Tag Archives: meat

Have I been chopped? Speck, Pea Shoots and Marsala Meatballs

Speck and pea shoot meatballs

Don’t you get tired to always cook the same dishes? During the last years, I have mastered some recipes that have become my signature dishes. I always have the essential ingredients for them in my refrigerator and I can cook them with my eyes closed. And, of course, I always shoot for one of those dishes for a weeknight meal.

Unfortunately, Her Majesty does not always agree upon my… menu choices. She is starting going through that phase where changes are exciting and routines are boring and she always wants to experiment something new. So, to put an end to her complaints, I decided to change my basic meatball recipe and give it a twist.

The version that I cooked for Her Majesty did not have any Marsala. Nonetheless, her critique was quite brutal. She told me that the taste was not that great and that the meatballs were… kind of chewy! Seriously!!! Not the feedback that I was expecting!

Since I thought that this dish was quite delicious, I decided not to give up and to test the other “mouth” of the house. My beloved husband is never eager to pay me a compliment. He says that he does not sugarcoat his comments for my own sake so that I keep pushing myself striving to always get better at what I do. Lucky me!!! 😉

Anyway, instead of crucifying me like her Majesty, the oracle’s response was positive and flattering so I will keep making these meatballs for me and Stefano over and over. Who knows? Changing her mind is a girl’s prerogative. Maybe Her Majesty will learn to appreciate this recipe when she gets older. At least, that’s what happened to me with some of my family’s recipes.

Speck and pea shoot meatballs

Ingredients:

1 lb, Ground Meat of your choice
1 slice, Speck (¼ inch thick)
2 eggs
6 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
2 slices, White Bread
2 Tbsp, Milk
Some leaves of Pea Shoots, chopped
3 Tbsp, Flour
2 Tbsp, Extravirgin Olive Oil
1 and 1/2 Tbsp, butter
Juice, half lemon
2 Tbsp, Marsala wine
Salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:

Speck and pea shoot meatballsCut the speck into cubes and set aside.

In a bowl, pour the milk and soak the bread into the milk.

In a large mixing bowl, using your hands combine the ground beef, the eggs, the chopped pea shoots’ leaves, the speck cubes and the Parmesan cheese. With your hands, squeeze the bread and add it to the meat mixture. Add some salt and pepper (to taste) and combine with your hands. Shape the mixture into meatballs.

In a large non-stick skillet, pour the olive oil and add 1 Tbsp of butter. When the butter is completely melted, add the meatballs and cook them until they brown. Add the lemon juice and cook for a couple of minutes. Pour the Marsala wine and keep cooking until the Marsala evaporates. Remove from the stove and add 1/2 Tbsp of butter. Toss to coat until the butter is completely melted. Serve immediately.

Have a wonderful weekend!

F. Xx

PS: In case you are wondering what Pea Shoots are, they are the young leaves and tendrils of pea plants. I didn’t even know they existed before using them for this recipe. They are delicious and their scent is so delicate. The perfect addition to many, many dishes. 😋

Sicilian-Style Stracotto – Recommended Wine Pairing

Donnafugata, "Tancredi" Sicilia IGTA while back Francesca posted the mouth-watering recipe for a Sicilian-style stracotto: it is finally time to find a good wine pairing for her dish. Based on its ingredients and preparation, we can identify the main organoleptic qualities of this dish as latent sweetness, latent sourness and juiciness; it is also a structured dish.

In light of the ISA wine pairing criteria that we have discussed on a previous post, we can therefore conclude that the wine we should pick to complement Francesca’s dish should have good acidity, smoothness, well defined (but not aggressive) tannins and/or good ABV, and should be a full-bodied wine.

Based on the above characteristics and the geography of Francesca’s dish, I would pair the stracotto with a good Nero d’Avola. Before we get to the actual recommendations, however, let’s just take a quick look about this grape variety.

Planeta, Noto Nero d'Avola "Santa Cecilia" DOCNero d’Avola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries (the first official descriptions date back to the end of the XVII century) and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – not because it came from Calabria, but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).

Nero d’Avola makes wines that are generally deeply colored, full-bodied, distinctly tannic and with good aging potential. The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation of Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations, where it can be used to make varietal wines or in the context of blends. However, many of the best Nero d’Avola wines around are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit. (Information on the grape variety, cit. Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012)

Morgante, "Don Antonio" Sicilia IGTIn terms of specific recommendations, in my view these are among the best Nero d’Avola-based wines around for their quality/price ratios:

Donnafugata, “Tancredi” Sicilia IGT (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and other grape varieties, with aromas of roses, cherries, leather, tobacco, chocolate – a density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA is another very good feature worth pointing out)

Donnafugata, Contessa Entellina “Mille e Una Notte” DOC (a wonderful blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, which can be considered the “bigger brother” of the Tancredi – it is more expensive but delightful, with a bouquet of plum, blackberry, black cherry, pepper, cocoa, vanilla, tobacco and cinnamon; a great wine)

Cusumano, "Noa" Sicilia IGTPlaneta, Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of wild cherries, plums, blackberries, licorice, cocoa, graphite – kudos to the owners who obtained a very good density of 5,000 vines/HA)

Morgante, “Don Antonio” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of potpourri, ripe red fruit, licorice, leather, chocolate and minerals)

Cusumano, “Noa’” Sicilia IGT (a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with complex scents of violets, red fruit, sandalwood, leather, chocolate – even in this case, we want to acknowledge a producer who attained a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA)

Feudo Maccari, "Saia" Sicilia IGTFeudo Maccari, “Saia” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of violets, herbs, wild cherry, pepper, juniper berries and leather, slightly toasty – once again, a special note of commendation to the owners who invested the energy and the resources to achieve an excellent density of over 5,500 vines/HA)

Tasca d’Almerita, Contea di Sclafani “Rosso del Conte” DOC (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Perricone and other permitted varieties, with aromas of violets, blackberry, plum jam, black pepper, tobacco and licorice)

That’s all for today: have you tried any of the above wines? If so, did you enjoy what you drank?

Daddy's Sicilian-Style Stracotto

Rigatoni with Sicilian-style stracotto sauce4/6 Servings

I wish I could take credit for this recipe but…nope! Not even a teensy bit. This red, opulent dish comes straight from my dad’s childhood memories.

When he visited us for the holidays (yeah, he left but my mom is still here – Stefano, stop making that face!) he showed me how to make it and he shared his family story behind it. Well, that story was so long and full of details about my grand parents and about certain unkonwn-to-me grand aunts that it was a miracle I didn’t fall asleep. And don’t even get me started on describing my mother’s face during our story-telling session. 😉

Anyway, since today I feel very generous towards the human species (believe me, it does not happen often), I decided I would spare you the torture.

Let me just say that what I love about this dish, beside its richness, is the “2 courses in 1 deal”. When you make it, by going through one cooking process, you’ll end up with both the tomato sauce for a pasta course and a meat course. Don’t get me wrong. Cooking is great. However, if I can manage to cook a great meal in less time and have more time for my other passions (books, movies, myself ;-)), my first reaction is always “where should I sign”?

Now, let’s focus on the important stuff.

Sicilian-style stracotto

Ingredients:

3/4 of 1 cup, minced onion
5 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
about 11 oz, veal stew
about 13 oz, boneless pork chops
3 pork sausages (about 10 oz)
4 potatoes
1/2 cup, red wine
2 cans, San Marzano peeled tomatoes
1 Tbsp, tomato paste
4 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese (to be used only for the pasta course)
salt

Directions:

Cut the potatoes into medium-sized pieces and set aside. Cut the pork chops into stew-like pieces and set aside. With the help of a fork, make small holes into the sausages. Process the tomatoes through a food mill and set them aside.

In a large non-stick pot, put the olive oil, the onion, the veal stew, the pork chop pieces, the sausages and the potatoes and start to saute. When the meat is well sauteed, add the red wine and keep stirring until the wine evaporates. Add the tomatoes, the tomato paste, some salt (to taste) and keep cooking on a very low heat, stirring often, until the tomato sauce gets thick and is not watery anymore.

If you decide to serve pasta, remember to cook it al dente and to dust the top of each plate with the parmigiano cheese.

Buon Appetito! 🙂

Veal Skewers – Recommended Wine Pairing

As a good pairing to Francesca’s tempting veal skewers, I suggest going for a full-bodied red wine with defined (but not aggressive) tannins, good acidity and smoothness – I would pick either a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or a Nero d’Avola (the latter in homage to the Sicilian roots of Francesca’s recipe). Let’s take a closer look to each of them.

Montepulciano is a grape that is indigenous to Central Italy and that is extensively cultivated in several Central Italy regions, such as Abruzzo, Marche, Umbria and Lazio to name a few. The presence of Montepulciano vines in the Abruzzo region has been documented since the XVIII century and nowadays it accounts for almost 50% of the vines that are grown in Abruzzo (Montepulciano is also the fourth most cultivated grape variety in Italy). Due to the ample supply of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines that are made out of it unfortunately vary quite significantly (although it must be recognized that, in the last fifteen years or so, there has been a conscious effort on the part of most producers to raise the average quality of the wines made out of Montepulciano grapes), so buyer beware: you have to do your homework first and pick the best producers if you don’t want to be disappointed.

In Abruzzo, the use of Montepulciano grapes is permitted both in the only local DOCG appellation (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG, which requires the use of 90% or more Montepulciano grapes, in addition to a maximum of 10% of Sangiovese grapes) and in all of the Abruzzo DOC appellation except only Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC which is reserved to white wines mostly made out of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (also known as Bombino Bianco) grapes. All of the wines which we are about to recommend fall within the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC appellation, which encompasses an area surrounding the towns of Chieti, L’Aquila, Pescara and Teramo and which requires the use of 85% or more Montepulciano grapes in the winemaking process.

Among the best Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with a solid quality/price ratio are Valle Reale, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (with aromas of violet, plums, blueberries, blackberries licorice); Masciarelli, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “S. Martino Rosso Marina Cvetic” DOC (with scents of violet, rose, blackberries, cherries, cocoa, vanilla, pepper, nutmeg); Pietrantonj, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cerano” Riserva DOC (with aromas of cherries, wild berries, vanilla, tobacco, cocoa); Dino Illuminati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Ilico” DOC (with scents of blackberries, cherries, tobacco, leather, licorice, soil, slightly oaky); Torre dei Beati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cocciapazza” DOC (with aromas of rose, violet, cherries, plums, blueberries, redcurrants, licorice, cocoa): unfortunately, Torre dei Beati does not have a Web site as at November 2012: as usual, should you be interested in reaching out to them, just drop me an email. All of the above wines are varietal, that is made out of 100% Montepulciano grapes.

Nero d’Avola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – not because it came from Calabria, but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).

The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation of Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations, but many among the best products are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit.

These are among the best Nero d’Avola-based wines around for their quality/price ratios: Feudo Maccari, “Saia” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of violets, herbs, wild cherry, pepper, juniper berries and leather, slightly toasty – a special note of commendation to the owners who invested the energy and the resources to achieve an excellent density of over 5,500 vines/HA); Morgante, “Don Antonio” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of potpourri, ripe red fruit, licorice, leather, chocolate and minerals); Cusumano, “Noa'” Sicilia IGT (a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with complex scents of violets, red fruit, sandalwood, leather, chocolate) or also very good “Sagana” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of wild cherry, anise, chocolate, leather, tobacco), even in this case, we want to acknowledge a producer who attained a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA; Planeta, Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of wild cherries, plums, blackberries, licorice, cocoa, graphite – once again, kudos to the owners who obtained a very good density of 5,000 vines/HA); Donnafugata, “Tancredi” Sicilia IGT (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and other grape varieties, with scents of roses, cherries, leather, tobacco, chocolate – a density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA is another very good feature worth pointing out).

Enjoy, and as usual let us know by leaving a comment below if you happened to try out any of the wines mentioned above or should you wish to suggest a different pairing!

Veal Skewers

2 Servings (2 Skewers Each)

I guess by now you know that Rome is my hometown. However, it’s not my father’s. He was born and raised in Messina, a town in Sicily, and moved to Rome in his late twenties. Every summer, we used to go to my grandparents’ beach house in Sicily and spend some time with them. Oh, I know what you are thinking: here we go – another story about Italian happy families and fairy-tale memories. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you – or is that a sigh of relief? The simple truth is… my mother and my grandmother hated each other. Have you ever read a novel called “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles”? Not an intellectual masterpiece but very entertaining: the feud between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law in the book reminds me a little the one that was going on in that Sicilian beach house. I say a little because, luckily, my story (as opposed to the one in the book) did not end with a murder 😉 Ah, I know once again what you are thinking: what has this got to do with food? Bear with me just a tad longer, will you?

So, my grandmother happened to be a very good cook and… no, she didn’t teach me how to cook. Growing up, I was a bitchy, moody, ambitious, career-focused girl who couldn’t care less about learning how to cook. The good food kept coming and that was more than enough for me. No questions asked. When my grandmother died, the only thing that I was able to make on the stove was… boiling water.

But then, time went by and my priorities changed. One day, while I was cooking, I suddenly realized that I could not recreate any of my grandmother’s tasty dishes.I felt such a deep sadness, you know, the same you feel when you lose something precious that cannot be replaced. What to do? Not ask my mom. Even now, after all these years, when my grandmother’s name is mentioned, her face turns blue. I knew she was not going to be of any help. Much to my surprise, my father was the one who came to the rescue. I say that because we are talking about an old-fashioned man who thinks that little elves live in his house and take care of cleaning it, cooking his meals and ironing his clothes. He is so spoiled and used to being “attended to” that he doesn’t even make the effort to put his dirty plate in the sink. Well, not only did he remember my grandmother’s recipes, but he even knew the right quantities for the various ingredients and the directions to make them. Who would have thought!

So to make a long story short, the following recipe (as well as all other Sicilian recipes that are yet to come) derive from my father.

Ingredients:

1 lb veal cutlets
½ cup plain bread crumbs
3 Tbsp grated Parmigiano cheese
½ cup parsley leaves
½ white scamorza cheese or plastic-wrapped mozzarella cheese
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 big garlic clove, finely minced (optional)
salt
ground black pepper

Directions:

On a cutting board, place one cutlet between two pieces of parchment paper. With the smooth side of a tenderizer, start pounding the meat until it gets thin and the meat fibers have softened (be careful not to break the meat). Remove the parchment paper from the meat. Make sure that the cutlet has been evenly flattened and, if some part of it is still too thick, pound it more with the tenderizer. Cut the cutlet into strips, about 3-inch wide and 5-inch long. Repeat the same procedure for the other cutlets.

Rinse the parsley leaves with water, dry them with a paper towel and chop them roughly.

The original recipe requires the use of white scamorza cheese. However, if you cannot find it, you can use mozzarella instead – just choose the type that comes in plastic wrap, not the moister type that sits in water. Cut off the scamorza cheese or the mozzarella into cubes (between ½ and ¾ of 1 inch thick). In case you are using moist mozzarella, put the cubes into a strainer, place the strainer above a large bowl and let the mozzarella cubes drain fully.

In a large plate, place the bread crumbs, the parmigiano cheese, the parsley, a pinch of salt, the pepper (to taste), the garlic (if you choose to go for it) and mix thoroughly.

Pour the olive oil into another plate.

Spread a veal strip out onto a cutting board. Season only one side of the strip with a pinch of salt (not too much, because you put some salt in the crumb mixture already).

Dip only the salted side of the strip into the olive oil and hold it over the oil to let any excess fall back into the plate. Next, dip the same side of the strip into the crumb mixture to evenly coat it.

Return the strip to the cutting board with the breaded side facing up. Take a cheese cube and place it on one of the short sides of the strip. Roll the strip into a small roll (pardon the pun).

Repeat the same procedure for the other strips.

Using 8-inch metal skewers, spear 4 veal rolls onto each skewer being careful not to place them too close to each other, otherwise the rolls will not cook evenly.

Brush the rolls with extra virgin olive oil and cook them over a preheated grill or a non-stick grill pan. Cook the rolls until tender and golden brown on both sides.

The original recipe calls for a fennel salad with a vinaigrette dressing as a side dish.

Enjoy and let me know how it turned out if you give it a go!