Sunday, November 4, 2012

Skirt Steak with Porcini Red Wine Reduction

Recently I joined a book club. Last month I was given the chance to choose the book. I chose Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford. Buford basically lived my fantasy midlife crisis, and wrote a book about it. He accounts his experience meeting Mario Batail at a dinner party, quitting his day job, going to work at Mario's three-star restaurant Babbo in New York City. After apprenticing at Babbo for a little over a year he journeys to Italy on a quest to learn traditional Italian cooking from Italians who have been passing down their family recipes for generations. I found the book thoroughly entertaining and very inspirational. Buford starts his journey wanting to know more about cooking, and along that route he comes to make much more profound realizations. In my own experience these cursory realizations often come when you aren't looking for them, and those realizations mean a great deal more. I came to a few of my own revelations while reading Buford's book.

The notion of moving to Italy and learning traditional Italian cooking is among my most idyllic fantasies. Buford's portrayal of how Italians approach cuisine is fascinating. In his research he finds that these traditions have not changed much over the last 500 years since the recipes were first recorded. He describes the food and cooking as being an integral part of the Italian identity. His account is pretty much how I have romanticized Italian culture. What I find so intriguing is how these traditions are passed down from generation to generation and carried out, not by chefs, but cooks. These cooks are grandmothers, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. Their understanding of regional cuisine seems to be socially ingrained and a source of identity and pride. Each of the cooks, for whom Buford apprentices, has a broad understanding of their region and heritage that is strongly bound to their culinary traditions. Each is truly a master of their craft, specializing in specific areas of these traditions: pasta, fish, meat, butchery, wine making, bread, and olive oil. What particularly strikes me is that each of these masters expresses their concern that the industrialization of food is threatening these traditions. Which, to them, means the loss of their cultural identity.

For some time now I have been thinking about my own philosophy on food. Something I strongly believe–resonated by the characters attitudes in Buford’s book–I believe food brings people together. I think about this from an evolutionary standpoint. Food is what kept humans together in herds, packs, or tribes tens of thousands of years ago, hunting and gathering and preparing shared meals. Gatherings centered around food are deeply symbolic and meaningful to most religions and cultures around the world today. The Last Supper, Passover Seder, and Thanksgiving to name a few. I ponder our traditions here in the United States. As a relatively new culture, composed almost entirely of immigrants originating from longer standing cultures, we too have culinary traditions much like those in the various regions of Italy. However, our traditions were largely brought with us and not developed out of what was plentiful in the areas we now live. This, I believe, has both positive and negative effects on the culture surrounding food in the United States. The demand for ingredients that are not native or require special applications to produce has given rise to industrial agriculture. Shipping this food around the country and in from other countries requires a tremendous amount of resources and has a considerable impact on the environment. This demand all but ensures the mass production of foods that are not fresh, preserved with unnatural ingredients, and missing the point of the original application.

On the upside we have this collective of culinary traditions, to draw on, to use in our own inspirations. We have the freedom to create from these traditions our own unique interpretations without the pressure to adhere strictly to the traditional ways. I once rejected the idea of Fusion Cuisine. The concept is often overemphasized, especially where that label is applied. I am certainly not advocating that we start putting soy sauce on tacos (although I believe there is probably a chef out there who is doing just that, and making it taste good.) And, understanding and preserving some of the traditional aspects of the originating culture is essential to shaping our own. We are in the beginning stages of our own culinary renaissance: New American Cuisine. Consideration for where our food comes from, how it is produced, and what is in it should be at the forefront of this movement. This is our opportunity to embrace the traditions of America’s cultural melting pot and integrate them into our own collective cultural identity.

*  *  *  *

How does Bill Buford's book tie into this recipe? While the inspiration for my post came long after I prepared the pictured dish, the answer is: very loosely. Buford mentions some of the sauces on hand in the Babbo kitchen. One piqued my interest immediately, a brown sauce made using a porcini reduction. He never explains how the sauce is made, so I searched the internet. One thing that many recipes on the internet, usually intended for home cooking, often lack is sauces. I find sauces to be a bit of a challenge due to my lack of experience with them. My search didn't turn up much except the idea to use the soaking liquid from dried Porcini mushrooms along with red wine and butter. I have used the soaking liquid from dried porcini in wild mushroom risotto. The soaking liquid has an extremely rich earthy flavor and aroma not at all uncharacteristic of mushrooms. So, the idea for the sauce came first. Then I began to think about what might go well with this sauce. Skirt steak. I had eaten skirt steak earlier in the month. I'd never cooked skirt steak before, but I've eaten plenty at restaurants. Skirt steak is not one of the most tender cuts, but it is probably my favorite in terms of flavor. The cut is used a lot in fajitas, but often overcooked. Marrinated, seared, and served rare to medium-rare is the best way to present this cut of beef.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bumper Crop 2: Zucchini Frittata

Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables, maybe just behind chard. I think its versatility is what I like so much about this tender summer squash. My general rule of thumb with this vegetable is: the smaller the better. I love early summer when you can sometimes find baby zucchini. Baby zucchini are wonderful slightly browned in olive oil and tossed into pasta with basil and tomatoes for a light lunch. In South Africa zucchini are called marrows. When I was there visiting my sister I picked up a simple recipe for Marinated Baby Marrows which is essentially thinly sliced or julienned zucchini dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. Served cold, the salad is wonderfully refreshing on the hottest of summer days.

Late last June I got a chance to have brunch at a terrific restaurant in Oakland called Camino. One thing that makes Camino particularly special is that most of the food is cooked in a wood fired oven. The stand out that morning was the zucchini frittata. Typically when I've made a fritatta they have been rather thick, between 1 and 1 1/2 inches usually filled out with something like potatoes. The zucchini frittata served at Camino was served quite thin, perhaps 1/2 inch thick. Although I thought it unusual, this made a lot of sense. Zucchini contain a lot of moisture. If one were to make a deep frittata with lots of zucchini it would become a soup and probably never set. Also, wood fired ovens tend to be very hot and I would imagine that the top would scorch before the center was cooked. I was quite impressed by the simplicity of the Camino frittata and made note of it. Later in July I gave it a shot. My frittata turned out fantastic! My recipe may differ somewhat in its ingredients, and execution given that I don't yet have a wood fired oven, but I am none the less pleased with my take on Camino's Zucchini Frittata. I served mine over sliced heirloom tomatoes and grape tomatoes dressed with olive oil, but I would try it with arugula or spinach or even alongside roasted potatoes. As with most frittatas they can be served hot or at room temperature.

(Recipe for Bradley's Zucchini Frittata follows)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bumper Crop 1: Zucchini Bread

What do you do with a bunch of giant zucchini's from the garden? I've found a few good uses for the abundance of zucchini that came from my garden last year. These summer squash (I know this is a little late) can grow from a perfectly usable size to something bearing more resemblance to a skinny watermelon in a blink. Often the larger zucchini lack a little in flavor, so I'm not advocating that you grow them so large. If you truly want the best flavor harvest them when they are between 5 and 6 inches long. Zucchini bread is probably my favorite use for the larger zucchini you'll end up with if you aren't paying attention.

Zucchini bread is really a cake. It is quite sweet and I find it rather addictive. Make sure you have someone to share this with because it is hard to stop eating it once you've sliced off that first piece. I've perfected my recipe for Zucchini bread since last summer. I found a balance of white and brown sugar that seems to work quite well. The best way to show off this bread is to use the best cinnamon you can find. I get mine from here ( This cinnamon is the sweetest most fragrant cinnamon I have found. Trust me it makes a huge difference in any dish calling for cinnamon.

Recipe for Bradley's Zucchini Bread follows

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Duck, Duck, Chicken!

Chicken Ragu and Home Made Gnocchi

Many of my recipes are inspired by something I’ve been served at restaurants or a friend's table. It is the challenge to recreate a dish in my own way that I find so intriguing, but sometimes my inspirations don’t turn out anything like what I first envision. This recipe is the result of several mistakes and a lot of persistence. My muse for this recipe came while having dinner at a nice restaurant on Polk Street in San Francisco. On the menu was a ricotta gnocchi served in a pork ragu. I have always wanted to try making gnocchi and a simple ragu seemed like just the thing for a first attempt at gnocchi.

My original idea was for a potato gnocchi in a duck confit ragu. I figured the duck would make a fine substitute for pork. Both are rich, flavorful, and fatty meats. Since this undertaking was planned for a weeknight I thought starting with confit would save a lot of time where pork would take many hours to braise and become tender enough for ragu. I still think my intuition was reasonable, but I made some crucial mistakes in my approach and hastily procuring the ingredients. I knew this the moment I opened the hermetically sealed vacuum bag containing two dry overcooked duck legs almost completely devoid of fat. The ragu wasn’t going to work out. No amount of braising would bring this foul back from its state of cooking induced rigor mortis.

My next mistake was thinking that since I’ve become very good at making fresh pasta the gnocchi were going to be a cinch. Wrong! I way underestimated the amount of time necessary to roll out a full recipe of gnocchi. While I rolled out the gnocchi I allowed the ragu to simmer uncovered. This required several additions of wine and chicken stock to keep the ragu from turning to paste. As the liquid reduced the flavors became far too rich and unbalanced. As for the potato dough, I lacked a crucial piece of equipment. I used a potato masher which left chunks of potato in the dough that made for an irregular texture. A potato ricer would have produced a much more uniform texture. The potatoes were also too wet which required too much flour to bring them into a dough. This gave the gnocchi the wrong texture and taste of doughy raw flour instead of a firm texture with distinct potato flavor.

I served the gnocchi that night, but I wasn't satisfied with the results. I may have taken on too much at once. I gave some more thought to my attempt: I still had half a batch of gnocchi in the freezer. All was not lost. Later that week I decided to try again at the ragu. This time I aimed to correct the balance of flavors. I decided to use chicken in place of the duck. Minding the cooking time for the sauce and keeping it covered made all the difference. The gnocchi were of the wrong texture, but still edible. The ragu, however, was delicious!

This will not be my last post concerning gnocchi. I'm still looking for a better source of duck confit. I still need to procure a potato ricer, and get more practice making the dough and rolling out the gnocchi. While not everything went as planned I did end up with a recipe that I feel quite proud of and have made several times since. While producing an incredible dish is always the ultimate goal in my culinary adventures it is the lessons like these that serve to humble my skills and remind me of why I find cooking so fascinating.

(Recipe for Chicken Ragu follows)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cumin and Coriander Crusted Pork Chops

I have been eating a lot of chicken lately; I have kind of fallen in love with Thomas Keller's roasting method. It is just so simple. I think it is actually less effort than pan roasting pieces of chicken, but even roasted chicken can get uninteresting after a few meals. Last week I was about to buy another whole chicken when I saw some beautiful bone-in Pork Chops with nice big pieces of the tenderloin still attached. If you like pork chops you want to be sure you get them with the tenderloin, after all, it is the best part of the pig next to the belly. Another nice thing about pork chops is they are relatively quick. This recipe makes a terrific weeknight meal in less than 40 minutes. Brining the chops will help ensure they stay juicy, but if you are careful when cooking them this recipe will yield delicious and tender chops even if you don't have time to brine.

Recipe for Cumin and Coriander Crusted Pork Chops with Polenta and Sauteed Chard Follows

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spiked Tzimmes

(Before baking)
This post is about four weeks overdue. I've been cooking, but I haven't been writing. It feels good to put the proverbial pen to paper. After about 10 days of actual spring weather, tonight, the rain is beginning to fall. I'm eating a leftover pasta dish that probably won't win a spot on the front page of Oakland Skillet. Tonight just feels like a good night for blogging.

As I'm sitting here looking over photos of the dishes I've cooked since my last post. There is one in particular that I have been wanting to share: my Spiked Tzimmes. This dish is rather out of season, save for the carrots, but there is a significance behind it that gives exception to my recent custom of shopping  farmers markets for what is in season. April 6th was Passover. I'm not Jewish, but I've been to a few Passover Saders before. I have always felt honored when invited to share in this cultural tradition. This year the invitation came from my girlfriend's family. Actually, there is some debate as to whether I invited myself. The conversation went something like this:

(Having dinner with girlfriend's parents. Things are going well. I'm pretty relaxed and feeling pretty confident.)

Girlfriend's Mother: "Have you been to a Sader before?"
Me: "Yes, two."
Girlfriend's Mother: "Have you been invited to a Sader this year?"
Me: "No. But if that is an invitation to yours then I accept."

(Two days pass) I realize that I didn't actually wait for an invitation and kind of stuck my foot in the door. It turns out it was more or less an invitation, but it does point out where I might lack some social graces, but I digress.

Along with the invitation came a "challenge", or at least I took it as a challenge. I was asked to bring a traditional Ashkenazi-Jewish stew called Tzimmes. Traditionally the stew is made with carrots and dried fruit, but other root vegetables are often added. I had about a week to research the dish and come up with a recipe. I found many variations, but having never eaten Tzimmes before I felt I had a little free license. I loved the idea of using dried fruit with sweet potatoes and yams. I was reminded of my step-mothers recipe for baked yams with bourbon spiked apricots. After reading more about the dietary rules for passover I'm not sure the bourbon was appropriate, but the combination of flavors is magnificent. Besides, Tzimmes is more traditionally served in the Fall during Rosh Hashanah when bourbon is probably okay (don't quote me on that). My version also adds dried cherries along with more traditional raisins, and prunes.

I was quite pleased with the outcome of my Tzimmes recipe. I think the addition of dried cherries and bourbon soaked apricots made this my own rendition.

Recipe for Bradley's Spiked Tzimmes follows

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I Hella ♥ Oakland Skillet

Chicken Roasted Pepper and Black Bean Soup with Avocado
I started Oakland Skillet to journal my explorations of food and share my recipes with my friends and family. (And, as a way of cutting down on the number of "Hey look what I made!!!" txt's I was sending out). I know it's been a few weeks since my last post, but I've been quite busy lately. I've taken quite an interest in the woman I've been dating. It is so easy for me to get absorbed in the excitement and loose track of what I'm doing for myself. Last night my sister reminded me how important it is to keep doing the things that made me happy before I entered this relationship. One of those things is Oakland Skillet. This project has, of course, reenforced some of my more established interests. More surprisingly, it has led me me to discover some that I previously snubbed.

First of all I want to thank all my Hungry Patrons for all of your praise and positive feedback. Nothing pleases me more than to hear that you are trying these recipes at home with great success. I've received Facebook messages from acquaintances I haven't seen in years. Phone calls from friends and family thanking me for inspiring for their dinner. At least one adventurous follower told me she made the Crispy Pata! Complements from my colleagues regarding my writing are among the most flattering. This blog has given me a lot to feel good about.

Oakland Skillet is not only a way for me share my recipes, it has become an outlet for me to demonstrate my creativity and foster my more expressive passions. Long before I found my passion for food I loved photography. Tying food photography in with this blog has forced me to see my subjects with a fresh objective. I will admit that I'm not as meticulous as I could be with the photography since I am always anxious to feast on the final product. I have shared a few of my photos from the Philippines in the Crispy Pata post and I'd like to continue to find ways to incorporate more of my photographs from my travels in upcoming posts.

Since starting Oakland Skillet I have come to realize: I like to write! I find the nonlinear potential of a word processor facilitates my re-reading changes and editing. These capabilities are very much in accord with the way I think. When speaking I can't go back and change what I've already said, but when I sit down to write I'm allowed to take my time and clarify my message. Writing provides me with a platform for articulating and expounding on my passions. I have struggled with writing all my life, but particularly in school. What might take the average student an hour to write would often take me a full day. I wrote it off as a weakness, telling myself that I wasn't fit for writing. I remember thinking when I started this blog I wasn't going to write long introductions in posts. I discarded that attitude while writing my second post: My Bread. Recalling what lead me to try that recipe for the first time and considering what a great experience I had in New York this past Fall was all I needed to get started.

I am really excited about this new relationship and it is the most adult-feeling relationship I have ever felt. I'm not going to promise a post a week or make any promise of any regular frequency. I am promising myself that I will remember to take the time I need with my own projects and see to it that I keep doing the things that make me such an awesome guy.


A recipe for Chicken Roasted Pepper and Black Bean Soup with Avocado follows

Monday, February 20, 2012

Artisan Pizza at Home

Pizza Funghi Pizza Trifecta

What I'm about to share goes against most of what I've read about making artisan pizzas. I'm becoming a really big fan of Jim Lahey and his simple bread dough methods. Several months ago I did a post (two actually) on Jim's no-knead bread recipe. The recipe blew my mind the first time I tried it and turned out a loaf that was every bit as good as the loaves from artisan bakeries. The recipe came from My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey. The book is proving to be an invaluable resource for bread related recipes. Recently I tried his recipe for Walnut Raisin Bread which was incredible. There are several more I still plan to try. I've been making fresh bread about 4 times a month with consistently delightful results since that first loaf.

A friend of mine wanted to come over and make Pizza for dinner last night. She suggested, since it was already 4:00 PM, that maybe we should buy a pre-made dough from Trader Joe's. I'm all for making delicious food simple and accessible, so that was not a bad suggestion. But, I remembered that Jim Lahey had a pretty interesting looking recipe for pizza and it didn't require a lot of time or work. I looked up the recipe and in less than 10 minutes I had assembled the dough. Two hours more would be required for the first rise and 30 minutes for the second rise. This would put the cooking time at 6:45 PM. Perfect!

What's the secret to homemade artisan style pizza? You don't need a pizza stone, balance and quality of ingredients, and Jim's dough recipe. We made two pizzas. The first a Pizza Funghi (mushroom pizza), the recipe for which basically came from Jim's book substituting shallots for yellow onion. The second pizza was what I'm calling Pizza Trifecta which is a three topping variation of the classic pizza margarita topped* with arugula.

We agreed that these pizzas exceeded our wildest expectations and were better than some wood oven pizzas we've had. It really was artisan pizza at home!

Recipes for Dough, Pizza Funghi (my way), and Pizza Trifecta follow.

Sometimes I Impress Myself

Sometimes I even impress myself. This time I understood what it means to make a dish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

I started with a vague idea of what I wanted to make: fresh pasta. I made my trip to the farmers market looking for ingredients that would inspire something truly extraordinary; after all I had an audience this time. I stopped by a tent at the farmers market that sells wild mushrooms. Many of the wild mushrooms seem fairly exotic to me. One variety I found particularly intriguing was the Hedgehog mushroom. The ones pictured in the link must be a bit more mature than the ones I bought, I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of the mushrooms I ended up with. These mushrooms are quite delicate with thin stems and a nice golden color on the cap. When I asked the farmer if I could taste a small piece he informed me that eating uncooked wild mushrooms is a very bad idea. Apparently some wild mushrooms can be poisonous when eaten uncooked. I'm so glad I asked. He described the Hedgehog as similar to Chanterelles with a little more sweetness.

When I returned home I looked for a simple pasta recipe that made use of mushrooms and some of the other produce I picked up. I consulted one of my favorite cook books Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home by Mario Batali. I found a recipe for Fettuccine with Oyster Mushrooms, Sweet Garlic and Arugula (page 204). This recipe was a perfect place to start. I just needed to make a few substitutions including the Hedgehog mushrooms for the Oyster Mushrooms. Luckily I also bought Arugula as a backup salad option.

The dish was spectacular!

My Recipe for Fettuccine with Hedgehog Mushrooms and Arugula follows

Friday, February 10, 2012

Stinging Nettle Pesto

I've been having such a good time at the Grand Lake Farmers Market lately. I've never shopped at a farmers market so consistently. I've become a lot more adept at negotiating the stands and finding the best produce each has to offer. I am really, truly, starting to see for myself which fruits and vegetables are in season. I was so used to shopping the big grocery stores where things come from all over the world and everything is sold all year. I never really knew which things belonged together. Using fruits and vegetables that are in season has completely changed the way I feel about my food. Fruits and vegetables that ripen in the same season I now find naturally complementary. The farmers market has given me the opportunity to branch out, get creative, and appreciate where and who my food comes from. It would seem like an epiphany, but the chefs I revere have been saying this for years.

Last week I visited the Grand Lake Farmers Market and bought some of the usual things (for this time of year), carrots, chard, broccoli rabe, and oranges. I actually wasn't feeling inspired until I had already made most of my rounds. Then, on the Grand Ave. side, one of the tents was selling Stinging Nettle or Nettles. I've had contact with Stinging Nettle, as a boy, while playing near creeks in Tilden Park. If you are unfamiliar with Stinging Nettle, they have little hairs all over the leaves and stalk. The hairs are very fine and hollow. They penetrate skin quite easily and deliver a histamine that causes a stinging sensation and rash. Nettles are not to be touched!

I was recently at a party talking to strangers (also something from my childhood that I wasn't supposed to do, that I do now). They were telling me about forging for mushrooms in Tilden Park. One of them said she also collects nettles there. I had no idea that this plant was edible; I was very intrigued. She explained that blanching them would break down the chemicals in the plant that caused the stinging and that nettles are really quite good. Nettles have a bright green flavor similar to that of baby spinach. But, where to get them? I don't have a lot of time to go forage for nettles. I've never seen them in a grocery store.  There they were, ready to take me on my next culinary adventure. This is why I love the farmers market!

A recipe for Stinging Nettle Pesto and Home Made Fettuccine follows

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Crispy Pata

Back in the summer of 2007 I had an incredible opportunity to visit my Mom while she was living in the Philippines. She was teaching at Foundation University in Dumaguete City, Province of Negros Oriental, Philippines. You might not think of the Philippines as a culinary destination, but the culture certainly has its share of treasures. Probably the most celebrated dish would be Lechon, which is a whole roasted pig. I was lucky enough to be served Lechon on three occasions during my five week visit. Lechon is usually made for very special occasions. Judging by what part of the pig goes first it is prized for its crispy skin. I am a particularly big fan of the ribs since they are so close to the herbs the pig is stuffed with. Almost as popular and much more ubiquitous is Pork Adobo. Pork is quite a popular meat, in fact there is pork in almost every dish, even Chicken Adobo and often sauteed vegetables. One of my friends from Dumaguete told me that it is easier to tell your parents that you are gay than to tell them you are a vegetarian!

Siquijor, Philippines (2007)
I was recently contacted, through this blog, by one of my mom's dear friends in the Philippines. This got me thinking about the food again. I remember being served so many amazing foods during my stay and they made such an impression on me (really the whole country did). I started to search for some of these recipes and found a few foodie bloggers from the Philippines. I've found several great blogs, my favorite is Pinoy Recipe; it totally reminds me of how English is spoken there. Also worth mentioning are Panlasang Pinoy and Filipino Recipes.

One dish that made an especially big impression on me was Crispy Pata. I remember going out to dinner with the Pal family during my first week in the Philippines. Sir Pal asked me if I liked Crispy Pata. I told him I didn't even know what it was and asked about it. He explained it as it really is: A deep fried pork leg. That was all the description I needed, so we ordered the Crispy Pata as an appetizer! Ever since then I've been wanting to make it for my friends (I have more planned so stay tuned).
Crispy Pata!
Last week I went to my favorite butcher shop, Star Meats, I've known the owners and several of the employees for years now. Joe, the owner, brought me to the walk-in cooler to show me his whole pig. It was meant to be, I put my order in right then and there. "Joe, how much for all four of those pork legs?" It was a steal!
 Recipe for Crispy Pata Follows

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Braised Chicken with Cannellini Beans

I've been thinking about making braised rabbit and white beans for some time, but I figured I would try it with chicken first. Rabbit tends to be a bit pricy to experiment with. One might classify this as a poor mans cassoulet. I would call it gourmet peasant food. This is my own recipe, but conceptually it is based on the building blocks of soups and stews. I'm not sure these photos quite do it justice, but I am so pleased with the outcome that I have to share this recipe. I just wish I had made fresh bread to go along with this dish. I will definitely be making this recipe again, but substituting rabbit for the chicken.

(Braised Chicken with Cannellini Beans Recipe Follows)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pollo al Vin Cotto (Chicken in Cooked Wine)

I found this recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, "Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home" by Mario Batali. If you've ever heard me talk about food you probably know that I idolize Mario. Seriously, the guy knows his food and facts. He used to have a cooking show on the Food Network called Molto Mario. Every episode of the show was a cooking lesson and a history lesson from an epicurean perspective. I wholeheartedly subscribe to his philosophy on food and cooking. Buy local, buy organic, buy fresh, and buy/use/substitute seasonal ingredients whenever possible. I think one of the shows principals was to modestly introduce a whole culture of dishes to the American table that the typical American might otherwise shy away from. Once I realized that Italian food could be so much more than Pizza, Pasta, and Spumoni Ice Cream I became really interested in exploring foods not so customary to the American table. There is a romanticism in the way the dishes of Italy are composed, named, and presented. Mario does a good job of preserving the traditional aspects of Italian Cuisine and making it accessible to fervent home cooks, like me. I will credit Mario as at least part of the reason I got interested in cooking. I will go so far as to say that I think Mario Batali is to Italian Cuisine in America as Julia Child was to French Cuisine in America.

Pollo al Vin Cotto is Italian for "chicken in cooked wine". Cooked wine, because the wine is reduced to a sauce and then a glaze. The dish isn't one I would expect to find in the typical American home, but the flavors are not so far fetched as come off as peculiar. This is NOT a week night dinner, I made the mistake of thinking it could be. There is quite a bit of time involved in making this recipe. The original recipe from the book states that reducing the wine should take about 20 minutes. I knew that was way too short. I figured on 45 minutes, but it took about 80 minutes. I could have speed that up by using a wider saute pan instead of a sauce pan, and next time I will. I served this recipe with braised cabbage because as you may remember from my last post I have a wealth of cabbage left over from the Rebollita. I think the pairing was good, but I should have made polenta or orzo to go with it. None the less the chicken was incredible.
Recipes for Pollo al Vin Cotto and Braised Cabbage follow

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Healthy Option 2: Ribollita

I'm back from the farmers market. There are some really beautiful greens growing here in the Bay Area right now. I kinda wish I'd bought some of the little young fennel too, but oh well next week and another post. I came home with a 3 1/2 pound cabbage. It looked amazing, but oh my god this thing is a monster. It is bigger than my own head (before adjusting for inflation). I found this interesting looking traditional Italian soup recipe here called Ribollita. The recipe looked like it would make good use of what I had on hand and my farmers market hoard.

Ribollita literally means "reboiled" in Italian. After eating this soup for a second dinner I can attest that it is even better when reboiled. You can easily make this soup vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock. The soup is traditionally a peasant food that makes use of the left over soup, often minestrone.

(Recipe for Zuppa Ribollita follows)