Food Hunter's Guide to Cuisine: October 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My Version of a New York Times Recipe for Ratatouille

Back in September the New York Times published a recipe which immediately caught my eye; Ratatouille and Sausage Potpie with Cornmeal Biscuits. Except for the biscuits, which I really don’t care for, it sounded delicious. So I decided to put my own spin on the recipe and substitute homemade focaccia for the biscuits.

I sandwiched the ratatouille between two thin slices of focaccia; one to soak up the juices from the bottom and the other to scoop up the hunks of veggies and sausage. It was perfect.

The recipe is enough for 6 servings so needless to say with just the two of us there was a lot leftover. That’s ok I tossed the leftovers with some pasta and got another great meal out of it.


1 large eggplant (1 1/2 pounds) cut into 1-inch chunks
3 small zucchini ( 3/4 pound), cut into 1-inch chunks
7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 red pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or basil.

1. For the biscuits: In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Fold in the sour cream. Gently knead mixture until it comes together in a ball, adding a drop or two of milk if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. For the ratatouille: In a bowl, toss eggplant and zucchini with 5 tablespoons oil; season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Spread vegetables in a single layer on one or two large baking sheets (do not crowd vegetables). Transfer to oven and roast, tossing occasionally, until golden, about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a large, deep, preferably oven-proof sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Crumble sausage into pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer sausage to a paper towel-lined plate.

4. Return pan to medium heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Stir in the onion, pepper, garlic and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and thyme sprigs; simmer gently until tomatoes are cooked and mixture is stew-like, about 10 minutes. Stir in the sausage, roasted vegetables and parsley.

Let cool 10 minutes before serving.<

Yield: 6 servings.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Recipes and a New Cooking Video

We don't get much of a fall season here in Arizona. Last week temperatures were in the high 80's and I was hopeful. But this past weekend we hit the 100 mark once again. Such crazy weather makes it very hard to enjoy the traditional comfort foods of the season like soups and stews.

I've decided to ignore the rising temperatures outside and create my own fall food season with some Merlot-Braised Chicken Thighs. I saw this recipe in a Lidia Bastianich cookbook and thought it would be perfect. Chicken thighs are stuffed with a mixture of carrots, celery and onion; a combo that reminds me so much this time of year. Add some sprigs of fresh rosemary and sage and this dish is screaming fall. On the side I served Green Beans and Mashed Potatoes, also from Lidia. (see below for recipes)

Lucky for us my husband decided this recipe was worthy of a video.

Hope you enjoy it!

Merlot-Braised Chicken Thighs
adapted from Lidia Bastianich

2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup leek, chopped
1 cup carrot, chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 can Italian parsley, chopped
12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
12 sprigs rosemary
12 sage leaves
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup Merlot
1 cup chicken stock

In a medium size skillet, heat the butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil together over medium heat until the butter is foaming.

Add onions and leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl and cool completely. Stir in the grated cheese and parsley.

Cut twenty-four 4 inch lengths of kitchen twine. Place a chicken thigh on a work surface. Spread about 1/4 cup of the vegetable mixture in an even layer over the chicken thigh. Roll the thigh around the filling into a tight cylinder. Place the stuffed thigh, seam side down and tie it securely with two pieces of twine.

Tuck a rosemary sprig under the twine on one side of the thigh and a sage leaf on the other side. Set aside and repeat with the remaining thighs.

In a nonreactive skillet large enough to hold the thighs in a single layer, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, than add the chicken bundles and garlic. Cook, turning the chicken thighs often and rotating them in the skillet so they cook evenly, until golden brown on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add the wine and bring it to a boil. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then adjust the level of heat down to a lively simmer.

Cook, uncovered, turning the chicken pieces occasionally, until the chicken is cooked and the sauce is reduced to a syrupy consistency, about 20 minutes.

Cut and remove the strings and discard the herbs. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.

String Beans and Potaotes
adapted from Lidia Bastianich

1 large Idaho or Yukon Gold potato, about 8 ounces
1 pounds fresh string beans, cleaned
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel the potato and cut crosswise into 11/2 inch pieces. Pour enough cold water over the potato in a large pot to cover by 3 inches. Bring to a boil. Cook about 8 minutes. Add the string beans, and cook until tender; about 7 minutes. Drain the beans and potatoes.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook just until it begins to brown, about 1 minute. Add the string beans and potatoes, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring and mashing the potatoes roughly. Add the remaining olive oil, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Easy Weeknight Dinner Tips

People are always asking my husband and I how we work all day and still find time to enjoy a fresh home cooked meal together each night. Honestly, it’s not that hard. Although, it might take a little effort we both feel it’s worth it.

Here’s how we manage to make it work night after night:

1. Plan, plan, plan. We spend a few minutes on Saturday mornings hashing out what to make during the upcoming week. We put together a list and we shop for what we need.
2. Make the meals simple. Not every meal has to be 5 courses or take 3 hours to prepare. We are always looking for recipes that cook quick and don’t require much prep time.
3. Keep your pantry stocked with essentials. I always have things like chicken stock or canned tomatoes on hand.
4. Prep ingredients in advance. I try and do whatever I can the night before.
5. Be flexible and open to new ideas and ingredients. Don't be afraid to experiment.
6. Keep a list of your “favorites” to fall back on.

Below are two recipes we found that make perfect weeknight meals. I hope you enjoy them.

Rigatoni with Pancetta and Peas
adapted from Italian Cooking and Living magazine

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 thin slices pancetta, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 ½ cups frozen green peas
¾ cup chicken stock
1 cup tomato puree
Salt and pepper
1 pound rigatoni (we substituted spaghetti)
¼ cup freshly grated Grana Padano

In a large skillet with high sides, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta, and sauté until golden brown. Add the onion, and cook until translucent. Stir in the peas, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Mix in the tomato puree, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes or until it reduces to a sauce consistency.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle with Grana and serve.

Chicken with Fennel
adapted from Italian Cooking and Living magazine

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch strips
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 fennel bulb, cut into wedges, fronds reserved
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted
In a large nonstick skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the skillet and sauté until golden on all sides. Add 2 tablespoons of water, the rosemary and fennel, and cook for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the olives, and cook for 1 minute. Serve drizzled with olive oil and garnish with the fennel fronds.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Case of the Lost Calamari Salad Recipe

Have you ever spent hours; maybe even days, looking for a particular recipe that you made and loved but can't seem to remember where it came from. Well that's exactly how I spent my day today.

I woke up this morning thinking about a calamari salad I made at the end of July for my uncle's birthday. I remembered it being really good and I thought I should make it again soon. But for some reason I just couldn't remember where I got the recipe from.

The search began right after breakfast. I scoured through cookbooks, magazines and newspaper clippings. I searched the web and checked all my favorite blogs. Do you know how many calamari salad recipes are out there. Well there's lots; but not the one I was looking for.

I called my mother for moral support. "Yes, I remember that," she said. "You should make it again." Well I'm sure trying. She did remember that it had pine nuts. Ahh...another word to add to my search.

Finally, after hours of driving him crazy, my husband chimed in and said, "Didn't you take a photo for your blog?" He's always full of good ideas. Although, I had never gotten around to blogging about it I knew I had taken a picture. So we went to look at the photo. "What are those big reddish brown things?" he said. They almost looked like bacon but I didn't think so. Then it dawned on me...they're sun dried tomatoes.

My search began again. This time I went through everything looking for recipes with sun dried tomatoes; and right there on page 26 of Nick Stellino's Family Kitchen cookbook I found it!

Sauteed Calamari with Sun Dried Tomatoes

1 pound whole fresh calamari
1/2 cup bread crumbs
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 oil packed sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
4 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped arugula (I used baby spinach)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Rinse and clean squid thoroughly. Slice into rings. Toss squid with the bread crumbs. In a large nonstick saute pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat until the oil sizzles.

Pat excess crumbs from the squid and fry until firm and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Heat remaining olive oil, add sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, basil, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook about 6-8 minutes.

Return calamari rings to pan and toss until well coated about 2 more minutes.

Toss with the arugula (spinach) and lemon juice until the greens wilt slightly.