Category Archives: FEAST DAYS AND COOKING

GRANDMA SCARAMUZZI’S EASTER PIZZA DOLCE (SWEET RICOTTA PIE)

PicMonkey CollageSeasonal dishes, they define our lives.  Whether it’s Thanksgiving Turkey or Candy Canes at Christmas or King Cake at Mardi Gras one can often tell the season by its specialty dishes.   Growing up in a Southern Italian American home there were and still are many dishes/foods that are like a calendar smacking you in the head telling you what Holiday or season you are celebrating. Spring. Primavera (it’s the Italian word for Spring, not just a type of Pasta, lol). Easter. Passover. Just a few holiday/seasons that March into May brings to us and in my home, on Good Friday the traditional family RICOTTA PIES would be prepared and baked post 3:00pm and NOT TOUCHED UNTIL 12:00AM EASTER SUNDAY.  This is maddening, although, we are modern now. The Catholic Church’s first Easter mass is around 4pm on Saturday before Easter so feel free to cut into the pie.  Certainly, you may stick to tradition and wait till that clock changed from night to midnight.

A little history with this pie I’m blogging about, in the old days Lent meant no eggs, no dairy, no meat, no sugar, no NOTHIN!!! Southern Italians devised dishes that were accessible and celebratory for breaking the fast.  Ricotta pies which are known as PIZZE (Pizza is a word for pie…the tomato and cheese one is just another version) are made in both sweet and savory types.  Let’s confuse you further!  Every town and region developed it’s own types of foods..while this confuses many ItalianAmericans because we often think only the way that our family makes something is the right way..there are many versions of all these Easter pies.  Mine comes from my Grandmother’s town of CASTEL BARONIA , PROVINCIA D’AVELLINO not far from Naples.  We call isSWEET PIE, or PIZZA DOLCE and it’s a wonderful baked ricotta pie scented with cinnamon, lemon, orange and anisette.  There are similar pies made in the Avellino area withouth the lemon and orange zest and without the glaze on top.  That glaze is used in baked goods from my Grandfather’s town of Grassano, Provincia di Matera in neighboring Basilicata.  I wonder if Grandma Scaramuzzi’s version melded a few things she picked up from Grandpa’s family.  It’s how recipes evolve but the basic pizza is pure Avellinese.  The crust is a typical PASTA FROLLA, the dough used for many Southern Italian pastry/baked goods.  The first thing we need to do it make the dough. You need time for this, Rome wasn’t built in a day!!

PASTA FROLLA

2-1/2 cups SIFTED all-purpose UNBLEACHED flour

-1/4 cup sugar

-1/4 tsp. salt

-1/2 tsp. baking powder

10 Tbs. good  unsalted butter, chilled

1 Xtra Large Egg, beaten

4 Tbsps. milk

Mix all the dry ingredients well.  Cut the butter into a small dice and work it into the dry ingredients until the mix resembles small peas. Now add the egg which you’ve beaten with the milk then add to the flour and butter mixture and stir it all with a fork or wooden spoon until it will hold its shape.  Knead this until it’s smooth then stop. Form the Pasta Frolla into a disk and wrap in “Saran Wrap” or Plastic wrap and into the fridge for 1 1/4 hours.easter16e 021 Don’t get scared, those are disks of pasta frolla for a few pies.

Now we will make the Ricotta filling.

1-1/2 lbs. WHOLE MILK RICOTTA which you’ve drained overnight or earlier in the day in a sieve.  You can also , if available, use the Ricotta which comes in a tin already drained, That’s what I generally use but it’s not available everywhere.

1/2 cup sugar

4 large eggs

1 1/8 TBS ANISETTE EXTRACT

1 TSP. PURE VANILLA

3 TBS DICED CITRONeaster16a 009

1 TSP. CINNAMON

1 TSP. LEMON ZEST

1 TSP ORANGE ZEST

Beat the eggs, then add the sugar and beat, add the extracts, beat.  Now mix in the Ricotta, cinnamon, the zests, and the citron until smooth.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to fill the pastry.easter16e 006These instructions are for a 9 inch pan.  I double recipe and make it in a larger rectangular.  Up to you.   Lightly butter the pan.  From the Pasta Frolla disk, remove about 1/3 for later.  The remainder you will roll out to about 14 inches and line the buttered 9 inch pan.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. You want some of the dough over the sides of the pan.  Press the dough into the sides and then pour in the ricotta mixture.  Roll out the remainder of the dough for the top.   With an egg wash of 2 eggs and 1/8 cup milk brush the rim and then place the top over it.. press the sides to the lid forming a crust and cut away the excess.  Brush the top with the egg wash.  If you truly want a Grandma Scaramuzzi Sweet Pie, turn those bits you just cut off and make a B and a P out of them.  Place them on center of the pie and coat with egg wash.   Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  easter16e 001 What does BP mean?  BUONA PASQUA! Italian for Happy Easter..that makes it a real Grandma memory.  To test for done. use a sharp knife and place in the center going straight into the bottom of the pie.  If it comes out clean, your pie is done. Let this cool for 1 hour to 2 hours.  While it’s cooling it’s time to make the glaze.

1 cup Confectioner’s Sugar

1/2  tsp Lemon Juice

1/2 tsp Orange Juice

1/2 tsp. milk

1/2 tsp. Anisette Extract

1 tsp mixed Lemon and Orange Zest

multicolored “confetti” or non pareils

Mix all except the confetti until you can drizzle it.  cover with wrap until ready to use.

When the Sweet Pie is fully cooled, don’t rush it…make sure it’s cool!! Then simply drizzle the icing over the top making sure to get some into the sides.  You may have more than you need, use it for something else.  After you’ve drizzles add some of the confetti to the top.easter16dc 031 Now here’s some variations…you can do a lattice top  if you like, just cut the top into strips. Nothing at Easter makes me think, remember, and smile about who I am, where I come from, and who loves me almost as much as this does.  Grandma Scaramuzzi and my Mom are right there in the kitchen with me, guiding me as they once did to teach us this pie.  It’s About Easter, about continuity and the cycles of life, rebirth, family, love. About my ItalianAmerican and Southern Italian roots and sharing that with my multicultural family.  It’s fantastic and thanks for letting me share it with you.  easter16dc 030

 

Advertisements

VIENNESE VANILLA CRESCENTS…VANILLEKIPFERL

00vanillenkipferlWIENER VANILLEKIPFERL……a very popular Holiday cookie these are AUSTRIAN VANILLA CRESCENTS.  This type of cookie is made all over the world for the Christmas season and sometimes for special occasions thru the year.  Wedding Cookies, Greek Kourabiedes, American Almond Crescents, the list goes on but at their heart they are a butter cookie made with finely ground nuts in the dough.  The nuts can be almond or walnut.  The butter is always present and in the central European countries the Vanilla Sugar is an ingredient as well.  Simply put, it’s granulated or fine granulated sugar infused with vanilla beans and is very fragrant.  So why am I focusing in on this Viennese version?  Well last Summer I visited Vienna and bought a cookbook, in German, called WEIHNACHTS BACKEREI…translates to CHRISTMAS BAKING.ho15577518_10208099303022724_1310207240_nNice looking book, i had to buy it. Cost 6.75 Euros. One of the recipes is the Viennese crescent.  I made them last Christmas using European butter and they were fantastic, so now I share this with you.  The butter I suggest to really make them over the top delicious is butter from Europe.  A little more costly for sure than U.S. butter but they are after all European butter cookies.  A few European brands are LURPAK, from Denmark, FINLANDIA from Finland, KERRYGOLD, from Ireland.  There’s also the US made in the European style PLUGRA.  They are richer than the usual American butter. If you can’t find them the cookies will still be fantastic!

VIENNESE CRESCENTS                            TAKES: 3 hours                    YIELDS: 48-60

the rezipe
2 cups sifted unbleached flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 TBS. vanilla sugar
1 TBS pure Vanilla Extract
3 egg yolks or 2 extra large yolks
1 cup Ground Almonds (or ground walnuts)
1 CUP COLD EUROPEAN BUTTER (or good quality U.S. butter)
2 TBS vanilla sugar plus 2 TBS Confectioner’s Sugar for coating
Cream the butter and the sugar, then the eggs, then the almonds and flour.All ingredients are quickly mixed to a smooth dough in your mixer and let cool for approx. 1 hour. Cut the dough into a small roll of small, coarse pieces, shape them into crescents and place on a  well greased baking tray or baking sheet. I’d use a SILPAT mat if you have them, or lightly greased parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees F in preheated oven for 12-14 minutes till firm and golden. While still warm roll in the Vanilla sugar and confectioner’s sugar blend.
If you like the taste of Almonds in this, add 1 tsp. Almond Extract while you’re mixing the dough.
bakingnight121915-024
 Quantity: about  48-60 piecesbakingnight121915-025bakingnight121915-026
Let fully cool.  Store in air tight tins or in baking tins layered with waxed paper and well wrapped.fulleuropevaca-938Just to show you were I bought the cookbook, this is a roadside scene in the WIENERWALD, or the VIENNA WOODS which lie outside of the city of Vienna, Austria.  A magical land where Wiener Vanillekiperl fall out of the sky!!  Now that you have the recipe you don’t have to wait to take a trip to Austria.  Bring Austria to you own kitchen!!!
Glückliches Kochen!

ANOTHER ITALIAN PASTA SAUCE..FROM BASILICATA,SUGO L’INTOPPO

004There couldn’t be a more appetizing picture for me than a pot of any  of Italy’s many tomato based pasta sauces.  Add a regional spin to them and now I’m even more excited.  Today is Sant’Innocenzo Day383468_3036299628876_1304531591_32215781_825528770_n in my paternal grandfather, INNOCENZO SCARAMUZZI’s Southern Italian town of his birth.  He lived in Grassano, Matera, Basilicata until he immigrated to NYC at the age of 25 in 1915.  What better day than September 22 to share a sauce that comes from his region?  FYI, not sure if he ever made this as Basilicata is a region with 2 provinces, Potenza (West) and Matera (East) and this sauce is made in and around both Provinces. Potenza is probably where it’s native to. It’s called in proper Italian… SUGO L’INTOPPO….in Basilicata or Lucanian dialect it’s called ‘NTRUPPC.  Sidebar here for a second…reasons why Italians are always arguing that THEIR version of any is the right one is because there’s never ONE definition, word, or pronunciation ,let’s just nod our heads and say, “I got it.”  Please do not call it a meat sauce or Bolognese or Ragu’Napoletano because there are many similaries in method and ingredients but there are some differences that make it a wonderfully unique regional sauce.  I will, on this patronal feast day remember my grandfather 156142_2992380330921_1304531591_32200242_158577316_n by blogging a wonderful sauce from his region.  What better way for a grandson who cooks and reveres his grandfather’s memory then to blog a new recipe for you all?  Right?  I thought so…Let’s cook.

 

SUGO L’INTOPPO   or  LU ‘NTROPPC…..SAUCE WITH OBSTACLES or A HITCH…what does that mean?  no idea…i’ll guess maybe all the meats in it are being called obstacles SINCE, most Pasta dishes in Italy serve the meats from their sauce as a secondo. Here the meats are served in the pasta so, they are “obstacles” to the pasta…That’s my thoughts and I’m sticking with them. ENJOY!!

1 1/2 LBS SWEET ITALIAN FENNEL SAUSAGE sliced or removed from their casings

1/2 LB STEW BEEF, MINCED

1/4 LB VEAL STEW, MINCED

6 14 oz CANS OF IMPORTED ITALIAN POMODORINI (most come from Potenza which is probably where this sauce originated), or 3 28 oz Cans of San Marzano DOP tomatoes.

1/4 cup OLIVE OIL

2 DICED MEDIUM ONIONS (Don’t even think of adding garlic)

1 TSP PEPERONCINO (DRIED RED CHILE FLAKES)

SEA SALT

HANDFUL OF FRESH BASIL

In a large heavy stock pot heat a 1/2 the olive oil and sear all the meats until they are nicely browned on all sides. Remove to a bowl or platter and add the rest of the olive oil to the pan.  Add the onions and rapidly stir them around..why?The liquid in the onions will release all the nice caramelized bits from the meats at the bottom of the pan.  It will also give the onions some color and flavor.Add some sea salt and the peperoncino.  Slowly cook this until the onions are soft, NOT BROWNED.  When the onions are soft, should take about 10 minutes…then add the tomatoes.  Stir.  Bring to a boil then add the meats, bring down to a simmer.  Add some basil.  Pinch of salt.  Let this simmer for 3 hours stirring occasionally.  Drop in the remaining basil leaves and let the sauce sit for about 2 hours before using. Done.

Now what pasta is most traditional?  STRASCINATI which you can make or buy in good Italian markets and pork stores.  It’s a flour/semolina and water rustic pasta that resembles a stretched out orecchiette or cavatelli.  BTW, in lieu of STRASCINATI orecchiette or cavatelli are fine .plenty of PECORINO ROMANO over the servings.003The finished dish using STRASCINATI I bought in a local Salumeria (Italian Pork Store).  Fantastic!!!

The recipe yields enough sauce for up to 3 lbs of Pasta.

Enjoy this view I snapped while coming down the road from Grassano in 2008.

0041

 

 

 

 

ZEPPOLE…THE ITALIAN AMERICAN STREET FEAST TREAT, MY STYLE

001The smell of the ItalianAmerican Summer…Zeppole frying in oil..big vats of them…their steam wafting in every direction pulling you closer to the stand.  You are mesmerized by the bobbing of the hand pulled balls of dough sizzling on their sides in the molten oil.  You await, impatiently for the fresh hot balls to be drained.  Then with the deft hands of a master the Zeppolaio places your hot zeppole into a paper bag, brown or white, and adds a blizzard of powdered sugar.  Next they fold the bag and SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE and hand it over to you.  Your heart is pounding (isn’t it??) and you reach with childlike anticipation at what’s waiting for you in that little sack.  You reach in and without hesitation bite long and hard on one and for a moment you’re impervious to the scorching heat from the steam that’s scalding your tongue.  Who cares?  It’s worth it. Every blister is worth it soothed by the chilly feel of the powdered sugar with a sweet finish.  Deep breath, of course not with a zeppole by your mouth or you’ll asphyxiate from the sugar dust…deep breath and then another bite, damn it just eat the whole thing.  Now you’re happy.  Sound familiar?  Please don’t tell me this is a unique experience for me, lol.  I KNOW you are with me.  Now just so you know, I like them with powdered sugar which is how most street feast vendors make them, or with granulated sugar which is how many restaurants and home cooks make them.  They are great both ways, infact they are awesome with a pinch of cinnamon in the coarser sugar.  What’s a zeppole anyway?

Well it’s simply a regional Italian term for a type of fried dough THAT IS usually ring shaped or a roundish ball. Zeppole come in many varieties.  This blog will make the one’s similar to the street feasts, but other zeppole contain lemon and ricotta in the dough, some use mostly eggs and pipe it through a bag to create a French cruller like small ring.  That is a more specific type of Zeppole that is cut and filled with Italian pastry cream and topped with an Amarena cherry for March 19th’s  St.Joseph Day. It’s a very Napoletana thing. There are also many savory types of zeppole.  So take away from this that there’s more zeppole than the one you may be used to.  In other parts of the  USA Italian Americans call zeppole by different names, like Pizza Fritta, or Fried Dough.  I’m from NYC so I use our regional term.  Here’s a beautiful tray of zeppole hot out of the fryer at NYC’s San Gennaro Feast:008 Now today is Aug.15, it’s Ferragosto the Italian End of Summer celebration that coincides with the religious FESTA DELL’ASSUNTA, or Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The ASSUNTA is a national holiday in Italy and it’s a popular girls’ name.  My great grandmother on my mom’s mom side was named Assunta…006 Assunta Prisco Melito, born in Castelbaronia, Avellino and died in Napoli. My grandma passed this name onto my mom, Assunta Scaramuzzi Battaglia, but she went by Susan as most first generationers did to fit in more in America.  We used to celebrate her NAME DAY each August 15, here’s a picture from the 1976 celebration.0002 A delicious Cassata from Alfonso’s in Staten Island helped make it a festive day!  Zeppole are not specific to Ferragosto but they are fun and celebratory and you CAN make them in you own kitchen in a regular pan.  Here’s how I make them…:

2 CUPS SIFTED FLOUR

1/2 TBS KOSHER SALT

1 1/4 CUP WARM WATER

2 PACKAGE YEAST

SOY, VEGETABLE OR PEANUT OIL at least 1 gallon

2 CUPS POWDERED SUGAR OR GRANULATED SUGAR

In a large stainless steel bowl add the water, salt , and yeast.  Mix.  Let this sit for at least 15 minutes. It should be frothy on top by then.  Now add the flour and blend well until all the flour is incorporated.  This is almost a bread dough BUT you are not going to tighten this up or knead the dough.  Cover and let this rise for no less than 2 hours.  You should have a yeasty aroma dough that’s not quite as tight as many bread doughs.  Spongy and sort of loose.  Heat in a deep high sided heavy flameproof pot or cast iron pan (pot better, less chance of oil spillage and the ensuing disaster and/or mess.) and fill 1/2 way with the oil you’ve chosen and place on medium to high heat.  Most feasts use those large soybean oil containers. I use what I have on hand.  When the temp gets up to 350 degrees F, or when you gently place a small ball of the dough into the oil and it immediately starts to sizzle frantically your oil is ready.  Have a tray lined with paper towels ready to receive the hot zeppole.  This recipe should make about 36.  Using a damp hand pinch a small ball of dough and add to the hot oil. repeat until you are almost full in the pot, don’t overcrowd though.  Flip them as they turn golden brownish. When both sides are the same color it’s time to gently remove them using a kitchen spider or similar long handled implement that lets the hot oil drip out.  Remove the finished zeppole to the lined tray.  Now  continue to make more zeppole until you’ve used up all the dough.  Here’s when you need a kitchen assistant, it’s sugar time.  While the zeppole are still hot. add them to a bowl filled with 1/2 of the sugar. Roll the zeppole in batches in the sugar.  THEN in a paper bag, add the rest of the sugar and shake the zeppole  until they are all coated again, certainly you will do that in batches.  If needed, use more sugar. EAT. delicious.

TIPS or SIDE NOTES:  Every pan/pot and stove top are different so..while i’m giving you directions here PLEASE let your common sense guide you.  You may have the oil too hot, or too cool. So you may need to play around till you get the hang of it. PLEASE DON’T GET DISCOURAGED!! If it’s your first time HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE A PRO AT IT?? Be patient and you’ll find your way. As always, have fun cooking!!!

 

 

 

 

 

POTATOES O’BRIEN…IRISH-AMERICAN RESTAURANT FOOD

481292_4477644341593_998901564_n

I appreciate the potato only as a protection against famine; except for that I know of nothing more eminently tasteless.Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Hmmm…while Brillat-Savarin is one of the culinary world’s historical icons, his view of the potato was pretty low.  Don’t always follow everything an expert tells you is the message to be learned here!  Is there any food that you could possibly think of that is more deliciously nutritious, universally loved, accessible to all, and easier to cook into more recipes than there are days in the year?  A native of the Americas, this potato is grown all over the world and factors in every cuisine.  That’s quite unique to most foods so I like to give it a little praise when I can, sorry Brillat-Savarin,  you’re wrong on this one. Today we will talk about a favorite Potato dish of mine, POTATOES O’BRIEN.  Google it.  There are thousands of recipes and stories about it.  Let’s get to the heart of this delicious American dish, starting with…point of origin.  It’s a  story lost in the annals of American food history.  Could be Boston.  Might be New York City.  Most legends name Manhattan as the point of invention so I’ll run with that premise.

The dish is not Irish but does work well into an IrishAmerican St.Patrick’s Dinner, or any time of the year since a restaurant cook nicknamed “BEEFSTEW  O’Brien” is said to have created it in the late 1800’s at a Manhattan restaurant he worked in.  Legend states that he was tired of serving the all brown HASH BROWNED POTATO and decided to throw in some BLING for color and additional flavor.  Green Bell Peppers and Pimentos along with onions were tossed in the skillet with the browning potatoes, cooking in bacon grease.  Sidebar here…animal fat creates the best crisp texture and color in a fried potato…think fries cooked in duck fat..lush, crisp, fantastic.  But, go one step further, and add some diced bacon to this dish.  Now we are talking.  OK, note to my vegan and vegetarian readers…remove the bacon and bacon fat from this dish and using a vegetable or coconut oil you can create a wonderful meatless O’Brien.  See, Potatoes are for everyone!

This potato dish is quite versatile as well, perfect as a breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner menu item.  Make it when the mood strikes and it works great for outdoor grill/bbq meals, with meat, vegetables, or seafoods.

TIME: 1 hour                           SERVES: 4

3 tbs. bacon fat or vegetable oil
1/8 cup diced  bacon (optional, but WAY better when added)
1 12 lb. boiled and cooled  potatoes, cut small cubes or chunks
1 small onion, DICED
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, DICED
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, DICED
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper seasoned to taste
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat 2 tbs.bacon fat in a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron for nice heat conductivity. Add the diced bacon and let this take on some color.  Give this at least 5 minutes. Now add the onions and peppers, season with salt and pepper, and let them cook till soft, about 10 minutes.  With a slotted spoon remove the bacon, pepper, onion from the pan and reserve in a bowl.   Add the last tbs. of bacon fat to the pan and when it is hot again over a medium flame/heat toss in the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and LEAVE THEM ALONE for at least 8 minutes.  Now give the pan a gentle shake, with a spatula turn the potatoes over and let them brown an additional 8 minutes on the other side. Don’t panic..not an exact process, you are just trying to get a nice crust on all sides of the potatoes best as you can. Now add the bacon, onion, and peppers gently into the pan and mix with the potatoes and sort of press the whole thing down into the pan with your spatula without smashing the potatoes. Let this cook for 5 minutes. Turn onto a serving plate and garnish with the parsley, and a light seasoning of salt and pepper.  Done. It’s amazing…
    Want an eye catching dish?  fry or poach a few eggs and top them on the finished Potatoes.  I think we are doing Beefstew O’Brien’s dish justice here.  Happy Cooking!!  BTW, some full disclosure here..the day I took this picture, there was no parsley (shocking) and green pepper in the house, so, that’s why the picture is missing the GREEN.  Just imagine it’s there, work with me here…LOL.

 

ST.PATRICK’S DAY CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Growing up there was always an excuse to throw a party, make a special meal…o it wasn’t always a party, life growing had some rough patches too.  However the overall picture always brings to mind large groups of family and friends, special decorations, music, and foods to mark the occasion.  By now you know what my ethnic background is but on the 17th of March each year my Mom would transform the dining room into a wee bit o’Blarney for St. Patrick’s Day.  Living in NYC, with St.Patrick’s Cathedral and the

St.Patrick’s Day parade as cultural landmarks, one could not escape the Erin Go Bragh pins, the Kiss Me I’m Irish shirts, the bar crawls, the scents of Corned Beef and Cabbage wafting from people’s homes.  Staten Island did and still does have a huge celebration in honor of the patron saint of Ireland along Forest Avenue, chockablock with Bars and restaurants, many owned by people of Irish decent.  Tradition was (is) to follow the parade route keeping in step with the bagpipers and going from one bar to another.

At home Mom decorated in the typical bright green colors associated with St. Patty’s Day.  Tablecloths, crepe paper streamers, napkins, plates..everything screamed it’s St. Patty’s Day.  The center of the table would have a vase filled with carnations dyed green.

It was a real festive day and after I started going out with my girlfriend, Debi Cooney

(yes, she’s Irish) my mom would always invite her widowed dad, John Myles Cooney over for her corned beef and cabbage, boiled parsley potatoes, homemade Irish Soda Bread, slices of rye bread, brown mustard, beer, whiskey, shamrock cupcakes, Irish coffee and Irish crème.  Mom always invited him (he became my father-in-law) over for this special day, he got a huge kick out of it he would tell me…”she’s more Irish than what my own family does”, and laugh.  We looked forward to the St.Patty’s Day greeting card Mom and Dad would send us every year after we got married.  I wish more people would follow my Mom’s example and learn and share in other ethnic groups holidays.  Since our children were born in China I am very open to celebrating and learning about all the world’s celebrations and the traditions and foods that are part of them.  Isn’t that more fun than just waiting for your “own” holidays every year?  I think so…stpats 008(One of the many St.Patrick’s Day greeting cards my Mom sent to my wife and I every year.)

Well here’s my gripe with lots of ways Corned Beef and Cabbage is prepared.  It’s one of the fattiest and toughest cuts of beef, the brisket.  Whether you are a bubbe in a Yiddish family, or a Romanian, or an Irish American, if the brisket it not cooked long and slow you will have a tough, fatty and greasy piece of meat.  To often I’ve had corned beef out, especially at some bar restaurants (think Blarney Stone, Pig & Whistle) where it’s just not braised long enough.  You have a mouthful of salty chewy grizzle and meat that doesn’t break up no matter how long you chew it.  What’s the problem and what’s the secret?  It’s all the cook’s fault.  Boiling Brisket should be a capital offense.  It’s the quickest way to toughen up those meat fibers and they only will again relax after a long long simmer in water that is not allowed to boil.  Long cooking gets all the heat and moisture deep into the brisket and begins that process where every piece of connective tissue is broken down into melt in your mouth goodness.  This principal is paramount in making Pot Roasts too.  And like a good soup or stock your braising liquid should be well seasoned full of bright and spicy flavors, sweet, sour.  The other death to your St. Patrick’s Day corned beef is when it’s improperly served, meaning, you didn’t take the time to trim it of all the fat that NOBODY will or wants to eat.  Surest way to keep you from eating corned beef ever again is to put a big floppy piece of corned beef fat in your mouth when you’re not expecting it.   This will put you off from eating this traditional meal FOREVER.  St. Patrick does not want to see that.  He wants you to enjoy this meal that honors his memory. stpats 018How could I write a St.Patrick’s Day blog without one of the most IRISH pictures I took when Deb and I visited the country of Ireland in August of 1982.  This was taken outside of the Derragarra Inn in County Cavan on the way from Northern Ireland to Dublin.

Lastly, for those who are sticklers for authenticity (I count myself in this OCD like group) Corned Beef is not even remotely Irish as in from Ireland.  It’s an Eastern European meat processed  like pastrami, from those parts of Europe that what miserable winters and needed ways to preserve the meat from the fall.  NYC being the initial entry point for most of those waves of immigrants invariably would have various ethnic groups living side by side with each other.  The Eastern Europeans pastrami and corned beefs were commonplace in those early immigrant years.  The Irish that came in those early days were pretty much dirt poor and the meat that they simmered with cabbage was a big piece of bacon, not an American bacon, but Irish bacon, more like a cured pork loin.stpats 002

Corned beef, braised with cabbage and potatoes has since become almost as American as apple Pie (although the origins of that may be in merry olde England or France) and certainly a cornerstone of Irish-American cuisine.

 

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE THIS ITALIAN-AMERICAN’S WAY

 

Corned Beef, about a 4 -5 lb. piece, (flat cut is the nicest for an even cut)..this will feed about 4-5 people…this is one piece of meat that really shrinks as it cooks…and MUST be cut thin to really enjoy it..i hate big fatty chunks of it…Place the corned beef in a large pot and cover it with water plus 1 cup of beer, 1/4 cup of Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, or Jamesons’, must be real Irish whiskey.  Add 1/2 cup of honey, 2 bay leaves, 2 chopped onions, 6 of the large outer cabbage leaves, torn, peppercorns, 4 whole cloves, 3 smashed cloves of garlic, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. salt, 3 tbs. brown sugar, 3 tbs. mustard. 3 chopped celery stalks, 3 chopped carrots.  Add 1 head of cabbage, cored and quartered to the pot.,handful of fresh dill. Blend, bring to a boil, then simmer for 60 minutes per lb, covered.stpats 004

Now you have plenty of time to cook the rest of the meal.  Cube 6 medium sized redskin potatoes. Boil them in plenty of salted water to which you have added 1/2 onion, and 3 smashed garlic cloves.  Cook till done, this takes about 15 minutes

or when a fork or knife will easily slide through a cube.  Gently drain them.  Add 1/4 stick unsalted butter (or get somestpats 024Kerrygold Irish butter if your store sells it…)to the pot.  Dice together 1/2 a red onion and 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley together.

Add them to the butter, it will be melting from the heat of the pot, now add the potatoes, some salt and lots of freshly cracked black pepper.  Keep stirring this and the potatoes begin to “smash”, you will be left with a pot of smashed well seasoned potatoes…don’t over work them, the’ll just turn into mashed potatoes with skins.  Cover and just reheat gently when ready to serve.

The corned beef  needs to sit in its braising liquid for a good 5 hours (even better if you do it the day before and reheat it, then slice it) before you slice it.  If you can push your finger through the meat, it’s done.  Firm Corned beef has no place on your plate.  This is brisket, the same rules apply.stpats 020

stpats 022

Serve the cabbage quarters on the side, add a little butter if you like, but they are seasoned and savory enough from all that stewing in the meat braising liquid. Cabbage is a tough hardy vegetable..it will stay together for this long cooking.  You want fork tender cabbage, this isn’t Cole Slaw.

And here is Cook O’A Food Obsession with his St.Patrick’s Day Spread…stpats 029

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!   Gaelic for…St. Patrick’s Day Blessing On You!!

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.