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.

Meatballs in Tarragon Mustard Sauce

These are truly melt in your mouth, flavorful meatballs!  Tender ground veal gently simmered in a beef broth and then bathed to perfection in a simmering tarragon mustard sauce.  Meatballs have become so popular, as fun to me as creating endless types of hamburgers and their topping and sauces in the summer months.  These can be made bite size for a tapas party and giant size for a cool presentation on a dinner plate.   For my son’s dinner, I opted to go with the standard, at least in my home, meatball size. 

 I could, and did, just spoon out the sauce to lick straight up…it was that good!  The flavor can vary depending on what type of Dijon mustard is used and I like fresh tarragon with a mustard sauce.   The meatballs can be made ahead and gently rewarmed with the sauce and leftovers, if any, are just as amazing the next day!

 Meatballs in Tarragon Mustard Sauce

 1 lb. ground veal

½ cup bread crumbs

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream

2 ½ cups beef broth

 For the sauce:

1 ¾ cup beef broth (strained from above)

6 tablespoons heavy cream

3 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon turmeric powder

 Mix the ground veal, beaten egg, 2 tablespoons heavy cream, salt and pepper.  In a medium large saucepan, bring 2 ½ cups beef broth to a boil.  Add the meatballs and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.  Remove from broth and set aside.  Strain broth and return 1 ¾ cup back into saucepan and bring to boil.  Dilute the cornstarch in a little cold water and add to the stock.  Add 6 tablespoons heavy cream, Dijon mustard, tarragon, cayenne and turmeric.    As the sauce begins to thicken, return the meatballs to the sauce and simmer and additional 10 minutes.  Serve immediately or make ahead and reheat gently.  Makes approximately 6 large meatballs.

Pasta alla Simmered Norma, i.e., Spicy Tomato Eggplant Sauce

I always follow the chef rule, first in, first out when planning my meals.  The FIFO rule is to use the foods in the order they were purchased and with fruits and veggies, I look at those peaking at their ripeness.  Sharing more of my quirkiness, I keep a list of all the fruits and veggies I purchase just to ensure they all get used and not sit forgotten in my frig!  Not only do I have one refrigerator, but I use and fill two !  And it’s just my son and I living together!!

So I have an eggplant.  And it’s going to be my dinner.  Somehow, someway.   Gluten-free, no animal products, sugar or alcohol.  I can think of several dishes, then I consider my cravings…pasta!  I am liking this cleanse as I seem to be eating more carbs!  Gluten-free, of course.

Spaghetti alla Norma is a tomato based pasta dish topped with fried eggplant slices.   The use of olive oil is permitted on my cleanse, but I opted to not fry and keep my dinner very healthy.  I prepared a basic marina sauce and added chunks of eggplant to slowly simmer and melt into the sauce.  Adding crushed red pepper is optional as it made the sauce nice and spicy, as I like it.  I used a gluten-free brown rice pasta, which to my surprise tasted very good with the eggplant sauce.  And I didn’t miss not topping my pasta with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano!

Pasta alla Simmered Norma

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion finely chopped

1 28 oz can crushed tomato sauce, I used Organic Muir Glen

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cubed, about 4 cups

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon dried basil

2 cloves garlic minced

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

1 cup gluten-free brown rice pasta (or your choice or pasta)

In a medium –large saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the onions stirring often to soften, but not color the onions.  Add the sauce and remaining ingredients, except the pasta.  Simmer on medium low for about 45 minutes or until the sauce thickens and the eggplant cooks and softens into the sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare the pasta in plenty of boiling water until al dente.  Drain pasta and add to the eggplant sauce.  Serve immediately.

On Top of Spaghetti

Meatballs!   I spent last Sunday making my sauce.  Enough for Sunday dinner and extra to freeze.  It won’t last long as I use it for so many dishes I prepare.  I flavor my sauce with Italian sweet sausage, pork neck bones and meatballs.  I won’t be sharing my mother’s sauce recipe, but I will share my meatballs.  While everyone loves my sauce, the meatballs receive equal praise.  And to Italians, and basically anyone who appreciates good food, biting into a flavorful, tender meatball vs a dense, bland softball is pure bliss. 

I have noticed lately that meatballs have become quite popular in restaurants.  I have seen giant meatballs served solo on a plate and I have heard of a restaurant in NY, the Meatball Shop, featuring a variety of ‘a la carte balls’ – how neat is that!  If I ever get to NY, I would love to check it out! 

Now those who know me well may be puzzled as to my eating pasta and meatballs together? during one meal?? NO, no.  I enjoy my pasta with complete abandon, sans meatballs.  When I go for meatball dining, I serve them either atop spaghetti squash, steamed spinach or ratatouile or with roasted veggies, sauteed broccoli and a mixed greens salad.  On rare occasions, truth be told, I have combined both 🙂

Meatballs

2 eggs
1/4 cup club soda or water
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 large clove minced garlic
1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
1/4 pound ground veal
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

2 quarts Marinara Sauce of your choice

Preheat oven to 425.  Prepare a broiler pan by filling the bottom pan with about 1/2 cup water.  Place on the top and spray it with Pam.   Pour Marinara sauce into a large saucepan and begin to heat.

Mix the club soda or water with the eggs, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and garlic in a small bowl.  Let stand for 5 minutes.

Combine the ground beef, pork and veal with the cheese and parsley.  Drop in the egg and bread crumb mixture and using your hands combine thoroughly, but do not over mix.  Shape into balls of desired size and place on a broiler pan.  Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and turn gently to maintain roundness.  Return to oven for 7 more minutes.  The meatballs are not completely cooked at this time. 

Drop meatballs into the simmering sauce and continue to cook on low heat until meatballs are cooked through and juices run clear, about 30 minutes.  Makes approximately 8 servings.

Penne alla Vodka

I actually rarely eat pasta these days.  I never order it out as I only prefer my homemade sauce.  A pasta dinner follows the making of my sauce, a five-hour labor of love, tripling the recipe so that I have lots to freeze and give away.

Tonight I needed comfort.  The kind of comfort that takes me back home.  The weekly ritual of pasta on Sunday.  A childhood meal that recalls pleasurable, comforting memories.  It’s been a hot and busy summer and I haven’t had a weekend free to prepare my sauce.  In a pinch, though, I know I can pull off a quick marinara sauce and get my fix.  Penne alla Vodka is not a dish my mother made.  I have seen it on restaurant menus and on food tv shows.  Take marinara, add vodka, add cream.  Quick, easy, I needed that.  And, it was well worth it. 

One cup of pasta and I am satisfied.  I rounded it out with an antipasta salad to get some veggies in.  I just can’t have whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce.  It just wouldn’t seem right or taste right, though I will use whole wheat in pasta salads or veggie based dishes.

Penne alla Vodka

1/2 quart store-bought Marinara sauce (or make your own, recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional, if you like a kick)
1/2 cup vodka
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup parmesan
1/4 cup  fresh basil, chopped
1/2 pound penne

Simmer the marinara sauce, vodka and crushed red pepper, if using, in a large skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the cream and parmesan cheese to heat, but not boil, about 5 minutes.

 As the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add in a generous pinch of salt.  Cook the penne until ala dente, tender but firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.  Drain the pasta and pour into the skillet and toss to coat.  Add in fresh basil and top with additional parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.  Makes about 4 cups.

Quick Marinara Sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small onion very finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 28 oz can San Marzano plum tomatoes – insert a knife in the can to carefully cut and break up the tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon sea salt or Kosher
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Lower the heat, and add the onion.  Cook until very tender.  Add the garlic and cook for just a minute to soften, but not brown the garlic.  Add in the can of tomatoes, dried basil, bay leaf, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally for 25 to 30 minutes.   If the sauce tastes too acidic, add a touch of sugar, about 1 teaspoon.  Remove bay leaf.  For a smooth sauce, pour into a blender and blend till smooth.  Makes about 3 cups.

I made this quick antipasta salad to serve with the pasta.  Amounts vary depending on how many you are serving.  I simply chopped up the following; 1/2 peeled, seeded cucumber, red onion, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garbanzo beans, roasted or raw red peppers, kalamata olives and diced mozzerello.  Seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh parsley or basil.  Drizzle on a light vinagrette and allow to sit at room temperature to marry the flavors while prepping the meal.  For a main meal, I have added chunks of salame or pepperoni, pepperoncini is good also.

 

Roasted Garlic

Roasted garlic is a staple item in my home.  At a minimum I roast three bulbs at a time, usually during a time when I am roasting other dishes.  Roasting garlic creates a buttery, rich garlic taste without being overpowering as raw garlic can be. 

Roasted Garlic

1 bulb of garlic (or more!)
Pinch of salt & pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
Pinch of dried Italian herbs
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Cut the top off of the garlic bulb exposing all the cloves.  Lightly drizzle on the olive oil and sprinkle on the salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and dried herbs.  Individally you can wrap the bulb in foil and place on oven rack or if preparing several, place bulbs in a oven safe dish tightly covered with foil.  Bake for approximately 35-45 minutes until bulbs are soft and lightlybrowned.

Pesto

Classic Pesto

4 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh parsley sprigs (optional)
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted
1/4 cup freshly  grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, as needed, more or less

Place all ingredients in the food processor.  Process to chop ingredients.  Slowly add oil to create a paste.  Use immediately or refrigerate up to two weeks.  Freeze for longer keeping.

*Note:  To keep the pesto brightly green looking, I blanch the basil in boiling water very briefly then shock in ice water.  The addition of parsley will also give the pesto a beautiful green appearance, as well as a few drops of lemon juice.  To use pesto as a sauce for pasta,  thin out the pesto by adding the pasta cooking water a little at a time until you reach the desired consistency.

Fresh Herb Roasted Salmon

Salmon is a favorite of mine.  I enjoy it roasted, grilled, seared, poached.  There are so many ways to prepare this fish.  It’s even so versatile, you can serve it for breakfast, in a frittata or scrambled with eggs and cream cheese.  For lunch, grilled on top of a salad, or poached and served cold with a mustard sauce for a cocktail party. 

This dish was quickly prepared for a weeknight dinner, requested by my daughter on her last evening home.  I made a lemon herb cream sauce but it’s not totally necessary. 

Fresh Herb Roasted Salmon

2 6 oz wild caught salmon fillets
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs – I used fresh parsley, oregano, basil, and tarragon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425.  Place salmon on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Spread Dijon mustard on each fillet.  Mix the fresh herbs with the lemon juice and gently press on top of each fillet.  Drizzle on additional olive oil. 

Roast for approximately 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your salmon.  Plate and serve with sauce or serve with a lemon wedge.

 Lemon Herb Cream Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley, tarragon and oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Melt butter, stir in flour.  Add milk, stirring constantly until the sauce begins to bubble and thicken.  Cook 2 minutes longer and then add herbs, salt and cheese, stirring until combined well.  Remove from the heat and add in lemon juice.