Marisa’s Mystical Meatballs

February 9, 2018

These meatballs are really mystical if you consider the sway they hold on my husband, his brother, and his father.  They go wild for these meatballs.

Well, wild in that very restrained Northern Italian way.

If they were Southern Italian, where a dinner conversation can seem like a minor riot, their meatball response would barely register on the scale.  It would signal almost utter disregard for the meatballs.

But that, in fact, is not the case.  The meatballs hold some sort of magical, mystical charm.

Marisa, of course, is my mother-in-law and these are her meatballs.  She considers them quite unusual, having learned to make them from her mother and basically not remembering any other relatives or friends making something similar.

And, as meatballs, they ARE unusual!

An old-fashioned ricer is still an indispensable piece of kitchen equipment. Make sure yours is very sturdy. Many new ones are not.

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But here’s a secret that I haven’t told anyone yet.  They really AREN’T meatballs.  They’re croquettes!  Crocchette in Italian.

There, I said it.  Marisa’s Mystical Meatballs aren’t really meatballs.  But everybody in the family calls them “Ma’s Meatballs.”  “Ma’s Croquettes” doesn’t have the same alliterative allure, even if it’s more accurate.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law celebrating his birthday.

When I did a Google search for crocchette, Google turned up about 1,730,000 results in 0.51 seconds.  When I searched for crocchette patate e carne (potato and meat croquettes), Google returned 1,500,000 results in 0.72 seconds.

And that was doing searches in Italian!

I found a Japanese woman who seems to have the same relationship to her mother’s meat and potato croquettes (korokke) as my husband and his family have to his mother’s.


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The meat for these “meatballs” (a word I’ll use in deference to my husband and his family of origin) is boiled before being finely chopped.  This presents a perfect opportunity to make a really nice beef broth.  You don’t have to do that, of course, but since you’re going to be boiling the meat anyhow, and since it only takes a few extra minutes to throw some aromatics into the pot, why not!

The broth from the meat for the specific batch of meatballs shown in this blog is sitting in the freezer ready to be turned into Auntie Helen’s Stracciatella, which will be coming up on the blog next month.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Marisa's Mystical Meatballs
Marisa says she usually uses cross-cut beef shank for the meatballs. When we made them, she also a piece of beef she bought for soup so we used both. In the end, we got ½ pound of cooked beef, with fat and gristle removed. Adjust the proportion of the other ingredients if you get substantially more or less cooked beef. If you want to use just cross-cut beef shank, I would try about 2 ½-3 lbs. The beef is boiled and then finely chopped to make the meatballs, giving you the opportunity to make a really nice beef broth with just a few minutes more work.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Beef and Broth
Meatballs
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Beef and Broth
Meatballs
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Instructions
Beef and Broth
  1. Cross-cut beef shank.
  2. Put the meat and all other broth ingredients in a large stock pot.
  3. Cover with abundant cold water.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 4-6 hours, until the meat is very tender.
  5. Remove and cool the beef.
  6. Strain the broth and reserve for another use.
Meatballs
  1. Remove fat, gristle and bone from beef. You should have approximately ½ pound of cooked beef.
  2. Cook the unpeeled potatoes in boiling water until you can easily pierce them with the tines of a long fork or paring knife, 20-25 minutes.
  3. Remove the potatoes from the water and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, mince the garlic or grate it on a microplane grater.
  5. Combine beef, parsley and garlic in a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
  6. Peel the slightly cooled potatoes. If they are too cool it will be difficult to rice them.
  7. Pass the potatoes through a ricer.
  8. Combine the beef mixture with the potatoes, nutmeg, allspice, salt and black pepper.
  9. Mix well with a large spoon or your hands.
  10. Add the lightly beaten eggs.
  11. Mix well using your hands.
  12. Form the mixture into 16 balls and then flatten them slightly.
  13. Lightly roll the meatballs in fine dry breadcrumbs.
  14. Pour ⅛ inch of oil into a large sauté pan.
  15. Heat the oil on medium-high heat.
  16. Fry the meatballs in two batches, on medium-high, flipping once, until brown.
  17. Drain on paper towels.
  18. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Italian Wedding Soup

February 5, 2018

Growing up I never really understood why this was called Wedding Soup.  It was NEVER served at weddings.

It was mostly served at home, unceremoniously.

The fact that it was unceremonious is a shame.  It is a wonderful soup and, being honest, takes a bit of work to pull together.  Both the soup, and the soup-maker, in my estimation, deserve a bit of attention.

Although it takes some work, it doesn’t require much in the way of heard-earned skills like frosting a cake or making pie crust.  It’s just a bit of slogging through a series of steps.

This is a beloved soup among Americans of Italian descent.  Interestingly, my in-laws who are actually from Italy had never heard of it until I made it for this blog!


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But back to the “wedding” part.  I did a bit of internet research (thanks Google!).  Actually, I hesitate to call it “research.”  I’m old school.  I remember when doing research meant hours upon hours spent in libraries looking at actual hardcopy materials.  It almost doesn’t seem fair to sit on my sofa with my laptop and read materials served up by Google based on natural language questions and call it research.

The “natural language” part is interesting too.  In the “old” days, if you found an article that was relevant to the research topic, you would look at the articles referenced by the author and find, potentially, other relevant articles.  But they would all be older than the first article.  This is where the “Science Citation Index” came into play.

The Index was a series of periodically published volumes that listed all the articles that cited a particular article in their bibliography.  With the Science Citation Index, you could start with a relevant article and then work forwards finding all the newer articles that had cited that article.

Now I just tell Google what I’m interested in and I get a bunch of (almost always) relevant “hits!”  Google is even nice enough to tell me how many hits there are and what fraction of a second it took Google to identify them.

Even when I’m researching a biomedical topic I sit on my sofa with my laptop and search the National Library of Medicine.  The search language is a bit more arcane than the natural language used by Google but it still feels like cheating compared to slogging around a library.  I can even have the full article delivered to my laptop so I don’t have to figure out what library has the publication I need.


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So, what did I learn from my Google search?

It appears (at least it’s a plausible theory) that Wedding Soup is an inaccurate translation of Minestra Maritata or Married Soup; apparently so-named because of the way the different ingredients marry together so well.

I’m guessing that many Americans with no affiliation to Italy have never had escarole.

Interestingly, my husband’s Tuscan grandmother would use up small amounts of different types of dried pasta, perhaps putting them into a soup or serving them with a simple sauce.  She referred to this as Pasta Maritata because she was marrying the different types of pasta to create a dish.

If this theory is correct, I am perplexed by the inaccurate translation but, be that as it may, the soup is wonderful.  I urge you to give it a try.

I like breaking up the work over two days, especially since I like to make a long-simmered broth as the base of the soup.  My mother didn’t do this.  Once the chicken was cooked, it was removed and shredded and the broth was used without additional simmering to make the soup.  It shaves about 3 hours off of the prep time.  But, since making broth is mostly hands off, and the improvement in flavor is dramatic, I simmer everything a bit longer before straining and discarding the solids.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


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Italian Wedding Soup
If you don’t want to use the white center of the escarole, start with two heads and just use the dark green parts. The pale inner portion can be served in a salad or cooked in a number of ways. I like to divide up the work over two days, making the broth on the first day and the remainder on the second day. It’s perfectly feasible to do it all on the same day, however. I always keep a stash of rinds from Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino cheeses in the freezer. They add great flavor to broths, beans, and an array of other dishes.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 5 hours
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Broth and Chicken
Meatballs
Final assembly
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 5 hours
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Broth and Chicken
Meatballs
Final assembly
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Instructions
Broth and Chicken
  1. Cut the chicken into breast halves, legs, thighs, and wings. Cut the back into 2 or three pieces. Reserve the liver for another use but chop the remaining giblets.
  2. Slice the onions. There's really no need to peel them first.
  3. Same with the garlic, no need to peel. It all gets strained out in the end.
  4. Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered for two hours.
  5. After two hours, remove the breasts, legs, and thighs. Continue to simmer the broth.
  6. Remove the meat from the bones. Return the chicken bones and skin to the broth.
  7. Continue to simmer the broth for another two hours, adjusting seasoning as needed.
  8. Meanwhile, shred the breast meat and refrigerate.
  9. Reserve the leg and thigh meat for another use.
  10. After the broth has finished cooking, cool it for several hours. Strain and discard the solids. Allow the broth to come to room temperature and refrigerate.
  11. Alternatively, immediately strain and discard the solids and proceed as below.
Meatballs
  1. Put all the ingredients except the bread into a mixing bowl.
  2. Cut the crusts from the bread.
  3. Cover the bread with warm water for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Squeeze some of the water from the bread.
  5. Add the bread to the mixing bowl.
  6. Mix with your hands, until thoroughly combined and no streaks of white from the bread remain visible.
  7. As you are mixing add a bit of the bread soaking water from time to time (about a quarter cup or so total) to keep the mixture moist but not wet.
  8. The mixture should become tacky from the effects of the water and the mixing on the proteins in the meat. The tackiness will help the meatballs hold together for the same reason that sausage doesn’t fall apart when the casing is removed.
  9. With damp hands, roll the mixture into approximately 50 meatballs. Keeping your hands moist will enable you to create a smooth surface on the meatballs. If there are visible cracks, the meatballs will split when cooking.
Final assembly
  1. Skim the fat from the broth. Add water to make 6 quarts of broth. Bring the broth to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, coarsely chop the escarole.
  3. As the broth comes to a boil, adjust the salt and pepper.
  4. Add the chopped escarole. Return to a boil and cook at a moderate boil for approximately 5 minutes.
  5. Add the meatballs. Return to a boil and boil gently, so the meatballs don’t break, for 10-12 minutes.
  6. Add the shredded white meat chicken and return to a gentle boil.
  7. Adjust salt and pepper. At this point, slightly over-salt the soup as the dry pasta will reduce the saltiness of the soup. The soup can be made ahead to this point. Return to a boil and add the pasta just before serving.
  8. Add the pasta and boil gently until pasta is cooked, approximately 10 minutes.
  9. Adjust salt and pepper.
  10. Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Cuban Black Beans

December 1, 2017

Black beans are ubiquitous on tables in Cuba.

Getting beans to the right texture and the liquid to the right thickness is almost an art form.

Food is scarce in Cuba…at least if you’re a Cuban paying in Cuban Pesos. Not so much if you’re paying in CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos), which is what foreigners use. The CUC is pegged to the US Dollar but if you change Dollars for CUCs you pay a 10% penalty as opposed to exchanging another currency, say the Euro, for CUCs.


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Prices in Cuban Pesos at a locals’ only market

One view of a locals’ only market
Another view of a locals’ only market

I visited a butcher shop in Havana which pretty much now only sells chicken; when chicken is available, that is. If you notice the door to the cooler is open. That’s because the cooler isn’t on because there’s no inventory.

A butcher shop in Havana

The butcher is just waiting around for chicken to arrive.

When that chicken does arrive, it will likely be frozen Tyson chicken from the United States. Even though, when this picture was taken, the US embargo of Cuba was in full force.

Most of the chicken in Cuba is frozen Tyson chicken from the United States

The same is true of hot sauce. If one asks for hot sauce at a restaurant in Cuba one is likely to get a bottle of Tabasco shipped in from Avery Island, Louisiana. Clearly there are exceptions to the embargo for some American companies!

If you pay in CUCs, the food available increases dramatically.

One stall in a multi-vendor market where prices are denominated in CUCs
Another stall in the same market
Locally prepared beverages in the CUC-denominated market

The disparity in prices for food purchased with Pesos vs CUCs is so large that average Cubans cannot afford to buy food with CUCs, even if they can get them. It takes 25 Cuban Pesos to buy one CUC. Paying in Pesos limits one to shopping in pretty-much locals’ only stores, with limited inventory where the products, like rice and beans, are sold at subsidized prices.

Rum is widely available regardless of the currency.  You’ll pay more if you’re a foreigner, however.

Havana Club is a popular brand of rum in Cuba
A well-stocked bar ready for the day’s customers
Cuban cigars for sale at the bar

After returning from the trip to Cuba in 2014, I tried but couldn’t get the texture of my “Cuban” black beans right. But then, my mother-in-law got a recipe from Beatriz (Betty) Scannapieco. Betty is from Cuba. She was in the exercise group my in-laws attend. Betty’s recipe, using a pressure cooker as is common in Cuba, works like a dream. It’s really pretty effortless, too. The green pepper, onion, and garlic add tremendous flavor but are removed after cooking leaving just beans and the silky cooking liquid.

I made three changes to Betty’s recipe. She called for 1 teaspoon of white wine. I use 1 tablespoon. Betty didn’t use tomato paste or black pepper but both are common ingredients in many Cuban black bean recipes.


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Cuban Black Beans
This recipe came from Beatriz (Betty) Scannapieco in my in-law’s exercise group. Betty is from Cuba. I added the tomato paste and black pepper to Betty’s recipe. I also increased the wine from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. It can be challenging to get the bell pepper, onion, and garlic out of the beans as they very soft after cooking. If you want to make it easier, you could tie them in cheesecloth.
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Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/4 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/4 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Wash the beans.
  2. Cover beans with water by a couple of inches and soak overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. The next day, cut the bell pepper in half and remove ribs and seeds.
  4. Cut the onion into 4 or 6 wedges, but do not cut the whole way through the root end.
  5. Bruise the garlic by laying the blade of a chef's knife on top and gently pounding the knife blade.
  6. Drain the beans. Put the beans in a pressure cooker along with 3 ¼ cups of fresh water.
  7. Bring the beans to a boil, uncovered.
  8. Skim the foam from the beans then remove the pot from heat.
  9. Add the green pepper, onion, garlic and bay leaves to the beans.
  10. Put the lid on the pressure cooker and bring to 10 pounds pressure.
  11. Reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes.
  12. Remove the pressure cooker from heat and allow pressure to dissipate naturally.
  13. Uncover the pressure cooker.
  14. Add the olive oil, tomato paste (if using), wine, vinegar, salt and black pepper (if using).
  15. Bring to a boil uncovered and boil for 5 minutes.
  16. Remove from heat. Cool slightly and remove bell pepper, onion, bay leaves, and garlic.
  17. The beans can be served immediately but are better if refrigerated overnight.
  18. Serve the beans in a shallow bowl with pieces of finely diced raw onion in the center. Black beans are customarily accompanied by white rice.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Turkey Noodle Soup

May 24, 2017

Soup!

If my mother said she was making “soup” without any qualifiers, it meant her beef noodle soup.

She would cook a good-sized piece of beef in her soup pot along with large pieces of carrot, celery and potato till the meat was falling apart.

She would cook thin egg noodles separately.

To serve the soup, everyone would get a bowl of broth with pieces of carrot, celery and potato.  The large piece of beef would be in its own serving bowl and the noodles in another.

At the table, everyone added beef (shredding it with a serving fork) and noodles to their bowl of broth for the ultimate customization.

I haven’t had soup this way since my mother died.  I actually don’t ever remember being served soup in the same manner by anyone else, anywhere, ever.  If you’ve ever heard of, or had, soup being served this way, I’d really like to hear about it.

The other soup my mother made frequently was what is sometimes called “Italian Wedding Soup.”  It is a rich chicken broth with pieces of chicken, small meatballs, carrots, celery, pasta (typically, acini de pepe), and escarole.

Occasionally my mother would make Slovak Mushroom Soup, with dried mushrooms and potatoes, or Potato Soup with potatoes, milk and onions.  More often, however, we’d get these when visiting my grandparents.  Early on, my grandmother would make soup, but when she got older, Aunt Ann or Aunt Mary would make it and bring it to my grandparents’ house.

On a Sunday, when my father, his six brothers, and all of their spouses and children would visit my grandparents, a lot of soup could be consumed.  Mind you, there was no guarantee that there would be soup, but if there was, it needed to be an industrial quantity.

In the winter, my grandmother would keep the soup in a big pot in the root cellar in the basement.  It was the same root cellar where she would make sour cabbage but that was before I was born.  I know because my father and all of my uncles never tired of talking about my grandmother’s sour cabbage soup, or kissel.  They bemoaned the fact that nobody made it any longer.  I don’t have her recipe and while I can find recipes for soups that sound similar, none of them sounds exactly like the soup my father described.

Today’s soup, however, is not one that I grew up eating.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, my mother thought the carcass of a roasted turkey wasn’t intended to be reused.  I first had turkey noodle soup, made with roasted turkey leftovers, when I was in college.  The soup was made by Mary Lou d’Aquili, the wife of my college advisor and, many years later, the person with whom I went into psychiatric practice, Eugene d’Aquili.

Ever since then, I’ve turned the bones of most roasts into broth.

We have an array of fresh herbs year round thanks to the greenhouse.  I have totally given up dried bay leaves in favor of fresh ones.  They’re really easy to grow and the taste is incredible.  California bay leaves are stronger than Mediterranean bay leaves so if the balance of flavors in a dish is critical, and you’re using the former, opt for about half the amount called for in the recipe.  For most dishes, it’s not a critical distinction, however, and you can just substitute California for Mediterranean bay leaves.

Here’s a picture of our Bay Laurel plant, pruned down and ready to start its seasonal growth spurt.  In the fall I’ll harvest the leaves to make an Italian Bay Laurel Liqueur, Liquore al Lauro or Liquore Alloro.

The following recipe for Turkey Noodle Soup starts with the Roasted Turkey Broth I posted a few weeks ago.

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Turkey Noodle Soup
Save the bones, skin and shreds of meat from a roast turkey to make broth for soup. You can freeze the bones and make the broth later. You can also make the broth and freeze for future use. What you don’t want to do is to freeze the turkey noodle soup. I prefer not to freeze the soup, as the vegetables become too soft. If you must, however, freeze it before adding the noodles and peas. I keep a container of Parmesan cheese rinds in the freezer so that I always have them available to add to soup or other dishes to amplify the savoriness.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Bring the broth to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, slice the carrots.
  3. Slice the celery.
  4. Dice the onions.
  5. Mince the garlic.
  6. Dig a Parmesan cheese rind out of your freezer.
  7. To the broth, add sliced celery, carrots, onions, minced garlic, bay leaf, marjoram, cheese rind, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Return to a low boil and cook, partially covered for 30 minutes.
  9. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  10. Add cooked turkey and tomato paste. Cook at a low boil for another 15 minutes.
  11. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference then add an additional ½ teaspoon of salt. (Remember, you’re about to add unseasoned peas and noodles.)
  12. Add the noodles. Bring to a boil.
  13. Add the peas. Boil gently till noodles are done.
  14. When noodles are cooked, taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in chopped parsley.
  15. Serve immediately.
  16. Pass grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese at the table.
Recipe Notes

Here is the recipe for Roasted Turkey Broth.  You should have 3 quarts of broth.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Roasted Turkey Broth

May 5, 2017

I grew up in a house where there was absolutely no use for the carcass from a roasted turkey.  Other than my sister and I fighting over who got the crispy skin from the turkey breast, the skin went into the trash heap too.

You might imagine my surprise when, in college, I discovered that people actually did things with carcasses from roast turkey, like make broth to be used for turkey noodle soup.

To be sure, my recipe for turkey noodle soup will be posted later this month but in the meantime I would encourage you to make broth from the bones of most any roast, be it turkey, chicken, duck, pork, or beef.  Then, be creative with how to use it.

Broths made from roasted meat bones and bits of meat have a really savory quality that you won’t get from a broth made with uncooked meat.  You can’t always use them interchangeably so think about how the roasted-meat savoriness will play off the other flavors in the dish.

Roasted meat broths usually work well in hearty soups, for example, or as the liquid in a pot of Southwestern style cooked beans.  Frozen in small containers or ice cube trays, you can use the broth as the liquid for a quick pan sauce or to enrich gravy.

In fact, when I make gravy for Thanksgiving, I start by roasting a couple of Cornish game hens or a few pounds of chicken or turkey wings until they are very, very brown.  I use the roasted meat and some vegetables to make a rich, dark brown broth.  I concentrate the broth even more by boiling it down to about 3-4 cups.  While the turkey is roasting, I use the broth to make gravy, which I simmer for a couple of hours until it’s silky.  When the turkey is cooked, I deglaze the pan, skim the fat off, strain out the solids, and add the liquid to the gravy that has been bubbling away for a couple of hours.  By the time the turkey has rested and been carved, the gravy has reduced, again, to the right consistency.  The gravy is rich and savory and, more importantly, there’s enough to smother everyone’s mashed potatoes and turkey.  Doing it this way also removes the last-minute rush of actually making gravy on-the-spot from the pan drippings while you’re trying to get the meal on the table.

You might ask why I am dealing with a roasted turkey in spring rather than November.  Easter Dinner!  In addition to ham, I always make turkey since some of our friends don’t eat critters with more than two legs.  So, just for fun, here are a few pictures from Easter, complete with the bleeding lamb cake we always have for dessert.

I have a couple of different types of fat separators.  One is the more common style that resembles a small watering can with a spout that draws from the bottom of the liquid.  My preferred one, however, has an opening on the very bottom.  You just pour in the liquid, allow the fat to rise to the top, and squeeze the handle.  The opening opens and out pours the fat-free liquid from the bottom.  You can find a picture of it on my equipment page.

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Roasted Turkey Broth
Unless I need an absolutely clear broth, I prefer to use the pressure cooker. It gets the job done in an hour of cooking and makes a more flavorful broth than simmering it on the stove. However, the broth is somewhat cloudy. If you don’t want to use a pressure cooker and you don’t want to have to think about a pot on the stove, make the broth in a slow-cooker for 6-8 hours. If your pressure cooker or slow-cooker won’t accommodate 3½ quarts of water, use as much as you can and then dilute the final product to 3 quarts.
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Course Miscellaneous
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Passive Time 4 3/4 hours
Servings
quarts
Ingredients
Course Miscellaneous
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Passive Time 4 3/4 hours
Servings
quarts
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Thinly slice the carrots, celery and onion.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a stockpot.
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally. Alternatively, cook at 10 pounds pressure for one hour or in a slow-cooker on low for 6-8 hours.
  4. Strain the broth.
  5. Because the broth will likely develop a gelatin-like quality on cooling, I suggest removing the fat using a fat separator while the broth is still warm.
  6. Add water to make three quarts.
Recipe Notes

I never add salt to any broth that I make unless I am making it for a specific purpose and I can plan for the final product. Broth with salt can make a dish too salty if the liquid needs to be reduced. The salt in a broth can also slow down the tenderization of dried beans. This might not be much of an issue at lower elevations but at 8000 feet getting dried beans to soften can be a challenge and anything that hinders the process is to be avoided.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Green Beans with Tomato Sauce and Bacon

February 27, 2017

Earlier this month I wrote about my “crunchy vegetable” phase of cooking back in the 1970’s.  One of the dishes I was reacting to was my mother’s green beans with tomato sauce and bacon.  Honestly, though, I can’t tell you why.  It was, bar none, my favorite vegetable dish growing up.  Why, when I started cooking in my late teens, I thought I could make it better by cooking the beans until they were just crunchy is beyond me.

Chalk it up to youthful indiscretion.

Americans served a lot of mushy vegetables back then, no doubt, but the reaction shouldn’t be to turn every vegetable crunchy.  But I was just learning to cook and had a lot to learn, not only about technique, but about understanding the essence of a dish.

The essence of this dish is the silky texture (most definitely not mushy) of the beans cooked for a couple of hours in tomato sauce.  The textural change is accompanied by a flavor change that is unobtainable by quickly cooking the ingredients.

It’s actually pretty difficult to turn these beans mushy unless you boil them too long before adding them to the tomato sauce.  The tomato sauce reacts with the beans to somehow inhibit the development of mushiness.  I’m not sure, but it think it might be the acid in the tomatoes.

That first four minute boil is critical, however.  One time, thinking I could eliminate a step, I tried putting the cut up beans in the sauce without parboiling them first.  Mistake!  Four hours later the beans were still not cooked properly!

Green beans cooked in tomato sauce is a classic Italian combination.  The use of bacon clearly signals that this is Italian-American, however.  Italian recipes might use pancetta but not bacon.  Smoked foods are uncommon in traditional Italian cuisine.  The few that appear really stand out.

Pancetta and bacon are made from the same cut, pork belly.  Both are cured but only bacon is smoked.  Although I’ve made other versions of green beans in tomato sauce that are traditional Italian, rather than Italian-American, I keep coming back to this one as my favorite.

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Green Beans with Tomato Sauce and Bacon
These long-simmered green beans in tomato sauce with bacon are an Italian-American favorite. The long, slow cooking is really essential to achieving the right texture and flavor. Although I've specified the amount of water in cups, when cooking with tomato paste my mother always measured water by the can. This dish would have had five tomato paste cans of water. She didn't quite fill them to the top so each can held about 5 1/2 ounces of water, or a little over three cups total. You may need to add more water, or to boil some away, to get a thick sauce.
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Course Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Cut the bacon into matchstick-sized pieces.
  2. Mince the garlic.
  3. In a heavy-bottomed pot, large enough to ultimately hold the beans, gently sauté the bacon until golden brown.
  4. Add the minced garlic to the bacon and bacon drippings and sauté until fragrant and just beginning to turn golden, about one minute.
  5. Add the tomato paste and sauté until it turns a shade darker and smells sweet.
  6. Add the water, stirring to combine. Cover and bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce to a simmer. Add salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste, oregano and sugar. Simmer, partially covered, for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. Meanwhile, cut the tips off the beans at a diagonal. Cut the beans into pieces about 2 to 2 ½ inches long, also on the diagonal.
  9. Wash the beans in several changes of cold water. Cover with water and allow the beans to soak for 15 to 20 minutes, to fully plump up with water before cooking.
  10. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water (at least 4 quarts of water and ¼ cup of salt) to a boil.
  11. Drain the beans, add to the boiling water, and return to a boil as quickly as possible.
  12. Boil until the beans are just beginning to get tender, approximately 4 minutes. They will cook much longer in the sauce so be careful not to overcook them at this point.
  13. Drain the beans and add to the tomato sauce, which should have been cooking for 45-60 minutes by this point.
  14. Simmer until the beans are silky, but not mushy. This can take 2 hours, plus or minus. Go by texture, not time. The beans should be silky but still have some body.
  15. Taste once or twice while cooking and adjust salt, pepper and, if you wish, oregano.
Recipe Notes

You can make the sauce and partially cook the beans in advance. After the beans have been boiled, quickly chill them in a bowl of ice water. Cool the cooked sauce to room temperature.  Drain and add the partially cooked beans to the sauce.  Refrigerate until ready to complete cooking.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Mom’s Pasta e Fagioli (Mom’s Pasta and Beans)

February 22, 2017

We didn’t eat a lot of prepared foods growing up.  In fact we almost never did.  OK, there were a few times in the early 60’s where I got to try out those recently-invented “TV Dinners.”

I was well into adulthood before I had a real appreciation for the quality of the homemade food that was put on our table every day.

My mother made putting great food on the table seem effortless.  I remember many Sunday mornings when I’d wake up to find her making ravioli from scratch for our big midday meal: cooking the beef and spinach filling, preparing the dough, rolling and filling the ravioli, all the while a big pot of tomato sauce bubbling away on the stove.  It was just a family Sunday dinner!

Weekday meals were usually less elaborate but no less delicious; maybe homemade sausage, pan-fried potatoes, and a vegetable or two or maybe pasta with sauce leftover from Sunday.  It was always fun to walk into the kitchen to find her making something I’d never had before; something that her mother used to make.  Sometimes that wasn’t even at a defined meal time.

Now I think I understand.  My mother died in 1993 and I bet I didn’t make her version of pasta e fagioli for 20 years after her death.  Then one day, the desire for it just struck me and there I was, in the kitchen, cooking.

It’s become part of my regular routine again after that long hiatus.  Sitting down to a bowl of my mother’s pasta e fagioli is comforting; almost as comforting as if she had made it for me.  There’s just something about the combination of pasta, beans and red sauce that I can’t explain.  It triggers an emotional bridge to what feels like an earlier time in my life.  I’m guessing something similar prompted my mother to occasionally whip up dishes from her youth that she hadn’t made in decades, if ever.

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Mom's Pasta e Fagioli (Mom's Pasta and Beans)
Follow the directions for Cannelini alla Toscana but use dried lima beans instead of cannellini and substitute ½ teaspoon of dried oregano and a sprig of fresh rosemary for the sage. There will be leftover beans that you can freeze or refrigerate for another use. You can also use two 15 ounce cans of Butter Beans in place of the home-cooked lima beans. Mom always used ditalini for this dish. These days, when you can find them (and it can be challenging) they have usually been upgraded from ditalini to ditali, though they are exactly what she used. More frequently, I use a slightly larger, but still rather small, pasta such as the mezzi rigatoni shown here.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Finely dice the onion. Sauté the onion in ¼ cup of olive oil until soft and golden.
  2. Add the crushed red pepper and sauté another minute.
  3. Add the tomato paste and sauté, stirring frequently until the tomato paste turns a shade darker and smells sweet, 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the water, oregano, basil and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well to fully incorporate the tomato paste.
  5. Bring to a very low boil, partially covered, and cook 30-45 minutes stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning as needed, tasting several times as the sauce cooks.
  6. Meanwhile, sauté the garlic in the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil very slowly until browned. Remove from the heat and reserve.
  7. The dish can be cooked several hours ahead to this point.
  8. Bring three quarts of water and three tablespoons of salt to a boil.
  9. While the water is heating, add the beans and their liquid to the tomato sauce, return to a simmer, and cook, partially covered till the pasta is ready.
  10. Cook pasta until it still has a small bit of chewy center. It will cook more in the sauce. Scoop out and reserve two cups of the pasta cooking liquid.
  11. Drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the tomato-bean mixture. Add the browned garlic and olive oil. Stir well, cover and cook on very low heat until the pasta is cooked but al dente and the sauce has thickened. Add some of the pasta cooking liquid as needed from time to time to create a smooth sauce.
  12. Off the heat stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  13. It is not unheard of for me to add an extra glug or two of olive oil at this point to get a luscious sauce. Stir and decide if another dash of pasta-cooking water is needed, as well.
Recipe Notes

Mezzi Rigatoni

 

 

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Merluzzo in Umido (Cod in Light Tomato Sauce)

January 4, 2017

The first time I had Merluzzo in Umido was November 1992.  My husband and I took my mother, his mother, and his fraternal grandmother to Santa Fe for a week over Thanksgiving.  At the time, we were living in Chicago.  We rented an ancient adobe house off Garcia Street.  The house didn’t have any central heat though it did have a frightening array of heating devices that included a kiva fireplace, a direct-vent gas heater in the living room, a portable electric heater in one of the bedrooms, wall-mounted electric radiant heaters in the bathrooms, and nothing in the kitchen.  If the oven wasn’t on, the kitchen was the coldest room in the house as it had three outside walls and a door that didn’t seal very well.

Of course, it was reported to be the coldest winter that Santa Fe had experienced in 100 years! In addition to cold, there was lots of snow. And there we were, in a drafty old adobe house with no central heat enjoying a week with the likes of The Golden Girls!

We had a blast.

We had been house hunting in Santa Fe since April of that year.  On that November trip we saw several houses we liked.  We spent a few evenings rating each of the houses on an array of factors using a spreadsheet.  (In my professional life, we would have called this a prioritization matrix or selection grid. It’s a technique I’ve taught to hundreds of health care professionals over several decades.)  One afternoon we all piled into the car to look at the two finalists in the property hunt.  We were uncertain which one to buy.  Not so the women.  A little house on Griffin Street was the undisputed, hands-down favorite.  Deal done!

We put in an offer and closed in January.  For most of December my mother kept saying that she wanted to go back to Santa Fe and stay in the house in the spring.  We did a bit of remodeling and moved into the house in March.  Unfortunately, my mother died in January, shortly before we closed on the house.  She never got to experience her dream of returning to Santa Fe.  We had that house for more than nine years before we moved into a much larger Santa Fe property in Ricardo-Legorreta-designed Zocalo.  After Zocalo, we built and moved into Villa Sentieri overlooking the city.

I frequently think of that trip.  It was memorable in so many ways.  We found our first house in Santa Fe.  I got to spend quality time with my mother in the last weeks of her life.  My husband and I had interviews to get our medical licenses in New Mexico.  (It’s the only time either of us has been personally interviewed for a medical license!).   And, I learned how to make Merluzzo in Umido, one of many recipes that my husband’s grandmother brought with her from Italy.

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Merluzzo in Umido (Cod in Light Tomato Sauce)
If possible, by large filets of cod and portion them at home. Three pounds is enough for eight people. The advantage of portioning the fish at home is that you can make some smaller pieces for individuals with smaller appetites. Cod is a perfect fish for this dish because it is forgiving in terms of being overcooked. However, any firm, white, non-oily fish will taste great. I used a 15-inch rondeau to cook the cod. It held the fish in a single layer. If you don’t have a pan large enough to hold the fish in one layer, make the sauce in a single sauté pan then divide it among two different pans to cook the fish.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Cut the cod into 8 to 10 serving pieces. Though you can cook whole filets, it will be easier to get the fish out of the pan if cut into portions.
  2. In rondeau large enough to hold the fish in one layer, sauté the onion and a sprinkling of salt in the olive oil until transparent and slightly golden but not brown.
  3. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add parsley and some freshly ground black pepper. Sauté for a minute or two. The smell of parsley should become noticeably more potent. Do not brown the ingredients of the pan.
  5. Add the wine and cook briskly until the wine evaporates.
  6. Add the tomato paste. Sauté, stirring frequently, until it gets ever so slightly darker and begins to smell sweet. This will take 2-3 minutes.
  7. Add the water, oregano, basil and additional salt and pepper to taste. Boil gently, with the cover slightly askew for 20-30 minutes. The sauce will thicken. If it becomes too thick, add a little additional water. However, the juices from the fish will thin the sauce so it is better for the sauce to start out too thick rather than two thin. The sauce can be made ahead to this point.
  8. With the sauce at a medium boil, add the fish, skin side down. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot tightly and cook for approximately 20 minutes until the fish cooks through an flakes easily. The length of time will depend on the type of fish, thickness of the portions, and elevation. Do not turn the fish but occasionally spoon some of the sauce over the top of the cooking fish.
  9. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning. If the sauce it too thick thin with a little water. If it is too thin, boil it briskly after removing the fish.
  10. Put the fish on a deep serving platter. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve.
Recipe Notes

Parsley stems can be bitter.  When adding parsley to a recipe, I only use the leaves and very tender stems.  To do this, I hold the end of the parsley stem in one hand and slide the stem between the thumb and finger of the other hand.  When my fingers reach the leaves, I pinch off the stem and discard it.  This makes quick work of the parsley and removes any chance of bitterness from the stems.

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