it reheated.  I was afraid it would be dry having to wait an additional night, but there was no problem.  I couldn’t resist snagging a bite or two the first night…it was actually better the next day!!


Cooking Italy~ Sausages in Cream

14 02 2010

Although this dish is somewhat pale in color, let me assure you, Sausages in Cream is big on flavor!

Our Cooking Italy assigned dish for the second week of February is Sausages in Cream.  Marcella Hazan’s recipe calls for a mild sausage, one without bold flavors.  No fennel, no chiles, no sage.  Marcella’s son, Guiliano, recommends ground pork mixed with a small amount of finely chopped garlic, salt, pepper and white wine.  After hearing Angela’s (our intrepid leader and coach) perspective on the concept of sausage, purism, and innovation, I reached for the sausage I’m made a few months before.  Heigh-Ho!!!!

Some months back, I got a great deal on pork, and I made some sausage with seasonings I’d purchased from Penzeys.  With new found courage in my heart, I went hunting for the Bratwurst, because I knew that would have milder seasonings than Italian Sausage…however…if I found the Italian sausage first, c’est la vie!   Not to worry, I found the bratwurst, frozen wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, stored in a plastic freezer bag.  It was in perfect condition.  A quick thaw in cold water, and we were on our way!

The pastas recommended for this dish were fusilli or any pasta with nooks and crannies to grab onto the sauce and little bits of sausage.  I selected radiatore…I love the little radiators!  They have ripple upon ripple to catch the sauce and the meat, and worked out wonderfully.  I knew they would take longer to cook than the sauce would, so I put the water on, and when it came to a boil, I added the pasta and started the sauce.

The only difficulty I had was that it would have been far easier to use freshly ground meat. It was difficult to break up the pieces of sausage so that they made wee tiny pieces.  I used 2 wooden spoons and a little pasta water while the sausage was cooking to break it up more.  Just a lesson…try not to overwork the ground pork.  Everything else was remarkably simple.

Tasting Notes:
I don’t quite know what I was anticipating, but nothing quite this good, I can assure you!  This is one of those really nice little comfort pasta dishes that sneaks up on you.  You kind of expect not to like it so much, but the next thing you know, your bowl is empty…  The Penzey’s Bratwust seasoning according to their recipe made a great sausage for this dish!!  Oh my gosh!!  Although it sure isn’t low fat, put a substantial green, antioxidant veggie along side…or even toss with…, and you’re in great shape.  I think this would even work really well with whole grain pastas because of the sausage.  You wouldn’t necessarily recognize additional chewiness.  We really enjoyed this, and wouldn’t hesitate to have it again.  Sausages in Cream is another candidate for a quick and easy after work dish!

Cooking Italy~Lasagne Bolognese…sort of…

14 02 2010

As usual, I’ve gotten way out of sync over at Cooking Italy. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking…I cook a lot.  I just don’t always get the photos downloaded and the post done in a timely manner…nor do I always do the recipes in the order they’re presented!  *giggle*   If I just happen to have everything, then we’ll probably go that way instead, and catch this when I can.  And that brings us to how we’re talking about Lasagna Bolognese in February rather than December or January.

After all was said and done with the Bolognese sauce, I got sick. A raging, don’t-lift-your-head-up sinus infection. I did good to get the bolognese into the freezer. After buying spinach at least twice, I finally gave in and just made a casserole using “Lasagna Casserole” noodles. They look like miniature lasagna noodles. Worked for us! I layered the meat and bolognese with bechamel as though we were doing the real deal…and now I know why this is a beloved dish. I know I had too much sauce, but I had too much of everything so it all balanced out in the end.

Now…here’s the twist…This batch of sauce was from the older Marcella Hazan book, The Classic Italian Cookbook.  I loved everything about it…the texture, the creaminess, the rich flavor… It was heavenly. While this isn’t the lasagna I grew up with, it’s one I’d be happy to have again, and one I’d be happy to serve or share! Too bad there wasn’t any to share with Dr. Tony! LOL!

Tasting Notes:
There’s something about the addition of the bechamel sauce that mellows the entire dish into a soothing culinary caress. Maybe it’s because there’s considerable milk in the meat sauce…  Maybe the bechamel mellows the tomato to a lighter gravy?  Perhaps the bechamel is a magic elixer that carries the sauce to the pasta…  I don’t know, but what occurs is magical.   There’s an incredibly lightness to this dish, which seems as though it should be substantially heavy.  No wonder the uninitiated ask for second helpings!

First Sign of Spring?

13 02 2010

What’s the first real, honest to goodness, reliable, first sign of Spring?

Narcissus flowers
Where I live, I don’t have to wait for the snow to melt…I see green all winter.  I know that sometime between Christmas and Valentine’s Day that the grass starts really growing and putting on length.  However…you can’t even think about trying to mow it, because the ground is still pretty soggy.  We see Narcissus coming up in December, and they start blooming well before Valentine’s Day.  Closer to Valentine’s Day will find Daffodils opening their trumpets and almond trees starting to open their delicate pink blossoms. But hose are just harbingers.  The true sign is yet to come…

The most sincere sign of Spring I can think of is the sound of the little frogs and crickets coming out of hibernation.  When you can step outside in the evening and the hear the world of the little creatures that live along the stream bed, listen to their symphony, then you know Spring is coming on fast.  We won’t have another hard freeze, though we may have a light frost.  Not even that is highly likely though.  Mid-February usually means the coldest of the weather has gone by.  That doesn’t mean the wettest weather has passed though.   We can still get some really gully washers before it quits raining for the summer.

I hate to say what I did today, but it goes along with the weather here. It won’t be terribly long before I can pick salad greens and herbs for use in the kitchen.  I can always pick chives, rosemary and thyme, but cilantro, parsley, and sage will soon join in.  We also found 2 asparagus spears growing in the garden! Yay!!  The Sunchokes are going bye-bye.  They are so invasive!!  They’re horrid!  They took over the whole asparagus bed in less than 2 years, and that included being thinned out.  We picked up some new asparagus to put in.  We also picked up strawberries and rhubarb.  I wonder if rhubarb will be a perennial in this zone…

I lifted the chives and divided them, and moved the clump still in the wheelbarrow all the way to the back, then lined both sides with cilantro and parsley (flat, Italian),  I added a few primulas for pretty and some red leaf lettuce and romaine.  Then there’s a pot of sage and a tiny white flowering kale.  Sounds like way too much, I know…  I have no problem lifting the flowers out later, and we know the cilantro won’t last long.  Our heat is too intense for it.  All you can do is sow, sow and sow again. I was shocked to find some had self seeded in a pot in the greenhouse frame.  I was pulling it out, and suddenly got a whiff of…if you ever smell cilantro, you’ll know you’ll always know that smell! So…I quit “weeding” the pot, and just added the lettuce.

I can direct seed snow peas and onion sets, and potatoes now.  I have a bunch of seeds for veggies that can be started now too.  I really want to get some Swiss Chard going out there.  I got some San Marzano tomato seeds that I’m very excited about. They’ll be great to can, as well as use fresh in a lot of things we do…Italian, salsa… I just need to get things rolling in the right direction.

I also need to remember that my body needs me to take this in stages.  I’m feeling it tonight, and I hardly did anything out there today.  The bending and stretching, digging in the earth…all feel so cleansing and renewing.  Plus it’s like a facial for my nails. They never are stronger than when I’m gardening.  I think that’s one reason I don’t wear gloves.  We’ll see.

Tomorrow, I need to check for the position of the moon, and think about when to prune the fruit trees.  There’s always something!