Monthly Archives: January 2016

OLIVE OIL, BLACK PEPPER, AND ROSEMARY FOCACCIA

tday2015 073 This will  become a favorite recipe in your collection I promise!! FOCACCIA!!! that square or rectangular shaped Italian bread of varying thickness.  Topped with nothing or with a variety of items, none more delicious as the simple and very traditional Olive Oil, fresh Chopped Rosemary, and Black Pepper topping.  Are you looking at the picture?  Take a look.  There’s a white something on it too and that’s the scary sounding Italian LARDO.  Now I did not title the blog with LARDO in it for a good reason, it’s simply another item to add to the top.  More later on why it’s SO delicious, but to make this recipe accessible to as many as possible, it’s a basic focaccia that you can add on to if you like.  Let’s talk a little about Italian Focaccia, baking, and my home memories.  None of focaccia.  Not sure when that became something here in America but the term generally at one time was used regarding the baked square breads of Central Italy.  My heritage is southern Italian so the word was not used until one day when it was used everywhere.  Same with Ciabatta bread..recent to me, but always fiercely Central Italian, not new.  Bread baking or any YEAST baking can be scary to some.  Get over it and you will be spinning your own Pizza doughs and coming up with your own types of focaccia.   tday2015 068What is FOCACCIA??  It’s an Italian bread which generally contains more olive oil and yeast than a pizza dough.  It’s usually baked in a square or rectangular pan, cut into squares and is served as a starter, part of an Antipasto with salumi, olives, and cheeses on the side.  Or it is served as the bread with one’s meal, or as the meal itself.  Rarely will you see Italians in Italy eating sandwiches using Focaccia as the bread as that practice is more of an American or out of Italy practice.  Personally, (  you know I’m throwing my 2 Euros into the pot here) it’s too much bread and too much of a food on it’s own to make a sandwich out of it.  It’s a great addition to a buffet table for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  One of the most popular forms is the Olive Oil rich Rosemary, Salt and Black Pepper Focaccia version.  Similar breads are made through Italy with other names.  SCHIACCIATA is a Tuscan bread many times made with grapes, rosemary, or just olive oil.  Consider my version here, especially if you go that extra mile with the LARDO as a Tuscan Inspired version.  Baking breads at home reminds me of a very DARK period in my parents’ kitchen growing up.  They would from time to time get on these “kicks” or phases.  Their bread baking phase was particularly hard for my sister and I . Their breads all tasted the same…almost saltless, dense and crumbly, overly yeasty, hard to cut, you get the picture.  “HEY PETE, TODAY LET’S MAKE A HONEY WHEAT BREAD”..and my sister and I were running for the last slice of real out of the house made Brick oven Italian bread.  Hated that period in their cooking experimentation.  Basically everything they made tasted the same..everything.  Most childhood kitchen memories for me are sentimental, heart warming…this one is not. Living in Staten Island we were never 5 minutes away from an amazing Italian bread bakery so…..no need to bake at home!!  Focaccia falls into a different category than loaf bread does.  Let get the flour out and start making some Focaccia together!!

 

SERVES: up to 8              TIME: 4 hours or so

2 CUPS WARM WATER (around 110 degrees, F)

2 TEASPOONS DRY YEAST

1/2 TEASPOON SUGAR

2 TEASPOON SALT

4 1/2 CUPS SIFTED FLOUR *All purpose works, but TIPO 00 from ITALY IS BETTER*

3 TABLESPOONS GOOD EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL *you want to taste the olive flavor in this*

2 TEASPOONS FINE CHOPPED FRESH ROSEMARY (do not use dried)

1 TABLESPOON FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

SALT FOR TOP

OLIVE OIL FOR BRUSHING

6 STRIPS OF LARDO (OPTIONAL)

LARDO..don’t be scared…Lardo is an Italian Cured Pork Cut..It’s the Cured portion of FatBack, very little meat if any is included.  Generally it’s snowy white.  Cured with secret regional herbs and spices, Rosemary  being one of them, so it’s a natural accompaniment to this Focaccia.  Serve in thin slices as an antipasto, the most prized comes from Aosta in the Northwest of Italy, and Colonatta in Tuscany.

In a large bowl add the water, mix the salt and sugar till dissolved. Then sprinkle the yeast over the top and gently stir.. Let this sit for 15 minutes until it bubbles and froths on top.  Now in slow batches, add the flour, 1 tablespoon olive oil and work the dough till it comes together.  If it’s still too tacky gently add more flour in small increments.  When it’s no longer sticky knead it on a floured board/surface for no less than 10 minutes.  Now place in a large bowl, add 1 tbs of OliveOil making sure the whole ball of dough is covered in oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and leave in a warm area to raise for 2 hours.  Punch down the dough and knead for 2 minutes and reform into a ball, back into the bowl, cover and let rise for 45 minutes.    Oil a baking pan and press the dough into the pan (11 X13) or larger..the larger the pan the thinner your focaccia.  Try to press the dough till all the sides, if it shriks back some what, it’s ok… Now with your finger poke the dough in random spots, do not rip through the dough.  Brush the top of the focaccia with olive oil and sprinkle about 1 tsp. of coarse salt (like Kosher) over the top, the black pepper, and the rosemary (again, do not use dried rosemary for this..the flavor is wrong, the texture is wrong and it will only crisp up more in the heat…use FRESH).  Let this sit on top of the stove for 20 minutes.  Pre heat the oven to 475 degress F.tday2015 052

Bake the focaccia until it’s browned on the bottom and golden brown on the top, about 20-25 minutes.  Some ovens might get it done sooner, just keep an eye on it.  When it’s done it should look like this:tday2015 067  If you are using the LARDO, drape the slices over the top after you’ve let the focaccia sit out of the oven for 10 minutes.  The risidual heat will allow the lardo to melt into the bread.  It’s out of this world.  If you want to keep it VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN certainly omit the Lardo.  Cut with a sharp knife.  Enjoy.

 

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SWEET N SOUR RETRO MEATBALLS…MEMORIES FROM MOM

newyears16 001  The hardest blogpost to compose is the first one of the year.  So many are  profound, dripping with sweet sentiments, hopes for the year ahead…so, after a day of getting stressed for absolutely nothing the idea came to me.  It’s New Year’s but blog a recipe that is “non-holiday specific” but works well for New Year’s Eve.  How do I know that?  I know that because my Mom used to make this, a close version to the one I make every New Year’s that we were home.  She also made it for all of her and Dad’s cocktail parties  before their VFW dinner-dances and affairs back in the 60’s and 70’s.  This whole recipe is RIGHT out of a MadMen script.  I’ve A FOOD OBSESSIONED it up a bit, leaving some of Mom’s RETRO ingredients right where they should be.  They cannot be changed.  They are the underlying taste of this recipe.  I’ve made this with fresh pineapple and mandarins. Omitted the Maraschino Cherries. What made the dish so….MOM…and wonderful was gone.  So I went back to the original canned Pineapples, in their own juice…Maraschino Cherries with that almondy cherry taste…and the unique taste of the canned mandarin.  I did change the size of the red peppers in the sauce…Mom’s were a chop..too much pepper.  I fine dice so they basically add flavor without getting in the way.  I am thinking like the amateur food historian I think I am (I said I THINK I AM, lol) and i’m going to say the genesis of this type of meatball recipe comes from that late 50’s early 60’s fascination with the American notion of POLYNESIAN culture..  Trader Vic’s, Hawaii Kai…these were trend setting restaurants from San Francisco to New York City.  “Exotic” ingredients like soy sauce, sesame oil, curries were being mixed into typical American bar foods, like meatballs and chicken on sticks, Beef on sticks.  Truth be told nothing in the Polynesian food culture ever was this sweet or sour at the same time.  Add a Pineapple to your cooking, you were soooo Polynesian.  Stick some palm trees and the hanging monkeys on your drinks with some umbrellas, that was 60’s retro “Oriental-Polynesian” food and drink to us on the mainland unless you were of Polynesian or other Asian extraction.  Then you knew better but fed Americans these sweet and sour concoctions at the eateries, but maintained your real food culture at home.  Today we live in a much better time to be eating…we know the difference and we appreciate both versions when done right.  Sweet and Sour meatballs to many mean Ketchup and Grape Jelly in the crockpot with a simple seasoned meatball.  Let me take you to BALI HAI…to BORA BORA…to RARITONGA….thru the eyes of the 60’s…vv6 Some memorabilia from those days..from the Trader Vic website.  The American-Polynesian cuisine was full of fruity syrups and tastes.  Trader Vic sold a sweet and sour style meatball in their restaurants.  I was fortunate to have been to a few before they changed or closed.  Mai Tai anyone??   Let’s travel from a Trader Vic or Hawaii Kai into my kitchen with my Mom watching us recreate one of her “specialities”!  Trader Vic’s may have called them PUPU meatballs…PUPU signifying an appetizer.  You can make these as a PUPU or as a main dish. over fluffy steamed Jasmine rice with a bit of chopped cilantro in the rice.

 

MAKES: 36 or so MEATBALLS                    time: 1 1/2 hours

 

MEATBALLS:
    • 1 1/2 lbs  ground beef and  ground pork blended together
    • 2 large eggs, beaten
    • ½ cup PANKO breadcrumbs
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 tsp. Sri Lankan or Madras Curry
    • 1 tsp Sesame Oil
    • 3 diced strips of  bacon and 1 medium onion, diced, sauteed till the bacon is cooked and the onion is soft
    • 1 ½ teaspoon Soy Sauce
    • 1 finely minced garlic clove
    • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
    • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
    • 1/2 tsp. sambal olek or ground chile garlic paste
    • 1/2 can drained crushed pineapple
    • flour for dusting
Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 (14 0z) cans of crushed pineapple (less 1/2 cup of the drained for the meatballs above)
  • 1 can Mandarin Oranges
  • 2 tsp. finely minced red peppers
  • 1/8 cup Rice Wine Vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup ketchup
  • 1 (14 oz) can pineapple tidbits
  • 1/8 small bottle of maraschino cherry juice plus 10 cherries
  • pinch of cloves, nutmeg, ginger

First let’s dice that bacon and onion.  In a large skillet cook them down until the onions are soft and the bacon is cooked and add the sesame oil. Now add the breadcrumbs and let them soak those bacon drippings and get a little toasty. Add the garlic. remove from heat. Let this cool.  Now add the dry spices and blend well.  In a large bowl add the eggs. Then the breadcrumb mixture and the pineapple.  Mix.  Then add the meat and work until it’s a homogeneous mixture.  Form into about 36 walnut sized balls, you may get more. Then roll in flour.  Fry them in a lightly oiled non stick pan till browned on all sides.12459533_10205459127099976_1330698243_n  Cook the meatballs in batches as you need room between them all so they don’t STEAM. STEAMING is not an optimum cooking method for meatballs.  Keep the meatballs on a platter, lightly covered with foil while you are cooking the balance of them.  Done?  Good.  Time to make the aromatic sauce.  In a saucepan, gently heat all the ingredients except the cornstarch.  Bring this to a boil, REDUCE to a simmer.  In a bowl whisk together about 1 ladle of the simmering sauce and while whisking slowly add the cornstarch until it’s smooth.. Then while stirring the sauce with a whisk slowly pour in the cornstarch and lightly whisk till blended.  Bring to a slow boil and then stir and lower to a simmer.  Keep stirring until the sauce is thickened.  Now Add the meatballs to the sauce, or place them in a baking dish and pour the sauce over them.  Let this cool down and then tightly wrap and refrigerate when totally cooled down overnight.  You can reheat them in the oven, at 350 Degrees F covered for 25 minutes.  Or into a crockpot to keep warm.   Or on the stove pot, just stir them gently.  Your finished product will look like this: 001 How good does that look?? Like 1965?? I think this will change your mind from the frozen bags of meatballs heated thru in a ketchup and grape jelly sauce.  I’m not knocking that..but I think this recipe will make you happy.