Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Suppers: Italian Pot Roast

Hello my peoples.  Crazy how another week has flown by, huh?  Here in New York we had two glorious days of fall, and then it was back to the parallel alter-universe of disgusting, extra-seasonal weather that we've all come to love to hate.  Rain and sweat and yuck.

But let's just pretend, for a brief moment, that we are indeed experiencing a glorious fall day: the weather is crisp, the leaves are turning the landscape into a vibrant watercolor, and we have the undeniable urge to throw on chunky sweaters and sip hot spiced cider.  Mmmm.  This is the ideal weather for a pot roast!

Stracotto means "overcooked," an unfortunately dull and misleading adjective the Italians have used to describe this decadent, melt-in-your-mouth meat dish.  I went to my cooking bible, The Joy of Cooking, for this one and am glad I did.  When it comes to the intersecting planes of soupy, saucy, and meaty, the Rombauer-Becker clan have got you covered.  I only changed one thing, which was the amount of fresh herbs used.  I dialed those way up, since herbs are not only delicious but full of excellent antioxidant properties, good for staving off that autumn chill.

Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto) - adapted from The Joy of Cooking
8 to 10 servings

3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup packed parsley leaves, chopped
10 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 boneless beef pot roast (4 to 5 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt

 1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery rib with leaves, chopped
4 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf

2 1/2 cups dry red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups beef or chicken stock
One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and crushed


In a small bowl, mix the garlic and herbs.  Set aside half the mixture and mix the rest with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the black pepper.  Make about 10 deep slits all over the pot roast and stuff them with the herb and oil mixture.

Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add the roast and brown on all sides, about 20 minutes.  Be careful not to let it scorch.  Remove the roast to a platter and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.  Sprinkle the roast with salt.

Return the pot to heat and add the onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms, and bay leaf.  Cook until the onion is lightly browned, then add the herb mixture and cook another 30 seconds.  Add 1/2 cup of the wine and the tomato paste, and boil until the pot is almost dry.  Then stir in another 1 cup of wine and 1 cup of stock.  Reduce to less than 1/2 cup.  Finally, add the roast back to the pot, along with the rest of the wine and stock, and the crushed tomatoes.

Bring to a gentle simmer and cover the pot. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting so that the liquid barely simmers and cook for 2.5 hours.  Turn the meat every 30 minutes or so.  When the roast is tender, move it to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.  Skim off any fat from the sauce and take out the bay leaf.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  If the sauce seems too thin, boil it down for a few minutes until it reaches the desired consistency.  Slice the meat about 1/4 inch thick and serve it with the sauce.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Suppers: Chicken Tetrazzini

For our make-more-to-store meal this week, I was looking to do a big, hearty chicken-noodle situation, and after numerous searches it became clear that the best bet for a rib-sticking casserole would be a dish named after the Italian opera star, Luisa Tetrazzini, for whom this was created circa 1910, legend has it, at the Knickerbocker Hotel in NYC.  Sweet!

There is no universal standard for this dish, but all recipes out there agree on a few general parameters: non-red meat (i.e. chicken), mushrooms, butter, cream, Parmesan, sherry or wine, and noodles.  My version is a slightly healthier version, with milk instead of cream and minimal cheese.  Even still, the aromas emanating from your oven will be as rich and palatable as a Puccini aria!

Chicken Tetrazzini (printable recipe)
serves 6

a 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
3 celery stalks, with the leaves
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large Spanish onion, peeled and halved
1/2 bunch thyme

1/2 pound broad egg noodles

5 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) unsalted butter
8 ounces mushrooms, destemmed and sliced thin
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Sherry
1 cup cream/milk
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmesan


Prepare the chicken: Combine the chicken, celery, carrot, half of the onion, and the thyme in a large pot with enough water to cover it by 2 inches, and bring to a boil.  Salt generously, and reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the chicken is tender.  Remove the meat from the broth and let it cool on a plate.  Separate the meat from the skin and bones, returning the skin and bones to the broth, and shred the meat into small pieces, reserving it.  Simmer the broth until it is reduced by half, then strain it, discard the solids and skim the fat, and boil the broth until reduced to about 2 cups.

While the broth reduces, cook the noodles in a kettle of well-salted boiling water until just al dente and drain well, reserving a cup of the pasta water.

Prepare the sauce: Chop the remaining half onion.  Melt the butter over medium heat and add the chopped onion and sliced mushrooms.  Cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle in flour, mix well, and cook about 2 minutes longer.  Add sherry and turn heat to medium-high to burn off the alcohol.  Stir in the reduced broth, milk and nutmeg, and simmer until slightly thickened.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Warning: your broth will already be well-salted, so don't go crazy.  Generous pepper is recommended, though.)

Assemble the dish:  Preheat the oven to 350 and oil a 3-quart casserole dish.  In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, noodles, and sauce.  If the mixture seems too dry, add a little reserved pasta water, just a splash at a time, to your liking.  Turn the mixture out into the prepared dish and sprinkle the top with the Parmesan.  Bake in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is slightly golden.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Midweek Munchies: Maple-Chili Peanuts

I've had the same half-empty (or is it half-full?  I guess it depends on where you fall on the optimism spectrum.) bag of peanuts sitting in my refrigerator since I used them to make a peanut sauce in the spring, and tonight I decided to finally do something with them.  See, I'm a bit of a compulsive cleaner.  So if something has overstayed its welcome in my fridge (or closet, desk drawer, etc.), it's time to either make use of it or give it the boot.  Luckily for these peanuts, I was feeling generous tonight and so I saved them from a sad and certain death at the bottom of the trash bin.

I think this preparation would work great with other nuts (or mixed nuts, if you're fancy fancy like that), so don't feel you must limit yourself to peanuts.  There's a whole variety of nuts out there in the world - and how!

Maple-Chili Roasted Peanuts
(makes 2 cups)

2 cups (8 ounces) shelled peanut halves
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Toss ingredients until the peanuts are evenly coated and spread in an even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake until lightly browned, about 12 minutes.  Let cool before serving or storing in an airtight container.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Suppers

Hey people, I'm baaaaaaack...

Sorry for the nearly summer-long hiatus.  I guess even though Dan and I didn't take a honeymoon per se (that comes later - Thailand in January!), we kind of checked out of the universe for a time.  But now Dan's back to school, and I'm back to reality, so let's get cooking!

Since Dan is taking pre-med classes mainly in the evenings, I've been strategizing ways to keep him nourished and away from the automatic takeout loop.  The answer, I'm finding, is in casseroles.  Big hearty dishes that I can make in bulk on Sundays, to be reheated at a moment's notice and last the whole week long.  So I'm hereby instituting a new series on the blog, which we'll call Sunday Suppers.  How bout it?  Maybe this will finally slap me into a steady cooking routine, something I've fallen off the wagon with in the past, say, two years.  That's what happens when you cook for a living, I guess.  Hmm...

A few words about this recipe: You can most definitely make them using the more traditional ricotta filling if you'd prefer, but I went the cottage cheese route because, a) it's much easier to find tasty cottage cheese than it is to find good quality ricotta (Polly-O, O no!), and b) it's packed with double the protein, making this much more filling without all that extra fat.  Great for those long nights in the chem lab (for example).

Meaty Stuffed Shells adapted from recipe by Heidi Swanson
(serves 6 to 8)

zest of one lemon

1/2 pound ground meat (beef, turkey, or a beef/pork/veal blend, all good choices)
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (Calabrese is the best, if you can find it)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoons dried oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 16-ounce container 4% milkfat cottage cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 cup (about 5 oz.) grated mozzarella
1 bunch chives, finely chopped
large pinch of salt

25-30 jumbo pasta shells (Ronzoni makes nice ones)


Oil a 13 x 9 inch (or equivalent) 3 quart baking dish and sprinkle with half the lemon zest.  Put up a big pot of pasta water to boil and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the sauce, heat a saucepan over high heat and add the meat.  Break up with a spoon as it browns and cook until no longer pink.  Add the red pepper flakes, garlic, and some salt, and cook another minute or so.  Add in the tomatoes and oregano, lower to medium, and cook covered about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking.

To make the filling, combine the cottage cheese, egg and some salt in a bowl.  Mix well until smooth and combined, then stir in 1/2 of the mozzarella, 3/4 of the chives, and the rest of the lemon zest.

Cook the shells according to the box instructions in salted water until al dente.  Be careful not to overcook or the shells will fall apart as you fill them.  Drain and let cool until you can comfortably handle them.

Spread 1/3 of the sauce across the bottom of the baking dish.  Fill each shell with the cheese filling, arranging them in a single layer across the dish.  Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells and sprinkle with the rest of the mozzarella cheese.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then another 15 minutes uncovered.  Sprinkle with the remaining chives and serve hot.

Print the recipe