My favorite “sandwich” of the moment is so simple and a play on traditional lox & bagels and gravlax. Smoked salmon toast couldn’t be easier… simply toast your favorite crusty bread (I like Whole Foods’ Farmer Bread), spread with cream cheese, top with capers, thin red onion slices, smoked salmon (I like gravlax style with dill–but you can get any kind you like), and add fresh romaine leaves or tomatoes or radishes (or all three.) I eat this “open face,” with 2 piled high-toasts ready for my tummy. Pure bliss. Simple. Quick. Healthy.
Winter, why oh why won’t you go away and come again some other day? It’s been a brutal few months, oh so cold and covered in snow. With another forecast in sight for MORE snow, what’s a girl to do but warm up her tummy. Nothing ever seems more cozy to me than a hot bowl of soup. I’ve been rotating between this recipe for Italian Wedding Soup with Kale and a super easy Split Pea with Ham Soup (might post on that later) all Winter. My version of Italian Wedding Soup sometimes contains escarole and sometimes kale. When using escarole, I chop up the tough dark green leaf tips to use in the soup and save the heart/lighter green leaves to be served raw in a salad. To keep this super fast, I purchase pre-made teeny meatballs from our local Italian speciality foods market. If you can’t find those, you can easily make your own. Just Google it–or do your favorite mix of ground pork, dark meat turkey, or beef with egg, grated parmesan, chopped fresh parsley, a little bread crumbs, and salt and pepper. You can brown the meatballs first before adding to the soup or just throw them in boiling broth raw and they’ll be cooked in no time. Stay warm out there. And for those of you that live in warmer climates, I hate you. (No not really. I actually want to be best friends with you so I can come and visit.)
Italian Wedding Soup with Kale
2 tbsp butter or olive oil
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
½ large (or 1 medium) yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1-2 cups of pre-made mini-meatballs (depending on how meaty you want your soup), defrosted if previously frozen
1 cup of small soup pasta (I like acini di pepe, ditalini, or orzo)
2 cups of chopped kale
8 cups chicken stock (my favorite brand: Kitchen Basics)
salt and pepper
Garnish: freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
In a heavy dutch oven pot, melt 1 tbsp. butter or olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped vegetables, add salt and pepper, and cook until softened. Spoon all of the vegetables into a bowl and set aside. Add remaining butter or olive oil to the pot and drop in mini-meatballs. Cook until just browned. Add back in cooked vegetables and stir to combine. Add 8 cups of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a strong simmer. Add the dried pasta and cook in rapid simmer until cooked through. Drop the kale in the pot and stir. Let simmer until kale is wilted and soft. Check for seasoning. If needed, add salt and/or pepper.
Ladle soup into serving bowls and top with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Enjoy with a crusty piece of bread.
base lettuce + veggies/fruits + protein + crunch + dressing = salad awesomeness
At this time of year with the holidays quickly approaching, I try to be as healthy as I can be on weekdays, especially at lunchtime. Following the 80/20 rule (80% eating healthy, 20% eating what you want) is always a good approach for maintaining weight and good health. Healthy entree salads fit into the workday beautiful–either packing it up at home and bringing to work in a Tupperware (dressing on the side), hitting a local salad bar, or ordering in a restaurant. There are so so many variations you can try, and feel good about your choices. Look for an upcoming post soon on some of my other fave salad options.
This particular combination has become my go to for lunch these days. And I actually use (gulp) a bottled dressing I found at a local grocery store called “Pine Club” House Dressing. It’s sold in grocery stores in the Ohio area, but you can also order it online here. It’s a classic vinaigrette with a touch of sweetness that really compliments the salty feta.
Escarole is one of the most underrated and underused greens. It’s a go-to for cooked or soup greens but not used raw enough. I love using the inner, light green, more tender leaves in salads and saving the outer, dark green, thicker leaves in soups (like Italian Wedding Soup, for instance.) In this treatment, the inner leaves are chopped into bite-size pieces, alongside sliced radish, sliced radicchio, crumbled Greek feta, sliced grilled chicken, and quick olive oil-roasted and salted pumpkin seeds. The combination with the slightly sweet Pine Club dressing checks off all of the satisfaction boxes of crunchy, salty, sweet, tangy, bitter, and smoky. (Note: if you’re not able to locate Pine Club dressing, you could mimic the dressing easily with an apple cider/canola oil/sugar/salt/garlic vinaigrette like this one.
Escarole Salad with Chicken, Radish, Feta, and Pumpkin Seeds
Recipe courtesy OlivetoCook.com
Serves 2 entree size salads, 4 side salads.
1 head of escarole, outer leaves set aside for another use
1/4 head radicchio
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled fresh Greek feta
1/4 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds (Mix raw pumpkin seeds, 1 tsp olive oil, and pinch of salt in pan and roast at 350 degrees until seeds are lightly browned and start to pop, about 10 minutes.)
2 grilled, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
Pine Club dressing (source)
Chop escarole and radicchio into bite-size pieces, rinse thoroughly under cold water, spin dry. Add all ingredients except for pumpkin seeds and dressing to bowl. Pour on dressing to taste, thoroughly toss together, add a pinch of black pepper, and toss together again. Serve salad into serving bowls and top with pumpkin seeds. Enjoy.
One of my three favorite food groups: pasta, cheese, and wine. You can imagine my glee when my hubby surprised me the other day with a cookbook from Flour + Water, a hit pasta and pizza restaurant in San Francisco. The cookbook is simply named Flour and Water: Pasta.
In my never ending quest to master homemade pasta, you will be seeing many of my attempts at recipes from this book over the next few months. Just by doing this first recipe from the book I learned 3 awesome new techniques: how to really make dough by hand, how to properly run dough through a pasta machine, and how to make pan sauces. Now, it’s not like I haven’t done those last 3 things before–I just didn’t do them as well as I could have.
This ravioli dough is truly luxurious. It’s so egg-y–the yellow color is gorgeous, and the texture is as smooth as can be imagined. Please see my post Ravioli Dough for the full details and recipe.
Once the dough is made, rested, and pressed and stretched into sheets, I (along with my hubby and friend Sean) made these cutie pie, caramel-shaped pasta shapes.
Once the pasta was boiled to al dente, I added it to the sauce. On the sauce… The key is to keep the fattisu moving quickly as you’re swirling them in the sauce, being careful not to cut into any of them. This was tough with 70+ fattisu all at once, so I’d suggest using the biggest pan you have. I suppose you COULD do it in 2 batches, but I don’t have the patience for that. Also, Chef McNaughton suggests continuing this process until the sauce coats the back of the spoon or when you drag a spoon across the bottom of the pan, the sauce stays separated for a few seconds. He’s absolutely right to do that, but for me, once the sauce was at that point, I turned off the heat, and started to serve 4 portions, 1 portion at a time. That extra few minutes of portioning meant that my sauce continued to thicken and thus was less “sauce-y” by the time I finished. Thus, I’d recommend increasing the chicken stock AND stopping the sauce/fattisu tossing juuuuust shy of the “coat the back of the spoon” phase.
Now, how did it all taste? Some parts awesome, some not so awesome. The idea of adding vinegar and mustard was intriguing to me. Mustard??? In pasta?? It really worked to balance out the rich mortadella. And mustard and cabbage are a traditional combination. But the mustard/vinegar level was just a bit TOO high for me–it overpowered some of the elements. I’d probably reduce those levels a bit to achieve a better balance. Those critiques aside, the dough was incredibly tender, the combination of textures was so pleasing. For the 4 of us eating, there wasn’t a morsel left in our bowls. I’d call it a win.
Mortadella Fattisu with Pistachios
excerpted from: Flour + Water cookbook by Thomas McNaughton
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound mortadella, cut into ½ -inch cubes (450 grams)
1 small yellow onion, cut into small dice (150 grams)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large savoy cabbage, cut into 1-inch dice (360 grams)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup white wine (75 milliliters)
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/3 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (I42 grams)
1 ½ cups pork or chicken stock (355 milliliters) or store-bought (Note: I suggest increasing to 2 cups. I used store-bought chicken stock.)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (71 grams)
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard (Note: I suggest reducing this to 1 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 ½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar (Note: I suggest reducing this to 1/2 teaspoon or none at all–worth experimenting with.)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for ﬁnishing
2 tablespoons pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
To make the filling, in a 12 inch sauté pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the mortadella and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Remove the mortadella and reserve. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the butter, cabbage, and salt and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until the pan is almost dry, about 12 minutes. Transfer the cabbage to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until it’s finely diced; add the mortadella and onion-cabbage mixture and continue pulsing until the filling is coarsely pureed. Fold in the mustard, apple cider vinegar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano and let cool completely before using. Once cooled, refrigerate or freeze, covered in an airtight container, until ready to use. Frozen filling can be thawed in refrigerator for 24 hours. You should have about 4 cups. The filling will last 2 to 3 days refrigerated. (Note: I had WAY too much leftover filling. So you can cut back some of those ingredients if you like, but be careful, proportions are very important.)
Dust 2 baking sheets with semolina flour and set aside.
To make the pasta, using a pasta machine, roll out the dough until the sheet is just translucent. Cut a 2-foot section of the dough sheet and cover the rest of the dough with plastic wrap.
Using a straight wheel cutter or a knife and a ruler, cut the pasta sheets into rectangles measuring 2 ¼ inches x 2 ¾ inches. Using a piping bag or a spoon, place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each rectangle. Fold one long edge just over the filling (like you are folding a letter) and then roll through to finish the fold. Use a spritz of water from a spray bottle to help seal if necessary. Gently press out the air around the filling by running your fingers from the tip of the triangle downward, creating one airtight lump in the middle. Twist each end of the pasta 180 degrees (one half turn) in opposing directions and flatten the ends so the pasta looks like a wrapped caramel.
Trim the edges using a fluted wheel cutter. Working quickly, place the fattisu on the prepared baking sheets, spaced apart, until ready to cook. Don’t let the fattisu touch each other or they may stick together. Repeat until you run out of dough or filling. You should have about 50 to 60 pieces. (Note: I had 70/75 and I threw away the duds.)
To finish, bring a large pot of seasoned water to a boil.
Bring the stock to a simmer in a 12-inch sauté pan over high heat and reduce by half. Once the stock has been reduced by half, add the butter.
At the same time, drop the pasta in the boiling water.
Add the mustard and the parsley to the pan. Once the pasta is cooked 80% through, until almost al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes, add it to the pan, swirling until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Add the apple cider vinegar and cook until the pasta is tender, about 2 minutes. Season with salt.
To serve, divide the pasta and sauce between four plates. Finish with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and toasted pistachios.
This dough. We’ve all read recipes and seen videos of building a “well” with the flour. That’s not new here. What IS new to me with the dough is how precisely perfect it is. Most recipes call for “adding more flour as needed” when it sticks to the board. Not here. I followed the ingredients and measurements precisely and the dough needed absolutely nothing else. I whisked up every flour glob on the counter into the dough. It all came together beautifully.
Once all the bits were incorporated, I kneaded it and kneaded it and it just became more and more silky, more and more homogeneous. Gorgeous. Chef McNaughton describes it as “adult play-doh.” Perfect description. This recipe can be used for ANY stuffed pasta: ravioli, agnolotti, plin, tortellini, etc.
After the dough rested, I divided it into 6 even pieces, just to make passing it through the pasta machine easier. His technique here again is mastery. Please also follow these instructions exactly. I was never able to get my pasta sheets to the correct width before–now I can based on his steps. (I took the time to type all of these details out because I truly believe they should be followed carefully.)
I used this dough to make Mortadella Fattisu with Pistachios, more details here. This dough is used throughout the book for any stuffed pasta recipe. It will certainly always be my GO-TO in the future.
excerpted from: Flour + Water cookbook by Thomas McNaughton
Makes 556 grams/19.6 ounces of dough
360 grams 00 flour (2 well-packed cups, unsifted)
5 grams kosher salt (1 teaspoon)
100 grams whole eggs (1/2 cup/about 2 large eggs)
90 grams egg yolks (1/3 cup/5 to 6 yolks)
6 grams extra-virgin olive oil (1 ½ teaspoons)
Step One: Mixing
To start, place the ﬂour on a dry, clean work surface, forming a mound about 8 to 10 inches in diameter at its base. Sprinkle the salt in the middle of the mound. Using the bottom of a measuring cup, create a well 4 to 5 inches wide, with at least a half inch of flour on the bottom of the well. Slowly and carefully add the wet ingredients (eggs and olive oil) into the well, treating the ﬂour as a bowl. Using a fork, gently beat the eggs without touching the ﬂour walls or scraping through the bottom to the work surface. Then, still stirring, begin to slowly incorporate the flour “walls” into the egg mixture, gradually working your way toward the outer edges of the ﬂour, but disturbing the base as little as possible. If the eggs breach the sides too soon, quickly scoop them back in and reform the wall. Once the dough starts to take on a thickened, paste-like quality (slurry), slowly incorporate the flour on the bottom into the mixture.
When the slurry starts to move as a solid mass, remove as much as possible from the fork. Slide a bench scraper or spatula under the mass of dough and flip it and turn it onto itself to clear any wet dough from the work surface. At this point, with your hands, start folding and forming the dough into a single mass. The goal is to incorporate all the ﬂour into the mass, and using a spray bottle to liberally spritz the dough with water is essential. It is a very dry dough, and it cannot be overstated how important it is to generously and constantly spritz to help “glue” any loose flour to the dry dough ball. (Note: I did not need to spritz at all–maybe my eggs were bigger, but no need for me here.) When the dough forms a stiff, solid mass, scrape away any dried clumps of flour from the work surface, which, if incorporated in the dough, will create dry spots in the final product.
Step Two: Kneading
Kneading is an essential step in the dough-making process: it realigns the protein structure of the dough so that it develops properly during the resting stage that follows. Kneading is simple: Drive the heel of your dominant hand into the dough. Push down and release, and then use your other hand to pickup and rotate the dough on itself 45 degrees. Drive the heel of your hand back in the dough, rotate, and repeat for 10 to 15 minutes. This is how Italian grandmas get their fat wrists.
Pasta is easy to underknead but virtually impossible to overknead (unlike bread, where each type has its sweet spot or ideal kneading time). That said, even though the dough cannot be overkneaded, it can spend too much time on the worktable—and, as a direct result, start to dehydrate and be more difficult to form into its final shape. For best results, I think a 10 to 15 minute range is a solid guideline. When the dough is ready, it will stop changing appearance and texture. The dough will be firm but bouncy to the touch and have a smooth, silky surface, almost like Play-Doh. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap.
Step Three: Resting
At this stage, the flour particles continue to absorb moisture, which further develops the gluten structure that allows pasta dough to stand up to rolling and shaping. If you plan to use the dough immediately, let it rest at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for at least 30 minutes prior to rolling it out (the next step). If resting for more than 6 hours, put the dough in the refrigerator. lt’s best to use fresh dough within 24 hours. Under proper refrigeration, the dough will hold for 2 days, but I try to avoid letting it rest that long, simply because the eggs yolks will oxidize and discolor the dough. It won’t affect the ﬂavor or the texture, but the dough will develop a slightly off color and a grayish-greenish hue. (This has happened to me before–it’s just ain’t pretty. Use same day.)
The Final Step: Rolling Out the Dough
Rolling is the last phase of the mixing process. Rolling out pasta by machine—whether it’s a hand-crank model or an electric one—should be a delicate, almost Zen-like art. You can only roll out dough that has rested for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. If it has rested for longer in the fridge, give the dough enough time to come back to room temperature. The fat content of pasta dough is so high that it will solidify when cold, so it needs to come back to room temperature to be easier to roll. The process for rolling sheets of pasta dough is the same whether you have a hand-cranked machine or an electric one, like we have in the restaurant.
To start, slice off a section of the ball of dough, immediately rewrapping the unused portion in plastic wrap. Place the piece of dough on the work surface and, with a rolling pin, ﬂatten it enough that it will fit into the widest setting of the pasta machine. You do not want to stress the dough or the machine. lt’s crucial to remember that whenever the pasta dough is not in plastic wrap or under a damp towel, you’re in a race against time. The minute you expose the pasta to air, it starts to dehydrate. This creates a dry outer skin that you do not want to incorporate into the ﬁnished dough; the goal is to create a dough of uniform consistency. Our dough is purposely very dry. We do not add any raw ﬂour in the rolling process. Extra flour added at this point sticks to the dough and, when cooked, that splotch turns into a gooey mass, a slick barrier to sauce. It dulls the seasoning and ﬂavors of both the dough and the finished dish.
Begin rolling the dough through the machine, starting with the widest setting. Guide it quickly through the slot once. Then decrease the thickness setting by one and repeat. Decrease the thickness setting by one more and roll the dough through quickly one more time. Once the dough has gone through three times, once on each of the first three settings, it should have doubled in length. Lay the dough on a ﬂat surface. The dough’s hydration level at this point is so low that you’ll probably see some streaks; that’s normal, which is the reason for the next crucial step: laminating the dough.
Using a rolling pin as a makeshift ruler, measure the width of your pasta machine’s slot, minus the thickness of two fingers. This measurement represents the ideal width of the pasta sheet, with about a ﬁnger’s length on each side, so there’s plenty of room in the machine. Take that rolling pin measurement to the end of the pasta sheet and make a gentle indentation in the dough representing the measurement’s length. Make that mark with a crease and fold the pasta over. Repeat for the rest of the pasta sheet, keeping that same initial measurement. For best results, you want a minimum of four layers. Secure the layers of the pasta together with the rolling pin, rolling it ﬂat enough that it can fit in the machine. Put the dough back in the machine, but with a 90 degree turn of the sheet. In other words, what was the “bottom” edge of the pasta is now going through the machine first.
This time around, it’s important to roll out the dough two to three times on each setting at a steady, smooth pace. We’ve created this gluten network—a web of elasticity—so if you roll it too fast, it will snap back to its earlier thickness, thereby lengthening the time you’re going through each number. The more slowly you crank the pasta dough, the more compression time the dough has; it’s important to stay consistent in the speed in order to keep a consistent thickness. You should be able to see and feel the resistance as the dough passes through the rollers. On the first time at each level, the dough will compress. It’s time to move onto the next level when the dough slips through without any trouble. The first few thickness settings (the biggest widths) usually require three passes; once you’re into thinner territory, there’s less pasta dough compressing, so it goes more quickly and two passes get the job done.
When handling the sheet of dough—especially as it gets longer-always keep it taut and ﬂat. Never grab or ﬂop or twist the pasta. The sheet should rest on the inside edges of your index fingers with your fingers erect and pointed out. The hands don’t grab or stretch the dough; instead, they act as paddles, guiding the sheet of dough through the machine. Handling the dough with your fingers pointed straight out alleviates any pressure on the dough, which stretches and warps it. Use the right hand to feed the machine and use the left hand to crank. Once the pasta dough is halfway through, switch hands, pulling out with the left hand. If you have trouble doing it alone as the dough gets longer and thinner, find a friend to help juggle the dough, or roll out a smaller, more wieldy batch. Once you roll out the dough, immediately form it into shapes.
It’s the beginning of Fall and I already can’t help but think about Spring. In my 15 years living in cities (Washington DC and New York,) one of my favorites memories of Spring is walking around my neighborhood and in the distance spotting the amazing pops of fuscia and red and white and pink peonies in buckets outside of corner bodegas. Once I was closer, the fragrance was intoxicating, better than roses. Then I had to choose which ones to take home (because they were always pricey–2-3 stems for $15-$20 or so.) Would I take home the ones with buds that weren’t open yet or ones that were open and full, knowing they might not last too much longer? When I finally made my choice and brought them home, I cherished them. So cheerful. And just like that, they were gone from the bodegas–their season so sadly short.
One of the great benefits of living in the suburbs now and with a generous yard and floral beds, I’m able to plant my own peonies. (Have I mentioned that our new home has a huge raised fruit and vegetable garden? Well, it does. I’ve had outdoor plants before, mostly container gardens and few flower bulbs in the ground, but nothing nearly close to what I have now. Much much more on that later. For now we’ll focus on the flower beds in the back of the yard.) After doing some reading, peonies do best when planted in the Fall. This gives the plants the chance to take strong root and develop in dormancy. By Spring, they’ve had a head start over other plants just newly planted in Spring and are more likely to bloom on 2-3 stems the first season.
Before I started my research on peonies, I had no idea on the number of varieties out there. And the best part? They have the coolest, prettiest names. It’s like race horses and nail polish and wall colors. “Essie’s Ballet Slippers for my fingers and Wife Goes On for my toes please.” (so fun playing with nail polish colors) I’d like to think that I’m the kind of person that wouldn’t be swayed into making a buying decision based on a name, but hey, I’m a marketer too. Cora Louise, Sarah Bernhardt, Going Bananas, Many Happen Returns, and Eden’s Perfume. So many peony names, so many beauties. Ultimately, I chose Kansas, Coral Charm, Nick Shaylor, and Princess Margaret from Adelman Peony Gardens.
Peony plants ship mostly as “bareroot.” Bareroot basically means that the roots are dug up and all soil is removed. When you buy peony plants at a nursery, they may have 2-3 varieties max and the cost can be $40 and up. When you buy them bareroot online, they’re much cheaper and there are so many stunning varieties to choose from. Peonies regardless are very expensive to buy–some bareroot varieties I saw were $60 and up. Regardless of cost, they’re priceless as they can last 50+ years and have been known to outlive their owners.
To plant the peonies, the instructions said to dig a $100 hole–2 feet deep by 3 feet wide. The bareroot it at most 10 inches wide, but the plant needs a lot of room and loose soil to spread out its root structure. I didn’t go quite that deep and wide, I’d say I dug $50 holes. After starting to dig, I found a lot of clay. So I supplemented the soil with some Mushroom Compost and some Organic Bio-Tone Starter. I basically dug out the soil from the ground and mixed in the compost (50/50 soil to compost mix) and added a handful of the Bio-Tone at the bottom of the hole. After throwing in a few inches of that mix, I placed the bareroot peony on top, careful to make sure the buds pointed upwards towards the sky. The direction of the big brown root doesn’t really matter. The roots will find their way regardless. I then layered the soil/compost mix on top–covering the plant by a maximum of 2 inches.
After a quick watering and label made, I stepped away with pride at my 4 peony plants (spaced about 18-24 inches apart.) I’m so excited to see their beautiful blooms in a short 6 months or so!
Ahhh Fall. Falling leaves, pumpkin-everything, hay rides, jackets, sweaters, the smell of a fireplace. Fall means cozy to me. What’s cozier than lovingly braised beef with creamy, warm polenta.
Short ribs are quite the thing now–they’re on menu after menu in restaurants. They can be pricey, but if you have the time, they’re so easy to prepare. I always look for thick, meaty short ribs–they can be quite fatty and be mostly bone, so be choosy when shopping. I recommend a nice Whole Foods or even better, a local butcher. Always trim excess fat off, but always leave some on. I’ve made braised short ribs a few different ways, and ideally you would make them a day ahead of time and reheat the next day. The reason being that short ribs give off a lot of greasy fat, so if left to sit in braising liquid overnight in the fridge, the fat rises and firms at the top–making it easy to scoop off the next day. The braising liquid also has time to thicken up and get more and more flavorful. That being said, I’m usually not patient enough and eat them the same night I make them and they still taste awesome.
When purchasing polenta, please try to get the good stuff–I love the extra fine white polenta made by Moretti. It’s $6 online and it will last you a long time if you keep it well sealed. I just used the last of a bag I bought a year ago. When cooking polenta and serving softly as a side dish or underneath a protein–never follow the polenta to liquid ratio–I always do WAY more liquid. I use about 1/4 cup of polenta to 2 1/2-3 cups of liquid to serve 4 people. If you want to make polenta that you will cool, cut, and fry/bake later, then follow the instructions on the package. In this particular preparation, I actually followed the brilliant method of making it in a slow cooker–amazing! I think this may be my only way of making it from now on.
Polenta is one of my all-time favorites and I’m always surprised it’s not served more in restaurants. The first time I had truly amazing polenta was at The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The grains were so smooth and the overall texture so milky and buttery, it was heavenly. The polenta was served under a pork osso bucco with an apple/mustard relish. They still serve that dish and I can easily say it’s in my top-5 best meals evah. It’s that pork osso bucco dish that was my inspiration for this combination of braised short ribs with creamy polenta. The rich beef on the bone paired with the tang in the braising liquid on top of the velvety polenta is a marriage of the senses.
Braised Short Ribs with Creamy Polenta
- 5 pounds beef short ribs, bone on
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper (I like a coarse grind)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery rib, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, skin left on
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate (comes in a jar; slightly thicker than ketchup) or paste (comes in a block) NOTE: I substituted a mix of ketchup, lemon juice, and worcestershire for this and it turned out great.
- 2 fresh (or dry) bay leaves
- 1/2 cup Madeira NOTE: I didn’t have Madeira so I just increased the red wine to 1 1/2 cups
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 to 3 cups chicken broth
1. Heat the oven to 225 degrees. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat a large heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the oil, then the short ribs (add them in batches, if necessary) and brown on all sides. Transfer the ribs to a plate as they finish browning. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat.
2. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic to the pot, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the vegetables are soft and all the browned bits in the base of the pot have been loosened. Put the short ribs (and any juices that have collected on the plate) back in the pot.
3. Add the light brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, tamarind paste, and bay leaves. Pour in the Madeira and red wine. Add enough chicken broth to just cover the ribs. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot and transfer to the oven.
4. Braise the shortribs until they are very tender when pierced with a fork, about 4 hours (longer if the short ribs are big). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shortribs to a plate. Let the cooking liquid settle; spoon off as much fat as possible (ideally, you’d do this over the course of two days and would, at this point, put the liquid in the fridge overnight and peel off the layer of fat in the morning). Set the pot on the stove over medium high heat. Bring the cooking liquid to a boil and reduce to a syrupy consistency.
5. Lay a short rib or two in each of 4 wide shallow bowls. Spoon over a little sauce. Serve proudly.
Serves 4 (you may want to double recipe if you have leftover short ribs)
- Vegetable cooking spray
- 1 cup milk
- 1 1/3 cups half-and-half, divided Note: I substituted with whole milk
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1/3 cup coarse polenta, or corn grits
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- Special Equipment: slow cooker
Spray the insert of a slow cooker with cooking spray (for easier clean up) and preheat on high.
In a medium saucepan, add the milk, 1 cup half-and-half, 1 tablespoon butter, and polenta. Season with salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly to keep the mixture lump-free. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker and cook on high for 2 hours, stirring once or twice per hour. Once you are ready to serve, open the slow cooker and whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, remaining 1/3 cup half-and-half, and Parmesan.
Recipe courtesy Melissa d’Arabian