Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Very Simple Veal Stew with Polenta

This really is a lovely dish. The veal is mild. The sauce is mild. Even without the polenta, it's delicious on its own. Or with a bit of noodles or mashed potatoes on the side which, in the past, is how I would usually serve it. But this time, I wanted something a bit "lovelier" that would complement but not overpower the simple stew. Polenta with a bit of beef broth and Parmesan did the trick.

I have made this recipe for years. I have no idea where I got it. I did a few quick searches on the Internet and found one on All Recipes, but I know that's not where I got it. Five or so years ago, I included it in a "family cookbook" I gave away as gifts. A similar recipe appears in the vintage "Antoinette Pope Cookbook."

If you're like me, you ask yourself how a simple recipe of meat, onions, a bit of garlic and tomato sauce can work. Well, it does!

Veal is not always easy to find. And, like most meats, it has gone up in price. Sometimes, a supermarket will cut up veal it can't sell into "stew meat" at a lower price. That's the time to snatch it.

I had intended to make the polenta in advance so it could "set up." I thought I'd slice it and give it a quick sear in a pan. But "loose" seemed the way to go. 

Rosemary can be overpowering, so be careful. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Plate #2 in a series of six that I painted many, many years ago.

Serves 2-3. Easily Doubled
  • 1 lb. veal stew meat, patted dry
  • 6 tablespoons tomato sauce (canned is just fine)
  • 1/4 cup dry, white wine
  • 1-1.5 cups diced onion
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1, 3-inch rosemary frond
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil/butter

Melt a bit of butter and olive oil in a skillet. When sizzling, add the veal and brown. Remove from pan and set aside. You may to do this in two batches. It's not necessary to cook the veal all the way through.

Add onion to skillet and cook just until they begin to soften a bit. Add the garlic. Stir until fragrant. Add the tomato sauce and wine. Add a bit of salt but more pepper. Add the thyme. Reduce to low and simmer for about 1.5-2 hours, covered. About thirty minutes before serving, add the rosemary sprig.

  • 1.5 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta (I use Red Mill)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
  • Pepper
  • Smoked paprika (optional)

Bring beef broth, water and salt to a boil. Using a whisk, slowly whisk in the polenta and lower heat to medium. Stir for 15 minutes until thick. Hold the whisk firmly while stirring. The easiest way to do this is to make a fist and insert the handle into it. This gives you more leverage without tiring your hand.

I have to say . . . I do love plain old McCormick black pepper.

Remove from heat and stir in butter and pepper. Add cheese and stir until melted and incorporated. Pour into a lightly buttered/oiled small loaf pan. At this point, I lightly sprinkle a bit of smoked paprika on one half. Cover with cling wrap and allow to "set." You can make this ahead and refrigerate. When ready to serve, slice and fry in a bit of olive oil just until warmed through.

This will make more polenta than you need for this recipe of veal stew. I like the paprika half to use with the stew. The other half I will slice for leftovers.

Yep, I licked the plate!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pasta with Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, Spinach and Sage

The days are shorter; the nights, cooler. Salad days are waning. Melons are disappearing from grocery-store shelves and farm stands. It's the season of chrysanthemums, monarch butterflies, school buses and summer memories.

When I have a hectic schedule, which means eating on the run, I reach the point to where I just want a good, filling, home-cooked meal. And one that re-heats easily for leftovers. Pasta always feeds those requirements.

Here, it is summoned with Italian sausages, spinach, mushrooms and earthy sage in a velvety and garlicky sauce that nourishes the most basic of hungers. And more.

Some tips about pasta dishes: it is imperative "to taste as you go." Salt a little at a time as you go through the recipe. Many pasta dishes can be bland, even with the brightest and most savory of ingredients, without the distillation of salt. Allow the dish to rest so the pasta can absorb the flavors and to allow the starches to thicken the sauce. As such, always keep a bit of the pasta water on hand or some extra stock to add as needed.

For this recipe, I used Johnsonville Italian sausages, three hot and three mild. I ended up using all but 1/4 cup of a 14.5 ounce can of chicken stock. Add the stock gradually to give the recipe time to absorb and thicken.

  • 1 lb. (about) Italian sausages (I used six links, hot and mild)
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 3 cups lightly-packed fresh spinach leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 20 fresh sage leaves, rough-chopped
  • Red pepper flakes, just a pinch
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1, 14.5 oz. low-sodium chicken stock 
  • 10 oz. linguine or spaghetti 
  • 1/2 cup (or more) Reggiano Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Butter

Bring to the boil a large pot of salted water.

In a large pan, fill with water just to cover sausages. Simmer about ten minutes. Remove to cool. Add the sausage water to the pot of pasta water. When sausages are cool enough to handle, slice into pieces. Add a bit of oil to the pan and cook sausage pieces just until brown. Remove.

Add a bit of oil and butter to the pan. Add the onion and cook until soft and just beginning to brown. Add the mushrooms and cook until they begin to reduce. Add the garlic and sage and stir just until fragrant. Salt to taste.

Add the cream and about one cup of the chicken stock. Simmer on low until it begins to thicken a bit. Add the sausage and allow to simmer. Taste and add more chicken stock/salt/garlic if needed, remembering that the pasta will mellow your sauce. At this point, I add a pat or two of butter. Last, add the fresh spinach and stir until wilted. Cover to keep warm.

Cook the pasta. Drain. Add the pasta to the pan, a little at a time. Mix with two forks. Add grated cheese and mix. If necessary, add a bit more stock as pasta absorbs the liquid. Also, taste for salt. Pasta can take quite a bit of salt.

Plate. Garnish with additional sage leaves. Serve. Enjoy!

Yes. I made the dish. The design is based on an Ojibway design I copied
from the Chicago Art Institute. I have six plates, different colors.

Notes: I used up a lot of leftover pasta for this recipe, including whole-wheat spaghetti. I'll do that again since I liked the visual play of textures. Add the thicker pastas to the boiling water first, then the thinner a minute or two later.