Monday, April 14, 2014

Sausages with Peppers, Onion, Tomatoes and Spaghetti

Sausages with peppers and onions couldn't be easier to prepare and it's one of those dishes open to interpretation. Me, I like to add mushrooms and sliced, black olives. As always, use a good Parmesan cheese or something similar. The Campari tomatoes add a fresh note and complement to the this dish without making it "tomato-y."

The simmered peppers and onions lovingly swirl around the seasoned spaghetti, punctuated by the specks of black olives. Don't omit the smoked paprika or smoked chipotle powder. Their smoky, autumnal flavor play nicely against the sweet tomatoes and blend beautifully with the fennel.

(I only serve about half of this recipe, saving the remainder of the sausage/pepper mix for leftovers to serve with another fresh pot of pasta.)

  • 1 lb. mild Italian sausages
  • 1 lb. Campari tomatoes (sometimes called cocktail tomatoes), sliced in half*
  • 12-16 ounces sliced peppers and onions (about one large red and green pepper and one large onion)
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 small can sliced, black olives, rinsed
  • 4-6 mushrooms, sliced
  • Smoked paprika or smoked chipotle powder
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 cup liquid (dry white wine, water, vegetable stock)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh grated Parmesan cheese or similar
  • Butter/Olive oil
  • 8 oz. spaghetti and one garlic clove, sliced

Spritz a large pan with cooking spray and brown the sausages. Remove. (It's not nessary to cook them all the way through since they will simmer on the stove top.)

Add about one tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. Add the peppers, onions, mushrooms and garlic. If using, add, red pepper flakes. Saute just until wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.

Add liquid and scrape up the brown bits from the pan. Add drained and rinsed olives and half of the sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle in the fennel seed. Cut sausages in half and return to pan along with any juices, nestling them down into the pepper/onion mixture. Lightly sprinkle with smoked paprika or smoked chipotle powder. Lightly stir through with a fork. Add a bit more butter, maybe 1-2 tablespoons.

Cover and slow simmer for about 20-30 minutes. If necessary, add a bit more liquid during the cooking time. About half way, sprinkle on some grated Parmesan and lightly mix through.

About 5-10 minutes before you're done cooking, add the rest of the sliced tomatoes (the others will have cooked down). Remove from heat and allow to set while preparing the pasta.

Salt a large pot of water. Add the sliced clove of garlic. When it boils, add your spaghetti. Return to the boil, lower heat a bit, and cook according to directions. When done, remove about 1/2 cup of the water and drain. Don't worry about saving the sliced garlic, it has already flavored the water and the pasta.

Return pasta to the pot. Carefully tilt the sausage/pepper mixture pan over the pasta to drain one-half of the juices into the pasta. Stir. Season with salt and pepper and 2-4 tablespoons fresh-grated Parmesan. Allow to sit for a bit so pasta can absorb the sauce. Add a bit of the pasta water to the pan with pepper/sausage mixture if you think it too dry.

To plate: Mound spaghetti on a plate. Top with pepper/onion mixture. Drizzle on a bit more liquid and lean two sausage halves against the pasta. Grate with a bit more Parmesan.

Notes: If you didn't want to serve this over pasta, omit most of the liquid, keep it a bit on the dry side and don't cut the sausages in half. Serve on crusty buns topped with Provolone lightly melted in the oven or under a broiler.

*I added most of my tomatoes at the beginning of the cooking process. You may do so, too. But I now prefer adding only half and the remainder towards the end so they hold their shape.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


First, a confession. I really don't like lasagna. Most are overpowering with their cloyingly over-reaching tomato sauces, most of which use way too much tomato paste. I'm never quite sure what I'm supposed to be tasting. And, then, I lump lasagna into the trinity of Italian foods: lasagna, pizza, spaghetti. Really, all three are basically the same: starch, tomatoes, meat. Maybe a few veggies. Of the three, I'll take a good pizza any day. So that's what I based this lasagna on: the tastes I like in a pizza that appealed to me.

I wanted a rich "sauce" that wasn't all tomato-y. I like black olives and green peppers on my pizza. So I added them. I love fennel. I love basil. Both are present in this recipe.

This is a rich-tasting lasagna from the long-simmered sauce. It is redolent with herbs, which includes the Ricotta, all of which plays nice with the pasta.

I highly recommend basil in a tube. It's a great product and keeps in the fridge for quite a long time. The taste is exquisite. There is no chopping. Often, the Ricotta layer in a lasagna is bland if not tasteless. The addition of basil changes all that.

I also love Barilla no-bake lasagna sheets. I love the rustic, homemade look. Just be sure to soak them in hot tap water for about ten minutes before using.

I like my sauce a bit on the thick side. If you don't, go ahead and add a bit more liquid toward the end of simmering. This also makes for a great sauce over spaghetti.

Don't skip on the garlic. One thing I learned from my Italian neighbor Rose, was to add nibs of garlic and splashes of water as the "gravy" simmers. 

Use quality canned tomatoes. I used Muir Glen organic, diced, fire roasted tomatoes. Go easy on the tomato paste and be sure to cook it a bit to soften the bitterness.

Go easy on the cheese. Nothing is worse than a greasy lasagna. In all I probably use a bit over two cups of grated cheeses. I used a pre-shredded artisan Italian blend. Lots of flavor.

And, yes, making a lasagna is a lot of work. I won't lie about that. But with proper planning and prep, it doesn't have to be tedious or confusing.

  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/4 pound Italian sausage
  • 1 meaty pork neck bone
  • 2 slices meaty, smoked bacon, trimmed of fat
  • 3/4 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon (scant) red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic and more for later
  • 1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 28 oz. (about 3 cups) diced tomatoes, preferably "roasted"*
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup water plus more as the sauce simmers*
  • 1 scant tablespoon Italian seasonings
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1 small can sliced black olives, drained, rinsed and dried
  • 1 - 2 good teaspoons brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 9 Barilla, no-bake lasagna sheets
  • Filling
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk Ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg yolk slightly beaten
  • 1 - 1 1/2  tablespoons basil paste from a tube
  • 1-2  tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano
  • 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella
  • 1 1/2 cups Mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan
  • 1 small can tomato paste for presentation (optional)
  • Parsley, for garnish (optional)

Heat olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven. Add onions and peppers and cook until onions are golden in color. Add garlic and stir just until fragrant. Push aside. Add pork bone and cook until browned on all sides. Add ground beef and sausage, cook, breaking up for about ten minutes or so, until its water has evaporated. Continue to cook until ground beef is browned.

Push meat mixture to side and add tomato paste. Cook for several minutes. Add Italian seasonings, red pepper flakes, fennel and a bit of wine, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot and until wine is evaporated. Pour in tomatoes. Rinse can with water and add. Stir. Salt and pepper to taste. Add brown sugar. Bring to a good simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often for about 2 hours or until sauce takes on a deep-red, mahogany hue, adding more water a little at a time, as needed, to maintain level of sauce as it cooks. If you are not using a heavy pan, be careful your sauce doesn't scorch.

You want the sauce thick, but not dry. Remove neck bone (yum!). You should have 3 cups sauce.

Prepare cheese filling. To the Ricotta, add the basil paste beginning with one tablespoon. Add the cheeses. Taste. Add more basil if needed. Now whisk in the egg yolk.

Soak pasta in hot tap water for a good ten minutes.

Lightly grease or spray a 10 x 7 or 8 x 8 baking dish. Spread a few tablespoons of meat sauce on the bottom. Cut pasta to fit pan. I used three sheets per layer cut width wise for a 10 x 7 dish.

Begin layering. Lay down three sheets of overlapping pasta. Spread pasta with 1/3 third of cheese filling. Sprinkle 1/3 of cheese on top. Spread with one cup of meat sauce. Scatter of few black olives if using. Repeat two more times ending with meat sauce and scatting Parmesan or Mozzarella on top.

Note the deep color of the sauce.

Lightly spray/grease a piece of foil and secure over finished lasagna. Bake for abut 30-35 minutes in a 375 F-degree oven. Remove from oven and remove foil. Raise oven temperature to 400 F and continue to bake an additional 15-20 minutes or until cheese melts and top is bubbly.

Remove from oven and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes before slicing. To serve, put a dollop of tomato sauce on plate and top with a square of lasagna. Sprinkle with parsley and grated cheese.

Before baking, I sprinkled my lasagna only with Parmesan cheese which created more of a crust.

Wonderfully seasoned. Moist. Not drowning in "sauce."

*If you'd like a "saucier" lasagna, simply add one 8 ounce can tomato sauce and increase the water or add another 14 ounce can diced tomatoes and increase water.

Notes: I used Sargento brand 6 Cheese Italian blend, 8 oz. or 2 cups and Gourmet Garden brand fresh basil paste usually found in the refrigerated section of the produce department.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Pot Roast with Dill Pickles and Mushrooms

Yes, you read it correctly. Pot roast with dill pickles! Strange sounding? Perhaps. First, some background.

I've been desiring to make this recipes since 1985! That's when I bought my copy of "The Frugal Gourmet," by Jeff Smith whose PBS cooking series took the nation by storm. It was Smith who introduced the country to the delights of the international community and their culinary contributions.

Smith's later and final years were besmirched with scandal, lawsuits, and out-of-court settlements. Be-that-as it-may, he has left us with a rich legacy of recipes that have, indeed, changed the way we cook and the ingredients we use.

This recipe is an example. It is typical Eastern European, specifically, Poland. 

The original recipe calls for several dried mushrooms resuscitated in hot water, the water strained and added to the pot along with the chopped mushrooms. I used fresh. Also, use a "briny" dill pickle. The briner the better. This a great recipe to use up that lonely, half-filled jar of pickles you have wasting away in your fridge. It also calls for one bay leaf. I'm not a believer in dried bay leaves or what they "add" to any recipe other than a, perhaps, artistic flourish.

When I make this again, I will use a few pepperocini peppers for a bit of "heat" or maybe one diced Fresno pepper for its red color and mild heat or, one long-Italian pepper, chopped.

After about one hour of a slow simmer, I could not stop myself from dipping lightly-buttered ripped chunks of crusty Italian bread into the broth. That was a meal in itself.

Pay attention to cooking time. You want the roast tender but still firm enough to slice. You can, of course, go over the recommended cooking time so that the roast "shreds." In that case, serve on crusty rolls with a bit of Provolone cheese on top.

This is a very forgiving recipe, as most "peasant foods" are. (It was Smith who introduced us to that term.) Carrots? Add some. A bit of celery? Why not? Taters? Of course.

  • 1, 2.5 - 3 pound beef roast. Smith suggests bottom or top round roast. I used a rump roast. Wipe clean with damp paper towel.
  • 2-3 tablespoons peanut oil.
  • 8 oz. chopped onion (a good one cup)
  • 8 oz. chopped baby bella mushrooms (not in original recipe, but a good, one cup.)
  • 8-10 oz. diced dill pickles (about 3-4)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, roughly chopped (not in original recipe)
  • 4-6 whole peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup beef stock (you will need more)
  • 1 cup sour cream--oh, YEA!

Place Dutch oven, large enough to accommodate roast and other ingredients, over medium heat until hot. Add oil. Brown roast on all sides. 

Using paper towel, absorb spent oil leaving behind the "burnt parts."

Add onion, mushrooms, pickles, peppercorns. Sweat just until tender. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant ... about two minutes or so.

Add beef stock. It should cover roast by half. Add more if necessary, or add water with
the beef stock. Bring to a slow simmer and simmer for about two hours or until just fork tender. Remove to a plate, covered with tin foil

Stir in sour cream to pot and continue to simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Taste for seasonings and add what is necessary.

Slice roast. Serve over fluffy egg noodles or mashed potatoes with plenty of rich sauce.

*Sorry, no pics of finished recipe. It was late and we had a sleet storm .. so it was very dark, indeed, to take decent pics.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Beef Soup with Mushrooms, Cabbage and Noodles

Comfortingly, somewhere between a soup and a stew.

Even though the cherry trees here in North Carolina are actually blossoming, it remains a bit nippy and soup weather is still on the radar.

Beef soups, it seems, are redolent with barley. I just wanted a strong, beefy broth with earthy overtones of mixed mushrooms and pinches of herbs here and there. And lots of wide egg noodles to slurp.

I love making soups. But I'm not good relating how I actually make them .... because, well, I'm always adding to them--such is the nature of soup making. Taste. Season. Taste. Re-season. Taste. Re-think. I had never really intended to add cream to this soup, for example, but the flavors begged for it and just mellowed all the wonderful ingredients.

And I love my stocks to simmer long. I mean really long .... like overnight. It's the only way to get hearty broths.

Finding beef bones is no easy task. It's much simpler to find chicken and turkey parts rather than beef. So I settled on strips of rib meat thinly-cut and readily available at my supermarket.

Cut off some of the meat to add to the stock later. Or buy extra meat.

If you don't want to mess with the consuming part of making your own broth, you could just skip to soup recipe portion of this blog and use a really good store-bought broth. The only one I would use would be Pacific. Most of the canned varieties are "tinny tasting" to me. If you have to use canned broth, sub in some water or, even better, some chicken stock.

To make the beef stock:

  • 1.5 - 2 pounds beef bones with meat
  • 1-2 slices raw bacon, cut up
  • 1 large onion
  • 1.5 stalks of celery, roughly cut
  • 1-2 carrots, roughly cut
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 8 cups, about, water
  • 2-4 small garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • several sprigs fresh thyme

Place beef in a large pot. Cover with water. Drain. Repeat several times until the water begins to run clear. (Alternatively, you may quickly brown the bones/meat in an oven and then add to the soup pot.) Once the bones and meat are clean, add rest of ingredients. Water should just cover everything by about an inch or so.

Bring to a simmer. DO NOT boil. Soup should never be boiled. It will turn cloudy. Remove any scum that rises to the top. Loosely cover and simmer for a minimum of four hours. After that time, cool, de-fat and strain and measure your stock. You want about 8 cups. If short, add beef stock and/or water. I try to avoid bullion cubes.

Overnight Method

If allowing your stock to simmer overnight, it will have reduced by as much as half but it will be wonderfully strong and have absorbed the taste of the slow-braised vegetables. I add about four cups of Pacific-brand beef broth and then bring the ingredients back to a good simmer. Allow to cool a bit, cook, de-fat and then strain your stock.*

Homemade beef stock. Wonderfully rich and amazingly nourishing.

To make the soup:

  • 8 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2-3 carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3/4 cup Half and Half
  • 8 ounces (a good one cup) snipped beef
  • 6-8 ounces wide egg noodles
  • 4 - 6 ounces mushrooms, preferably a blend, broken/sliced
  • 6-8 ounces (about 1.5 - 2 cups) sliced green cabbage
  • Thyme flakes, dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill and more for garnish
  • Caraway seed
  • Sour cream for garnish (don't omit)

In a large frying pan, melt a bit of butter with some olive oil. Add the meat, mushrooms, garlic and onion. Season with salt, pepper and a few pinches of dried thyme flakes. Once the veggies have sweated, add to stock along with 1/2 cup red wine and sliced carrots. Bring to a simmer.

Add noodles. Partially cover and bring back to a simmer. When noodles have softened, add the cabbage, a few pinches of caraway seed and the dried dill. Partially cover and return to a simmer. Taste and re-adjust seasonings as necessary.

Remove from heat and blend in the Half and Half. Taste and re-adjust seasonings as necessary.

To serve, ladle into large bowls with a dollop of sour cream and an extra sprinkle of dill weed. The garnish makes the soup, so please do not omit.

*To strain your stock: Dump into a large colander over a large bowl or use the same pot you cooked it in having made sure you rinsed it clean. Squeeze out some of the veggies. Next, strain that stock through a sieve. Finally, strain through a fine-meshed sieve. Yea, it's a lot of work ...