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Posts Tagged ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’

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I needed to be in the kitchen today. Too much work and too much abject crazy in the world made it absolutely, crucially necessary; and thank the universe, it chilled me right out (and fed me very well at teatime today).

The above is a sausage bread. I’ve never made a stuffed bread before, and looked online for a good recipe, but all I could find were recipes that started with a tube of Pillsbury. Then it occurred to me that a stuffed bread is a lot like pizza dough with, you know, stuff in it. So I used Bon Appetit‘s recipe and added anything I thought would taste good.

First I crumbled up 12 ounces of hot Italian sausage and grated about a cup and a half of mozzarella. Then I made the dough, adding some Parmigiano-Reggiano and dried basil and rosemary. (I’ve noticed when you buy stuffed breads, the bread’s flavor itself is somewhat neglected; the focus seems to be on the filling alone.) Then I let it rise, and worked it into a ball the way I learned when I did a brief stint at a restaurant. (I was one of two people who, on weekends, rolled 250 balls of pizza dough per day. It was strange rolling just one!)

Then with a rolling pin I rolled it into a disk, loaded it up with the cheese and sausage, then treated it as I do my chocolate-cinnamon babka: I rolled it up jelly-roll style, pinched the ends, twisted it, and coiled it. It got an egg wash and I popped it into the oven, figuring 350 degrees F would do. It did. Took Julia Child’s advice and took it out when I could smell it.

I sat down with it, hot, the whole thing, at my dining room table and pulled off steaming little pieces. Nibbled and looked out the window and was soothed. Sending all of you the same wishes, with or without a sausage bread.

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Huber Woods, Navesink. New Jersey’s a dish, isn’t it?

Every year on Thanksgiving I make my family’s recipe for stuffing, eat it in great quantities, then go hiking. (The unfathomably good recipe is here.) This tradition does not vary, because like diamonds and a little black dress, like Valentino and the smoulder, it works. It ain’t broke.

But. I had to alter the tradition a bit this year, as I’m still nursing the effects of last month’s scratched food pipe. The stuffing starts with a loaf of crusty Italian bread. When it’s done, it’s spicy, rich, and chewy—the kind of addiction you wouldn’t mind having. And I don’t.

How it ought to look.

I was disheartened for a good week beforehand because I thought I would have to forgo this dish. But I decided to buck up, and good techie that I am, made a plan: to eat stuffing, somehow, and not have it aggravate my condition.

Instead of buying my Italian bread on Monday and letting it go stale on my dining room table until Thursday, I bought it fresh, the day before. Next I pulled the crust from the fluffy white insides—the part I was hoping I could swallow easily—and froze the two portions separately. I also prepped some homemade chicken broth.

On Thanksgiving morning I defrosted the bag of bread insides and added it to my pan with the sausage, spices, olive oil, eggs, toasted nuts, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. I ground the dried rosemary with a mortar and pestle so it wouldn’t be too spiky going down. Then I poured broth over the whole thing to make it even more tender.

I am not going to lie and tell you that it was delicious. It was decent. The next day it was quite a bit better. But it was more important that I wasn’t uncomfortable, and I wasn’t. I made it work. This was a huge win.

Then I went hiking.

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Gradations of light and shadow, eastern meadow.

Longtime readers know about my love affair with nature—with the wildest parts especially. It is at once a source of serenity and energy for me to leave the paved walkways and cross meadows, hills, glens, groves, the untidy places, the unmanicured country. There is no grass, let alone neatly trimmed grass. The spicy fallen leaves are slippery. I get my ankles tangled in the snarls of vines that cover the rolling ground. Chipmunks, groundhogs, and squirrels dart between thistles. Once I even saw a coyote. I always hope I’ll run into him again. But I hike mostly because I love the feeling of being enveloped by something ancient and unspoiled. It’s like getting massaged on the inside. And I always try to see something I haven’t seen before.

A few Thanksgivings ago I found a hidden cemetery, with maybe 30 occupants in all. I always wish them a nice holiday.

Last year I found tiny old wooden shacks labeled with numbers—1937, 1938—and I fancied them past years, relegated silently to the woods of Navesink. I could not bring myself to look through the windows and still cannot. This year I found 1929.

And also this year, beyond the eastern meadow, I followed a deer path until I was surprised by the shadow of a horse. It stood perfectly still, so I ventured closer to investigate. It was a sculpture, perfectly to scale, and made entirely of driftwood blackened with age. Imagine coming across this with no warning.

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The afternoon light gets low pretty early these days. I watched it ride the edge of the trees and wondered if I had enough time to look just a little farther. I’d never been beyond the brook at the western end of the woods, and it was tempting. I decided it was getting too late to chance it. Coming across a coyote at nighttime is somewhat less appealing.

But here’s the thing. Being sick or injured can make a person want to withdraw and not take chances. God knows it’s happened with me, especially recently. After a month of ping-ponging between my food pipe being okay and being uncomfortable, you can believe I’ve hung back from time to time. If I’m not careful, though, that can become a new habit.

Last Thursday I wanted to go farther. I’m so glad I wanted to. It’s a good sign. There are times when I won’t be able to, like this time. But I figure as long as I always want to know what’s beyond the brook, I’m okay.

For dinner that night I ate half an Italian sausage, some caramel applesauce I stirred up on the spot (sliced apples with a little butter, brown sugar, and water), and vanilla pudding I’d made the night before. And it was okay again, and I was grateful.

The crust from that loaf of Italian bread is sitting tight in my freezer, waiting for another batch of stuffing. It’ll happen.

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I’m one of those irritating tree-huggers who loves every season (at least at the beginning), but Fall and I go way back. Birthday and all. Piles of apples and squash at the farm. There will be cooking, my friends. Lots of it. This is how I get ready.

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On the wall rack:

Saigon cinnamon (there is no other), allspice, nutmeg (the whole little guys), cloves, ground ginger, hot red pepper flakes, cardamom, almond extract.

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I posted this last year on Facebook with a caption: ‘My pumpkin is going under the knife today. Please keep it in your prayers at this difficult time.’ For all of you who did, thank you. It was delicious.

In the fridge:

Local apples, grains, all-purpose and whole-wheat pastry flours, Grade B pure maple syrup, almonds, walnuts, crab apple schnapps, bottle of vodka containing vanilla beans at mid-steep (in a couple of months it will be a killer, and far less expensive, extract than the teeny Foodtown bottles).

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Long-cooking tomato sauce from local, organic plum tomatoes. You can see it has cooked down by an inch—getting richer than Scrooge McDuck.

In the freezer:

Bread, whatever I baked for breakfast this week, preserves (right now mulberry, on the horizon crab apple), chicken stock, butter, tomato sauce, quince syrup, yeast, bread crumb bag (all of the crusts I don’t eat, blitzed for toppings), Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Red quinoa, drying at the farm.

On top of the fridge:

Sugars (granulated, confectioner’s, dark brown).

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Quinces from a super-secret tree I found last year.

In the bottom of the armoire that I keep in my kitchen because doesn’t everyone:

Onions, garlic, potatoes. I keep them in a three-divided wooden unit that I found at the antiques shop downtown.

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Garlic.

In the closet I call ‘the garage’:

This is the coolest spot in my place. It houses winter squash. All kinds. Cheese, Luna, butternut, Cinderella. I line them up on the floor.

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Cinderella and cheese pumpkins, fantastic for pie.

Equinox, I’m ready.

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I read that in some communities you don’t dare leave your car unlocked in high summer or you risk finding your backseat packed to the ceiling with your neighbors’ surplus zucchini. Hit-and-run altruism. Or desperation, take your pick.

Despite the myriad uses people have come up with to use this prolific squash*, a favorite of mine today was a Sunday morning staple when I grew up, simply called zucchini, onions, and eggs.

It’s hardly a recipe, really; like most memorable dishes, it was invented with what happens to be around. Right now in New Jersey it’s this.

Slice zucchini into rounds and saute over medium-high heat in a pat of butter or a good drizzle of olive oil. Turn them when you can start to smell them; that’s a sign they’re speckled with brown underneath.

Chop up some onion and throw it in with the zucchini, stirring often until it’s lightly browned. Hit the mixture with a little salt.

Whisk together some eggs and pour them over the veggies. Add freshly ground pepper and some Italian seasoning, or any variation of fresh or dried basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary.

If you want to get fancy and have good wrist skills, by all means flip that dude over and call it an omelet. Or just stir gently until set through. I like it lightly browned as well.

There, you’re done. Wait! I just thought of this—a shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano would be incredible.** That’s new.

I upped my game with the dish this year by using local ingredients and it was so good: zucchini and ‘candy’ red onion from Silverton Farms in Toms River. I also sliced in some of their sweet uncured garlic.

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The eggs were from Wyman Farms, from in county. Then I dressed it up even more by making fries with some of the first of Silverton’s itty bitty fresh-dug potatoes, oven roasted with olive oil and tossed with salt. This is breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I don’t have a garden. But if you do, let me know and I’ll leave my car unlocked for you.

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* I also read people use them as baseball bats—good for precisely one hit, I’m guessing. I need to stop reading so much.

**Caveat: if you’re at all tempted to use anything that started in a green can, please disregard entirely the above suggestion.

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My black bottom pumpkin pie.

It’s happened twice in the past couple of weeks and I’m grinning like Christmas morning just thinking about it. The first time: a pair of college-aged girls was standing rapt at the display of pumpkins in my local health food store. The pumpkins were pinkish and large and squat like cheese pumpkins, so I knew they’d make great pies.

Girl 1: ‘Oh, LOOK at them! We have to get one!’

Girl 2: ‘But…what do we do with it?’

This is when I swooped in like a miniature superhero in Simple brand sneakers. ‘They’re baking pumpkins. You slice them in half, put them cut side down on a cookie sheet, put them in the oven at 375 or 400 for a half hour or 45 minutes until you can pierce them easily with a knife. Then you take them out, let them cool, scoop out the goo, puree it and drain it in a sieve over a bowl, and then you bake with it. Makes AWESOME pies.’

They squealed. College girls do this.

Girl 1: ‘Omigod we HAVE to make one!’

Girl 2: ‘Thank you so much for your advice!’

This made my day…not even kidding. Then it happened again today at an apple orchard.

20-something-or close-enough guy reading the sign: ‘Whaaaaaaat the hell is a CHEESE pumpkin?’

I swooped in again, this time rocking Eastern Mountain Sports hiking boots.* ‘It’s named that because it looks like a cheese wheel. Have you ever seen a big wheel of cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano? Someone thought these looked like a whole cheese.’ ‘Wow…!’

Then I gave him the same instructions, ending with the requisite, ‘…And they’re AWESOME for pie.’ He grinned and said thanks. I saw him a few minutes later with a cheese pumpkin teetering on one shoulder, heading for the checkout.

All of which got me thinking about the chronology of cooking.

Here in the U.S., from the mid-century back, people (usually women) were in the kitchen every day making three squares for their families. Some enjoyed it and some didn’t, but it had be done either way. Prepared foods and restaurants weren’t commonplace, so if you wanted to eat, you cooked.

War-time brought many women out of the kitchen and into the workforce; someone had to take over the jobs the boys serving overseas had left behind. Convenience foods saved working women time, and was a boon to those who’d never liked cooking. I think of a friend’s grandmother who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania in the 1920s, which translates to limited or no plumbing or electricity, a gaggle of animals to take care of, a similar gaggle of siblings to take care of, and oh right, cooking 100% from scratch every single day, all year.** She became a mother in the early 1940s, moved to the suburbs, and worked as a beautician while her husband served in World War II. I looked through her recipe file and let me tell you—once convenience foods became available, she jumped on them and never looked back.

Then the women’s movement happened in the ’60s and ’70s. And for all its virtues and heaps of blessings, it had a bastard child: some mothers who associated cooking with being chained to the stove deliberately didn’t teach their daughters how to cook. They didn’t want their daughters to suffer the same lot they had, and instead told them to go to work and never again to give a glance back into the kitchen.

I am not blaming those mothers; they thought they were protecting their children. But they threw the baby out with the bathwater, because many, many girls in that generation don’t know a peach from a nectarine. So while those girls may have been spared one fate, they suffered another. For what is more basic than real food, and what is more grievous than being distanced from it, and thus crippled? We’re talking about what we live on here.

Things are changing in the food industry; we read about new developments every day in the world of organics, GMOs, farm to fork and more. But the most rewarding, for my money, is what’s changing in kitchens. People are beginning to occupy them again, and not just to twirl a bowl of Spaghetti-Os in the nuker. They are becoming curious again. In some families, daughters are teaching their mothers how to cook, those same women who were chased out of the kitchen and told to go to work. Usually the learning goes one way, forward. But lovely, isn’t it, the learning going the other way?

I’d fallen for the young ‘un stereotype, that they subsist entirely on Ramen noodles and Taco Bell. I’m wrong. They want to learn. They want to farm—I’m reading and seeing more of this every day. They want to cook. Maybe they’ll be the generation that can find balance between work and proper cooking. They were fascinated, and I was fascinated right back.

(I’d also like a 30% kickback from the health food store and apple orchard. After all, it was my sweet talking that sold two pumpkins for them.)

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*I vary the shoes during my superhero workday. Kind of a calling-card thing. Crap, now I’m giving away all my secrets.

**And remember that in those days and in that time, if you wanted chicken for supper, you started on it at noon. With a hatchet.

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I know Thanksgiving’s over. I also know you probably already have a favorite stuffing recipe—maybe a treasured heirloom, passed down through generations, or lovingly learned at your grandma’s knee, or clipped from Good Housekeeping, circa 1978.

Abandon it. This is all there is.

I could break down the elements of this stuffing to determine the science behind why it’s so yummy, how its unapologetically rich and salty ingredients come together to make it so addictive. But I think I’ll let it speak for itself.

My family used to make shovelsful of this stuff every year because we knew we were going to be eating it all morning and afternoon while we prepped the rest of the food. It sat in two enormous, low earthenware bowls on the oven’s warming plate, and we stuck our fingers into it every time we passed to watch the parade. To this day, I associate Mighty Mouse with the smell of toasted pignoles.

The greatest thing about this recipe, aside from the taste, is how quickly it comes together. It takes maybe half an hour, usually less. And it’s what Sara Moulton from Gourmet magazine would call ‘a dump recipe’, meaning it all ends up together and then you stir it and say ta-dahh.

My father invented this at least 40 years ago, and we have never, ever had any other stuffing. When I was a little kid I hated it because it was too spicy. Now I eat it like a stoned Rottweiler,  figuring it’s okay since I lost out on all of those years.

My sister wrote down the recipe for me maybe ten years ago. She was the one who made it in latter years. I’d come through my parents’ kitchen door and she wouldn’t say hello; instead, she’d walk up to me with a forkful of the stuff and say, ‘Tell me what this needs. I can’t taste it anymore.’ Once everything’s in the pan, you taste and tweak until it sings just right for you.

Go:

Semolina bread with sesame seeds, stale and broken into pieces, about 1.5 long loaves (I think it tastes better when pulled apart with your fingers rather than chopped, but we’ve established that I’m a heathen)

1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage with fennel seeds, uncooked

4-5 tablespoons Italian seasoning (it’s a bunch of dried herbs like rosemary and basil and others, all in one container. Get the kind without salt and pepper added.)

Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/2 pound, grated

Pignoles (pine nuts), 1/4 pound

6 eggs

2-3 good splashes of olive oil

Black pepper

In a big skillet, on medium heat, break up the sausage and partially cook it. In a big bowl, mix the bread, seasonings, 1/4 lb cheese, and eggs, and mix to blend.

Throw the stuff into the skillet with the sausage and mix to let it start soaking up the sausage drippings. Let it sit a couple of minutes, then use a spatula to turn it. The underside of the mixture should be nicely browned, thanks to the eggs. Break it up and let it sit another couple of minutes, turning it as needed, until it’s all browned.

Taste and add whatever it needs more of. I find it usually needs more cheese, and sometimes more pepper. (It doesn’t usually need salt because the cheese is salty.) If it gets too dry, add more olive oil or a bit of healthful turkey stock (even though you’re about to blow it with the diet today). Turn off the heat.

Put your pignoles in a shallow, heavy little pan over medium-low heat. Watch them and shake the pan every 15 seconds or so until browned. Toss them into the skillet with the rest of the stuffing and stir.

This is pretty much an all-purpose recipe—good hot, good cold, good room temp. Delicious stuffed in a turkey, in which case it gets soft and tender, delicious even if it never sees the inside of the bird. Really really good the next day, per my family’s tradition, on one of those sandwich-sized toasted English muffins with cold sliced turkey, lavish amounts of mayonnaise, hot bacon cooked extra crispy, and cranberry sauce.

One New Year’s Day my parents asked me over for dinner. I was a little under the weather and declined. They called back a few times, and each time I said no. Then my sister got on the phone.

‘Mom made stuffing.’

There was a pause.

‘THE stuffing?’

‘Yep.’

What can I say? I grabbed my box of Kleenex and got in the car.

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