About Mastering and Enjoying Home Cooking. Drink, Cook, and Live Well!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Chicken Tomato Vegetable Soup

This is low fat and very hearty. You can make it as spicy as you like.

4 Boneless breasts of chicken, chopped
2 Quarts chicken stock
3 Cups of cold water
1 Large yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper
4 Sweet carrots, chopped
2 Small yellow crookneck squash, chopped
1 Can red kidney beans
1 Can white butter beans
1 Cup string beans, chopped
2 Cloves crushed garlic
Pinch of red pepper flakes
White and black pepper
2 Teaspoons onion powder
1/2 Teaspoon sage
2 Bay leaves
1 32-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 cup Ditalini pasta

Cut up vegetables, add stock and water. Add spices, beans, garlic, cut up chicken. Bring to a boil then simmer three hours. Add pasta and cook until pasta is al dente. Serve with a good sour dough bread.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Spanish Chicken with Olives and Wine

This dish was modified from an original recipe that was acquired by Katherine Ottesen, my mother while on vacation in Spain. She barged into the kitchen and refused to leave unless they shared the recipe. It is bursting with solid Mediterranean flavors. It is a whole meal, easy to prepare and cooks in one hour. All that is needed is good bread to make the meal complete although we usually serve it over steamed white or brown jasmine rice.

1 Chicken, cut up or legs, thighs, and wings (4 pounds)
1 large can of pitted black Californian olives (may also want to consider half and half with green olives as a variation.)
4 Vine ripened large tomatoes, quartered in wedges
2 Green bell peppers, sectioned into 1/2 slices, seeded and stemmed.
(or 1 green bell pepper and 1 yellow bell pepper, etc.)
1 Cup of dry white wine
2 Cloves of crushed garlic
1 Large yellow onion, peeled, coarsely sliced
2 tablespoons best cold pressed olive oil (i.e. best virgin olive oil rich in flavor)
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Smoky Spanish paprika (pimentón) to taste (optional)

Cut up chicken into pieces, sauté at 350 (medium) in butter and oil in a large skillet (equipped with a lid) until lightly golden brown. (Drain of excess oil.) Add pepper and a little salt. Add wine, garlic, then cover the chicken with all the other ingredients. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook one hour. Toward the end of the hour look at the liquid level. Partially crack the lid to allow the sauces to thicken somewhat – not absolutely necessary but a thicker sauce will help concentrate the flavors. When done, taste the sauce and correct the salt as required. Also add Spanish paprika optionally. (You may choose to remove the vegetables and chicken from the pan so you may turn up the heat to thicken the sauce by driving away excess moisture; in this case, platter the chicken and vegetables and pour over the thickened sauce.) Serve either with fresh Italian Bread or steamed rice or both.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Enhancing Savory and Flavor

Glutamate (the Umami taste) has a long history in cooking. Fermented fish sauces, rich in glutamate, were already used in ancient Rome.

Some sauces, ferments, condiments are similar and maybe used together or individually regardless of their country of origin. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a form of an amino acid called glutamic acid is used in many Asian cultures as a flavor enhancer. While people are quick to point out MSG still has salt, using some MSG reduces the amount of salt needed for the same level of salty taste by 40%. Monosodium glutamate used to be produced by a process involving wheat and formerly was not gluten free giving rise to the urban legend that MSG gives people stomach problems eating at Chinese restaurants. At this point, international and national bodies for the safety of food additives consider MSG safe for human consumption as a flavor enhancer. Aged cheese are high in both glutamate and sodium, so they deliver many of the same delicious effects, without the MSG. Parmigiano-Reggiano is a prime example.

Many of these sauces and condiments are salty as umami is enhanced with salt. Salt varies considerable in many of these products just look at the range seen in types of soy sauce.

Salt in Commercial Sauces
Seasoning or Sauce
Chinese Maggi Seasoning Sauce
European Maggi Seasoning Sauce (from an extract of corn gluten and soy protein mixed with water)
Thai Golden Mountain Sauce similar to Maggi. Uses two flavor enhancers but no MSG. The flavor enhancer disodium guanylate is, according to Wikipedia, "produced from dried fish or dried seaweed" to create the taste of umami.
Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
Knorr Liquid Seasoning
Kitchen Bouquet Browning & Seasoning Sauce
Lee and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce (Anchovy Sauce)
Soy sauce made from soy and wheat (tamari)
Low Sodium Soy Sauce Kikkoman
Black Soy
Mushroom Soy

Here are some of my commonly used seasoner in my kitchen. (If only I had a bigger kitchen sigh...)
In this picture, left to right, Chinkiang Black Rice Vinegar (a characteristic smoky flavor), Black Soy, Tamari Soy, Kitchen Bouquet, Marin (sweet rice wine), seasoned rice vinegar, brown rice vinegar, Mushroom Soy. When buying these, generally the more it costs the better it is. The best brown rice vinegar from Japan is rare and expensive as 100 year old balsamic,and usually taken as a health tonic. Brown and black vinegars have high concentration of essential amino acid. Medical researchers now believe it is the amino acids present in vinegar that are partly responsible for its medicinal effects.

Common flavor enhancers include fish sauces, shrimp sauce, tomato paste, shrimp paste, bean paste, vegetable pastes, dried shrimp, soy sauce, Nestlé Maggi seasoning sauce, oyster sauce, dried  mushroom, amino acid products, vinegars, wine, sherry, port, brandies, onion family vegetables including garlic, broths, stocks, demi-glace, fruit pastes, meat extract, cheese, and ground nuts. Nestlé Maggi seasoning sauce is a dark-colored, vegetable protein-based sauce that is different depending in which country it being sold. Kitchen Bouquet is a browning and seasoning sauce primarily composed of caramel with vegetable flavorings made in the US and first shown in Europe exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1889.

A good example of a wide mix of flavors is the recipe for my steak sauce. My recipe uses tamarind paste, orange rind, raisins, lime, Kitchen Bouquet browning sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar, peppers, onions, herbs, spices and vinegar. (See my cookbook page) It shows a complexity but a complimentary result.

Reductions sauces are prime candidates for complex flavor enhancers. For a great steak or chop I often make a reduction that is flavored with red wine, dried mushrooms (prefer porcini), some type vinegar or balsamic, maybe port, herbs, shallots and a demi-glace or stock. A hint of Worcestershire Sauce, tomato paste or some other sauce may also be used. These reductions are easy to make and are not expensive and the result is a high quality gourmet experience.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken)

This Sichuan dish may well be the world's most popular Chinese dish. It is also one of the few Chinese dishes that have largely remained authentic worldwide. A blend hot, sweet and sour - this delightful chicken dish is also quick to prepare. The chicken slices easier if it is slightly frozen.

5~6 Boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into thin bite sized pieces
3 Cloves of garlic, minced finely
1 Tablespoon finely minced peeled ginger
10 scallion, sliced on the diagonal into 1 inch lengths
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
Handful of whole dried red chilies (show courage)
1 Teaspoon toasted ground Sichuan peppers added just before serving
2/3 Cup toasted peanuts

For the marinade:
2 Teaspoon Tamari soy sauce
1 Teaspoon sweet rice wine or Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1½ Teaspoon cornstarch
1 Teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon water

For the sauce:
2 Teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoon cornstarch
1 Teaspoon Mushroom soy sauce
1 Teaspoon Tamari soy sauce
2 Teaspoon Chinkiang (Black rice vinegar) or seasoned rice vinegar
1 Teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 Teaspoon Marin
1 Tablespoon chicken stock or water

Pick out any black seeds and stems from a tablespoon of Sichuan pepper berries and discard.(It’s just the hulls we grind.) Heat a small pan until hot and toast pepper hulls until fragrant (30 seconds or so). Turn out into a mortar or grinder. Grind into a not too course grind. Set aside.

Prepare garlic, ginger, and scallions. Assemble the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Cut the chicken into thin bite sized pieces. Thin strips cook quickly and maintain tenderness when flash cooked in a hot wok. Add the marinade ingredients and stir in the chicken pieces. Let marinate 15 minutes.
Into a hot wok, add peanut oil and then toss the chilies until fragrant. Add and stir-fry chicken for several minutes until nearly fully cooked. Now add the ginger, garlic, and spring onions and stir-fry another minute. Stir the bowl of sauce ingredient then add to wok. Thicken the sauce then add peanuts. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with ground Sichuan peppers. Serve immediately.

1.       Sichuan (Schezuan) Pepper aka Prickly Ash - This pepper is not actually a member the pepper family. It has a unique aroma and flavor that is neither hot nor pungent; rather it has lemony flavor and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth that enhances chilies usually used with it. Only the outer husks are used; the shiny black seeds are discarded as they have a hard gritty sand-like texture. Husks are stemmed then toasted before mortared or ground then added to the dish just before serving. Sichuan pepper are one of the traditional ingredients in the Chinese spice mixture five-spice powder and also Japanese shichimi togarashi, a seven ingredient seasoning often found as a shaker on the condiment tray of your Asian noodle shop. Shichimi togarashi is made typically with equal parts each of ground red chilies and ground sansho (berries of the prickly ash tree related to Sichuan pepper) plus one portion each of the following: dried orange or yuzu peel, black sesame, white sesame, ginger, and nori flakes. Due to their lemony undertones, this pepper works well with duck, chicken and fish. Sichuan culinary history reaches all the way back to the Ba and Shu kingdoms in the 21st to 5th centuries BC. During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), a 50 volume cookbook was published. Despite its reputation to the contrary, not all Sichuan food is red-hot. Of the eight major culinary cuisines in China, Sichuan cuisine is perhaps the most popular throughout the country and across the world.
Sichuan (Schezuan) Pepper aka Prickly Ash

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New York Meatballs

Not once in the seven years I lived in Italy was I served meatballs. The Italian-Americans may have made these popular but no place more so than New York. There are several meatball shops every few miles specializing in meatballs. The best of these grind their own meat. As any fine cuisine, the finest ingredients make the best product. Virtually all the Italian recipes I have seen use bread as a tenderizer but its Italian bread that has some chew and texture. Substitute Sourdough bread if you cannot find Italian bread.  Italians use their bread stale then soak it in water. Freshly ground bread crumbs will do the job just as well. Chef Lidia Bastianich’s dredges the outside of the prepared meatballs in the flour until lightly coated so that they get a crispy texture when fried. Most meat balls finish cooking by simmering in sauce, which defeats a crisp outer layer. Cheese is a common ingredient to add flavor. Mario Batali’s meatballs use pecorino Romano while other chefs use Parmigiano Reggiano. Universal to most other recipe is one egg per  1 ½ pound of meat, Italian parsley, diced onion, minced garlic, crushed red pepper, herbs and spices. Most recipes include pork and ground beef, or just pork. The upscale meatball might also include veal. I have made this recipe to include lamb, beef and pork to maximize its flavor. A mixture with too little fat will be necessarily dry and less flavorful. Ribeye steak and Boston butt have the requisite amount of fat. Most of the fat renders when baking. Mario Batali make simmer his meatballs in a suace without a oven or frying, hence excess fat renders into that sauce.

½ Pound of ground ribeye steak
½ Pound ground Boston Butt Pork roast
½ Pound ground lamb shoulder
1 Egg, beaten
3 Cloves garlic, minced
1/3 Cup grated pecorino cheese
Chopped Italian parsley
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon water
1 Teaspoon Worchester sauce
1 Cup fresh breadcrumbs from sour dough (more for more tender)

Toast these spices (below) until fragrant and then grind in a spice or coffee bean grinder
1 Teaspoon paprika
1 Teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons Herb de Provence
1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 Teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 Teaspoon black pepper
2 Teaspoon sugar

Have ready a simmering quart of great tomato sauce or ragu to simmer the meatballs once baked.
Prepare meat ingredients. Toast spices then grind. Mix spices into meat. Make a sample meat ball and fry in olive oil. When cooked, taste meatball and correct the seasoning as necessary.

Line a tray with tin foil for easy cleanup. Make golf-ball sized round meatballs and space just ½ inch apart on a foil lined tray. Place meatballs in refrigerator for 40 minutes to firm up. 
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake meatballs on tray in oven for 30 minutes. Using tongs, place meatballs in a baking dish and gently simmer in a prepared tomato sauce or ragu for 15 minutes more.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What about Canola Oil?

We are on the brink of a possible human extinction trends driven by the food industry. At its root is genetically modifying food, which is driven by corporate greed not for the benefit of humankind. Examples include Monsanto1 engineered corn to be resistant to crops grown with the use of Monsanto’s Roundup, a non-specific potent herbicide. Thus, Monsanto's GM corn grown has a toxic chemical right inside every corn kernel. In a recent scientific study, a shocking 70 percent of female rats died prematurely when fed GMOs. Fifty percent of males died early. Almost all of them died from cancer tumors.

The word "Canola" was derived from "Canadian oil, low acid" in 1978. The name was coined partially to avoid the negative connotations of genetically modified rapeseed 00 - A product known as LEAR (for low erucic acid rapeseed).
Since then, the low euricic acid rapeseed plant has been genetically modified to incorporate genes that confer resistance to glysophate (the herbicide Roundup from Monsanto). Unless it is labeled organic, almost all canola oil in the USA is GMO and grown using Roundup to control weeds. Glysophate degrades only very slowly and eventually has to end up as a contaminant in canola oil. Canola oil is typically extracted and refined using high heat (470oC), pressure, and the petroleum neurotoxin and carcinogenic solvent hexane. Most canola oil undergoes a process of caustic refining, degumming, bleaching, and deodorization, all using high heat and questionable chemicals. Currently the FDA sets no limit to the amount of hexane that can be in a food.

There have been no long-term studies on canola oil but it is still suspect but it may be ok as a bio-fuel or lubricant.  Seriously, would you buy olive oil that was processed with gasoline?

GMO labeling was introduced to give consumers the freedom to choose between GMOs and conventional products. Support the right to know by supporting GMO labeling.

  1. Biotech giant Monsanto has been declared the Worst Company of 2011 by Natural Society for threatening both human health and the environment. The leader in genetically modified seeds and crops, Monsanto is currently responsible for 90 percent of the genetically engineered seed on the United States market. Outside of GM seeds, Monsanto is also the creator of the best-selling herbicide Roundup, which has spawned over 120 million hectacres of herbicide-resistant superweeds while damaging much of the soil. Despite hard evidence warning against the amplified usage of genetically modified crops, biopesticides, and herbicides, Monsanto continues to disregard all warning signs.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Practical Knives

If you were a painter, you would not want a mop to paint with; likewise, a chef does not want dull knives. The type of knives you buy is important.

There is easy-to-sharpen and hard-to-sharpen. The hard to sharpen probably hold their edge longer but the easy to sharpen need less work to get an edge. Thin knives with non-wood handles are easy to maintain, last longer, and take a keen edge. High carbon steel is actually the best performer providing more toughness and the ability sharpen easily with minimal effort. High carbon steel is not stain resistant. It can rust and will discolor from use. Old high carbon steel kitchen knife blades will actually become dark which is purely cosmetic and does not detract from their performance and are relatively inexpensive.

High carbon stainless steel is a good stain-resistant steel. It has a high content of carbon for hardness and still enough chromium to keep it looking great. High carbon stainless will take a sharp edge but requires a greater effort to sharpen than high carbon steel. It is the most popular steel type used in high quality kitchen cutlery. The Japanese knives use an alloy and heat treatment that produces a harder thinner blade requiring more maintenance and the European knives produce a softer thicker blade requiring less maintenance.

Stainless steel or surgical stainless steel has less carbon and more chromium in the alloy. It is very resistant to rust and stains but not hard enough to maintain the best possible edge. This type of steel is used most often in department store knives. Typically, the angle on these knives is about 50 degrees meaning a thick edge, which is another compromise versus durability. Knives with high vanadium content can take a very keen edge, but are very hard to sharpen.

Here is a picture of some of my Kiwi brand Thai knives that are over 20 years old. They go through the dishwasher and yet are in good shape.
Kiwi and Kom Kom knives are from Thailand and feature thin blades. The Thai chefs love their knives. The knives have a wooden handle and stainless steel blade. Whether you are a serious gourmet chef or value-conscious weekend cook, Kiwi brand offers the best quality and value in knives.  These knives are super sharp and very easy to sharpen using a sharpening stone or hone.  Kom-kom makes an excellent Chinese style butcher's cleaver but I actually use a Chinese cleaver like this one.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guacamole Avocado Dip

This authentic guacamole dip is simply a favorite of our guests and truly superiorly made with fresh Hass avocados.  California has a large population of permanent Mexican residents and migrant workers.  Because of this, there is an abundance of great authentic Mexican cuisine in California available border to border.  No self-respecting Mexican establishment would serve guacamole dip without cilantro and chopped tomatoes. Great served in a molcajete [Mole - kah - HEE – tay] the  Mexican version of the mortar and pestle.

3 Large peeled and diced Hass avocados
1/2 Red onion, diced fine
1 Large glorious sun ripen tomato, seeded and chopped
3/4 cups finely chopped cilantro
1/2 tablespoon vinegar (to retard oxidation)
Juice from a lime
4 cloves finely diced crushed garlic
1/2 - 1  finely diced fresh red jalapeño pepper1
Correct the seasoning with pepper and salt

Molcajete for Serving
Chopped tomatoes into fine chunks no larger than ¼ inch cubed discarding the seeds and watery portions.  Diced the onions, chopped the cilantro, crush and dice the garlic. Chopped a whole or half of a jalapeno pepper depending on how much heat you want.  Peel 3 large avocados. Combine all ingredients (except salt and pepper) by coarsely hand chopping but do not overly so.  The guacamole should be somewhat chunky. Correct the seasoning with pepper and SALT. Guacamole should not be salty as the chips usually are. Serve with chips of your choice.
The acid from the vinegar and lime helps prevent the guacamole from turning off-color. (Skip vinegar if serving right away.) If not serving the guacamole right away, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.  The resting period will enhance the flavor of the dip and allow the garlic time to permeate the mixture.

Guacamole is useful as a garnish on any Mexican platter and is useful in burritos as a heat moderator for hot and spicy ingredients. Serve with fresh corn tortilla chips - homemade are the best.

  1. Jalapeño peppers have moderate amount of heat while Serrano peppers a lot less in case you want to tone it down. Use green if you cannot find red ones. The white ribs inside the pepper provides almost all of the capsaicin which may be trimmed away to reduce heat.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Vichyssoise or Leek and Potato Soup

The culinary origins of Vichyssoise, if French or an American invention, is debated by chefs but generally if the soup is served cold it is referred to as Vichyssoise and warm as Cream of leek soup. No matter what it’s called, it is wonderful and one of my favorites. This is also a base soup from which many cream of  xxxx soup may be made.

4 medium Leeks, white sections, washed well
1 medium potato, peeled
White pepper
Pinch fleshly ground nutmeg
1 cup good clear chicken stock
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 cup heavy cream

Use just the white portions of the leeks and cut lengthwise in half. Wash all traces of dirt away. Sauté the chopped white part of the leeks in butter. Cut up and add the potato, sauté gently for ten minutes, then add chicken stock. Cover and cook on low until the potatoes are just done (al dente) (15-20 minutes). Process the soup to smooth with a post blender. Add white pepper, pinch of nutmeg, and cream. Correct salt level.

Serve warm or cold with a sprinkle of very finely chopped chives.

Spiced Bananas Flambé

 This recipe is not unlike Bananas Foster which is made from bananas and vanilla ice cream, with the sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. The Café de Paris French dessert Crêpe Suzette, consisting of a crêpe with a caramelized sugar- butter sauce, was a precursor to Bananas Foster created almost 100 years later by chef  Paul Blangė at Brennan's - New Orleans. To make this more Caribbean (think Martinique where the French first grew bananas) use rum instead of Brandy and use Orange Curacao liqueur.  Have a match handy to ignite the alcohol.

2 Firm ripe bananas split length wise down the middle.
4 tablespoons of turbinado or Demerara sugar (natural brown sugar)
1/2 cup of Napoleon Brandy
3 tablespoons of sweet butter
Top each banana slice with a mixture of ground cinnamon, allspice and cloves
¼ cup Contreau or orange Curaçao or Triple Sec

Heat a frying pan on medium high. Cut bananas down their middle length-wise. When the pan is hot, add the butter, and, when melted, add the bananas cut side down on buttered surface. Sprinkle each banana with a tablespoon of sugar. When the bananas begin to clear, turn each slice over carefully so as not to break the slices. Again, sprinkle each banana with a tablespoon of sugar. Cook for several minutes then add Contreau and Napoleon brandy. Hold back your face from the pan and use a long match to ignite the fumes. If you have a microwave above your cook top, you may want ignite the fumes when the pan is away from the cook top. When the flames settle down, return the pan to the cook top. Cook to reduce liquids to a thick bubbly sauce. Use a spatula to carefully remove the bananas to the serving plates. Spoon some sauce over each banana.

Bananas and the resulting caramel sauce can be used to top a premium vanilla or pecan ice cream.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chicken Hunter Style - Pollo alla Cacciatora

The chicken is the “hunter style” the Roman way (bianco) and it is modestly simple. If you were from Tuscany, they would tell you the dish is Tuscan, and the Sicilians from Sicily. Every one loves this one. Mario Batali makes his with tomatoes but for me, there is no place for tomato in this dish. One does not typically “hunt” for chicken unless poaching the neighbor’s yard. The dish is based on wild rabbit, which was loved well but was not available in the dead of winter.

One 3 pound chicken, cut up into pieces
1 Cup or so small whole boiling onion, peeled
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Sprigs of rosemary, stemmed, chopped
4 Tablespoons olive oil
Crushed red pepper
Salt to taste
1 Cup or more Italian dry white or red wine

Heat olive oil in a fry pan equipped with a lid. Add onions and sauté on low, turning often, until onions take on some color. Remove onions for later. Add crushed red pepper to oil and chicken pieces. Sauté the chicken, turning pieces as they cook until lightly golden on all sides. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute.  Add back onions. Add wine and cover. Simmer 25 minutes and more wine as necessary as chicken needs to simmer with a little liquid to braise. To finish, remove lid on pan. Correct seasoning. Raise heat to reduce the pan’s sauce. Serve with rustic Italian bread like Casareccio.


1.      Casareccio means bread made at home. In Rome the most representative version is made as Pane casareccio di Genzano

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Abruzzese Bucatini alla Amatriciana

This dish is named after Amatrice, a mountainous town on the border between Lazio and Abruzzi, 2 hours northeast of Rome. On the Sunday after Fer Agosto, August 15 (Market Day), Bucatini alla Amatriciana is the corner stone dish for local celebrations and uses the long, hollow Italian pasta (bucatini, literally means small hole.) No self-respecting Roman restaurant would dare leave this dish off the menu, but it is often made with other types of pasta, including rigatoni or spaghetti.

"Fair August" is one of the most observed Italian public holidays when practically all of Italy grinds to a halt. For some reason, unknown to me, around the coliseum in Rome is a favorite hangout at this time.

1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 ounces of guanciale (cured hog's jowl), finely diced (substitute ½ pancetta, ½ salt pork)
3 Tablespoons sweet butter or 50-50 with olive oil
1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ teaspoon or more crushed red peppers to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Romano pecorino cheese
1 pound bucatini pasta
A little chopped basil

Heat a large covered pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Taste the water to insure salt level. Initially, under salt as the cured pork product is very salty and so is the pecorino cheese.

Sauté the onions in melted butter until limp and nearly transparent. Add the peppers and guanciale and sauté until onion is golden about 8 to 10 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and cook over medium-high heat stirring occasionally. Make sure sauce does not burn, cook about 15 minutes. Correct seasonings

Cook the bucatini in rapidly boiling water until “al dente.”

Drain pasta well, and combine with sauce. Toss well for at least a minute. Turn out on a warmed serving platter, top with cheese, garnished with fresh chopped basil.

  1. Normally, in August, we are at the height of the tomato growing season when fresh tomatoes are at their best. The San Marzano region near Naples is considered one of the best tomato growing regions in the world, and cans stamped with the DOP seal signifies that it contains only those tomatoes grown in the province of Salerno, vine-ripened, peeled and tender. These make a good substitute for fresh.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Vegetables the Roman Way

The Romans have a way with vegetables that always seems to elevate them to a higher plateau. For example, simple peas are combined with a bit of prosciutto and onions to punch up their appeal. Adding a few ingredients can highlight your vegetables and greatly promote their flavor.

Its important that the vegetables are fresh and not over cooked – after that, your imagination is the only limit. Think about color, texture and flavor. Bland textures can be improved by toasted bread crust crumbs, nuts; bland flavors can be enhanced with garlic, onions, smoked meats, bacon, salt-pork, vivacious cheese like parmesan or pecorino, salty cheeses, herbs, lemon, balsamic or mint. Many of the better dishes have at least three ingredients like any of the following:

Artichokes, garlic, olive oil, anchovies
Roasted peppers, balsamic, onions
Tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil, olive oil
Spinach, toasted pinenuts, eggs
Rice, parsley, garlic, olive oil
Cauliflower, mint, toasted bread crumbs
Cannellini beans, basil, red onions, fava beans, peas
Steamed carrots, garlic, basil, oregano
Roasted red pepper, leeks, porcini mushrooms
Tomato, chunks of crusty bread, olive oil, vinegar, herbs
Sausage, salami, clams, scampi, sardines, lobster, crab

There is no end to the combinations – let yourself try whatever appeals to you!

I will try
Garlic, olive oil, wilted spinach, steamed Yukon Gold potatoes, vinegar, and herbs.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Celeriac, Leek, and Potato Soup

This soup is inspired by Laura Calder’s Celeriac Puree on her French Food at Home Episode. Celeriac (celery root) is often cooked in acidulated liquid or even milk to keep it white. The slight lemon flavor enhances the natural flavor of the root vegetable. The final ratios of the three vegetables determine the soups flavor. The potato adds a creamy mouth feel while butter contributes richness.

Burpee Seed, Celeriac, Brilliant
1 Large celeriac, peeled, chopped
1 Bay leaf
Juice from half a lemon
2 cups low fat milk
4 Whites of Leeks, split, washed, chopped
1 Medium Yukon Gold potato, chopped
3 Tablespoons sweet butter
White pepper and salt to taste
1 Cup chicken stock
½ Cup heavy cream or more to taste

In a large pan, combine celeriac, Bay leaf, lemon juice, and milk. Cook covered until tender. Drain and discard liquid and discard bay leaf. Sauté leeks and potatoes in butter until leeks are clear but do not brown. Add chicken stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer 25 minutes. Add cooked celeriac and blend with a hand blender, until smooth. Season with salt and white pepper. Blend with enough cream to make the soup elegant, do not over dilute as cream thins the flavor.

To add additional richness try adding a tablespoon of classic roasted-chicken-demi-glace.