It’s been a while since I devoted an entire blog to sharing more of my favorite recipes. Since the last time, back in September 2014, I’ve discovered some new favorites and have had ample time to revisit some old ones. If I can tempt you into trying them, maybe they will become some of your favorites, too.
Co-favorite #1: Braised Lamp Italian Style and Braised Lamb Greek Style. Braised lamb – especially braised lamb shank – has always been a special treat in our house. As you will recall from earlier blogs, the best cuts of meat for braising are from the leg, the shoulder, and of course, the shank of the animal. Although there are three braised lamb recipes in this collection, it should come as no surprise that I tend to favor the Italian and Greek styles. The two recipes, in fact, are very similar. The major difference being the cinnamon in the Greek version. The Italian recipe also calls for more tomatoes, white wine, and chicken stock. Italian or Greek, the secret is to brown the meat first in a very hot pan (or pot), and then to simmer it nearly (but not completely) submersed for about two hours.
Green beans are the classic accompaniment to braised lamb. After blanching the fresh beans in unsalted boiling water for a few minutes, I add them to the pot during the last 15 to 20 minutes to finish cooking and to give them time to absorb some of the delicious braising liquid. I often also add some Idaho potatoes, but I recently discovered a pasta called Toasted Fregola (fregola tostata). It is a delicious addition to the plate, and as you can see in the photo, also helps create an impressive presentation. (The fregola is available from amazon.com.)
Favorite #2: Potato Soup with Bacon. One of my granddaughters asked recently if I knew how to make Potato Soup, specifically Potato Soup with Bacon. I told her I did not, but that I would learn. (This is the kind of challenge retired foodies like me dream about!) Not surprisingly, nearly every cookbook I own and every website I visited had a candidate recipe waiting for me. Except for the requisite potatoes and bacon, there were as many differences as similarities. Since I subscribe to the theory that in situations like this there are no problems, just opportunities, I quickly realized this was an opportunity to create my own version. Obviously, the final result passed muster with my granddaughter (and her siblings) or I wouldn’t be writing about this here.
Favorite #3: Cajun Style Gumbo. I first tasted Cajun food – not in New Orleans or even in Louisiana, but in Chicago – at an iconic restaurant called Heaven on Seven. It’s located on the 7th floor of an office building on Wabash Street under the famous Chicago El. I mention this because I know almost nothing about Cajun cooking, except how the better dishes taste. With some help from Chef Emeril Lagasse, I created a version of Cajun Gumbo years ago. I made it again a few weeks ago and was reminded how good it is. It is richly flavored with chicken thighs, andouille sausage, and crayfish tails. It is best served over a generous dollop of brown rice.
Favorite #4: Broccoli Rabe Pesto. Wandering the Internet, I stumbled across a recipe for Broccoli Rabe Pesto. Not to be confused with broccoli, broccoli rabe (rapini in Italian) actually is more closely related to the turnip. I particularly enjoy preparing and serving broccoli rabe because it’s slightly bitter taste is the perfect complement to many meat and fish dishes. So the thought of using it for a pesto sauce was an irresistible temptation. The recipe needed some work, however, making for another “opportunity”. After a first taste, I realized the pesto, combined with some goat cheese, would make a delicious bruschetta sitting atop some grilled crusty bread. With or without the goat cheese, it can also be used as a pizza topping or to dress your favorite pasta. Just add some pasta water, some extra virgin olive oil, a large dollop of pesto, and mix well.
Braised Lamb Italian Style
Braised Lamb Greek Style
Potato Soup with Bacon
Cajun Style Gumbo
Broccoli Rabe Pesto
Braised Lamb Italian Style with green beans and fregola tostada.
Potato Soup with Bacon.
Cajun Style Gumbo.
Broccoli Rabe Pesto with Goat Cheese.
P.S. You may have read that Italy’s olive harvest in 2014 was one of the worst in history. The Italians called it “the black year” (l’anno nero). Bad weather, an infestation of the olive fruit fly, and a disease sometimes called “olive Ebola” were responsible. Olive oil production fell by as much as 95% in some areas, and 40% in others. Fortunately, the latest harvest was much better, but still below the levels seen in 2013. All this means there is still less good Italian olive oils available, which then translates to higher prices – if and when we can find them.
There’s more! Bloomberg News reported recently that they found cellulose (wood pulp) in several brands of grated Parmesan cheese sold in the United States. The news article states: “Cellulose is a safe additive, and an acceptable level is 2 percent to 4 percent, according to Dean Sommer, a cheese technologist at the Center for Dairy Research in Madison, Wisconsin. Essential Everyday 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese, from Jewel-Osco, was 8.8 percent cellulose, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Great Value 100% Grated Parmesan Cheese registered 7.8 percent, according to test results. Whole Foods 365 brand didn’t list cellulose as an ingredient on the label, but still tested at 0.3 percent. Kraft had 3.8 percent.”
I’ve never understood how real cheese could be sold as an unrefrigerated product (i.e., grated and in a bottle or box), but maybe now I know!