Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pepper and Sausage Ragu with Polenta

This one comes from Serious Eats, who will provide all your recipe needs.

I'm not always a confident cook around meat. I end up making fairly few vegetarian dinners, but that's because there's always some chicken broth, or bacon, or pancetta, or the like. So going with a meal that's mostly Italian sausages? Out of my wheelhouse a little bit. I think I tend to overcook sausages, which is why I'm happy stewing them here. They're seared, and then cooked in this rich onion/pepper/tomato/wine sauce for a good half hour. An eternal half hour, I should say, because there's a lot of happy smells coming from this.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pizza night

Sometimes, you have elaborate plans to make dinner, but suddenly it's 8:30 and you're starving and the only solution is to order pizza. Hey, I'm leaving New York soon enough now, I think I can claim at least a certain degree of style by getting a slice. The next three slices I ate are less than 10/10 for style or good thinking. Whatever. My argument here is also undercut by my claim that pizza is better in Buffalo than in the city. And I stand by that.

More real food coming up this week!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings

Here's why I like online food delivery ordering: I don't need to actually voice my orders to a live person. This usually isn't a big deal, but it comes up when ordering Chinese, because there's always a part of me that only wants to order dumplings and egg rolls. This impulse is satisfied when you go for dim sum, where so much is in that form, but it's still a bit much to do over the phone. So sometimes I can get what I want shamelessly by ordering online. But more often, now, I get my fix of dumplings just by making them. My dough-working skills are always a little iffy, so, they tend to be on the homely side. But they are just what I want in dumplings otherwise.

They're longer on technique than ingredients: the dough is just flour, water, and salt; the filling this time is pork, cabbage, and egg, and sweet soy sauce, plus salt, pepper, and sriracha. Usually ginger, too, but I was out of ginger and subbed in a shallot, which changed the flavors a bit.

I've made dumplings with premade wonton skins too, which saves a lot of time and mess, but usually isn't quite as good. They're more noodly than homemade wrappers, which are more doughy and firm.

I use this recipe. Only modifications would be adding an extra half-cup of flour so that things are dry enough to work with. Other notes: it's really hard to save a damaged wrapper, once you roll it out and ends up holey. You can throw it out, or just accept that it will be slightly damaged. And I am unable to roll these so thin that the suggested 10/quarter is feasible. I ended up best around 8.

1/2 lb. ground pork
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 egg
1 tbsp. minced ginger (or shallot).

The filling ingredients get mixed together in a big bowl, most likely with your hands, because it takes some effort to get everything incorporated and even. To fill each dumpling, use only a small amount of filling, less than you'd think. Getting them to close properly is key and it's tough if they're overfilled. Since my wrappers were less than regular, I can't tell you how much goes in each, but just think small. Fold the ends together, and pleat to keep them closed. In my case, this tends towards mushing the dough around until it's closed.

Meanwhile, heat a small amount of oil in a nonstick pan until very hot. Add the dumplings to the pan, no more than fit comfortably: they can stick together, so leave space. Give them about a minute to sear, then add a half cup of water to the pan and cover with a lid. This will, of course, make your stove angry: boiling water and hot oil and all that. It will settle down quickly, and the trapped steam does most of the cooking.

When the liquid has boiled off, remove the lid and let the bottoms crisp slightly, another two minutes. Test one to make sure the pork has cooked through and lost its pink color; if not, let them sear a little longer.

I usually just eat these with soy sauce, although black vinegar also does the job.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Minestrone alla Romagna

This is almost an old family recipe. I say almost, because what I'm actually following is Marcella Hazan's recipe, which is a close imitator of my Italian-American grandmother's Manasta.
A note on spelling: my mother's family is from Southern Italy (Abruzzo to be precise), but they emigrated over a hundred years ago. So our current grasp on Italian is filtered through dialect and a hundred years of Americanization in Western New York and Pennsylvania. So we've called it manasta. I've read enough Italian recipes now to figure out the root (minestra=soup) and we seem to be in the same place.

Also, Romagna isn't anywhere near Abruzzo, so I don't know how the soups ended up quite so similar. It's way the heck up north. Oh well.


2 stalks of celery, diced
2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, sliced thin
1 potato, diced
1/2 lb green beans, ends snapped off and halved.
2 zucchini, diced

2 cups of shredded cabbage.
1 can of Italian tomatoes
Parmesan cheese rinds
Romano cheese.
salt, pepper, and olive oil
2 cans of beef broth


Consider the actual list of vegetables here only a suggestion. It's really rather flexible. But the goal here is to add them one at a time, giving each time to sauté before adding the next, about two minutes. I started with celery, onions, and carrots; then the potato; added zucchini and green beans; and finally the cabbage.

Once all that's warmed up, add in the broth to turn this whole thing into soup. The soup is flavorful enough that I usually end up adding water to cover everything at this point. Then in go the beans and the tomatoes (either a can of San Marzanos or a box of Pomi). Toss in whatever cheese rinds you have, they'll flavor the entire pot.

Now, we wait. Sadly, the soup is a solid two hours away from being done, and there's plenty of reducing to do. The soup shouldn't be water, but thick, with vegetables really integrated. You'll know when it's time, if you're not opposed to sampling as necessary.

Top with a little grated Romano cheese.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bruschetta with White Beans and Leeks

It's been a weird week, foodwise.

Between preparing for an exam and my wife's long hours preparing for her musical, we didn't have a lot of time to have regular meals, which meant a lot of takeout. Then, come Thursday, my parents arrived and started taking us out, which meant a quick snap from cheap takeout to fine dining. It all left me feeling a bit of digestive whiplash, so come Sunday night, it was time to cook something.

Of course, given that I knew this week is coming, I hadn't bought groceries this week, but I did spy some leeks we had in the fridge, intended for a dish I never got around to last week. After a quick check on the shelf life of fresh leeks, I had my featured fresh ingredient. Plus, my mom has started baking bread and had given me a loaf.

So that's how we end up here. I had a few ideas to combine; Otto's "lilies" bruschetta and Po's white bean version, and brought it together with some other pantry staples: pimentón and pecorino cheese.

It's simple, it's easy, it required nothing out of the house, and it was a strong-flavored, vegetarian Sunday night dinner.


3 leeks, sliced thin.
1 can white beans, drained.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp pimentón
1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese
Chili flakes

You'll also need good, dense, chewy bread in some form, sliced and lightly toasted.


Heat olive oil in a skillet, and add the leeks. Add salt, pepper, and chili flakes, a pinch of each. Cook until softened over low heat—about ten minutes. Add the drained beans, and stir to combine. Continue to cook for about five minutes, until the beans are warmed up. Turn off heat, and stir in the cheese. Add the pimentón. Spoon over toasted bread. If you've got it, top it off with truffle oil—real truffle oil, only.