Ricotta Meatloaf

This really could be called a three cheese meatloaf having ricotta, mozzarella and Parmigiano, however, the ricotta is such a key ingredient to this meatloaf’s texture and flavor that it deserves the starring role in the title.

It is important to use fresh ricotta for this recipe.  Thanks to John, From the Bartolini Kitchen, for his homemade ricotta recipe, I am now making my own ricotta!  I will be honest though, I did make a slight change in that I….gasp!…. microwave the mixture!  Less chance of scorching, bubbling over and it’s pretty much done in a matter of minutes with no saucepan to scrub clean.  Either way, stove top or microwave, freshly made ricotta tops any store-bought variety. Continue reading “Ricotta Meatloaf”

Chili alla Putanesca

Trust me when I tell you that if I had my balcony window open while this chili was simmering on the burner, I just might have landed me a date!

So the story goes, at least the story I’ve heard, is that the Italian ladies of the night would make a robust and zesty sauce, place it near an open window and the intense aroma would entice male visitors.  Thus, this sauce earned its famous name, Puttanesca, which loosely translates to the ladies of the evening, to put it gently. Continue reading “Chili alla Putanesca”

Eggplant Lasagna

I’m sure I’m not the only one constantly inspired by food I see or hear about.  As soon as someone mentions a new restaurant, or had an interesting dish or something deliciously sinful, I’m instantly interested.  I want to know every detail so that I can try to recreate it myself.  Sometimes it’s simply the general idea of how a dish is presented or a picture that catches my attention or a specific ingredient that has my head whirling with ideas!

For over a year now, I have heard about a coworker’s eggplant lasagna.  I’ve never had a chance to taste it, but all those that did raved highly about it.  Obviously, my interest peaked and I had to talk to Vinny (and yes, he’s Italian, which had me even more interested in his lasagna).  Then during the holidays it seemed like everyone was talking about making lasagna.  Phyllis at Food Flowers Herbs and Life posted her lasagna recipe for Christmas Eve and several other friends along with my sister were chatting about either making it or having had it at a dinner party.

Obviously my craving for it increased; I really have not made classic lasagna in a few years.  Vinny’s recipe basically swaps out the pasta for eggplant slices.  I’ve made vegetarian lasagna in the past but liked this idea of no pasta, i.e, carbs!  He peels and cuts the eggplant into thin slices, breading and frying them.  I skipped the breading part and just fried each slice.  While I normally bake my eggplant and he said he does at times also, I agreed that frying the eggplant would give the lasagna a richer taste.  And it certainly did; everyone loved it!  It was meltingly tender, full of flavor and definitely fulfilled my lasagna craving!

Eggplant Lasagna

For the eggplant:

2-3 large eggplants, peeled and thinly sliced, about ¼ inch thick

Olive oil for frying

For the sauce:

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork

1 medium onion finely diced

2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes, squeezed or blended into a puree

2-3 cloves garlic minced

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon Kosher salt

½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

For the ricotta layer:

1 15 oz container ricotta

1 large egg

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

½ cup shredded mozzarella

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

For the topping:

8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese

To prepare the sauce:  In a large skillet, cook the ground beef and pork until browned.  Remove from pan and drain well from the grease.  In a large stockpot, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft.  Add in the tomato puree, basil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Add in the browned meat and continuing cooking on low heat for about 1 hour.  Can be made ahead of time.

To prepare the lasagna:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   In a large skillet, fry the eggplant slices a few at a time until browned on each side.  Set aside.  Mix together the ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, egg, parsley and pepper.  In a baking dish, spoon a thin layer of sauce on the bottom and begin layering with the eggplant slices, meat sauce and ricotta mixture.  Repeat and finish with the layer of eggplant slices and some sauce on top.  Cover the dish with foil, place on a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes.  Remove the foil, sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese and bake until bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly and set before serving.

Pork Cutlets a la Purgatory

During my recent, and can you believe, still ongoing ankle injury, I was forced to do a lot of couch time with my foot elevated and iced.  Lying around has never been something I could tolerate; but not having any other choice, I settled down with some good books…and my remote control.  I was overwhelmed by the selection of reality shows, popular mini series, survivors, bachelors, dancers, housewives, who’s hot, who’s not, home staging, selling, buying, remolding,  hoarding… so much to see, so little time.  I settled on Millionaire Matchmaker, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, last season’s Boardwalk Empire series and of course, the Food Network channel.  I wonder now how my viewing choices reflect my personality 🙂

Not having to challenge my choice on watching the Food Network, I’ll continue forward on that note.  I passionately watch the chefs mostly to get ideas, learn new tips and frankly, anything that has to do with food truly grabs my attention.  Ann Burrell is one of my favorites to watch; in her casual, witty entertaining way around the kitchen she shares a wealth of information and great recipes.

Ann’s Veal Chop Holsten Schnitzel, a schnitzel topped with a sunny side up egg and caper sauce, inspired me to make this with an Italian twist. Replacing the caper sauce with marinara drew on the taste of my Eggs in Purgatory.  I used thinly pounded pork cutlets, but veal or chicken, would be excellent.  I continued with the breading and sautéing of the cutlets as I have in my Schnitzel recipe and serving the meal by placing the cutlets in pool of marinara and topping with the sunny side up egg.

What more can I say, each tender bite of pork was bathed in a sauce of creamy yolk swirling in the spicy marinara.  Oh. yum.

Pork Cutlets  a la Purgatory

For the cutlets:

4 thinly pounded pork, chicken or veal cutlets

2 eggs

1 cup of flour

2 cups of breadcrumbs

¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil and butter for sautéing

For the marinara:

1 28 oz can whole tomatoes – blended to a puree

¼ cup finely diced onion

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional for spiciness

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon tomato paste

¼ cup red wine

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 bay leaf

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sunny side up eggs:

4 egg

Olive oil for sautéing

For the cutlets:  Prepare a breading station with 3 large dishes; one with flour, the second with 2 beaten eggs and 2 tablespoons of water, and the third with the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Place a cutlet in the flour and lightly dust, shaking off excess.  Dip into the egg and then in the breadcrumb mixture.  Place on a sheet tray and refrigerate covered.  The cutlets can be made up to 1 day ahead or at least one hour.  When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  Heat a large skillet with a combination of butter and oil.  Work in batches to sauté each cutlet until golden brown on both sides, about 6 minutes in total.  Place in oven to keep warm.

For a quick marinara:  In a medium saucepan, lightly sauté the onions and crushed red pepper until soft. Add in the pureed tomatoes, red wine, balsamic vinegar, dried basil, salt, pepper, garlic, and bay leaf.  Simmer gently for about 35-40 minutes stirring occasionally.  Remove bay leaf and discard.

For the sunny side up eggs:  Coat a nonstick pan lightly with olive oil and fry the 4 eggs sunny side up, about 4 to 5 minutes with the whites set and the yolks runny.  The eggs are not flipped but covered to gently steam and cook the egg whites.

To plate:  Place each cutlet on a pool of marinara sauce and top with a sunny side up egg.

City Chicken

 This recipe goes back to my childhood and I had to actually do a bit of research to determine where this really originated.  It was in my mother’s recipe book, handwritten with a vague listing of ingredient portions and brief notes on preparation.  City Chicken…. didn’t sound like a Sicilian dish to me.  I was familiar with Spiedini which were skewers of meat or fish she grilled or broiled, similar to shish kabobs. 

City Chicken, as I’ve come to learn, came about in the 1930’s when chicken was expensive and hard to come by unless you lived on a farm.  Grocery stores packaged up cubes of pork and veal along with the skewers, labeling them City Chicken.  Hard to believe that chicken was more expensive than pork or veal during the Depression years, but so they say!  And, I further learned that this was specific to the Ohio, Pennsylvania area, so no wonder I’ve never seen packaged City Chicken in my Florida stores!  I’ll have to check with my Ohio friends and family to see if they still carry this.

What I do remember of this dish, without having to do any research, is that the meat was so tender, moist from the simmering broth it baked in and flavorful from the mix of pork and veal.  It was comfort food, simple and easy.  

 City Chicken

 ½ lb. pork, cubed (I used a pork tenderloin)

½ lb. veal, cubed

1 cup bread crumbs, lightly seasoned with kosher salt and pepper

2 eggs beaten

1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1-2 tablespoons butter

½ cup homemade chicken broth or low sodium store bought

Wooden skewers, soaked for ½ hour (about 4-6)

 Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Heat a large skillet with olive oil and butter.  Alternate cubes of pork and veal on skewers.  Dip in beaten eggs, roll in breadcrumbs.  (Repeat for a thicker coating, optional!)  Fry skewers turning to brown all sides though not fully cooked through.  Place skewers in a 9 x 13 pan, pour in ½ cup chicken broth, cover with foil and bake for about 45 – 60 minutes.  Serve hot over wild rice or mashed potatoes.

1770 House Meatloaf

I saw Ina Garten make this meatloaf awhile back and made a mental note to try it out.  It was tagged the Best Meatloaf I Ever Had, so obviously I had to test this out for myself!  I liked that it was a change from the run of the mill tomato (or ugh…ketchup) coated meatloaf.  Not that a tomato sauce is bad, as in my opinion, all is good with tomato sauce.  This lighter sauce with specks of herbs and roasted garlic is ladled on the sliced meatloaf upon serving soaking into the tender meat for a drippy, yummy mouthful. 

I prepared the meatloaf on a baking sheet, as Ina suggests, and as I have been doing for many years now.  I like the more rustic look of the meatloaf this way; not the formed block out of a loaf pan!  It was easy to pull together and while it baked for 50 minutes, I took a short bike ride, coming home to an amazing aroma.  The sauce quickly came together while the meatloaf rested.  I did add flour (or cornstarch could be used) to the sauce ingredients to thicken it slightly. 

Leftover meatloaf is always good; I like to sandwich it up for my son in fresh baked rolls or frittata style with large chunks of meatloaf and cheese! 

 Adapted from 1770 House Meatloaf

 1 pound ground veal

1 pound ground pork  

1 pound ground beef  

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh chives, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauce

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh thyme leaves, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauce

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh Italian parsley, plus 1 teaspoon for the sauce

3 large eggs

1 1/3 cups finely ground Panko (place Panko in food processor to finely grind)

2/3 cup whole organic milk  

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

2 stalks of celery, finely diced

1 large Spanish onion, finely diced

2 cups chicken stock, homemade or good quality purchased

8 to 10 cloves roasted garlic

3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

3 tablespoons flour or cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the veal, pork, beef, chives, thyme, parsley, eggs, Panko, milk, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl.

Heat a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat with olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the celery and onion to the pan and cook, stirring, until softened. Remove the celery and onion from the pan and let cool. When the mixture is cool, add it to the mixing bowl with the other ingredients.

Mix the ingredients until well combined and everything is evenly distributed, using your hands is the best kitchen tool.  Place a piece of parchment paper or slipat on a baking sheet pan.  Place the meat on the sheet pan and pat it and punch it down to remove any air pockets. Shape the meat into a loaf.  Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until a meat thermometer indicates an internal temperature of 155 to 160 degrees. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the sauce, combine the butter and flour and cook a few minutes to combine and thicken.  Pour in the broth and roasted garlic and simmer over medium high heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly thickened. Add 1 teaspoon of each of the chopped thyme, chives and parsley. Slice the meatloaf into serving portions and spoon the hot sauce over the meatloaf and serve.

Grilled Pork Chops with Peck Seasoning and Charred Peppers

I have a secret infatuation with Michael Chiarello.  His smile warms me over and I could simply listen to him talk about food for days.  In fact, I’d just give up cooking and let him take over my kitchen so I could just watch. No, actually I want to be in HIS kitchen!  I enjoy the stories about his mother and his passion for simple, seasonally good food.

This is a recipe from his Tra Vigne cookbook.  What I absolutely love is the coating on these pork chops.  It’s called Peck Seasoning, named after the chef who created it.  As Michael suggests, I have used it on fish, chicken, veal and steak.  His recipe calls for pork chops as I made this time, but I have also very successfully made it with pork tenderloin.  I was tempted to brine the pork chops to ensure they would be very tender, however I forgot and to my happiness they were perfectly tender. 

It is suggested and I agree totally to use a cast iron skillet or as I did, my grill pan.  The coating will less likely fall off into the grill and stay on the chops.  One small change I did was to add water and white wine to the bottom of the roasting pan.  The moisture and aroma infused the pork chops and I then used that liquid to reduce and pour over the chops when serving.  Mouthwatering….truly.

 Grilled Pork Chops with Peck Seasoning and Charred Peppers

4 double-cut pork loin chops, about 3/4 pound each
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons Peck Seasoning (see below)
4 bell peppers in assorted colors, cored, seeded and cut lengthwise into 1-inch-wide strips
Sea salt, preferably gray salt
Freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup water

¼ cup white wine

1 tablespoon butter (optional)
1/2 lemon, plus 4 lemon wedges for serving

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil, and put a flat rack in the roasting pan large enough to hold the chops. Pour in the water and white wine.  Brush the chops with 1 tablespoon of the oil, then season – sparingly – all over with the Peck Seasoning, patting it into place.  Toss the pepper strips with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a large ridged grill pan, a griddle, or large cast-iron skillet over moderately high heat. Add the chops and reduce the heat to moderate. Brown the chops on both sides, about 4 minutes per side, adjusting the heat so they cook without burning the coating. Transfer them to the prepared roasting pan. Bake until the internal temperature reaches 140ºF, 25 to 30 minutes.

While the pork chops cook, reheat the pan or griddle used for searing the pork. Cook the peppers in a single layer over moderate heat, turning them occasionally, until they are charred in spots and softened but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes.  Don’t crowd as they will steam instead of sizzle.  Transfer the pork and peppers to a warmed serving platter.  Pour the liquid from the roasting pan into a small sauce and reduce by half.  Add in 1 tablespoon of butter and pour over the lamb chops.  Squeeze the lemon half over both and serve with the lemon wedges on the side.   Serves 4.

Peck Seasoning

1/4 cup minced garlic, 2 tablespoons roughly chopped lemon zest, 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh sage, 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh rosemary, 1/2 cup very finely minced pancetta (about 3 ounces), 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the garlic and lemon zest on a cutting board and chop finely. Add the sage and rosemary and mince everything together until very fine. Enjoy the aroma! Add the pancetta and mix it in well with your fingers. Add the salt and pepper and gently incorporate all the ingredients by hand until the mixture resembles a moist seasoning salt. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months. Use sparingly as it’s quite robust!

Country Style Pork Ribs in Italian Sauce

I am not a “slow cooker” gal.  I own a crockpot but it’s used for specific dishes.  Those that add a bit of convenience to my life; such as making stock when I don’t have the time to stay in and watch my stock pot or making chilli and being able to keep it warm through a football party and coming home after work to simmering French Onion Soup.  Gently simmered Country Style Ribs is another favorite for my crock pot. 

I love how pork sweetens tomato based sauce; it’s always a key ingredient in my Italian Sauce.  When my mother added pork neck bones to the sauce, it was the first I would grab for.  My mother, always watching her figure, would limit me to taking just one as they did contain that meltingly good fat!  Funny how I find myself now stopping my daughter with the same reasoning when she get’s excited to grab a neck bone!   My Italian Sauce is always made in my extra large stock pot, not ever in a slow cooker, as it needs to be stirred lovingly throughout the long five-hour process.  But these Country Style Ribs, after an initial searing in a skillet, can be placed in my crockpot with sauce and seasonings and simmered slowly without a need for stirring.  I love to prepare this on an early Sunday morning having it slowly cook all day while I bike ride or run my errands and come home to wonderful aromas in my kitchen and a meal ready to go!

Chunks of tender pork in a sweet Italian sauce is a rustic, comfort meal.  The pork will just fall off the bone and I serve it mixed in spaghetti or topped on spaghetti squash (my mother definitely instilled in me those healthy habits).  The ribs do contain some fat and I trim off a bit of it, but the little fat on it is truly necessary to making these ribs so tender.  Lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese and I’m in heaven.

Country Style Ribs in Italian Sauce

6 meaty country style ribs

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

1 tablespoon mixed dried Italian seasonings (basil, oregano)

1 medium onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves chopped

¼ cup red wine

3-4 cups of homemade sauce or 1 jar prepared tomato basil sauce

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional, for a spicy version)

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt, pepper and Italian seasonings. Place as many ribs as possible in skillet, without crowding or touching. Sear each side until nicely browned and remove to place in slow cooker. Add onions and garlic to skillet and sauté for about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the wine and tomato paste and cook, scraping up the bottom the pan. Pour the onion and garlic mixture over the ribs and add in the tomato sauce and seasonings. Cover and cook on low for about 6 hours or until the meat is tender and coming away from the bones. Discard any loose bones and bay leaf  breaking up larger pieces. Pour over spaghetti and serve hot.

Tuscan Pork Ribs

This time of the year makes me want to cook long and slow dishes. Comfort food cooking in my kitchen fills my home with savory aromas and makes anyone stopping by instantly hungry. My son is not particularly fond of picking up BBQ sauce coated ribs or getting his hands finger-licking messy as I do.

These thick meaty ribs marinated overnight in a generous rub of garlic, parsley, rosemary and thyme are more to his preference. Slow roasting makes them tender and juicy. While I used fresh herbs, dried herbs can be used; however, reduce the amounts by half.

Tuscan Pork Ribs

2 lbs pork ribs

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 – 3 garlic cloves minced

2 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped rosemary

1 tablespoon thyme

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Combine all the seasonings with the olive oil and rub well into the ribs. Drizzle on the vinegar.  Marinate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place ribs on a baking sheet. Cover with foil. Bake for 2 hours covered. Remove foil and continue to roast another 30 minutes until tender.

To serve with a light juice, add a tablespoon of flour to the roasting pan once the ribs are removed and whisk well. Add ½ cup of white wine and reduce by half scraping up the bits. Add about 2 cups chicken or beef broth, bring to boil, reduce to simmer and whisk until slightly thicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper and thyme.

Pork Schnitzel

German/ Austrian food reminds me of the fall.  Maybe because Oktoberfest is held from mid September to early October and maybe because the food is heartier, warm, comforting.  Wiener Schnitzel made from either veal, pork or chicken, warm German potato salad, German sausages such as kielbasa, bratwurst, and sauerkraut and spaetzel. 

I have fond memories of German food from my past in Ohio.  While I am 100% Sicilian, my children are 50% German.  I have not made much, if any really, German food, but I thought I would bring a dish of German food into my son’s dining.  As I write this up now I really should have made some other dishes to round out this German dinner..and most likely now I will as I do believe this recipe for Schnitzel came out pretty darn good!

To get this recipe, I went straight to the source and contacted a real Austrian / German woman!  A quick email request to Gina and Adam’ s Aunt Ingrid in Ohio responded with the recipe.  Well, not a specific recipe, but a recipe in general, true to how every nationality simply recites their recipe with some of this and some of that.

Quality ingredients are always key and even more so in a simple dish such as this.  Therefore, I decided to use a pork tenderloin to ensure my cutlets would be tender.  The coating should be puffy and separate from the meat when cut, unlike the Italian breaded cutlet’s coating that clings to the meat.  I realized that when Ingrid states to deep fry the schnitzel, this process will provide a golden light and non-greasy crust.

The following is her “recipe”, word for word…

I don’t really have a recipe for schnitzel.  I pound the meat, veal, pork loin, chicken breast or turkey breast.  Then salt and pepper to taste.  Put in flour, egg and milk beaten together and then I like corn flake crumbs mixed with seasoned bread crumbs.  Deep fry, then put on paper towels and I put on a cookie rack inside a pan and stand the schnitzel on its side to drain off oil in the oven on low for about 20 minutes.

As I mentioned, I used a pork tenderloin, which normally comes in a package of two narrow tenderloins.  I cut four diagonal slices from each tenderloin and pounded them into thin cutlets.  To the flour I added salt and pepper, then dipped them into two beaten eggs, which I also added some salt and pepper and finally into seasoned bread crumbs to which I had added some paprika, dried oregano and lightly salt and pepper.  (I did not have any corn flakes to add to the bread crumbs)

I heated a large skillet with about 1/2 inch of olive oil.  When the oil was very hot I placed in just a few to not crowd the pan.  The oil quickly cooked the thin cutlets and was deep enough to allow them to move freely when I shook the pan.  I had the oven preheated to 250 and placed the cooked schnitzels on a cookie rack inside a baking sheet.  I placed the pan in the oven while I finished cooking the remaining schnitzels.

  Serve immediately with lemon slices or wedges.