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Monday, January 26, 2015

Meatless Monday: Italian Lentils and Polenta

Leftovers! Polenta reheated by panfrying
This is stick to your ribs wintertime comfort food, vegetarian style. Check the end of the recipe for the best way to reheat the polenta if you have some leftovers. Or, make this ahead so you can use the polenta reheating tip to make this dish even better.

Italian Lentils and Polenta
(serves 6)

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 roasted red peppers, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ dried red chile flakes
1 ½ cups lentils
2 ⅔ cups stock
⅓ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ onion, diced

6 cups stock
salt if your stock is unsalted
1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal or corn grits

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Heat up oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the peppers, garlic, fennel seeds, and chile flakes. Cook for 5 minutes. Add  lentils, stock, wine, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high and cook until lentils are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and stir in onion. Cover and set aside while you cook the polenta.

In a large pot, heat up the stock over medium-high heat. Whisk in the cornmeal slowly. Switch to a large heavy spoon, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir every few minutes. The polenta is done when it is very thick, thick enough so that stirring it is work. Taste for salt and add some if the polenta is bland. Spoon polenta into bowls and cover with lentils. Garnish each serving with 1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese.

You can reheat polenta in the microwave but the best way to reheat it is by panfrying it. You need a non-stick skillet and a couple of teaspoons of oil per serving. To facilitate future panfrying, spread it out on a rimmed baking pan in a 1" layer right after you cook it then refrigerate until firm. Heat the oil in the skillet then fry the polenta until lightly browned all over. The outside will be a little crunchy-crispy and the inside will be delicious creamy. Absolutely the best way to reheat polenta.

Adapted from a recipe in The Best 125 Meatless Italian Dishes by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay, Prima Publishing, 1995.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Unstuffed Cabbage

This recipe is my grandmother's, passed on to me via my mom. Stuffed cabbage is a complicated process: make the filling, blanch the leaves, stuff and roll up the leaves, braise for a long time. Delicious it may be, but you will spend a chunk of your day pulling it off. I haven't made this recipe in years because it's so much work. It is so good and very special...

Six months after my grandmother died, I found a stash of stuffed cabbage buried in the freezer. She had come to visit after the birth of my daughter, and left me with her wonderful stuffed cabbage. Finding that stuffed cabbage was a pretty emotional experience and I relished every bite of my grandmother's last food production in my life.

Besides simplifying the stuffing process, I have modernized the recipe by cutting back on the meat. I replaced some of the meat with cooked lentils. It's still a stick-to-your-ribs, sweet and sour dish. It may not remind you of your grandmother, it will give you some idea of my memories of my dear grandmother.

Unstuffed Cabbage
(serves 8)

non-stick cooking spray
1 large green cabbage
½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup lentils, rinsed
4 cups water

1 pound ground meat (beef, pork, turkey)
½ onion, chopped
1 cup cold cooked rice
1 egg, beaten
1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon black pepper

1 ½ Tablespoons oil
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups commercial beef stock
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained
¾ cup raisins
½ cup crushed gingersnaps (about 6 2" cookies)
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar.
juice of 1 lemon, about ⅓ cup
1 teaspoon kosher salt (see Note)

Place all the Lentils ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes until lentils are tender. Drain well and set in the fridge to cool slightly.

While the lentils are cooking, peel off the large outer leaves from the cabbage and set aside. Cut the remaining cabbage into quarters, core, and slice. Spray a large Dutch oven with non-stick spray. Put all the sliced cabbage in the Dutch oven and sprinkle with the salt. Lay half of the big leaves over the sliced cabbage. Set aside while you make the stuffing.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Wipe out the lentil saucepan. Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes until the roux is golden. Whisk in the beef stock and dried thyme. Bring to a boil and whisk until the stock thickens slightly. Set aside.

Combine all the Stuffing ingredients in a large bowl. Add the lentils and mix to combine. Spread the stuffing over the cabbage leaves in the Dutch oven. Lay the rest of the cabbage leaves over the stuffing.

Combine the beef stock sauce, and the remaining sauce ingredients in the bowl you mixed the stuffing in. Pour over the top of the cabbage, poking the cabbage at the edge of the pot so that some of the sauce drains down along the edge.

Cover the pot and place in the oven for 2 hours. Remove the cover and cook for another 30 minutes until the cabbage is very tender and the sauce has reduced. This is a dish that improves with reheating. Make it ahead, chill it down, then reheat it. The flavors become more harmonious and smooth.

As you probably figured out from my story above, stuffed cabbage (or unstuffed cabbage) freezes very well.

Note: I used commercial beef stock (Better Than Bouillon is my preferred brand in instant broth). If you use homemade or unsalted stock in the box, you will need to add more salt to the sauce.

Friday, January 9, 2015

If in Waterbury, Connecticut...

Grotto cavatelli with chicken, pesto, and artichoke hearts
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I traveled to Connecticut to visit my sister and her family. And see my lovely daughter who is taking an intensive year of math nearby in Massachusetts. And I got to see an old college friend too! It was wonderful visiting Ann and Michael. I need to visit them again. These people know food. As if visiting a dear old friend isn't enough? There's great food too!

They took us to the place for homemade cavatelli in Waterbury: Grotto. This is a treat. Ann was kind enough to purchase two pounds of it for us. We stashed it in the freezer until our daughter came home for Winter Break. Delicioso! It has the perfect bite and these wonderful crannies for holding the sauce.

If you find yourself in the neighborhood, buy some. You will not regret it!

634 Watertown Avenue, Waterbury, CT 06708

Friday, January 2, 2015

Lemony Shrimp Risotto

Happy 2015, everyone! Here was the first dinner of the new year in my house, a lemony shrimp risotto. Huge shrimp! You don't need to use such gigantic ones; that's just what I had in the freezer. The hardest part of this recipe is finding the shrimp or fish stock. You can make your own shrimp stock from the shells. It's wonderful stuff. Or, you can use Better Than Bouillon Fish or Lobster Base. This is a very good product. All their bases are quite good for not-homemade stock.

This recipe is adapted from one by Jamie Oliver. That one is sort of a disaster. I think someone edited it in a half-hearted way and it ended up a mess. I'm not going to even tell you where it is because I don't recommend you try following it. Yes, it's that jumbled up. And it's in metric to boot.

The original recipe called for the juice of a whole lemon. My family unit said it was too tart. The zest isn't tart so use all the zest but only half the juice.

Peppadews are sweet and very mildly spicy peppers.  You can find them in jars or at your supermarket olive bar. Most of the olive bars in Boulder carry them. They are very tasty!

Lemony Shrimp Risotto
(serves 4)

7 cups shrimp or fish stock
2 Tablespoons dried minced onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt, if using unsalted stock
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 ⅔ cups Arborio or similar short-grain rice
6 oz. white or rosé wine
1 ½ cups frozen peas
about 1 pound peeled and deveined medium to large shrimp
1 lemon
4 Peppadew peppers, diced or a pinch of crushed red chile flakes
black pepper

Zest the lemon and set aside the zest. Juice half the lemon and set aside the juice. In a medium saucepan, mix together the stock, dried onion and salt (if using). Heat to a simmer and keep it there. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat up the olive oil on medium-high. Add the rice and cook it until the grains of rice chance from translucent to opaque. They turn a milky white. Add the wine and cook until wine has evaporated/been absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium. Add ¾ cup of hot stock and stir until all the stock is absorbed by the rice. You don't need to stir it constantly, but you need to stir it regularly, every few minutes. When the liquid has been absorbed, add some more stock and stir once more. Keep this up until the rice is very nearly done. At 5400 ft., that takes nearly 30 minutes, longer than most recipes say to cook it. I recommend you try the rice so you know how close you are to done. If it's crunchy, not done. If you say "hmm, very close but not quite there," it's time to add the shrimp and peas. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes until the peas are hot and the shrimp is pink and cooked. You don't want to cook the shrimp any longer than necessary because it will get tough. So, there is some timing involved here - you want the risotto just done when the shrimp is just done.

Just before serving, add the lemon zest, lemon juice, Peppadews, and a light sprinkle of black pepper. Taste for salt and season with more if needed. Serve in hot bowls with some shrimp arranged on top, because you want to show off the shrimp, especially if they are as big as the ones in my risotto!