My culinary co-conspirator Felicia D'Ambrosio heads up our excellent SUPPER feature, but since she is on vacation this week, I promised her I would try my best to whip up something at home for the Meal Ticket faithful. I ain't half the cook FD is, but I try my best! Here's what I came up with.
I'm told I was discovered passed out on my living room floor, wearing shoes, a jacket and various other cold-weather accessories, around 3 a.m. New Year's morning. I arose around 10 a.m. with a "Hell's Bells"-ian headache, a weird berber rug pattern on my face and an uncontrollable urge for something heavy, starchy and Italian to soak up all the Blanton's and Woodford Reserve that directly contributed to this epic NYE fail. (At least I made it home, right?)
My lovely girlfriend and I spent a good hour or so narrowing down our pasta parlor options before realizing that we should just man up and make something at home. I'm really glad we did.
I cook hot Italian sausage and peppers for myself pretty regularly. It's a great go-to. But this marked the first time I doubled up and made a separate batch with fake Italian sausage, which I found in my local supermarket (the girl does not eat meat). To put it plainly, the veg stuff has little in common with the real thing — it's got a lot more give and is strangely, overtly sweet. Season it right and cook it with the right accompaniments, though, and it's a perfectly respectable stand-in.
Idiot-proof instructions (idiot-tested, idiot-approved!) after the jump.
His and (Vegetarian) Hers Sausage and Peppers
Go Get This:
2 large bell peppers, one red and one green
Half a white onion
4 cloves garlic
2 links hot Italian sausage
2 links vegetarian Italian sausage (We used Boca brand)
Salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes
Now Do This:
1. Coarsely chop the peppers and onion. No need to get too fancy with it.
2. Over medium-high heat, add olive oil to a large saucepan. Let it be for a second, then throw in peppers and onion. Note tricolor motif; hum Rosemary Clooney's "Mambo Italiano" to yourself.
3. Stir veggies a little bit, then season generously with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
4. While veg simmers, cut Italian sausage and veggie sausage into half- to one-inch segments. Come on, use two different knives. Finely dice garlic; separate into two equal portions and set aside.
5. After about 6-8 minutes, peppers and onion should be mostly cooked down, with some nice caramelization.
6. Dump half of the peppers and onions into a second saucepan over medium heat.
7. In both pans, push the vegetables to one side. Pour a bit of olive oil into vacant pan space; dump meaty sausage into first pan and veggie sausage into second pan.
8. You want the sausage segments browned on both sides. This'll take about 3-4 minutes per side for the veg sausage and 6-8 minutes per side for the regular sausage. Just keep an eye on it.
9. After you get the meat and "meat" nice and browned and crispy, add the garlic to both pans and thoroughly mix the sausage, peppers and onions together.
10. After letting both pans simmer for 2-3 minutes, you're done! Serve sausage and peppers over a very large pile of pasta with red sauce, parmesan cheese and a side of garlicky spinach.
|Bacalao, Baccala,Bachalhau = Dried Salt Cod|
Ippolito's Seafood, at 13th and Dickinson in South Philly, not only has fresh whole fish, fillets, shellfish and prepared seafood dishes — it also has a firm hold on the Italian cooking ways of the past.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Southern Italian Christmas Eve tradition, also called La Vigilia (Italian: "the vigil," or waiting for the midnight birth of Jesus). Eating seafood on Christmas Eve corresponds with the Catholic abstinence from meat or dairy products on Fridays and holy days. Many Catholic Italians ate fish fried in oil on these days. The number seven is considered a divine number in the New Testament of the Bible; there are seven Roman Catholic sacraments. Whatever the reasoning, the Seven Fishes is always a variety of dishes that are very humble in origin. They are meant to be things that an ordinary person could afford to make for their family.
Ippolito's Seafood Web site has super-traditonal, Jesus-centered description of the typical Seven Fishes dishes:
Italian families throughout the world enjoy The Feast of The Seven Fishes, on Christmas Eve. Each dish is intended to celebrate the impending birth of Christ.
The feast begins with the shellfish because, in olden days, crustaceans were the food of the very poor and Christ's life spoke to the importance of even the lowest of God's creatures. Clams and mussels in white or red sauce served over pasta is a must, as is shrimp and scallops.
Next comes baccala (salt cured cod) in an aromatics stew. Cod, until most recently, was the most common fish and a main stay of the poor.
Then there is squid or "calamari" as it is known in the "cucina" (kitchen). Sliced into rings, dipped in egg and flour, then deep-fried. The squid's many swirling tentacles represent the many different directions that Christ's teachings went throughout the world.
Eel is served lightly dusted with flour and fried or roasted. The fast moving citizen of the sea symbolizes the speed with which the Word of Christ spread.
Then come the tiny whole Smelts dipped in flour and deep fried. They signify that the smallest and most humble of fish are pleasing God. Served with lemon, they are most pleasing to people.
Rounding off the feast is a good soft white-fleshed fish such as poached whiting. Whiting has always been abundant and easily available to people.
Several area chefs are preparing Seven Fishes-type feasts to go, like chef Patrick Feury's Villanova restaurant, Maia. His nouveau menu includes shrimp cocktail, Maryland jumbo crab cakes, calamari salad with niçoise olives and lobster pot pie, among other dishes. A complete Seven Fishes feast to take home is $75 per person, with a minimum order of four people. Visit tastemaia.com or call 610-527-4888 to order.
Whether simple or fancy, the Seven Fishes is meant as a celebration, a time for the family to join together and break bread. Kyle Phillips on About.com has collected some interesting salt cod recipes that would work perfectly as a traditional Seven Fishes menu items. Buy the salted fish today and start soaking in cold water in order to be eating the stuff on Christmas Eve. It's not necessary to soak a whole salted cod in the bathtub for three days, like my legendary great-grandmother. Merry eating!
Mark Bittman is the author of How to Cook Everything as well as the "The Minimalist" columnist for The New York Times. His approach to eating well is always streamlined, reducing every recipe to its elemental bones.
Veal osso buco made an appearance in his Recipe of the Day feature, and takes the classic Italian supper to a new place with just a bit of chicken stock, a few mashed anchovies and cloves of garlic. Omitting the typical aromatics speeds the braising process along, with the whole recipe taking only 2 hours, largely unattended. Omitting osso buco's constant companion, gremolata, make the dish faster but on the whole less satisfying. The fork-tender veal and melting marrow get a friendly punch from the traditional accompaniment.
Gremolata is a condiment made of mashed or finely diced garlic, chopped parsley and lemon zest. It brightens the homey braised veal and adds color to an otherwise brown plate. For those who don't enjoy the bite of raw garlic (me, for one), roasting the whole bulb adds sweetness and depth to the gremolata without sacrificing the lemony acidity and peppery parsley contrast.
Roasted garlic technique and gremolata recipe after the jump.
My recipe for instant polenta, a soft pillow upon which to rest your tender veal.
Roasted Garlic Gremolata
Go Get This:
One bunch of flat-leaf parsley, washed, dried and chopped
The zest of two lemons
Two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
One bulb of garlic
Now Do This:
Roast the garlic, either in a specific garlic-baking clay utensil or just on a baking sheet covered with foil. To do this, slice off the top of the bulb, revealing the cloves but leaving the papery skin. Slice just a bit off the bottom so the garlic stands steady.
Place the cut bulb on the baking sheet or in the baker. Douse the bulb with one or two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
Cover with foil or the lid of the baker and place in a preheated 350 degree oven.
Bake for 40 minutes, until garlic is fragrant and golden but not burnt.
Scoop the cloves out of the bulb and place in a bowl.
Add the parsley, chopped fine, and the lemon zest to the garlic, season with salt. Mix and mash with a fork to obtain an evenly mixed paste.
Use gremolata as a condiment on meat, fish, vegetables or whatever. It's good on pizza, too.
|One, two, three, baby.|
|Photos l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Sabrina's Cafe is rightly famous for their ample brunch portions and epically long waits for said portions on the weekend. For a nominal upcharge, one can add their divine polenta fries with spicy tomato sauce to any sandwich. The crisp bricks of polenta are the most satisfying thing you can make with cornmeal and a little bit of water, and wonderfully cheap, as well. Minimal kitchen skills are required to covert cornmeal dust into happy little fritters — the ability to stir fast for 5 minutes is the main requirement.
Polenta served hot from the pot is an ideal comfort food, with all of the pooling butter and spoonablity of a good mashed potato, and none of the tedium. Hot polenta cooled in a shallow baking pan or casserole can be cut into bricks and then fried, for a great second-meal iteration.
Pick up a bag of Italian Instant Polenta from Di Bruno Bros. for $2.99 and ignore the totally useless directions on the back. One Tsp serving? What in the name of Fabrizio Moretti does that mean?
Recipe and method after the jump.
Polenta Fries A-Go-Go
Go Get This:
One cup of instant polenta
5 cups water
Olive or vegetable oil for frying
Little bit of flour for dredging
Now Do This:
Boil the water in a medium-sized pot. Once boiling briskly, whisk in a little of the polenta at a time, whisking away like mad continuously. No lumps! Keep whisking.
Keep adding polenta and whisking until all of the polenta is incorporated into the boiling water. Keep stirring away for about 5 minutes, until the polenta is thick, with a texture similar to Cream of Wheat.
Pour the hot polenta into a baking or casserole dish and allow to cool in the fridge, at least half an hour, until the polenta is firm to the touch. You should eat some hot, too, with heaps of butter and salt. So good.
Once firm, slice the polenta into little bricks, any size you like.
Heat olive or vegetable oil in a medium sauté pan until hot but not smoking. Roll the polenta bricks in flour to just coat, and place gently in the hot oil.
Fry for about 3 minutes per side, until crisp and brown.
Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with coarse salt. Eat solo or with a spicy tomato sauce, hot sauce, or as the starch with a stew or soup.
Philadelphia's bakeries are an embarassment of riches: crisp-skinned torpedo rolls from Cacia's and Carangi; the sesame-seeded long loaves of Sarcone's; or the sourdough waft and springy crumb of Metropolitan and LeBus.
Fresh bread is such a treat, and the natural accompaniment to so many simple dinners. A bowl of rich tomato gravy and a brace of toasted italian bread is ultimate comfort food on a 22 degree day. Our local bread, devoid of preservatives and layers of packaging, is not long for this world, though. The loaf that snapped and sprung yesterday has reached weapon status by today, and who has the French lifestyle where one can pick up a new baguette every morning?
The solution lies in the icebox. Pick up a dozen fresh rolls and wrap each individually in plastic wrap, then deposit into a sealable freezer bag. The frozen rolls can be warmed individually for just twenty seconds in the microwave and returned to their original glory.
As friendly as the freezer is for storing bread, the fridge is bread's worst enemy. The de-humidified atmosphere of the refrigerator dries even well-wrapped bread out, making it tasteless and sticky on the tongue. Don't do it.
Photos | Felicia D'Ambrosio
Monday morning, the alarm is buzzing, the sky is gunmetal gray, promising rain; and last night's dishes are still strewn about the kitchen.
This is not the time to put together a healthful lunch. You don't even have time to wash your hair, much less pack a nutritionally balanced meal. That is why you should devote your Sunday afternoon to prepping the elements of a few quick suppers and lunch-box items.
The goal here is not to impress the world with your laser-like palate or casual knowledge of 10 kinds of baking potato: The idea is to avoid buying your lunch from a grease cart or giving up and going out to dinner on a Tuesday. The monetary savings of cooking at home and bringing your lunch to work are significant; better still is the sense of accomplishment when you realize you went the whole damn day without spending any money.
Take inventory of the fridge and cabinets on Saturday afternoon, and make a grocery list of needs. Shop the fresh foods at the perimeter of the supermarket for maximum nutritional impact, and supplement the freshies with some dried pasta and beans, canned tomatoes and a big bar of dark chocolate for dessert.
Today I am offering up two super easy recipes that can help you get a jump on eating in, and never capitulate to the corner bar and their overpriced burger.
Spicy sriracha chicken salad lettuce wraps and vegetarian onion soup can travel to work in Tupperware, or be on the table in 5 minutes when you finally get home.
|Spicy Sriracha Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Spicy Sriracha Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps
Go Get This:
One package chicken breasts (boneless/skinless)
Head of romaine lettuce, picked over, washed and drained
Big dollop mayo to taste (full fat, light, or nonfat is fine)
Same goes for sriracha
Blob of Dijon mustard
One red bell pepper, diced small
Now Do This:
Cook your chicken breasts. You can do this however you like: pan-seared in a hot skillet with a few tablespoons of oil, poached in barely simmering chicken stock, grilled in a grill pan, or roasted in the oven. Whatever you want, just don't dry them out.
Dice the cooked chicken breasts into small cubes and place in a mixing bowl. Add the diced bell pepper, dollop of mayo, sriracha and dijon mustard. Mix well until coated. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Serve the chicken salad wrapped in a leaf of romaine. If bringing this to work, keep lettuce and chicken separate and put together when ready to eat.
Trés Easy Onion Soup
(adapted from Cooking 4 The Week)
Go Get This:
4 big onions (bigger than baseballs)
2 tablespoons of olive oil, or a chunk of butter, or both
A quart of vegetable stock, or water
2 cups red wine, white wine, beer, or brandy
2 bay leaves, or dried thyme, or both
salt and pepper to taste
dashes of soy or Worcestershire sauce (Worcestershire sauce is not vegetarian)
Now Do This:
Cut the onions in half and peel. Slice each thinly.
Heat a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add a splash of olive oil or healthy chunk of butter. Add the onions to the pot and sweat, until very soft. This could take up to an hour. Stir often to ensure they don't burn.
Once the onions are completely cooked down, turn the heat up and deglaze with your alcohol of choice. I used a Belgian brown ale, Dupont Moinette Brune. As the liquid bubbles, scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate the browned-on bits. (This is deglazing). Allow all of the liquid to evaporate, and deglaze again. Allow liquid to evaporate one more time, then deglaze once more. This builds flavor and ensures you will end up with a rich, not flat, soup.
After the final deglaze, add the quart of veggie stock, dried bay leaves and/or dried herbs and the parmigiano rinds and allow the soup to simmer for a few minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. If the soup tastes flat, add dashes of Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce and keep tasting.
Serve with toasted slices of bread with cheese melted on top, if you like.
Baby bok choy has no competition for the title of Cutest Cabbage. Milder than its more mature counterpart, the young bok choy is suitable for braising, stir-frying, grilling or steaming. Sliced thin and added just before serving, it adds nutrition and texture to a winter soup. Rich in sulfur-containing phytonutrients, bok choy is related to cabbage, a cruciferous family that all contain those cancer-fighting compounds. Hung Vuong Supermarket at 11th and Washington has a diverse fresh produce section, and usually stocks bags of the petite cabbage for around two dollars.
A quick steam is all that is needed to preserve bok choy's mild flavor and appealing crunch, while a dressing that utilizes every part of the grapefruit — zest, flesh and juice — adds an acidic spark and pretty color contrast to the vegetable. Wash your grapefruits thoroughly with hot water and some vigorous friction to remove any wax or residual pesticide on the skin before zesting. A microplane or similar small rasp makes zesting about 5 million percent easier. Get one.
Recipe after the jump.
Steamed Baby Bok Choy with Grapefruit Vinaigrette
Go Get This:
1 lb. of baby bok choy heads
3 ruby red grapefruits (two for sectioning, one for juicing)
1/2 cup mild flavored oil, like grapeseed or flax
sea salt to taste
pinch black pepper
Now Do This:
1 Thoroughly wash grapefruits and baby bok choys. Drain.
2 Zest one grapefruit completely, taking care to leave the white, bitter pith behind. Reserve zest.
3 Section two grapefruits. Slice off the stem end in order to create a flat surface for the grapefruit to stand on, and slice off the remainder of the skin and pith with a sharp serrated knife.
4 Holding the fruit in your non-dominant hand, cut out sections of the grapefruit over a bowl to catch all the juice. Reserve the sections in their juice. Squeeze the crap out of the grapefruit skeleton to get out any remaining juice.
5 Completely juice the third grapefruit and add to your reserved sections. If you don't have 1 cup of juice, add bottled grapefruit juice to make 1 cup.
6 Whisk together the grapefruit juice, zest, grapeseed oil, sea salt and black pepper and reserve. Taste and adjust seasoning.
7 Pour two inches of water into a pot with a steamer lid, or if you don't have a steaming pot, stick an all-metal colander into a pot with an inch of water and lid tightly.
8 Slice each baby bok choy lengthwise and place in the pot. Once the water is boiling, steam for just a minute or two — bok choys should still be crisp and bright green.
9 Dress the bok choy with the grapefruit vinaigrette and serve warm, or refrigerate and serve chilled. Strew grapefruit sections on top of bok choy for a pretty garnish.
The greatest gift handed down my matrilineal line is not a diamond ring or piece of heirloom china, but a recipe. My Polish great-grandmother, for whom I am named, was raised in the anthracite coal mining town of Mount Carmel in upstate Pennsylvania. Her recipe for Thanksgiving stuffing was originated in that grim and sooty place, and reflects both a natural frugality (no fancy ingredients) and an immigrant's desire to create something special for her family on the most American of holidays.
"Stuffing?" you think. "What could be so special about stuffing?" Some breadcrumbs, some celery, stick it in the turkey and it's done. This is because you haven't had this stuffing.
Simple ingredients are the basis: diced celery and onions sautéed in butter, torn white bread, diced and rendered bacon, parsley and eggs. Lots of eggs. This creates a dense, custardy cake that can be sliced, redolent of bacon and black pepper. It's life-changing.
I could argue my great-grandmother was crafting a savory bread pudding 80 years before they would become popular. The first time my stepbrothers had Thanksgiving dinner at my mother's house, they eyed her suspiciously as she worked through her stuffing process.
"Dad, what is she doing? She's putting BACON in it!" they whined, dismayed at the loss of their normal crumbly, bullshit stuffing. Ten years later, Shawn and his new wife would call from Vilseck, Germany, where he was stationed with the Army, for the recipe. The stuffing is certainly better-traveled than the average American. It has been made for Thanksgiving in Rome, Italy, when my sister and I were studying abroad; Germany; Moscow; Las Vegas; and will be made this year in Sofia, Bulgaria, where my uncle and his wife live as diplomatic attachés of the Army.
Creating the thing is not difficult. It's mostly prep, and tearing the bread into tiny pieces is the job of the child closest at hand. I went to my mother's South Philly house to view the original recipe and submit to her supervision while I made the official version. Two tricks that make the process fruitful: put the package of bacon in the freezer and it will be much easier to dice; and only use Pepperidge Farm white bread, the small, one-pound loaf. A dense bread is important — use a fluffy one and the resultant stuffing is slimy instead of custardy. If Pepperidge Farm is not available, Arnold Bakery makes a comparable white loaf.
Complete technique and recipe after the jump.
Thanksgiving Stuffing to End All Others
Go Get This:
Two medium white onions, diced small (or one Colossal onion)
One bunch celery, diced small
One pound bacon, diced small
(1) One-pound loaf Pepperidge Farm White bread (Arnold if P.F. not available), torn into tiny pieces
One bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Five large eggs
Half a stick of butter
Salt and Black pepper
Now Do This:
1. Have a handy child tear the white bread into very tiny pieces into a large mixing bowl and set aside.
2. Over a low flame, render the diced bacon until almost crispy. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper bag lined with several layers of paper towels. Set aside.
3. Over a medium flame, melt half a stick of butter and sweat diced onions until just soft. Add diced celery to pan and continue to cook until celery is tender. Season with salt.
4. In the mixing bowl, add the drained bacon, celery and onion, and the chopped parsley. Season generously with black pepper.
5. Add the five whole eggs to the mixing bowl.
6. Mix the entire thing with your hands. When it seems completely mixed, mix it for a few more minutes. Break up any big chunks of bread you notice.
7. Spray a 8 x 15 glass Pyrex casserole dish with Pam or grease with butter. Pour the stuffing mixture in and smooth it down.
8. Cover the casserole with foil, and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.
9. At 45 minutes, remove the foil so the top can brown and bake for 15 more minutes.
10. Slice into squares and eat hot. Also good cold from the refrigerator with lashings of salt the day after.
- barstool scientist
- Brew Revue
- Chef Salad
- Dirty Dishes
- Don't Front
- Eat This Immediately
- Field Trip
- Food and Art
- Food and Holidays
- Food and Movies
- Food and Music
- Food and Politics
- Food and Sports
- Food and Web
- Food Blogs
- Food Books
- Food Events
- Food News
- Food TV
- Happy Hour Hopper
- In Print
- Meal Ticket
- Menu Time
- Not So Quickfire
- Notes from the Weekend
- On Wheels
- Patio Drinking
- Philly Beer Week 2010
- Private Chef POV
- Product Placement
- Snack Time
- Stiff Drank
- Ticket Stubs
- Top Chef
- Weekly Candy
- Weird Regional Foods
- We're Here to Help
- Where'd We Eat?
- Drew Lazor's Ill-Advised Rant Factory
- Ill-Advised Ranting
- The Week Without Meat
- Philly Beer Week 2009
- Real Big
- Where'd I Eat Last Night?
- Top Chef Masters
- The Good Word
- Next Iron Chef
- Arterial Terrorism
- Food and Radio