Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cabbage Salad

We have this often when the cabbages in the garden are threatening to overwhelm both us and the "cabbage patch". But of course you can buy a head of green cabbage and do this as an accompaniment to your main course. It's fast and good, and Adriana served it often. It could be considered a luncheon dish on its own.
1. Finely slice (or shred) as much cabbage as you think you'll need.
2. Crumble in a tin of solid-pack tuna. (We buy water-packed, but packed-in-oil is what Adriana used). Try some imported (from Italy) tuna if you can find it, just for interest's sake. I sometimes think it's more flavourful.
3. Toss in a few capers, if you like them.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste, and dress with oil and red-wine vinegar to taste.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

BACCALA (Or "What the h... is that?")

The last time we purchased a Baccala (also known as Stoccofisso) in one of the few stores in Vanc0uver where they are available, the woman standing beside us turned and said, "What the hell is that?" My husband, somewhat offended, explained that it is a dried codfish, and that it's very good. "Well, it looks terrible," the woman said. And indeed it does. Horrible. An entire dessicated codfish, mouth agape. Imagine her surprise when she observed that it cost $60.00!!
Don't worry, I'm not going to insist that you buy one, let alone cook it, but it was a staple of the north-eastern Italian diet when my husband was growing up. It was very inexpensive then and fed a large family--with polenta, of course, and Adriana wrote out this recipe in her beautiful hand and mailed it to me in Canada. That's how important it was. And is. We still use her recipe.
If you're brave enough to try this, don't worry. You will have plenty of time to make polenta while the Baccala is cooking. Just for interest's sake, here is how we do it.
Step 1...Get your partner to take it outside or into the garage and beat it with a wooden club until it has broken up a bit.
Step 2...Put the broken fish into a plastic tub or bowl and just cover with tap water. Leave for about 2 days.
Step 3...When you're ready to begin cooking it (in the morning) take it out of the water. It will have broken up quite a bit.
Step 4...In a good-sized pot, saute together in oil a chopped onion, a chopped leek (not the dark green tops) and 5 or 6 cloves of garlic, sliced. Now add a can of anchovies. They will break up almost immediately.
Step 5...Add the Baccala, breaking it up as best you can with a wooden spoon. Add a cup or 2 of squished canned Italian plum tomatoes, and a bit of salt and pepper. Add a bit of water, just to cover the fish.
Step 6...Let this simmer on low-med. heat for as long as 4 hours, continuing to break up the fish and adding water as necessary. It should end up being flaky.
Step 6...Near the end of the cooking time stir in some chopped parsley.
Step 7...Just before you serve it, stir in about a cup of milk and let it heat again.
Step 8...Serve it over polenta, just made (soft) or roasted.
This will last for days. I'm warning you, you have to make it if you want to taste it, you certainly can't buy it anywhere.
It's not difficult to do, just time-consuming. But if you know anyone who grew up in that north-eastern part of Italy they'll cry when you serve it to them.
Cooked in this fashion it is known as Baccala alla Vicentina.
Be sure you don't buy salt cod.
In bocca al lupo!!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Red Cabbage Side Dish

This is a good side dish on a wintry day, though it can be a lovely accompaniment to a meal whatever the weather. It goes particularly well with pork-- sausages, spareribs or a roast. It is also easy to make and doesn't require that you stand over it. I have been served this or the same thing but made with green cabbage or savoy cabbage by women from different parts of north-eastern Italy. It seems quite universal.

Take out a good-sized frying pan or a dutch oven and put a little oil (canola) into it.
1. Take 2 or 3 slices of pancetta (Italian rolled bacon, not smoked), cut it into dice, and saute slowly in the oil.
2, Add one good-sized cooking onion, diced.
3. Add 3 or 4 chopped or sliced cloves of garlic, more if you like. (I do.)
4. Take a nice big apple, peel and core it, and slice or chop it up as well.
Let all this saute together as you slice the cabbage.
Cut the cabbage in half or quarters so that you can remove the core.
Now slice it into about 1/4 in. slices and add to pan.
Put a lid on it for a bit, to allow the cabbage to steam. Now there's not so much of it.
Now here's the flavour trick--add a few capfuls of red wine vinegar and some salt. The red wine vinegar is essential, and you can add more as you taste, but go easy at first....you can't take it out.
If need be you may add a bit of hot water every now and then if the mixture gets too dry, but it probably won't if you've used pancetta. The fat is still in there.
Cook slowly, uncovered, for at least an hour. Taste. Adjust the flavouring--the vinegar and the salt. I add a sprinkle of sugar, giving the dish that sweet and sour flavour which is traditional in some families, as is a faint touch of clove.
The longer you cook this the less the ingredients will be distinguishable, which is not a bad thing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chicken Cacciatora---Chicken Stew

This is the newest version of Chicken Cacciatora, from Marcella Hazan.It is lighter and has fewer ingredients, but is very easy to do.

Chicken Cacciatora
Marcella says to buy a 3 to 4 lb. chicken cut into 6 or 8 pieces. Then you have a variety of cuts.
But since my husband won't eat any store-bought chicken, if I do this I use chicken breasts only, as I always have them on hand in the freezer.

Chicken pieces( 4 to 6 breasts, left whole or cut in half or thirds) or these plus a few legs and/or thighs.
2 T. oil
1 cup onion, thinly sliced
2 peeled garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Salt and Pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine (not too dry)
1 1/2 cups chopped very ripe fresh tomatoes OR canned Italian plum tomatoes, peeled.
1. Choose a pan that will subsequently hold everything.
2. Wash and dry the chicken pieces.
3. Put the oil and the onion in the pan and cook on medium until they become translucent.
4. Add the garlic and the chicken pieces. Cook until they're a nice golden colour on both sides.
5. Add salt and pepper and the wine. Let it simmer until half of it has evaporated.
6.Add the tomatoes , turn down the heat to a gentle simmer, and put the lid on slightly askew. Turn chicken pieces periodically, and if the liquid is getting low, add a bit of water. Should take about 40 minutes.
Serve with polenta, or potatoes if you must.
Buon Appetito
P.S. Someday I'll tell you why he doesn't eat store-bought chicken.

Beef Stew

I've just posted the recipe for Adriana's Pork Stew, which is wonderful, but of course there's always Beef Stew and Chicken Stew, both of which go equally well with polenta.
Here is Marcella Hazan's beef stew recipe, which we also like very much. (See Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking) You must follow her recipe exactly, and do not (as I did the first time) revert to making it the way your mother did. This is better! Delicious and even--dare I say it--elegant!

Beef Stew with Red Wine and Vegetables
As always, read this over before you begin.

Oil (Canola) for browning
2 lbs. boneless beef chuck cut into 2 in. cubes (or buy lean stewing beef).
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 onion, cut into about 1 in. pieces, or 1 lb.small white onions
4 medium carrots (I don't add these but you can and probably should.)
4 celery stalks
1 and 1/2 pkgs. frozen peas, thawed (more if you haven't added carrots)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and black pepper.

1.Put some canola (or vegetable) oil into your pot. Choose a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid.
Make sure the meat is well dried, then brown on all sides in the hot oil, making sure to add only enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Do successive batches as necessary, lifting out with a slotted spoon and placing on a plate.
2. Pour the fat out of the pan, pour in 1/2 cup of the wine and simmer for a few moments while using a wooden spoon to loosen the bits on the bottom. Remove pan from heat.
3. Peel the little onions and cut a cross in the root end of each one OR chop the big onion. If using carrots, cut them into sticks about 1/2 in. thick and 3 inches long.
Split the celery stalks lengthwise and cut into short sticks.
4. Now add the browned meat cubes, the onions, the olive oil, and the remaining cup of wine. Cover and turn heat to low.
When the meat has cooked for 15 minutes add the carrots (if you're using them), and after another 45 minutes, add the celery and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Continue cooking until the meat is tender when prodded with a fork. Then add the peas. Let everything cook together for another 15 minutes.
All together this stew should take about 2 hours to cook depending on the quality of the meat.
This recipe, like all stews, will taste even better when prepared a day or two in advance.
Notice that there are no tomatoes in this recipe!

Now serve this with freshly-made polenta as I described earlier, or with slices of grilled or roasted polenta.
This one is a winner!

Adriana's Pork Stew

Winter Stew--the ultimate comfort food. But not your usual beef stew.
I remember telling you that I would give you some ideas for dishes to serve with polenta, something with lots of sauce. This pork stew, which I learned from Adriana many years ago, has been a mainstay in my kitchen every fall and winter when its chilly and rainy or snowy outside. It is very easy, and unusual. Since Adriana didn't measure ingredients, neither do I, so amounts are approximate. But don't worry, you cannot mess this up. Whatever you do, it will be delicious.

Adriana's Pork Stew
Buy some pork stewing meat and trim it well of excess fat, or buy a pork butt roast and cut your own stew meat. You will need about one inch square pieces of meat.
Put a little oil (I use canola) into the bottom of your pot and when it's good and hot, brown the meat. Remember Julia Child's tip--make sure each piece is dried off or it won't brown, it will just sort of boil in its own juices.
Remove the meat and add to the pot one onion and two green peppers, roughly chopped, not too small. Saute until onion is translucent.
Now put the meat back in.
Add a can of peeled Italian plum tomatoes, more or less to your taste.
Put in a couple of Bay leaves (I have a tree in my backyard).
Now here's the kicker! Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, and some salt. Taste it. Maybe it needs more vinegar or more salt.
The vinegar gives the stew a delicious, unusual flavour, and serves to tenderize the meat. I sometimes add as much as 1/4 cup.
Now add 3 or 4 potatoes cut in good-sized chunks, depending on how many people you're feeding.
Simmer for at least one hour. Check for doneness. Continue simmering.
This is a one-pot meal, with the addition of a salad or sliced cucumbers or tomatoes dressed lightly with oil and vinegar.
Isn't it delicious! Thank you, Adriana, wherever you are.