Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

I’ve recently come to terms with something: I am going to be one of those old ladies that is always complaining about her aches and pains.  Yup.  I know this because I’m already doing it.  And I’m about to set it down in writing.  Here goes: an acute muscle spasm of unknown origin on my right shoulder kept me awake in surprising pain all night Monday. Compensating for that has lead to a flare up of excruciating bursitis that’s frankly immobilized my left shoulder today.  I’m doped up on muscle relaxer and sluggish from hours just sitting, trying not to move.  But yet, dear readers, I had to eat – and nothing delivery would do.  So, I get up, rummage one-handedly through the fridge and my pantry shelves, and I throw together some soup – some warm, bright, savory, light, fresh, healing and wholesome soup.  With a sudden surge of energy, I find myself taking pictures before I even realize I’m doing it.  And now, here I type – with my right hand only, my left can’t reach or hold itself to the keyboard without shooting a searing pain from my shoulder to the tip of my middle finger – because, well, I’m obsessive that way.  If I’m going to be a wimp whose arms just decide to stop working one day, I’m at least going to be a well fed wimp.

Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 stalk celery
6-8 tbs diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken stock
sea salt, cracked black pepper, oregano
1 smoked pork chop
1 can cannellini beans
4 cups loose fresh spinach leaves
1 cup small pasta
parmigiano reggiano cheese

I call this a kitchen sink soup because I just threw all sorts of scraps and ends and stuff I found in the freezer and fridge – everything I could find, really – to make this.  I had an old bag of celery, from which I was able to harvest a still snappy center stalk, a stray carrot, and a found-in-the-back-of-the-drawer onion — all of these I washed, peeled, and chopped roughly.  Nights like these are why it’s always good to have basic mirepox ingredients like these on hand.

These I very ungracefully chuck into my wok, which is sizzling with a few glugs of EVOO on the surface.  After adding a dash of salt, a generous tablespoon or so of black pepper,  and about two tablespoons of dried oregano, I let everything sweat and soften for a few minutes.

I wasn’t feeding a crowd, and I didn’t want a tomato sauce, so I only add about half the contents of a can of diced tomatoes in juice.  I toss everything well, and let it all simmer for a few moments.

Just enough time to chop up my chop.  This perfectly smoked, perfectly trimmed pork chop is from Blood Farms, and it’s been in my freezer for a few weeks now.  It doesn’t take too long to defrost, and then I…

… cut all the meat off the bone, and then into bite-sized pieces.

Everything gets chucked into the pan – meat and bone (why loose all that beautiful smoked seasoning?).  A quick stir later…

… and I add my chicken stock.  I bring this to a boil, lower to a gentle simmer, and let cook for about 30 minutes.

Oh, right — my beans!  I didn’t think the soup would be hearty enough without beans, so I crack a can of cannellini, which I drain and rinse before I add them to the pot.

While this is simmering, I boil off about a cup of ditalini pasta in salted water.  I don’t cook it in the soup because I don’t want to add all that cloudy starch to my broth.

I made a spinach salad at a party the other day, and I had one bunch left over, just about to start its conversion process into compost.  I salvaged the crispest leaves and threw them in the soup during the last 2 minutes of its simmer.

They melt beautifully into the soup.

The final ingredient: this lump of leftover parmigiano reggiano cheese – the perfect nutty salty substance to top off all the vegetable and porky goodness swimming in my bowl.

A luscious, steaming broth, made slightly smoky by the bites of chop ladled throughout, enriched by the white beans and tender pasta, and freshened by the carrots and spinach and spice.  It might have been easier to crack a can of Campbell’s soup (if I had one), but then I would have to deal with preservatives and salt and stuff I couldn’t control.  Although my left arm is still no better than a vestigial appendage, and my right lung feels like it can’t take a full breath (this getting old shit has got to stop!), my tummy and soul feel totally satisfied – almost giddy, even.  If chicken soup is for the soul, here’s hoping pork soup is for the shoulder…

Gnarly Roasted Carrot Studded Osso Bucco

Osso bucco.  Those four syllables are synonymous with “the brightest delights of heaven concentrated on the tongue in a symphony of rich savory flavorful meat and vegetable loveliness” … or something like that.  And when the veal is from the inestimable Cato Corner Farm, in Colchester, CT — a place more known for its cheese than its equally fine pork, veal, and beef selection (thanks to H & W for taking us there after last weekend’s epic pig roast!), and the carrots were grown by my husbandman Farmer Clayton in Concord, MA, then the waxing poetic effect really kicks in with a vengeance.  I’m not sure why veal shanks braised in tomatoes and wine always commands such a massive price on restaurant menus, especially when superlative meat is available for $7.99/lb, like it was at the farmstand — which I why I make the dish at home whenever I can.  The enjoyment to be gleaned from this dish, however, is worth any price: a homestyle, chunky tomato sauce full of fresh farm flavors, draped over tender morsels of sweet meat falling off round smooth bones shot through with rich, delicious marrow.  Traditionally, the meal is served with a saffron-scented risotto and topped with a snappy garlic/parsley gremolata, but I wanted to capture more of a rustic feel, so I stewed the sauce with oregano and sage and served the dish with some beautiful gnarled roasted carrots.  (Clayton has been collecting the ugliest carrots he could find, digging them up all week.)  Hearty, honest, silken, savory and warm; we might not live on the farm, but we sure know how to bring, and use, the best of the farm home with us to the city for dinner night after night.

Gnarly Roasted Carrot Studded Osso Bucco

4 cross cut veal shanks (mine equal about 1 3/4 lbs)
EVOO
several celery stalks
8-10 carrots — the more gnarled, twisted, and mutant, the better!
1 small red onion
1 small white onion
1 head garlic
1 cup red wine
1 qt beef stock
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano
1 handful fresh sage leaves
1 small loaf french bread
grated parmesan cheese
black pepper, sea salt

This dish starts like many other braised meat recipes: I rinse and dry the yummies, dredge them with flour, salt, and pepper.  I roughly chop my celery, onion, and a couple of my least interesting carrots (read: anything straight enough to have purchased at the supermarket ), then separate, crack, and peel all my cloves of garlic.  A swirl of EVOO goes over medium-high heat in my largest, deep-sided pan.

Searing the meat does several things: it locks in juices and flavor, it caramelizes cut sides of muscle, jump starting the cooking process, and it adds a crusty fond to the pan, which will contribute deliciousness (and thickeningness) to the sauce.

Using tongs, I flip them shanks when the bottom side has developed a healthy brown sear.  The house already smells good.  When both sides are properly encrusted, I remove them from the pan and set ‘em aside for a few moments. I return the pan to the heat and …

… dump in my chopped veggies.  They get stirred around over the heat until they just start to soften.  The smell in the kitchen just intensified to fantastic.

Here’s where I add the wine.  This is just a nice table red; Clayton enjoyed drinking the rest of the bottle with his dinner later.

I splash about a cup into the pan and stir well, scraping up all the nice brown bits of meaty meat clinging to the hot surface.

I coulda shoulda woulda used fresh tomatoes today, but I done forgot to ask Clayton to pick some.  It would have added about an hour to my cook-time, too – and given the hour plus I needed to braise the veal, that would have meant a very late dinner.  So, a can it is; this brand is organic and quite tasty.

We don’t have to get our herbs from the farm, since our little roof-deck garden is still producing sturdy rich oregano and robust sage leaves.  I don’t bother removing these from their stems…

… I just throw them, stems and all, along with my quart of beef stock, into the pan.  After a good stir, encouraging the wine, tomatoes, and stock to get to know each other and submerging my herbs in their luscious liquid, I reduce the heat to simmer, cover, and walk away for an hour — during which time the fantastic aromas emanating from the stove shoot heavenward, ascending all the way to “maddening”.

Now that’s what I call a chorus line.  Look at all them legs!  Clayton’s collection of heirloom ugly carrots are a delightful study in what vegetables really look like.  Not only are they more visually stimulating than the typical, perfectly conical, dully orange Bug Bunny carrots, but they taste richer, more carrot-y, too.  I scrub them very well, using a vegetable brush, and paying close attention to the little bits of stem left.  No – I don’t peel them.  It’s rusticity I want; my carrots don’t need denuding.

These lovelies get laid Walton-family style in a sweet little package of aluminum foil, draped with EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, and a sprigs’ worth of oregano leaves.  I wrap the package up tightly, being careful not to pierce the foil, then I put this on a baking sheet and throw it into a 350° oven.  They take about 35-40 minutes; just enough time for me to finish off the rest of the meal.

It’s been an hour, and my veal is so tender it has already begun to fall off the bone.  I remove the lid so that the liquid can reduce…

… and so I can melt some butter.  I don’t have a microwave, but I do have stainless steel bowls I can float over already boiling stuff to jerry-rig a quick double-boiler.  What?  It’s efficient! I add about a tablespoon of fresh minced garlic, and mix well.

This gets spread across my split french loaf.  Add some healthy sprinklings of grated parmesan cheese, chuck in the oven for 10 minutes, and I gots me some toasty cheesy garlic bread for sopping.

Didn’t I mention the meat was falling off the bone?  Or perhaps it’s more apt to say that the bones are falling out of the meat.  Either way, it’s ready.

I remove the meat from the sauce to a warmed waiting serving platter.  Using a deep spoon, I transfer the sauce from the pan to a large deep bowl.  Although I could serve it chunky like this, I like a smooth sauce for my Michael Shanks..

I’ve used a variation of this trick to pound peppercorns in my mortar and pestle without scattering them all over the kitchen, and it works for hand-blending, too.  This bowl is too big for a single-width of cling-wrap, so I tightly affix two overlapping sheets to the bowl’s edges, sliding my hand-blender through the open pocket.  Then I happily whirr away, enjoying the sensation of *not* flicking my eyes, face, clothes, and kitchen walls with hot tomato sauce.

See?  All these spatters are *not* all over me.  And I have a perfectly pureed garden tomato sauce!

The last step is to plate my carrots, which are absolutely tender and slightly caramelized when I unwrap them from their foil sleeping bag.

An aromatic hour and a half later, and I have a full platter of richly stewed tender veal shanks with roasted sweet carrots.  The flavors are hearty and wholesome, warming to the core, fulfilling and comfortable.  Clayton summed up my cooking just right the other day; he called it “urban comfort food” – and I couldn’t agree more with him.  My place in the city serves the farm on a plate, and this married-to-a-gentleman-farmer-redneck girl loves it.

Chicken n’ Dumplins Cordon Bleu, with Arugula and “Cheater” Cheese Muffins


One of the first jokes I heard when I moved up here to Boston sounds more like a mantra than the one-liner it is: If you don’t like the weather here in New England… wait 5 minutes.  This week has, thus far, personified that way of life.  The down-home-cooking pictured here was prepared by yours truly and served up on Monday night, after a long, dark, dreary, windy, extremely wet and surprisingly cold August day. Tuesday was patches of the same, interspersed with random periods of clear blue sky and warm breezes.  But today… today it’s brilliant, cloudless, sunny, and HOT – a true summer day. I’ve gone from a long-sleeve sweater and sweatpants to tank-top and tap-pants in a matter of hours.  So even though just thinking of turning on my oven today makes me all sweaty and anxious, I sure am happy I did to make Monday’s dinner – even if we were too sodden to shop, and so only used the few things we had in the house and a boner recently bought at our go-to ghetto grocery store, Johnny’s Foodmaster.  But as this is Lolita’s riff on a standard chicken n’ dumplins, I did fancify it with a bit of ham and swiss cheese (stolen from Clayton’s luncheon meats supply) – just to make the mundane a bit more special. With a quick, two-ingredient salad and some garlicky “cheater” cheese muffins, this steaming hot and supremely satisfying pot-pie au gratin totally took the cold out of our bones, while culinarily combining our old Southern roots with our new Northern exposures. In the background, on the telly, Brigit Fonda is ostensibly contemplating killer crocodiles loose in Northern Maine (ala Lake Placid, a little gem of a movie), but she’s really thinking about the steaming chicken goodness just waiting under that crust of bubbly baked Swiss cheese. Back off, blondie!  This bowl’s MINE.


Chicken n’ Dumplins Cordon Bleu, with Arugula and “Cheater” Cheese Muffins

1 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast (about 1.5 lbs)
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1 onion
1 stick butter
1 qt chicken stock
garlic powder
1 package flour tortillas
arugula
fresh mozzarella cheese
EVOO
white balsamic vinegar
sea salt, cracked black pepper
1 can large buttermilk biscuits (yes, I used a can.  Sue me.)
shredded romano cheese


I started with a pat of butter and a large hot pan.


Just as my butter started to froth, I placed my large washed, patted dry, salted, and peppered chicken breast skin down into the pan, and I let it sear for a good 10 minutes, until the skin was brown and crispy and the breast had started to cook through. Meanwhile, I peeled and chop my onion, carrots, and celery.


I flipped my bird, moved it to the side of the pan, and dumped my aromatics into the pan, stirring well so the browned butter coated all the veggies thoroughly.


After the veggies softened slightly, I flipped my bird breast down again, added the quart of chicken stock to the pan, and using a wooden spatula to scrape up all the buttery fond, lowered the heat to medium, and put on the lid.  I let my chicken cook for 30 minutes this way, trying hard not to keep lifting the lid to inhale the amazing aroma.


Although I know they’re likely full of preservatives and stuff, I have always loved bread from a can – from the light and flaky crescent rolls to the super Grande buttermilk biscuits.  We try to keep a can on hand, just for days like Monday when going to the market just isn’t on the agenda.  They’re great in a pinch.  Still, as you may have seen before, dear reader, if you follow this blog, Lolita doesn’t like to just slap them on a cookie sheet — oh no!  I do a little something something to make them extra special.  A can comes with 8 biscuits; I used 4, and put the rest back in the fridge with the hope that I’d use them the next day (which I did, actually).  I first cut them into quarters…


… then I tossed them with the dry ingredients into a large zipper bag: a few shakes of garlic powder (not garlic salt), and some shredded romano cheese (about 1/2 cup).  I threw all this around until each little bread nugget was studded with flavor.  I then added 2 tbs of melted butter, sealed the bag, and tossed it around some more to fully coat everything.


Four nuggets per tin transformed these biscuits into savory muffins, and an extra helping of cheese on top makeed them crisp up.  See?  “Cheater” muffins – not from scratch, but they taste like it! They took 15 minutes to bake on 350° — just as much time as I needed to bake off the casseroles, so I set them aside until I was ready.


After 30 minutes, my chicken was fully cooked through and ready to be pulled off the bone.  Using tongs, I removed the breast from the pan, and set the heat to high so the chicken broth could continue to boil off and concentrate.


I carefully removed the meat from the bone, and it was luscious, juicy, and tender.  I roughly chopped it, making sure to keep some of the flavorful skin attached, and blended what little dark rib meat there was with the abundant white meat.

Using the ramekins I planned to serve in as templates, I cut perfect little discs of tortillas out of their larger selves.  My country mother-in-law revealed to me many years ago how well tortillas work in place of traditional dumplins – they have the same basic ingredients, and since they’re not dried like pasta-style dumplins, they don’t need as long to cook.  (I could make them from scratch, but it wasn’t that kind of night.)  They also create the unique texture one wants from the starch in this dish – soft and pillowy and a bit sticky.

These ramekins are 12 ouncers, I think (I don’t know why volume isn’t imprinted on the bottom of all kitchen items), just large enough for a decent sized dinner each. I buttered them down completely.  I did the same with a large muffin pan, so I could cobble together my white-trash “cheater” cheese muffins.

 


The first layer was an ounce or so of chicken broth, with a few of the veggies, too.


Then, I fit a layer of tortilla over that, studded the tortilla with a handful of chicken, then drowned it in chicken stock and veggies.  I repeated this layer about 5 times, until I reached the inner upper edge of the dish.


Knowing these would settle during cooking, I topped them with more chicken and veggies and set them on a cookie sheet and – along with my muffin tin – I threw everything into my oven for 10 minutes.


After that time, I pulled them out and happily saw that the top tortilla was fluffed and sodden but still intact, and that the edges had started to bubble over a bit.  I layered one slice of ham on top of each ramekin…


… and two slices of Swiss cheese, allowing the edges to hang off, on top of that.  I removed my muffins from the oven, turned the heat up to broil, then set my ramekins (on their cookie sheet, to make them easier to handle, and to keep the cheese from dripping) right under the heating element for 3-4 minutes.

 

I whipped together some arugula, the last of my North End fresh mozzarella (see Saturday’s post), some EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper for a salad – just the cold peppery milky compliment for the rich, savory main course.   A crispy, melted crust of nutty Swiss cheese and sweet ham revealed a steaming casserole of tender, flavorful chicken chunks nestled in between layers of ethereally soft white dumplin blankets, pillowed with pieces of barely-firm carrot and chunks of softened celery. My muffins bloomed on the plate; four little nuggets of buttery, garlicky,and cheesy stuck together to create crunchy outside/flaky inside bundles of joy.  It may have been cold outside, but with our favorite killer crocodile movie as the backdrop, and this yummy on the plate, it was warm and welcoming inside – and that’s all that counts.

Macaroni alla Telefono

Clayton’s been working hard on the farm, poor boy; he’s coming home all spattered with mud, smelling like livestock, with a big fat tired grin on his face. Today he got bit in the ass by a goat, he carried around fluffy baby lamb, played with the freshly hatched baby chicks, moved a whole chicken coop, sloped hogs, etc.  Tonight I needed to whip together a hearty something something to make my man’s man all fortified for his supreme acts of labor, and I thank Mario Batali for introducing me to this super simple super satisfying dinner on the fly.  I, of course, did my own thing to it, but the concept is based on something I saw him make on one of his old shows on the FoodNetwork over a decade ago.  The macaroni is obvious: noodles, and squiggly ones to boot!  The “alla telefono” refers to the stretchy stringy cords of fresh mozzarella cheese melted into this delicious pasta and sausage baked dish.    With my quick-made basil marinara sauce, dinner is red and good and gooey and rich and fresh and hot and yummy and awesome.  ‘Nuff said.

Macaroni alla Telefono

1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic
a handful of fresh basil
2 tbs tomato paste
1 large can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
burrata cheese
oregano
2 cups noodles (your choice, but something squiggly works best)
EVOO
salt and pepper
fennel seeds (optional)
caraway seeds (optional)

I was cheeky today, I admit it.  I noticed that Savenor’s afternoonFacebook posting was a link to a blog – an excellent blog, to be sure – but it got me thinking: I gots me a blog, and I shop at Savenor’s, too.  Methinks perhaps I just need to say “Here’s what I do with your meats, yo’” (to mix my vernaculars) and maybe they’ll dig my blog, too.  So I slid the stud behind the counter my cool biz card, and I’m sure any day now they’ll offer me half their profits to compensate for all you rich browsers discovering them through my portal into the world of FOOD.  That’s right.  Lolita’s a trendsetter, she is.  Today I bought my cheese (they were out of fresh mozzarella, but burrata served the purpose of both ricotta and mozz at the same time), my sausage (which was heavenly), my tomato paste, and a loaf of french bread at their Cambridge joint.  After slipping the dude my card.  In shameless self-promotion. ‘Cuz that’s how I roll.

I start with a simple mirepoix and minced garlic and stir it around in a hot oiled pan.

I add a few dashes of sea salt, some cracked black pepper, and a teaspoon each of fennel seeds and caraway seeds.  I toss this around for a few moments to toast and soften.

I’d left the camera on; Clayton walked by at a random moment, and saw this image in the viewfinder.  I agreed it was… compelling.  So I snapped.  And so I share.  My stemless wine glass dripping with cava, our scratched kitchen table surface, and one of Clayton’s paintings coloring the background.

To my pan I add two tablespoons of tomato paste. I blend it well with my sauteed veggies.

I add my can of crushed tomatoes, blend well, and let this mixture simmer, covered, for the next 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I’ve heated a glug or glugs of EVOO in a pan, and now I’ve laid  my fresh sausage over the sizzle.  I’m going to rotate them regularly, so that they cook evenly through without splitting with too much heat drying out and fracturing the membrane.  Using tongs…

… I roll my sausages…

… every minute or so, just as the surfaces start to brown…

…and I finish off with some wrist-flip rolling, until my sausages are perfectly golden all over their little cylindrical bodies, all plump and toasty, all heated fully through, still bursting with savory pork juices.  Oh mama.

See?  As I slice my sausages, they ooze with juices and are perfectly cooked throughout, without being too browned and blistered on the outside.  And as I sneak a mouthful, and one for Clayton, we revel in the peppery, garlicky, flavorful, distinctive deliciousness before I…

… dump them disks into my thick rich tomato sauce.

I stir this all up, then add a handful of ripped fresh basil leaves to the blend, and I turn off the heat.

I’ve boiled off my pasta to just slightly underdone (I always think of Joyce’s  “Underdone’s”), since they’re going to bake for a while, which will bring them to just the right al dente.

I mix this all up real good like.  *Real* good like.

This plump ball of mozzarella (a wee wee bit rubbery at just the apex of the curve) stuffed with ricotta ended up being the *perfect* diary for dinner.  It comes from “The Mozzarella House” in Everett, MA — but they’ve got no website!  Technological deficiencies aside, their cheese is damn good (even if a little pricey, at $7.99 in comparison to Trader Joe’s more consistently produced, just as tasty, $2.99 8oz portion).  Anyway, the mozz will melt and stretch, and the ricotta will melt and cream.  I slice it, then roughly chop it, then scoop it up with the flat of my blade and…

… dump it into my hot saucesausagepasta.  I mix this up real good like…

… and I scoop it into an oiled baking dish, and throw it into a 350° oven for 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, I slice my beautiful baguette down the middle and cut it into planks.  I douse each slice’s surface with melted butter, sprinkle them with garlic powder, and grate some fresh parmigiano reggiano on top, then stick this on a sheet pan over parchment paper into the oven (which is already baking off my pasta) to toast.

I pull my pastabake out when I see the bubbling heat crawling up the sides of my glass baking dish.  This is about 15 minutes later.  This is about 10 minutes away from being devoured.

As I spoon the warm deliciousness into my bowl, I can show you why this is called “alla telefono” — see how the mozzarella stretches into supple cords, like telephone wires, as I serve up my dish?  It’s almost a struggle; I have to use another spoon to cut the wires, or they’d stretch, it seems, until eternity.

Spoonfuls of macaroni and mozzarella and tomato goodness are perfectly gloopy, with firm springy noodles laced with rich sauce, dotted with savory sausage, and threaded with creamy chewy cheese. Served with buttery baked cheesy garlic bread, served with love, served with hard working man man in mind. Clayton husband needed something from the heart to fill his stomach, and judging by the love-looks he’s been shooting my way since we walked away from the dinner table, he’s happy as can be.  Mission accomplished!

Macaroni alla Telefono

Easy Osso Bucco

I have been so busy and stressed out, I haven’t had the time to cook, and I’ve been neglecting my blog. I promised myself I wouldn’t launch this thing until I could commit to posting at least twice a week, and here I am already breaking that promise. So for tonight, not only because I’ve not posted, but because I’ve not COOKED, and Clayton and I so needed and wanted and deserved a fine home cooked meal, I splurged on some lovely cross-cut veal shanks (the osso bucco cut). However, even though I spent my day doing energetic chores around the house (and equally intellectually energetic research for my thesis), I didn’t feel I’d burned enough calories to compliment my osso bucco with the traditional risotto, so I opted for a simple buttered garlic bread from Whole Foods, and a light salad of arugula (I’m steeling up the nerve to call it ‘rocket’ as the British do, even though I’m not British, which makes my word choice somewhat presumptuous) with a snappy yogurt dressing. As I’d hoped and needed, it was a perfect dinner, which filled the house with rich savory aromas, and filled our tummies with rich savory perfection.

What you’ll need, for two:

2 large cross-cut veal shanks (these are about 12oz each, with a heavy center bone)
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
2 spring onions
1 large can San Marzano diced tomatoes
1 8oz container Greek yogurt
8oz fresh mushrooms
1 cup red wine (this is some of last night’s merlot)
1 qt beef broth
1 lemon
sea salt
cracked black pepper
EVOO
buttered garlic bread

Oh. And one large onion.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on your sweet veal bits.

Dredge each shank in flour, and set into a large hot skillet with 2 tbs sizzling EVOO for 3-4 minutes.

While the shanks are searing, slice and dice your mirepoix.

Flip your shanks when each is nicely browned. Sizzle for another 3-4 minutes.

Remove the seared shanks from the pan, and add your diced onions, carrots, and celery. Stir well.

Add your cup of red wine to deglaze the pan. Keep stirring well.

Wash and slice through your sweet Georgia spring onions. Try (unlike me) to keep the whites away from the greens; the former need longer to cook than the later, so you’re going to add them to the pan sooner.

Like so. A few bits of the greens won’t hurt, but do reserve the majority of them for your yogurt sauce and your garnish.

After you’ve simmered and stewed the contents of the pan for a few moments, and the wine has reduced, lower the heat to medium low and add your quart of beef stock.

Let simmer for about 10 minutes.

The perfectest of perfect tomatoes. Even fresh doesn’t compare these days, unless you are growing your own or spending $6/lb on heirlooms. Dump the contents of the can into your pan.

Let simmer for about 10 minutes.

Prepare your yogurt sauce. Add most of your remaining spring onion greens to your yogurt with some salt, pepper, EVOO, and the juice of ½ a lemon. Stir well, and set aside in the fridge until you need it later.

Add your cleaned quartered mushrooms to the pan. Stir well.

Cover, set your heat to low, and WALK AWAY FOR 1 HOUR at least. I let mine cook for 1 ½ hours…

… or until I could easily pull the meat from the bone by just inserting and twisting my fork, like so.

See how it’s falling apart? I remove the cover, set the heat to high, and walk away while I finish the rest of my meal, so the sauce can thicken and reduce.

I bake off my garlic bread, dress my rocket with my yogurt sauce, a few more glugs of EVOO, the juice of my other ½ lemon, and plate my veal shanks with a hearty selection of stewed vegetables and savory tomato broth. Sherlock contemplates the best avenue of attack: a left-handed fork stab to the southern wall of bone; an upward twist and swoop with the wrist, to spear some rocket and scoop some cream; and a slathering swipe across the base of the plate to sop up some soup before savoring each bite. Dear Robert Sexy, Jr.: I would feed you any day – just come on over and take a bite… (*sigh*)

Eight Hour Cassoulet

If you’re a vegetarian, I suggest you stop here: this was a MEATY meal! Delicious, delightful, rich, hearty, homey, filling, and warming – it was wonderful, and wonderfully full of pig, pork, ham, sausage, duck and goose (fat). Add some heirloom traditional flageolet beans, a rough mirepoix, and a crust of crunchy parmesan bread crumbs, and you’ve got, what Clayton called: “a meal fit for a night after a winter country hunt,” which I imagine as the kind that had packs of hunting dogs and lovely horses and riding boots and high-buttoned coats and English saddles and warmed rum by the fireside and other romanticisms which are probably far from the truth (and somehow more British than French, despite the origin of “cassoulet”). But truly, this is a stew worthy of a hard’s days ride through the briary woods in pursuit of game, and was a true treat after a weekend of sub-zero weather and lots of outdoor exploring.  The eight hours referred to might be an overestimate (or underestimate, if you include the bean-soaking time), but traditionally this meal takes several days to make.  Since I want to eat dinner tonight, I pack all the preparation and simmering into a single day.  It’s about an hour of prep, more or less, and 3-4 hours of simmering time, and another hour or so to finish it off.

I’ve no set up shot for tonight, but here’s a list of what you’ll need:

12oz flageolet (or otherwise white) beans
3 large links pork garlic sausage
1/4lb prosciutto di parma
1lb pork shoulder or butt
5-6oz country cured ham steaks
2 confit duck legs
4 tbs rendered goose fat (or duck fat)
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
2 medium white onions
1 whole unpeeled head, plus 4 cloves peeled, crushed garlic
4-5 tbs diced tomato (I used a canned fire-roasted variety)
2 qts chicken stock
2 tbs dried thyme
2 bay leaves
bagette
butter
salt
black pepper
fresh grated parmesan cheese
panko breadcrumbs
sliced green onions (for garnish)

First step: soak your dried beans for no more than 8 hours overnight.

This morning, Clayton and I braved the subzero temperatures and headed out, mainly to build a meal off of the flageolet, which are traditionally used as the bean in a cassoulet, and is a difficult legume to find here in the States. The only place I could think of which carries legs of duck confit, which I was pretty sure I needed, is Savenor’s.

I love this place, and there are two of them! This is the one by Mass General Hospital, on Charles Ave, on Beacon Hill. Any meat it is legal to sell in the US, they sell – all the exotic ones included.

Here’s what I’m a’gonna use: garlic pork sausge, prosciutto (I should have gotten a slab, but I come up with a rather clever and pleasant approach to these lovely slices of soft sweet prosciutto di parma), pork butt, country cured ham (as opposed to ham hock and sat pork, this bone-in thin-sliced super-salted ham is a great addition to this meal), and two legs of dug confit—that is, roasted and stored in its own fat. Didn’t I mention this recipe has a lot of meat?

Oh, and one last fat: goose fat. (They didn’t have duck fat, but I liked graphic design of the “Whetstone Valley” bit enough to buy this instead. I was not disappointed.)

I add about 2 tbs to a hot, heavy bottomed pan large enough to make my whole dish.

Pork.

Ham.

Carrots, celery, and onion: the holy trinity of basic cooking. Start roughly chopping ‘em.

While that’s happening, add your pork bits to your sizzling goose fat.

Using tongs to flip each lovely bite, brown each edge!  About 10-15 minutes total will do.

Mirepoix is prepped.

Once each bite of pork is browned on each edge, remove them bits and set them aside in a bowl. Add your sliced country ham to the sizzling goosepork fat, and sear each side for about 3-4 minutes.

See?

Once those are browned on each side, remove them too. Then add your chopped veg to your gooseporkham fat.

Stir well.

The veg will begin to melt, releasing their sweet sweet liquids, which will release the meat fond sticking to the bottom of the pan, allowing it to blend with the onioncarrotcelerystuff.  Sauté for about 15 minutes.

Garlic. I’m going to through the whole head in – unpeeled! Why? I’m not sure – I think I saw it on TV once. I’m thinking it will release a sort of muted roasted garlic flavor. Don’t worry… I plan to add some fresh minced shortly before service, to kick it up a bit.

See?

If tomatoes were worth anything other than compost these days, I would have bought fresh, but husband Farmer Clayton’s backyard heirlooms, which are sadly out of season now, had spoiled me; even the previously passably acceptable tomatoes-on-the-vine pale in comparison. So, for stewing preparations, I’ve found several high-end canned goods provide me with more flavor and satisfaction. I don’t need a ton of tomato, so I add about 5 tablespoons.  Cook for about 10 minutes.

Stir well, and then add your ham and pork back to the pan, plus any juices that have accumulated.

See?

Then add 2qts of chicken stock to the pan – enough to cover the ingredients – and set to a low boil.

Add 2 bay leaves, and about 2 tsp dried thyme. Cover, and WALK AWAY. For 1 1/2 hours.

1 1/2 hours later…

Add your fully soaked and drained and picked over flageolet beans. Cover, set to medium low, and WALK AWAY. For TWO hours. What? I said this was an 8-hour cassoulet! Check the title!

Two hours later…

I’ve put my two fat-preserved duck legs into a non-stick pie pan (it’s all you need) . Set into a 400° oven to roast for 10-15 minutes, until fully seared.

My prosciutto. Most recipes call for a large hunk of the stuff, but I purchased slices (erroneously) instead. That’s OK. I figured something out: I roll each of four slices into a cigar, leaving the last two inches or so free so I can split it down the middle, then tie it up into itself.

See? Little perfect bow-tied packages of prosciutto.

Here are some lovely links of garlic pork sausage. Sear them fully through on all sides in another tablespoon of goose fat, for .

Cover them with a splatter screen, so that your husband doesn’t have to spend more time than truly necessary to clean up after you. Place your prosciutto in your pan, and submerge it in the already simmering bean meat broth. Let simmer.

After 15 minutes, your confit should be ready.

Using two forks, 1st remove the skin from the thigh, then shred the meat from the bones.

Dammit, Clayton! Get out of the duck, man…

Whoops – my prep list is showing!

Sausages are browned, and duck is shredded. Slice the sausage on the bias—

—and lay it into your cassoulet. Remove the whole papered garlic head out of your pan (squeezing it with tongs strongly, to squish as much garlic out of it as possible), and then add the remaining 4 peeled cloves of garlic, which you’ve minced, to the mix, with a bit of sea salt and cracked black pepper. Mix well, and keep simmering.  Keep the cover off so that the liquids can further reduce.

Spread about 1 ½ cups of panko breadcrumbs and about ½ cup grated parmesan cheese over a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet. Set into a 350° oven to toast, stirring every once in a while to make sure it browns evenly.

Now, assemble your individual cassoulets, in your sweet little wee Mario Batali cast-iron pots. Simply layer out even amounts of meat, beans…

… and broth…

… and shredded duck meat and sliced seared duck skin…

… and pack your toasted cheesed breadcrumbs over the entire mess. Set into your hot oven for about 10 more minutes, and toast off some croûtons in the meanwhile.

Meatsoulet extravaganza! Duck legs, garlic sausage, pork butt, prosciutto di parma, country cured ham, beans, carrots, celery, onions and broth with a cheesy breadcrumb topping, bursting through and through with flavor and heartwarming goodness. The Federation has faced down intergalactic foes before, but never one of such a delicious aspect.

Braised Shortrib French Onion Soup

Tonight I tested one of my older recipes, something I posted several months ago when I was only circulating these “webcipes” on Facebook.  I followed it to the letter, and was happy to see that tonight’s meal was as wonderful as it’s predecessor — meaning, my recipe worked perfectly!  French Onion soup is a delight not easily found in Harvard Square, where I work, and when I do find it it’s only ever as a hearty lunch, but not usually a substantial enough meal for me for dinner.  I solved that problem by braising some beef shortribs separately, and then layering them under the croûton and cheese crust of this long simmering, richly caramelized, and painstakingly deglazed sweet onion broth.  This is a perfect long day meal; it takes a few hours, and is something you want to make when it’s cold outside and you want the house to fill with the savory smells of a sumptuous supper.

What you’ll need:

A labor of love:

2 boneless beef shortribs
2 lbs white onions
2 red onions
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
6 slices provolone cheese
beef stock
chicken stock
1 bottle beer (it should be an ale, at least)
1 stick butter
one loaf french bread
red wine
pale dry sherry
olive oil
one package demi-glace gold
salt & pepper (not pictured)
scallions (not pictured)
dried thyme (not pictured)
garlic powder (not pictured)

Lookee these little meat fingers, all fatty and perfect, rolled in a little salt and pepper. Mommy likes meat.
Here’s a hot tablespoon… of oil… in a pan. Medium high.
Slap them rib strips into the hot panfat and sear, baby sear.
Flip ‘em 180°. Sizzle.
Flip 90°. Sizzle.
Flip 90 more °. Sizzle. Remove that lusciousness from the pan and set aside in a bowl, to collect all the drippy juices.
I’ve sliced a red onion into 8ths, and have chucked all that sharp sweet goodness into the pan. Stir well, scraping up the caramel fond sticking to the surface with the sweet released juices.
Yum.

I’ve grabbed a random bottle of ale from Whole Foods, and dump the foamy brownness into my sweetening onions.

Then I chuck in the rest of my rough mirepoix… some coarsely chopped celery and carrot. I stir *very* well, making sure to scrape up all the sepia fond crust.

Once that’s simmered for a while, I put my steak bits back into the mix, making sure to pour all their meat sweat out of the bowl.

My oven has preheated to 350°, so I slide my pan onto the middle shelf. Be sure to leave enough room to slide your onion soup pan in later, too, which I, um, forgot to do.

Clayton’s so sweet; he wanted to help. After watching him fumble with peeling this onion for what felt like 15 minutes, I kicked him back out of the kitchen and reminded him that his job was to eat, dammit. He acquiesced.

A few moments later, and I’ve 8th’d my 2lbs of yellow onions.

I really don’t have the exact right pan for this job, but this large thang works. It needs a heavy bottom, and it needs to enjoy basking in a hot oven. I melt 1/2 stick of butter over medium high heat.

I add my onions to the melted butter, and stir stir stir. I want these to soften and sweat. I then cover them, and set them on the bottom rack of my already hot oven…

… like so.

Alongside my happily braising my beef bits, I start my onions a’cooking. And then I force myself to walk away for one hour. ONE HOUR!

After ONE HOUR, I check my meats. Then I turns them. And then I sets them back in the oven.

I also pull out my onions, and I set them on a hot burner to finish making my soup – which will take another 45 minutes or so, of relatively constant attention. Sorry. But it’s worth it!

And so it begins. As these lovely languid layers of onion simmer on the stovetop, they’ll start to sweat. Stir all that swæty sumptuousness every few minutes, until it evaporates.

See Lolita’s ghetto pan handle holder thing? As I said before, this isn’t the right pan for this, mainly because one always has to grip an erect handle like this one, and one (read: “I”) always forgets when one’s been heating this steel to searing iron, and therefore shouldn’t grab it with a bare hand. Usually, after I do, I string something together like this to protect my palm from further harm.

See how the onions have begun to deposit their fond? That’s what this sweet brown stuff is and I’m, ahem, quite fond of it (spoken like Dr. Evil… on an upsliding scale… pinky to corner of mouth)…

So, as I do with all things I’m fond of (according to my husband, who I suspect was being ironic), I SCRAPE it. So nice.

And each time I do, there’s more brown, and more sweetness, and more to be fond of. I stir, I scrape, and I spread… stir, scrape, spread… S&S&S…

Then I douse. About 1/2 cup of water, which steams my onions even sweeter, adding more caramel stickiness to the pan as the liquid melts.

See? Keep stirring, and each time you run out of water, add more.

Do this about 4 times.

Then add even more savory sweetness, in the form of sherry. About 1/2 cup will do just fine.

And let it steam down to even more sepia sugar.

Stir well.

When everything has thickened thoroughly, you’ll be able to slice enough through the sauce to see the stainless surface of the pan. I add about 1/2 tsp of dried thyme at this point. And now it’s ready for the stock.

I love this stuff. And it was on sale! I could just use beef stock, but this adds that je ne sais quoi. A cup of water, a whisk, and a small saucepan… mix well, bring to a boil, and then set aside until you’re ready for it.  (If you can’t find this, use a cup each of chicken stock and beef stock now, in addition to that which you’ll add in a few steps.)

I add it…

… 2 cups (more) of chicken stock, and 2 cups (more) of beef stock to make my soup.  I bring all this to a boil to incorporate all the flavors, and let simmer for about 15 more minutes before its ready to serve.

I pull my steak stuff out of the oven, and test to see that it’s ready.

Oh baby… it’s ready! I pick up the wee steaks with my tongs, and they literally fall apart. That’s OK… I need them in halves so they’ll fit into my wee Mario Batali cast iron pots.

I’ve got this little french loaf, which I slice on the bias to cut two thick large croûtons. I slice the rest down for, well, kicks.

I slather the slices with butter and sprinkle some garlic powder on ‘em before I throw them in my hot oven to toast. About 5 minutes will do it.

Clayton’s going to hate cleaning this later. Oh well… he calls it the price of admission.

Here’s the surprise of my French onion soup: hidden braised beef shortribs, nestled under the croûton and cheese cap, slathered in sweet onions.

I spoon the soup over the tender tidbits of shortrib…

… set the croûtons on top…

… and layer my slices of provolone over the whole thing.   Traditionally, French onion soup calls for a Gruyère cheese, but I’ve found that I prefer a very nice, melting provolone better.  So it’s not French onion, then.  Consider it fusion cooking.

I set these babies on a cookie sheet (same one I used for my croûtons) and then put them under the broiler to bake for about 5-8 minutes, or until…

… the cheese is melted and bubbling, meaning the soup is hot and piping. A spatter of sliced scallions over the top, and here we have a sweet, savory, sumptuous hot cold winter night’s supper, with soft shredding beef, slivers of scrumptuous onions, garlic sodden toast, and slippery salty gooey melted cheese. It’s everything I wanted… 2.5 hours later.

Bones looks ready to dive right in, doesn’t she?

French Onion Soup Gratinee on FoodistaFrench Onion Soup Gratinee