Monday: Aunt Flo’s Appetizer, Snap-Pea, Asparagus and Avocado Salad with roast mushrooms and avocado toast – Fine dinner in every way – particularly the salad, the mushrooms and the toast – oh, and the appetizer
Tuesday: Bar Snack Brussels Sprouts, Salmon Burgers with Arugula, Roasted mushrooms
Wednesday: Butternut Squash Soup / Red Wine Braised Pork Chops, Green Salad
Thursday: Cheese, Apples and Walnuts / Sheet Pan Chicken and Sweet Potatoes
Friday: Fromage Fort with crudités / Fillets of Sole with Mushroom Sauce / Endive with Peas and Mushrooms Mélange
Saturday: Krupers and Slavishes at The Cornerstone
Sunday Gravy (with legs)
Sunday: Pasta with Sunday Gravy (after game) – Cook’s Illustrated, Italian Grandmothers and Me
“You’re the strangest looking Italian Grandmother I know” – UFR
I didn’t know how to take this statement from my brother-in-law, Rick. We have a typical male Pittsburgher relationship, filled with insult but affectionate. But Italian grandmother?
It was last Sunday evening, and Rick, Billy and I had just come back from a most satisfactory game at Heinz Field, to join SWMBO for a dinner of Sunday gravy – the traditional slow-cooked tomato sauce with ribs, sausage and meatballs – and spaghetti. We had cooked the meal the day before because the game ran from 4:25 to about 7:45 and because braises and dishes like Sunday gravy always taste better the second day. Here I was, about to feed someone possibly the best Sunday dinner of the fall, and he makes fun? Well, I suppose he’s called UFR for a reason. (Don’t ask in front of the children.)
I have decided, judging from the Italian grandmothers I know, that I will take UFR’s statement as a compliment to our cooking. As for the gender confusion – it is, alas, all too common these days. And, of course, Rick had been drinking The Balvenie and we had been celebrating the Steelers win and, in general our conversation had floated from the realm of the factual and the precise into the blue heaven of hyperbole and speculation so beloved of the Irish in their cups.
But today is Wednesday (well, Thursday now – the photos took a bit of curating) and we are dead sober and locked into the weekly grind and, to be honest, things are a bit busy at work, so it’s going to be another short message, with a quick cut to the keepers of the week. (I can hear the applause coming in over the internet.)
Clearly, we’ve got to share the Sunday Gravy recipe with you. (Invite Billy and UFR over and you too might be honored with the title of Italian Grandmother.) And, for an extra that is entirely different and quicker and was probably never served by, from or to an Italian grandmother, I’m going to share a new favorite appetizer – Bar Snack Brussels Sprouts. There is indeed a use for the sprout other than Thanksgiving and, by the way, the price drops considerably after the Holiday.
Note: It was our son, Billy, who came up with the disrespectful “Italian Grandmother” misnomer which set off UFR. There are times when I wish he had not inherited the iconoclastic wit.
SUNDAY GRAVY WITH PASTA
This is a simple concept – you create a savory meat-flavored tomato sauce by cooking onions and garlic in a pot in which you have previously seared ribs and sausages (or steak or some other meat) over high heat, then add tomatoes, herbs and other seasoning and then add the meat back into the pot to simmer slowly while you go about your grandmotherly duties (knitting socks, ironing the antimacassars, cleaning the silver, killing the chickens and giving UFR a major wallop upside the head). We’ve made this meal before and, while it has been a major production (we’re talking slowwww cooking here), the result has been worth it. But we found a simpler (not simple) recipe in “Cook’s Illustrated – All-Time Best Winter Recipes” and it is best in every way. It tastes great and it is much easier and quicker (you don’t have to hang around the house for half a day).
The recipe makes enough for 8-10, but you can cut the meat proportions in half, although I would not mess with the sauce proportions. You’ll end up with extra sauce which is, I think you’ll agree, a first world problem.
Timing: You can cook this in 3 hours. You can cook it up to 2 days ahead. It takes 1 hour to reheat.
Ingredients: Serves 8 – 10 (you can cut the meat ingredients in half – but don’t cut the sauce and liquid ingredients
For the Sauce –
2+ lbs baby back ribs (one rack), cut into 2-rib sections
1 lb. hot Italian sausage links
2 onions finely chopped
2×28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons dried oregano
2/3 Cup beef broth (we use beef base – a sort of demi-gloss – dissolved in boiling water to make beef broth)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 ¼ teaspoon dried oregano (I used about 2 teaspoons)
¼ cup chopped basil
Salt and pepper
For the meatballs and pasta
1 lb. meatloaf mix (usually veal, pork and beef – or use any 2 or just beef)
2 slices of hearty white bread, crusts removed, torn into small pieces (Whole Foods “Farmer’s Loaf” works)
½ cup buttermilk
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto chopped fine
½ Cup Pecorino Romano – about 2 oz.
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg yolk
½ Cup olive oil
1 – 1 ½ lbs. spaghetti or pasta of your choice
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Cooking the Sauce:
Prep: Chop the onion, cut the ribs into 2 rib sections, make the beef broth if needed
Heat oven to 325 F and adjust rack to middle position
Heat the oil (2 tablespoons) in a Dutch oven over medium high until just smoking (if you have a high BTU burner, you may have to turn it down some)
Pat ribs dry and season with salt and pepper and brown well on both sides, 5-7 minutes – you’ll need to do this in two batches unless you’re using half the meat quantities. Transfer to a plate.
Brown sausage on both sides, 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Turn heat down to medium and add onions and oregano to the fat left in the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and lightly browned, 5-7 minutes. Then add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes, until very dark.
Stir in garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring to avoid burning, then immediately add crushed tomatoes and broth, and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
Add the ribs and sausage back into the pot and nestle them down in the sauce. Bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the pre-heated oven. Cook until ribs are tender – about 2 ½ hours.
Cooking the meatballs and Pasta
Prep: Prepare the bread, prosciutto, pecorino, parsley and separate one egg yolk
Cook the meatballs and pasta – while the sauce is cooking:
Mash the bread and buttermilk in large bowl using fork. Let the mixture stands for 10 minutes.
Using your hands, mix in the meatloaf mix, the prosciutto, pecorino, parsley, garlic, egg yolk, ½ teaspoon of salt and the red pepper flakes. Pinch off and roll into about 12 sizeable meatballs. Plate the meatballs, wrap with plastic and refrigerate until ready to cook. (Meatballs hold together better if you give them an hour in the refrigerator.)
When the tomato sauce has about 30 minutes to go, heat ½ cup of olive oil in a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium high until shimmering and brown the meatballs well on all sides – 5 – 7 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.
Now remove the sauce from the oven, skim the fat from the surface using a large spoon and, gently, nestle the meatballs into the sauce. Cover, return the pot to the oven and cook until the meatballs are just cooked through – about 15 minutes longer.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. When the sauce is finished, toss the pasta in the pot and cook until just al dente (probably 7 – 9 minutes),
While the pasta is cooking, use tongs to remove ribs, sausages and meatballs from the sauce and plate on a serving platter. Cut each sausage in half. Stir the basil into the sauce and correct seasoning if needed.
When pasta is done, put three ladles of the pasta water in a bowl and drain the pasta, then return it to the dry pot. Now add 1 cup of the reserved sauce and the 2 ladles of the reserved pasta water (more, if needed) to the pasta and cook, tossing with tongs, until pasta is cooked and well coated with sauce.
Serve: Serve the pasta and pass the remaining sauce, the meat and the grated parmesan separately. Have your grandchildren clean the pots and pans and the dishes.
EXTRA: Bar Snack Brussels Sprouts (steeped in Olive Oil and Fish Sauce)
From a recipe in the NYT Magazine of November 27, 2016 – from Gabrielle
Hamilton, chef at PRUNE in New York City
Alright – calm down. Fish sauce is a typical Thai and Vietnamese condiment easily found in most grocery stores today. It is not off-putting and adds a deep savory taste to food. I use it when cooking vegetable based soups (not tomato, however).
The amount of the ingredients here depend on how many people you are feeding. The amounts below are what we used for 4 people.
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed at stalk end
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Vietnamese Fish Sauce (I used Thai)
Bring a large pot of heavily salted (really heavy on the salt) to a boil.
Add the sprouts and cook for about 10 minutes or a little less – until they are just cooked through. Firm, but neither al dente or mushy. Yeah – you’ll have to spoon one of them out to test it toward the end.
Drain the sprouts and immediately transfer to a shallow bowl and, immediately, while they are still very hot, douse them with olive oil and sprinkle with fish sauce. Stir gently and taste one – if it’s not tasty enough, add more fish sauce.
Let the sprouts steep and cool for an hour – serve at room temperature.