Poached Eggs with Sorrel Pesto and Asparagus

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This is a beautiful Spring brunch and part three of the sorrel pesto.  It’s a Springtime spin on classic Asparagus Milanese, which combines asparagus with fried eggs and lots of parmigiano cheese.

The bright, lemony flavor of the sorrel pesto is perfect over poached eggs.  The richness of slightly runny egg yolks combines beautifully with the tartness of the sauce (like a green hollandaise).

Blanched asparagus were left over from last night’s meal, so I sauteed them in butter and used them to catch the sauce.

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For the sauce technique, refer to Striped Bass with Sorrel Pesto.

For the eggs, I used the classic French method of poaching in a large pot of simmering water laced with white vinegar–no other method produces such a delicate white and such soft, moist yolks.

Simply bring a saucepot of water (about 3 quarts) to a boil.  Add 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and reduce heat to medium high.

Carefully crack each individual egg into small shallow bowls and one-by-one,  gently slip each egg into the water.

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You can safely poach about 4 eggs at a time with this method.  As each egg hits the water, gather its white together with a slotted spoon.  The vinegar will do the rest to coagulate the eggs into little bundles.

IMG_4473 Simmer uncovered for about 4 – 5 minutes, depending on how runny you like the yolks.  You can test for doneness by pulling an egg out of the water and gently touching the yolk and seeing how wobbly it feels–it should wiggle a bit.

Lift each egg out of the liquid and drain for a few seconds before plating.  These eggs can be pre-poached, then held in ice water and re-heated for a couple of minutes in the poaching liquid.   Be sure to season each egg well with salt and pepper.

If you’ve poached your eggs properly, when pierced, they should run into the sauce, which should run into the asparagus–a very happy collision!

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Spinach Risotto with Sorrel Pesto

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This is the second meal I made with my sorrel pesto (for the sauce, see Striped Bass with Sorrel Pesto).

In addition to the pesto, I had some sauteed spinach left from the other evening’s meal.  It had been sauteed in butter with a touch of nutmeg and would be delicious in a buttery risotto.

The sorrel pesto brightens and freshens the whole dish.  Simply stir a couple of tablespoons  into the risotto at the end, and add a dollop onto each portion as well.  The sorrel pesto oxidizes and browns like basil pesto, so it’s best to spoon it on and serve immediately.

For tonight’s risotto, I’ve begun with two shallots and 3 tablespoons butter, sauteed on low heat until the shallots begin to wilt and caramelize.

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Add 1/2 cup white wine,  and reduce for a minute.  Add 2 cups arborio rice (for four persons) and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup white wine and reduce for a minute.

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Set kitchen timer to 12 minutes, then, on medium-high begin adding simmering broth 1/2 cup at a time and stirring constantly.  When 12 minutes, have passed, fold in the spinach, cover and let rest for 5 minutes.

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Uncover and add a bit more broth, plus 3 – 4 tablespoons sorrel pesto, 1/4 cup grated parmigiano. Serve with an additional teaspoon of pesto on each individual serving.

Tonight, as a main course, we had grilled shrimp, rubbed with chili flakes, lemon zest and fennel seeds.

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Along with sweet, tender asparagus, this was a delicate and fresh spring meal.

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Striped Bass with Sorrel Pesto

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Today, my friend Kathleen brought me a bunch of beautiful sorrel fresh from the garden, and told me she had made a pesto out of hers, so I decided to try my hand at my own version.

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In the past, I’ve used sorrel in soup (see my spring chicken soup with sorrel) and salad (sorrel salad with grapes and ricotta salata), but the idea of pesto intrigued me.

Since sorrel has such a strong lemony quality, I knew it would be great with fish or shellfish, so I went to the fish market and found some beautiful local wild striped bass.

The pesto is very simple and hardly requires a recipe–just sorrel, pine nuts, salt and olive oil.

Simply place about 2 cups tightly packed sorrel leaves in the food processor, followed by a half cup of pine nuts,  a quarter cup of olive oil and  a half teaspoon of salt.

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While processing, the mixture, add up to another quarter cup of olive oil, or enough to make a thick paste.  Taste and add salt, if necessary.

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To cook the fish, I used the method I like to use for making crispy salmon–place well-seasoned filets skin-side up in a sizzling hot ovenproof skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

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Sear for about 3 minutes on high heat, then, without turning the fish,  place skillet in preheated 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes (depending on the size of the filets–mine were thick and weighed about 2 pounds total).  Remove from oven and pull off skin.  Season well with salt and pepper and serve.  Turn and serve seared-side up.

In addition to some sauteed spinach, I made some cubed, crispy pan-fried potatoes and celery root.

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The sweetness of the celery root and richness of the potato were a great counterpoint to the high tartness of the pesto.

Posted in Sauces, Seafood | Leave a comment

Swiss Chard with Shallots and Lemon

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This time of year, we’re all craving  fresh spring vegetables, but every year we forget that spring vegetables don’t really surface until late in the season (in Eastern Long Island, anyway).  I’m always looking for those first crops of local asparagus and fava beans, but the ones at my market are still of the long-distance variety.

Tonight, I’ve decided to make my swiss chard taste like spring, even though it was grown (far away) in winter.  A sprinkle of lemon zest and juice brighten almost any vegetable, so rather than sauteing the chard with garlic and chili flakes (which I’ve done all winter), I’m brightening them with lemon.

This requires no recipe, but rather some proportions, to help you prepare a quantity that suits your table.

I always make more swiss chard than I know we’ll eat at one meal, so there’s always some leftover for lunch the next day (either by itself or in a frittata).

Start with about 1 medium bunch per two persons.

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Wash the greens by slicing the bundles crosswise, stems and all, into 1″ pieces and submerging in a large bowl of water.  Pull out the pieces and repeat until there is no soil left at the bottom of the water.

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Drop into heavily salted boiling water and blanch for about 10 minutes, or until stems pieces are crisp-tender.

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Drain well.

In a large skillet, add about a quarter cup of olive oil (per 2 bunches of chard), several shallots, sliced thinly, and the zest of a lemon.

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Saute on medium heat for about 7 minutes, or until shallots begin to turn golden.

Add drained swiss chard and continue sauteing on medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until beginning to dry and crackle  (indicating that the water has evaporated and the greens have begun to saute a bit).

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Taste and add salt and black pepper.   Serve with a sprinkle of lemon juice.

Tonight, our main course was pasta–fresh egg pappardelle dressed with a pork sparerib ragu.  This sauce consisted of my Sugo Calabrese  minus the sausage.  I had several frozen bags of individual portions, leftover from the winter.

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This sauce reminded me that winter’s not so bad, either!

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Professional Roast Chicken Breasts

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In preparing various meats, fish and poultry, restaurants often use a combination of pan-searing, then roasting to get that golden crispy exterior, while maintaining moisture on the inside.  This technique works especially well with bone-in/skin-on chicken breasts.

Not only does this result in a truly professional looking and tasting dish, the added bonus is that it’s faster than roasting alone.  The oven gets heated while the chicken is searing on its skin side.  Once the chicken is seared, it goes into a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes or so.

Since this was a weeknight meal, I decided to abbreviate the process of roasting potatoes by blanching them first, then tossing them into the pan with the seared chicken.  A couple of sprigs of rosemary, along with whole cloves of garlic, made this a spectacular dish–all done in about 40 minutes from start to finish.

In addition to the chicken, I found some good-looking dandelion greens at my local market, so I decided to blanch them in the water in which I cooked the potatoes.  Then I sauteed them with some bacon and garlic for about 20 minutes on low heat, while the chicken roasted.  Not bad for a weeknight meal after a very long day of work.

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Professional Roast Chicken Breasts

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Serves 2

1 split chicken breast, bone-in, skin-on

2 tbls olive oil

1 tbls butter

1 head of garlic, separated and peeled into cloves

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 small yukon gold potatoes, peeled and blanched in generously salted boiling water until crisp-tender (about 8 minutes).

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

On high heat, preheat an ovenproof skillet for about 5 minutes, until sizzling hot.  Sprinkle chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper.

Add oil, which will immediately smoke and ripple.  Immediately add chicken breasts, skin side down.

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Allow to sear for about 5 minutes, undisturbed, on medium-high heat (depending on how high your flame is–mine is extremely high, so I turned it down to medium-high).

Add potatoes and garlic cloves, along with rosemary.

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Dot with butter and place in oven, turning the chicken skin side up, about halfway through the process.  Roast until internal temperature of the chicken breasts is about 155-160 degrees–about 25 minutes.

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Allow to rest for about 5 minutes, remove from bone and serve.

Posted in Poultry | 1 Comment

New York Times Turkey Cassoulet (My Version)

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Although I read cookbooks from cover-to-cover, like novels, I haven’t actually tried someone else’ recipe in a long time.  Usually from these books, I retain ideas or concepts, and formulate my own recipes.  Last week in the Dining section of the Times, I noticed the recipe entitled “Ad Lib Turkey Cassoulet,” and it piqued my curiosity.

I’ve always loved Cassoulet, and have made it many times, but not in many years.  This one featured turkey legs, which I love, and which I can get at my local Publix supermarket, rather than the traditional duck confit.  The other ingredients were simple enough, although I did make a couple of substitutions, based on what was available at my market.  I substituted turkey kielbasa for French garlic sausage, and ham (since I had it in the freezer) for bacon.

As with most bean dishes, this requires planning the day before.  The beans need to soak overnight, and the turkey drumsticks need to be rubbed with salt and pepper, and left to cure overnight in the fridge.

The next day, the dish takes about 4 hours to prepare, but each step is simple.  Roast the drumsticks in the oven, then braise them in broth.  Simmer the beans until tender.  Saute the aromatics, then add the beans. Make the crumb topping while the bean mixture is simmering.  Bake the finished dish for about an hour and a half–covered, then uncovered.

The Times recommended making the entire dish a day or two ahead and allowing the flavors to meld, then reheating to serve.  I chose to make the dish and serve it in the same day.

I added some cooked, buttered kale on the side, for color and lightness.  Otherwise, some good bread and butter are all that are necessary for a truly memorable meal.

Although the recipe below is largely the recipe written by David Tanis in the New York Times, I’ve included it below, with my own substitutions as well as step-by-step images.

New York Times Turkey Cassoulet (My Version)

serves 6 – 8

1 lb great northern beans

1 small onion, halved, peeled and stuck with 2 cloves

1 bay leaf

3 turkey legs

salt and pepper for curing

8 cups chicken broth

4 tbls butter

1 large onion, diced

2 tbls chopped fresh thyme

6 garlic cloves, whole

3 large carrots, cut into large chunks

1/2 lb ham

1 lb kielbasa (I used turkey kielbasa)

2 cups panko crumbs

2 tbls olive oil

2 tbls chopped parsley

The day before assembling the cassoulet, season turkey legs generously with salt and pepper and cover and refrigerate overnight.

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Also the day before, rinse and pick over beans, then cover with water and allow to soak overnight in the fridge.

The next day, drain beans and put them in a large pot.  Add onion stuck with cloves and bay leaf.

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Cover with fresh water by 2 inches.  Simmer for 60 – 90 minutes, or until tender.  Add 2 teaspoons of salt and set aside.  (Beans may be made ahead and held in their liquid a couple of days, if desired).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bring turkey legs to room temperature.  Roast, uncovered for a half-hour.  Add 3 cups hot broth to pan, cover and bake for an hour.

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Remove legs from pan, reserving broth.

Remove skin and discard.  Remove meat from bones and pick out any gristle or cartilage.  Set aside.

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In a large oven-safe saute pan with curved sides, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and add diced onion, 1 tablespoon of thyme, garlic and carrots.  Season lightly with salt and pepper, and saute on low heat for about 10 minutes.  Add beans, turkey meat, ham and enough of the remaining broth to make the mixture soupy, but not drowning.

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Simmer for 10 minutes more.

In a small nonstick skillet, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter, then turn off heat.  Add the olive oil,  the remaining thyme, parsley and breadcrumbs.  Combine and add salt and pepper to taste.

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To assemble the dish, add the sausage and nestle in the bean mixture.

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Sprinkle the crumbs over the bean mixture, cover with foil, and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.  Remove foil and bake uncovered for about a half hour, or until crumbs turn golden (about 30 minutes), being careful not to burn the crumbs.

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Keeps for a week in the fridge.  To reheat, place a serving in a skillet and simply add some broth or water and bring to a soupy consistency (any remaining crumbs will add body to the soup).  If a crispy topping is desired, sprinkle the reheated portion with toasted bread crumbs.

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Dinner for One–Cavatelli with Kale, Leek and Toasted Breadcrumbs

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Cavatelli with toasted breadcrumbs, garlic and olive oil was something my mother used to make for us as children.  I always loved the combination of gummy, doughy cavatelli with the crisp, oily breadcrumbs.

This weekend, one of my guests gave  me the idea of combining my mom’s cavatelli with sauteed kale and leek.  I happened to have a piece of stale ciabatta and some tuscan kale left from the weekends’ meals, so after the guests left, I tried my hand at creating this dish for myself.  The results were worth sharing with you (and thank you, Aly, for the idea!)

I decided that plenty of garlic would be good in this dish, so I added some chunks of garlic into the breadcrumbs, as I sauteed them in oil.  In addition, I added garlic (and a hot chili pepper) to the skillet of kale and leeks.  Since I usually leave garlic in large pieces or slices, I had the option of removing the pieces prior to serving.  Tonight, the garlic was so fresh and sweet, I decided to eat all of it.

I used tuscan kale, but regular kale would do just fine for this dish.  The kale was cleaned, boiled, then chopped.  The leeks were sauteed with garlic and the cooked kale, then the finished dish was topped with the toasted crumbs.

As a first course, I duplicated a salad I had made over the weekend–shrimp, feta and heirloom tomatoes over mixed greens, dressed with plenty of lemon juice and olive oil.

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Cavatelli with Kale, Leek and Toasted Breadcrumbs

Serves one.

1 c cooked kale, chopped coarsely

2/3 c dried cavatelli (about 1/8 lb)

4 cloves garlic

1 leek, white and light green only, cleaned and sliced in half lengthwise, then across into 1/4″ half-moons

4 tbls extra-virgin olive oil

a piece of hot chili pepper, or 1 pinch of chili flakes

1/2 c breadcrumbs made from stale bread

1 tbl chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Make toasted breadcrumbs by placing 2 split cloves of garlic in a nonstick skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  On low heat,  brown the garlic until golden.   Add breadcrumbs, parlsey and salt and pepper to taste.  Toss and stir crumbs so as not to scorch.

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Toast until light golden, then remove and set aside.

Bring pasta water to boil.

While pasta is cooking, in a skillet, combine leeks, garlic, chili pepper and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Bring to a sizzle, while stirring and tossing.

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When leeks and garlic have begun to become golden, add kale and continue sauteing until pasta is cooked.  Add two tablespoons of pasta water to halt the cooking and lower the heat until pasta is cooked.

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When pasta is cooked, add to skillet of vegetables, along with another tablespoon or two of pasta water to loosen.

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Toss and stir for a minute on medium heat.   Remove chili pepper prior to serving.

Serve topped with toasted crumbs and plenty of grated pecorino romano cheese.  Additional black pepper at the table is great as well.

Posted in Pasta | 2 Comments

Quick and Easy Chicken Soup with Kale and Quinoa

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Quinoa and kale seem to be on everyone’s radar these days–not only for their intensely earthy flavors and hearty textures, but also for their potent nutritional value.

My mother makes a quick and easy chicken soup, using bouillon as her base, adding chicken breast (I used boneless, skinless) for flavor and protein, as well as the usual aromatics–celery, carrots, onion, leek, and whatever pasta or grain she has in the cupboard.

This evening, I was cooking for some guests who were scheduled to arrive late in the evening–long past dinnertime.  I knew that despite the hour, since they’d been traveling, they’d be hungry–even if it was midnight.

It brought to mind the time I first went to Italy with my mother (as an adult).   After flying overnight to Rome, then driving four or five hours to my uncle’s home in Calabria in the heat of summer, we were treated by my aunt to a meal of chicken soup when we arrived–more specifically, pasta in brodo (followed by the boiled chicken from the soup with salad).  I thought it peculiar to be served hot soup on a hot summers’ evening.

My mother explained that Italians traditionally serve a light broth to guests who have traveled a long way to visit–sometimes the broth was made with pigeon (more delicate that chicken), but more often than not, it was made simply with chicken.  It was thought that after traveling, one needed something light, yet comforting and filling.

Therefore, I followed the Italian tradition of making soup for my travelers, only tonight,  I knew my guests were young athletes with big appetites.  I wanted this to be a one-pot meal, so I added kale and quinoa to the same pot, and allowed them to simmer with the broth.

After a half-hour, the soup was done, and allowed to rest on the stove until my guests arrived.  This was so delicious (and so plentiful), it ended up feeding us for lunch the following day.

Quick and Easy Chicken Soup with Kale and Quinoa

Serves 4, with leftovers

3 chicken breast halves (either on or off the bone)

1 carrot, peeled and diced

2 leeks, cleaned, split and sliced into 1/4″ half moons

1 potato, peeled (at the last moment) and diced into 3/4″ cubes

1/2 onion, coarsely diced

2 ribs celery, with leaves, sliced thinly crosswise

2 ripe tomatoes

1 bunch kale, stripped from stems (stems discarded), and sliced crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons

2 c quinoa

5 qts chicken broth (may be made with bouillon)

salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken in cold broth (or water).

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Add all ingredients except tomatoes, kale and quinoa.

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Bring to a boil and dip tomatoes in boiling broth for 10 – 20 seconds.  Remove, peel, coarsely dice, and add to simmering soup.   At this time, add bouillon or chicken base (if using) and stir thoroughly.

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Reduce heat to a lively simmer.  Add kale and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.

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Add quinoa and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.

Remove chicken and dice meat into 1/2″ cubes, then return to the soup.

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Allow the soup to rest for up to 2 hours (the quinoa plumps and absorbs some of the broth).  Great reheated the following day.

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Snapper all’Arrabbiata

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One of the most delicate local fish in the waters off South Florida is snapper.  Red snapper and yellowtail are the most commonly  found varieties, but the variety I’m using today is known as “hog snapper,” which is delicate, tender, and worth seeking out if you can find it.

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Otherwise, any variety of snapper or white fish will do–whatever is freshest will work best.

At my weekly farmers’ market, I found beautiful local tomatoes and long hot chili peppers.   They inspired me to make the spicy red sauce in which I cooked my fish.

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This method of cooking fish is more a braise than a poach–the fish is nestled in the sauce, but not covered entirely.  As the fish and sauce bake in the oven (uncovered),  the sauce reduces a bit and the fish exudes some of its briny moisture into the sauce.   When it’s finished (in only about 15 minutes, in my case–more if your fish is in larger pieces), the sauce has the perfect consistency.

Along with the fish, we had tuscan kale with garlic and chili peppers, fresh local baby green beans, as well as some whole wheat couscous.

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Snapper all’Arrabbiata

serves 2

2 lbs snapper filets

1 lb ripe plum tomatoes

1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil

1 shallot

1/2 onion

2 cloves garlic, split

1 hot chili pepper

1/4 c white wine

1/4 tsp dried chili flakes (depending on the heat of the pepper and your prefered level of spiciness)

6 fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a skillet large enough to hold the fish filets, on low heat, saute the shallots, onion, garlic and chili pepper (split in half) in half the olive oil for about 10 minutes, or until translucent, but not too golden.

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Add wine and reduce for a minute.

Cut the tomatoes into 1″ chunks and puree in the food processor.

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Add to the skillet of aromatics, along with basil leaves and simmer for about 8 minutes.   Add salt to taste and set aside.

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Season fish with salt and place in sauce, partially nestling each piece in the sauce.  Drizzle with the remaining olive oil.

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Bake for approximately 15 minutes (or until fish is cooked through).  Serve with chili pepper over each portion (or if too hot, discard the pepper).

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Ragu Bolognese

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I’ve made this iconic dish for years and experimented with it in many different ways, using many different ingredients, and this is the culmination of my best efforts, while maintaining the most authenticity.

Many years ago, my cousin Rosanna, who’s lived in Bologna for over 40 years, showed me how to make this sauce, and over the years, I’ve made only subtle changes to her original recipe, since I consider hers to be authentic.

I’ve tried many different ground meats for this sauce–beef/pork/veal, turkey, pork-only, turkey with a touch of minced pancetta, etc.  The best version, I believe, is made with 100% ground veal.  I’ve found a ranch-raised variety in my supermarket, and it worked out beautifully–delicate and mild, with a nice bit of fat and flavor.

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This is not a red sauce–it is more a “white” sauce in the Italian sense of the word–that is, only a touch of tomato paste is added–no whole peeled tomatoes to overshadow the delicate flavors of meat, butter, white wine and broth.  There is also a touch of milk (not cream) added for its velvetiness and dairy texture.  Lastly,  there is a touch of nutmeg, for that certain Northern Italian something.

The sauce needs to simmer no more than about an hour-and-a-half, with broth added every so often, when the liquid cooks down.  When it’s finished, it looks like a pale brown sauce with a good bit of butter on top.

Use it to top fresh egg tagliatelle, or very fine quality dried fettucine.  Since this is not a “thick” sauce, there should be a generous amount of it on the pasta and plenty of grated parmigiano on each portion as well.

I promise you this is the best version of this sauce you will ever make!

Ragu Bolognese

makes enough to dress pasta for 6 persons (1 1/2 lbs pasta)

2 lbs ground veal

1/2 yellow onion

2 small shallots

2 ribs celery

4 tbls butter

1/8 tsp nutmeg

3 -4 small pieces dried porcini

1/2 c white wine

2 tbls tomato paste

4 c chicken broth

salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, combine onions, shallots and celery.

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Pulse to a fine dice, but do not liquify.

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Place in saucepot with 3 tbls butter and simmer on low heat for approximately 7 minutes, or until vegetables have wilted but not browned.  Add meat, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of black pepper.

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 Add porcini.  Continue sauteing on medium heat until meat has lost its pink color.

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Add wine and reduce for 3 -4 minutes.

Add milk and tomato paste and continue simmering for another 5 minutes or so.

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Begin adding broth, 1 cup at a time, and simmer on lowest heat, partially covered for about an hour, adding broth every 15 minutes or so.

Finished sauce should appear liquidy with a nice slick of fat on top.

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When ready to dress pasta, add the final tablespoon of butter, top with cooked pasta and a generous amount of grated parmigiano.

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Add some pasta cooking water and toss and mix over high heat for about a minute.

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Serve with more grated cheese and plenty of black pepper at the table.

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