Roman Ragù

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This is one of my favorite dishes.  While it cooks slowly for 1 ½ hours, it takes all of 20 minutes to put together.  The only challenge is finding a store that sells pancetta.  I found one here and had them cut a ¼” thick slice.

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I have to give props to my favorite Italian chef Biba Caggiano for this dish.  She has a restaurant in Sacramento (Biba’s).  I own several of her cookbooks and met her many times.  Until I went to her restaurant, I always thought Italian food was spaghetti and meatballs.  But Italian food has many facets from seafood to different kinds of pork like pancetta and prosciutto, simple cuts of beef like Ossobuco, thick sauces and light sauces, wild game, birds and northern Italian food including dishes like Jewish Hamim, a Kosher Jewish dish from northern Italy near Venice made with three kinds of beef, beans and fruit like prunes and apricots.  Name the ingredient and Italian food has a recipe for it.

When asking about Italian food it would be more exact to ask from which region are you speaking?  While I live in Cajun country, my recipe blog has more Italian recipes.  Cajun food is wonderful but is the food of one region.  It is a food largely influenced by France, Italy and Germany.  True Cajun foods are variations on a Roux gravy (fried flour and oil).  Fried Cajun seafood is nothing more than a Piccata.  When adding Creole food to the list of Cajun dishes then the menu begins to expand.  But, as Italian food does, almost all Cajun and Creole foods center around that wonderful fruit/berry called the tomato.  If you can master the tomato, you have a good dish.   It blends well with so many other ingredients.

The other berry that is a compliment to all food is the grape.  Grapes from regions in France, Germany, Italy, Napa Valley and the Central Coast of California are my preferred wines.  There is this one Italian wine the beats all; I call it “God’s Nectar”.  It is a dessert wine called Madiera.  This dessert wine is divinely fortified with brandy, almonds and lemon zest.  My favorite bottle is made at V. Sattui Winery in Napa Valley and is now $50 a bottle.  I remember buying it for $15 a bottle – back in the day.

We can’t forget the all-important and healthy for your body – the olive.  What would Italian food and Cajun food for that matter be without olive oil?

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Back to the Ragù:

Defined:  Ragù is a meat-based sauce commonly served with pasta.

Serves 2 -4

Meat:

  • 1 – ¼” slice of pancetta (diced)
  • ½ Lb. of ground pork
  • ½ Lb. of ground beef

Sauce:

  • 3 large Roma tomatoes (chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves (sliced cross ways into little dimes)
  • 1 cup of dry red wine (Chianti or Burgundy)
  • ½ cup veal stock (beef stock will do)
  • Fresh oregano leaves – 2 stalks (or a pinch of dried)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP olive oil

Soffritto:

Note:  The French call this a Mirepoix, the Germans call this a Suppengrün and the Italians call it a Soffritto.  It’s the same thing.  These are complimentary vegetables that add sugary flavor to the dish.

  • 1 carrot (minced)
  • 1 celery stalk (minced)
  • ½ onion (minced)
  • I mince the Soffritto beforehand in a food processor.

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I also use fresh oregano from my garden.

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Cooking Steps:

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Chop the pancetta.  In a 3 quart sauce pot add one TBSP olive oil and get hot.  Add the pancetta and sauté several minutes, and then add the pork and beef and brown for maybe five minutes.  Remove meat with a slotted spoon leaving the liquid and the oil.

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Add the Soffritto and sauté five to eight minutes and then add the tomatoes and butter. Return the meat to the pot and add the wine.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add the oregano leaves.  Mix.  Add a little beef broth if necessary just to make more gravy.  It doesn’t need much, maybe a quarter cup.

Bring to a slight boil, then reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover and cook for 1 ½ hours.

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Serve over thin spaghetti with Parmesan cheese.

Make sure to place your spaghetti in boiling water and cook exactly 12 minutes.

Can it be that easy?

(Someone say yes!)

Picture of my kitties.  They both like pancetta BTW.

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Sweet Onion and Spinach Frittata

 

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This is a good lunchtime or breakfast dish. I use my grandmother’s old frying pan.  As of this writing I am an inch and one-half away from being 60 years old.  This frying pan is WAY older than that.  I think maybe 80 years possibly.  I love these old cast iron pans.

The reason I prefer this dish over a tart or a Quiche is I don’t have to mess with a puff pastry crust, which I like but requires more butter and takes away from the filling and needs a lot more effort to do it right.

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Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 TBSP cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 onion sliced
  • ½ cup frozen spinach (defrosted and drained)
  • ½ bay leaf
  • 1 thick slice of your favorite ham (cut into cubes)
  • 3 TBSP butter

Preheat oven 375°.

In a large bowl add eggs, cream, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese and whisk.

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In an oven-proof pan sauté the ham in the butter 5 to 8 minutes.  Add onions one handful at a time and sauté.  The reason I say add the onion a handful at a time is the onion will have a lot of water in it and the water will steam the onions and cool the pan.  It’s better to brown the onions slightly picking up the flavors of the ham.  Add the bay leaf.  Add spinach. Stir and sauté the ingredients a little more.  Turn off heat and let the onions cool a little.

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Add the onions a large spoonful at a time to the egg mixture.  As you add the onions whisk.  Repeat this until all the onions are added to the mixture.

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Pour the onion/egg mixture back into the pan add more Parmesan cheese on top.

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Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Serve.

I love this dish.  It makes me feel so, shall we how should I say, Italian…ish.

Mediterranean Chicken (aka Chicken Audubon Ron)

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Finally this is a dish I can call my own invention, albeit, it strikes a similar chord to Mediterranean Chicken so I feel a need to at least give props to that dish. The reason is it calls for Greek Kalamata olives and Italian herbs and other Italian ingredients.

This weekend I went into the kitchen seeking what was available and created this dish. Largely, the flavor of this dish is owing to the fresh herbs (basil, rosemary and oregano) I have growing in my garden.

Ingredients proportional for a serving of 2:

3 – 6″ strips bacon, soaked in hot water 10 minutes, finely chopped
1 large shallot, finely chopped
½ yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
1 Roma tomato (aka Italian plum tomato), chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced
4 medium chicken breasts, boneless/skinless
½ cup white wine (plus 3 TBSP)
1 TBSP butter
2 TBSP olive oil
8 Kalamata olives, sliced
5 fresh basil leaves
½ sprig fresh rosemary, leaves only
5 sprigs of oregano, leaves only
McCormick’s Montreal Chicken seasoning
Cooked angel hair pasta for two

Cooking:

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Add bacon to a medium hot pan and sauté for about 8 minutes then remove.  (Note:  I soak the bacon in hot water first for about 10 minutes to reduce the smoky flavor.  Then I cook it in the frying pan)

Add two TBSP olive oil to bacon oil and then sprinkle Montreal seasoning on chicken and brown chicken both sides in the oil, maybe five minutes, remove chicken and cut into cubes.

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In the pan add 3 TBSP white wine and deglaze the pan. 3 or 4 minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon.

Add butter and add shallot and yellow bell pepper and sauté 5 minutes. Add tomato and garlic and sauté 3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, return chicken and bacon, mix, cover and simmer on low 30 minutes.

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While cooking boil water for the pasta, cook pasta exactly 12 minutes, rinse in hot water.

Serve the chicken with pan drippings over pasta.

That.is.it. LITE, TASTY, EASY!!!

Damn I’m good.

Chicken Piccata

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(Beginning of Rant)
When looking at my recipe section (located on the banner bar above), I hope you see my offerings are made with meat, produce and goods I find at the local store. Since I live way deep in the piney woods of South Mississippi, the local store would be Wally World (Walmart).  It isn’t that I have a passion for Wally World.  I have few alternatives. Not a good thing for a foodie like me.

On seafood:  The Gulf Coast here is rich with shellfish and many kinds of fin-fish that are harvested from the local waters daily.  Yet, because of the laws governing the sale of seafood by persons other than licensed commercial fisherman and seafood dealers, there are two good seafood markets on the entire coast that actually sell fresh fish.  I love stuffed flounder, a local fish, but I am forced to the frozen section at Wally World for such things as Tilapia harvested from a farm in Zacapa, Guatemala. (I exaggerate, but not by much). Commercial fishermen sell to distributors.  In most states it is unlawful for a recreational fisherman to sell his catch.  I understand the need to control over-fishing, but local fresh seafood is not making it to my table.

On meats:  As much as I love Martha Stewart, she sure is charming, but the main reason I really like her is she has her own butcher.  I look at the meat she uses on her cooking show and wonder where in the world am I going to find that?  She doesn’t cook with the regular folks in mind like me on a budget.  The question for me, how do I take a slab of beef imported from Mexico, cut so thin you can see through it, and turn it into a tasty dish? Meanwhile, my property is next to a cattleman’s. His beef isn’t making it to my table either.

Does it prevent me from making tasty dishes?  Well sometimes, but not mostly.  So, we go with what we know.  What we know is we have lots of chicken, pork, sauces, flour, canned goods and basic produce.

BTW, Miss. Stewart, if you need someone to assist you on your show, I’m the guy.
(End of Rant)

We always have a bag of frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the freezer. We use it in a lot of dishes.  Last night I made Chicken Piccata – and it was good.

Piccata is referring to a sauce.  I have read many explanations as to the derivation of the word Piccata – boring!!!  In short, this dish is fried chicken with a buttery lemon sauce.

Serves 2

Chicken:

  • 3 pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Flour
  • Italian Breadcrumbs
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 TBSP butter

Preheat oven to 250° and boil water for the pasta.

In a nonstick pan, (I use my grandma’s 70 year old cast iron skillet), (( I bet Martha Stewart doesn’t have one of these))…

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…get oil hot on medium heat and melt butter.  Salt and pepper the chicken pieces. Unless the chicken is real thick, it is not necessary to butterfly the chicken and pound the heck out of it.  No pounding!  Just dredge in flour, then in egg and then in Italian bread crumbs, place in fry pan and brown.

Most recipes call for flour only, no eggs or breadcrumbs.  From experience I prefer a Schnitzel crust rather than just flour.  I’m guessing since this dish originated in Italy, it probably was influenced by Wiener Schnitzel.  Actually it is the other way, “Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz brought the recipe [Schnitzel] from Italy to Vienna in 1857.” (So says Wikipedia)  I use Italian breadcrumbs because I like the flavor of the Italian herbs in the breadcrumbs.

When the chicken is browned, remove, place in an ovenproof dish and put in the oven. This keeps the chicken warm while making the sauce and cooking the pasta.

Sauce:

  • 1 cup white wine
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp corn starch mixed in 2 tsp of cold water
  • 1 TBSP capers
  • 1 TBSP chopped Italian Parsley
  • 2 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 TBSP butter

In pan drippings, add the white wine and deglaze the drippings a minute or so, and then turn heat to simmer.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until the sauce becomes thick.  Since I use corn starch to thicken the sauce, I adjust it with more lemon, butter, wine or anything needed to make sure it has the taste and consistency I anticipate.  I like a thick sauce, but most recipes don’t call for corn starch.

Pasta:

  • Thin Spaghetti

No matter what time zone or country of origin you are in, all dried pasta takes EXACTLY 12 minutes to cook al dente – not 11 minutes, 59 seconds or 12 minutes, 1 second – Exactly 12 minutes.

Serve up.

I assure you, as was this dish, the chicken is cooked to perfection, all white meat (no pounding) and it was juicy and moist and the sauce was great.  Martha Stewart would be proud, well or she should be anyways.

Italian Mixed Green and Olive Salad

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As stated, we eat a lot of salads here.  Some a fairly complex like Shrimp Remoulade. This one is simple.

Serves 2:

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of Romaine lettuce or your favorite lettuce, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk chopped
  • 2 scallions chopped (aka green onions or scallions)
  • Smoked Gouda cheese, cut into cubes
  • 2 slices of salami, cut into cubes
  • 8 black olive, pitted and sliced
  • 8 green olives, pitted and sliced
  • 8 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
  • 4 marinated artichoke hearts, cut in half

Drizzle with olive oil.  Some folks like to use a vinaigrette but in this case the olives and the marinated artichoke adds the vinegar flavor.  All that is needed is olive oil, which I pour lightly on top.

I always leave salad at room temperature before eating.