Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Brasato di Manzo al Sangiovese

Brasato di manzo simply means braised beef in Italian. Nothing can be more comforting or satisfying than a delicious piece of meat that has slowly tenderized after hours of simmering. This is the perfect meal to enjoy on a chilly winter day, or any time you have a need for rustic cuisine. When I prepare this dish, I like to braise the meat for about 3 hours, until it is perfectly tender and delightful. And while I look forward to the meal to come as the cooking aroma fills the house, just as wonderful as the main course is the leftovers to follow.  I usually serve the short ribs with some oven roasted fingerling potatoes as a side dish. Luckily, there is always lots of sauce/braising liquid left over at the end. For a future meal, you can reduce the braising liquid to a nice consistency for a pasta sauce. Cut up any leftover short ribs into small pieces, and add it to the sauce. Serve over a nice egg pasta such as pappardelle with a generous dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano on top. Can't be beat!

4 large short ribs, about 10 inches each, cut half into 8 smaller pieces
1 onion diced
1 carrot diced
1 celery stalk diced
1 28 oz. can crushed or chopped tomatoes. I prefer crushed.
1 bottle Italian red wine, a Sangiovese works well.
1 sprig fresh rosemary
32 oz. beef stock
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

Before cooking, generously season your short ribs with salt and pepper. In a 5.5 quart skillet, or other similar size cooking vessel, heat the olive oil until very hot. Brown the short ribs on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes. Once ribs have a nice sear, remove them from the skillet, and set aside.

In the same sauce pan, keep the heat high, and add the diced carrot, onion, and celery. Stir often until they soften and begin to take on a nice golden color, probably about 5 minutes. When they look ready, add the can of crushed tomatoes, the bottle of wine and the rosemary. I chop the rosemary finely. Stir well, being sure that all the ingredients combine. When sauce comes to a boil, I often choose to add a little bit of sugar, maybe two tablespoons, to take away any unwanted acidity from the tomatoes.

Next, return the short ribs to the skillet, and pour in the beef stock until the ribs are just about covered. Once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cover the skillet and allow the ribs to simmer for about three hours. Stir occasionally.  The meat should become very, very tender.

Once the meat has cooked for the necessary amount of time, remove it from the skillet and set aside. Then, leaving the sauce uncovered, turn the heat up, and allow it reduce to a nice thick consistency. Right before serving, return the ribs to the sauce for a few minutes to reheat. Then serve the short rib on a plate with a generous helping of sauce on top. As I said, roasted fingerling potatoes are a great accompaniment. Also, a nice baguette is perfect for sweeping up any remaining sauce. Don't forget to treat yourself to a nice bottle of red wine to go with. You could stick to a nice Sangiovese, or go for a nice Brunello di Montalcino.

Most importantly, once the meal is over, and the leftover sauce is cooled, put it away and save it for your future meal as a sauce over pappardelle.

Enjoy your meal. You are in for a real treat. :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Seppie in umido con polenta

Seafood had always been a passion of mine and a costant presence in my family cooking. Besides being, for the most part, healthy and fairly simple to cook, seafood allows a certain degree of creativity and versatility. One element of cooking that I particularly value and enjoy is the simple ingredients and the way of cooking them. This finds its root in very poor generations of families during war times and other periods of economic depression, where families had to use ingredients found locally at a very cheap price. By default these ingredients had to be extremely fresh. These two elements, in my opinion, happen to be two golden rules of successful and delicious recipes, fresh and local ingredients. This is particularly true with the recipe I chose today. In fact I found it very "interesting" for a lack of a better word, how traditional poor people food, so tasty and authentic, got so "glamorous" and "trendy" in so many restaurants worldwide. Cornmeal should not be very expensive at all, but call it "polenta" and it assumes a whole different connotation. I think this phenomena has affected the wine culture as well, where something so simple and enjoyable, became "trendy" and, as a  consequence, more expensive.
One other interesting but fun challenge I came accross lately is the generalization of some food, seafood in this case. I used cuttlefish for this recipe, but many friends were suggesting that squid was what I needed, where in fact "seppie" and "calamari" are very distinct types of fish, even if they belong to the same family :)
In many Venetian restaurants seppie are very popular prepared grilled, cooked with risotto with black ink ( coming soon here) and, of course, with tomato sauce and polenta.


1.5 lbs of cuttlefish
1.5 lbs of chopped fresh toamtoes
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/2 onion diced
1 garlic clove
extra virgin olive oil

For the Polenta:
500 grams of corn flour
8 cups water

After having cleaned the cuttlefish, cut them into strips no larger than half an inch thick. In a large pot simmer the oil together with the garlic clove finely minced and the onion, until both are of a  golden color. Next add the cuttlefish and let them cook covered at a medium temperature for about 5 minutes, until they release some juice. Add the white wine and let it simmer for another two minutes. Finally, add the tomatoes and let it cook for another 15 minutes. If the sauce dries up fast, add the a little water, but the consistency at the end should not be too liquid.
For the polenta, many people reccomend the white one. I chose the yellow one, because I like the taste and it adds a nice color contrast to the presentation.
The traditional method for making polenta involves cooking it slowly on the stovetop until it thickens to the appropriate texture. This method requires constant stirring to avoid having the polenta stick to the pot.
Start by boiling water in a deep pot, pouring a spoonful of salt. Next drop the flour stirring constantly with a whisk. When everything is dissolved and homogeneous, cook stirring constantly for about an hour with a special wooden stick and lifting the polenta from the bottom up. The polenta is cooked when the edges begin to peel off. If it becomes too thick during cooking, add a little boiling water. Pour the cooked polenta into the appropriate platter and serve hot. You can also buy ready made polenta at the store and the mixing process would be much faster. Pair up with a nice white wine of your choice.