Now THAT’s Ricotta!

I recently picked up some fresh ricotta at my local 50,000 sq. foot “Italian food emporium” in Boston and it changed me forever. I realized up until now, I had really never tasted ricotta – just poor imitations!

ricotta

“Ricotta Calabro” produced right here in New England – Connecticut to be exact – was amazing!

Don’t just take my word for it – look at the awards the producer has received! link here.

I know something as fresh and amazing as this should be eaten in its original state, but the weather had been unseasonably cool and I had my heart set on some comfort food.

Pasta, cheese and tomato sauce = comfort. Throw in a little Italian sausage and even the husband will find this dish comforting!

I basically just added crumbled, cooked sausage, to some cooked pasta in a oiled casserole dish, coated it with tomato sauce and strategically set up “clouds” of ricotta. I topped it with shredded Parmesan cheese and baked it for 30 mins at 350 degrees until it was just crispy on the edges and bubbling in the middle. Comfort food at its best!

 

 

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Co-Workers

My co-workers are a great source of inspiration in many ways but when it comes to food…look out waistline!

First it was the cheesecake, then the purple potato loaded with butter and now some yummy roasted spaghetti squash! True that the spaghetti squash is not new to me. You can see my previous post on this wonder-veggie here.

But she did get me thinking about the many ways to serve it and of course covered in red sauce and cheese immediately came to mind!

But first the roasting…

spaghetti squash

I actually roast mine totally plain. I simply cut it down the middle (careful!) and place it cut face down on a parchment lined cookie sheet. No oil, no salt, no pepper.

The steam from the moist squash innards will cook it perfectly. I like to go about 30-40 minutes in a 400 degree oven until it’s just tender, preferring to under-cook it a bit since it usually gets cooked again in the full recipe.

spaghetti and meatballs

use jar sauce and pre-made meatballs for quick and easy assembly. (I won’t tell!)

Now the tender squash strings are ready for anything you want to throw at them! Butter and fresh herbs perhaps? Maybe a cream sauce? Or as I did recently with red sauce, cheese and yes some meatballs!!

This made for an easy, make-ahead dish that could hang out in the oven till everybody was ready to eat! It could just as easily been wrapped and frozen at this point for another more busy night!

No matter how you serve it, you are sure to win the crowd over. Even the husbands who don’t usually eat vegetables!

 

 

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year!

Nope not Christmas… tomato season!!

This year my “supersonics” just keep on giving and although not quite as big as promised… (I blame that on the gardener not the garden) they are prolific! And the little yellow “pear” tomatoes are happily producing a handful a day at this point!

from the garden

After a while there are only so many BLTs you can eat before you need a chance of pace…

BLT

What? Wait?!!! did I really just write that? I never get tired of a BLT!

But the ugly truth is that when the tomatoes are producing faster than you can make sandwiches, there is only one thing left to do….

MAKE SAUCE!

(or “gravy” as we like to say around Boston.) Here is all you need for a simple sauce…

assembled ingredients

Brown up the meats in a heavy bottom cast enamel pan in some olive oil, turn the heat down a bit and add the finely chopped garlic, dried spices and tomato paste. Let them “bloom” for a couple of minutes and de-glaze the pan with the chopped fresh tomatoes. I like to smooth things out with a tablespoon of sugar and of course don’t forget the salt & pepper. Note that I do coat the pork roast with plenty of salt, pepper and a little bit of onion powder before I brown it to a nice crust on all sides. The sausage is fine as is.

sauce in the making

Sauce in the making!

I like to let the whole thing simmer for at least 4 hours on lowish-medium heat and only serve it when the pork roast is basically fork tender. If you like a smoother sauce, remove the meats for a minute and take an immersion blender to the whole thing until it’s your level of smooth. Also I leave the seeds and skin on my tomatoes but you could easily poach and peel the tomatoes and strain the seeds out if that is your desire.

The finished sauce freezes beautifully and when you take some out around Christmas time it truly will be “the most wonderful time of the year” again!

image

Sully’s Sauce

My husband always said “Sully made the best sauce!”

“Sully” (a nickname for his last name of “Sullivan”) was good friend of my husband’s father and a central figure from the neighborhood back in the day, so when my husband mentioned that Sully’s daughter Karen had recently come across the recipe card for his sauce, I knew immediately I had to make it.

What better way to pay homage to fathers who are no longer with us then by recreating something so special and lost in time?

sullys recipe

I just love the “here’s what’s cookin” part of this card – don’t you?!

I asked if there was a “back-side” to the card that might give away his technique but no such luck. Only Sully knows how it all went together originally, but I took my best guess and here is how I did it…

I used 85/15 blend ground beef and started it browning in a hot, dry pan so that I could decide how much fat I wanted to leave in the pan. I got the meat browned and decided to spoon off most of the fat. I chose to re-hydrate some fat back in the meat in the form of the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I am not sure at what point in the process Sully would have used the olive oil, perhaps right at the beginning while browning the meat? or maybe he used it to get the onions and garlic started first? Wish I knew.

Anyway after the olive oil went in, I added in a dash of salt/pepper, onions (2 cups!) and garlic and let those soften a bit before I added in the dry spices to toast a minute. After that I added in the tomato paste and gave that a minute to cook a bit. I de-glazed the pan with the wine. (1 whole cup!)

Next up: the tomatoes. I am certain that by Sully noting that these were “imported” he meant the famed “San Marzano” tomatoes so that is what used and I do think it makes a difference. Also I know that everybody has their own texture technique – some squish the canned tomatoes in their hands, some break them up with a spoon, some use scissors. I broke up 4 of the 6 cups with kitchen scissors, cutting up the whole canned tomatoes into small chunks right in their own sauce from the can. For the last 2 cups I actually used my immersion blender to puree it (not too much) so the whole 6 cups I added in ended up being saucy but with small chunks. I hope Sully would approve.

By now the whole creation was thick, yummy and begging to be tasted, so I did and adjusted the salt and pepper and turned the heat down to barely a simmer. I let it simmer with the lid on tight for about an hour. (keeping the lid on keeps things from drying out, but if it looks too dry, just add in a little water) I let it simmer another hour with the lid slightly off to allow it to actually thicken up a bit as mine was pretty juicy.

By then the delicious smell wafting through the house was more than we could take, so we boiled up some pasta and it was time…

sullys sauce

A special thank you to daughter Karen for letting me have the privilege to re-create her father’s famous sauce! And a happy father’s day to all the dads out there – the ones with us and the ones who have left us.

 

Interested in more ‘Irish-Italian” cooking?? Me too… read more about it here!

 

Author’s note: If you don’t want to use the Chianti wine – I would recommend using a cup of low sodium beef stock with a generous splash or two of red wine vinegar to give it that tangy richness that the wine adds.

 

Chicken Paaaarmm

This actually means  “Chicken Parmigiana” in a Boston accent!

I was watching one of the many cooking shows that are on these days and one of the cooks ( I won’t name names since I like her and it isn’t her fault that she doesn’t have good Italian food in the boondocks!) made Chicken Parmigiana. Which of course made me immediately crave it. After all this IS the stick by which I measure all Italian restaurants the first time I visit them. I also found it weird to actually hear it pronounced properly. It has been so long since I have actually heard it fully pronounced that I almost thought it to be a different dish. Even the small local joints around Boston spell it “Chicken Parm” on the signs! But the most interesting thing about watching her make it that day, was she never used any Parmesan cheese in the crust of the chicken! I swear she didn’t use any at all, but when I cross checked the recipe on her website, I noted that she added some to the fresh marina sauce and then as a sprinkle on top. But not on the crust of the chicken.

But no worries – I still like her and it inspired me to do a quick posting to set the record straight.

You must dredge your chicken cutlets in a combination of seasoned breadcrumbs and finely grated Parmesan cheese. ( The good stuff too, don’t cheap out here.) Than you simply pan fry the cutlets in a shallow bit of olive oil or if you are feeling a little like a Boston pizza joint; you drop them into the fryolator. But the goal is a crispy, crispy Parmesan crust. (and fully cooked chicken)

Exhibit A…

crispy chicken

Now you can do a couple of things with this…

You can put it on a nice Italian roll with some Provolone cheese and some red sauce for a “Chicken Parm Sub” or you can serve it with red sauce and your choice of pasta for a “Chicken Parm Dinner.” And yes, we like to melt some Provolone cheese on top too.

Exhibit B….

chick paaarm

You can get fancy and add some fresh chopped herbs on top – but they don’t do that in Boston. Just saying.

“Storm Stew” (guest blogger)

Since I am extremely busy with work and midterms at school right now, my poor husband has had to fend for himself. But recently he has more than “fended for himself” – he rolled out a wonderful take on “pork cacciatore.” Here is what he had to say about his process and a few photos he took along the way….

Yet another blizzard day here in Boston and since I had the day off – I knew that it would be a perfect day for a big pot of Italian cooking. (Well at least Irish- American – Italian cooking!)

I started things off by consulting one of my wife’s many cookbooks and settled on Marcella Hazen’s The Classic Italian Cook Book, circa 1973. I figured if it has been around that long, she must know what she is talking about. Page 93 “Tomato Sauce I” got me started on a grocery list and a mission.

Next up was the meat. I like a “meaty” sauce and ever since my buddy Marky advised putting a chuck roast in the “gravy” I have never done it any other way. Except today. Today was a pork day. So a piece of pork butt went in.

Under advisement from a sleepy wife in the early am I heated the oil HOT and seared the meat.

Under advisement from a sleepy wife in the early morning,  I heated the oil HOT and seared the meat.

After searing the meat and putting it aside, I chopped up a classic “mire poix” of celery, carrots and onions. ( ok maybe I asked her for a little advice on this part too.)

so what if my pieces are a little big - I like it that way!

so what if my pieces are a little big – I like it that way!

Next up: add the mushrooms.

now it is more like a Cacciatore!

Now it is more like a Cacciatore!

I added in some tomato stuff, seasoning, garlic and put the meat back in and then the hard-part – waiting for it to cook and fully develop into the masterpiece I know it will be!

oops - A bit of a mess in the kitchen but I KNOW it will be worth it!

oops – A bit of a mess in the kitchen but I KNOW it will be worth it!

And it was! Totally delicious served as is – meat and sauce- but even better with the starch of your choice: garlic bread, rice, pasta or roast potatoes!

wifey says…What a wonderful and yummy dish to come home to! Thanks honey!

Week DAY lasagna

When I found myself home on a weekday recently, puttering around pretending to clean the house, my thoughts turned to lasagna. I hadn’t had it in a awhile and was hankering for a “red sauce fix.” And since I had the time – I decided to splurge and use the regular noodles that you have to boil first. Typically I enjoy the quicker week NIGHT version that employs the “no boil” noodles from Barilla but I was feeling fancy and had some time on my hands so…

boiling the noodles

…boil the noodles I did.

…and clean out the freezer of the late-summer red sauce I had packed away from my saucegarden tomatoes.

I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to make enough for an army – just one small pan. (lasagna is always measured in ‘pans’ around here no matter what the vessel is actually made of) But of course there were tons of extra noodles and lot of rich ricotta cheese with its eggy-parmesean goodness added to it. So what’s a gal to do, but make two pans. One pan is the first pan – all perfect and “saucy” -the way I like it. The other pan is the scraps. Leftover torn bits of noodles, light sauce cause you had to stretch it. You get the idea.

Can you tell which one is which?                                   What about now, with cheese on top?

2 lasagnaswith cheese

I decided to freeze the “nice” one…

…in case I wanted to whip that out for company one day and bake the “patch job” since it was just for us. It was perfectly delicious even with out all that extra saucy-goodness that I normally endorse!

not too saucy

Production Notes:

I happened to have a random 1/4 lb of frozen sweet Italian sausage hanging around the freezer that I browned up and added to the red sauce but you could easily omit this for a very satisfying vegetarian lasagna. Toss in some crushed fennel seed instead to get that “sausage essence” without actually using it!