Monday, January 14, 2013

Cooking Good Italian

I am determined to be a respectable Italian cook before the year is out. 

Coming off an Italian Christmas and my visit to Eataly in New York City, I decided to test my Italian cooking skills with a ragù recipe adapted from famous Italian chef Antonio Carluccio.


I tried a simple one with just a few ingredients. At first, when I looked at the recipe, I thought that there were too few ingredient in it to make it taste good. That’s where I was wrong. Good olive oil, wine and beef bones made this recipe not only easy but also incredibly enjoyable.

I had planned on cooking this with beef and pork but my butcher talked me into using beef ribs and I’m glad she did. The beef bones gave the sauce enormous flavor. I ate mine with just a little pasta and without the meat. I found out later from my neighbor that’s how they serve ragùs in southern Italy - without the meat.

I used good wine and probably used a lot more than what the recipe called for. High-quality wine added a lot of dimension to the ragù.

Note that the recipe calls for butter and garlic and basil but does not say how much. This is where the tricky part comes in and I figure this recipe is a preliminary to cooking any of the recipes I found in my grandma’s handwriting over Christmas that have no instructions… just ingredients.

Just like soup, ragù is meant to be simmered for hours on the back burner in a large, beat-up pot like the one you rescued from your grandmother’s estate sale. One thing for sure: It’s definitely worth the wait!

The sauce is so flavorful and sweet it is can easily be mopped up with a loaf of hot Italian bread in a matter of minutes.

The next day I ate it again except this time with the beef ribs.

Can I change my mind about preferring this recipe without meat?

Delizioso and Bon Appetit

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil 
Butter – I used 3 Tbsp.
1 very large onion, chopped finely
1.3 pounds of meat with a bone – I used stewing steak and beef ribs
Half a bottle of red wine…or more
2 pound of ripe, fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped
Tomato paste to thicken
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Put a drizzle of olive oil in a pan with a generous amount of butter, heat gently and sauté the chopped onion until soft and slightly golden.

Raise to a high heat, put the pieces of meat into the pan and fry for a few minutes until brown on all sides.

Add the wine and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and leave to simmer, with the lid on, very gently for 1 1/2 hours.
Test the meat, if it is tender add the basil, if not simmer for a little longer and add a little tomato paste.

After adding the basil cook gently without the lid for a further 1/2 hour and check for seasoning.

Serve with your favorite pasta. Mine happens to be Penne.

The 5 Grams of Fat Rule
A good measure for weight loss is whatever works for you.

My personal secret is to keep it under 5 grams of fat and run for an hour every day.

I’ve learned over the years that nothing takes it off quicker than eating right and exercising. It’s that simple.

I had a Doctor once who swore if it was over 5 grams of fat, you shouldn’t eat it. So if I wanted something that was say 10 grams, I only ate half of it. This message stuck with me over the years so when I am watching my calories, I use it as a rule.

Back to that after Italian ragù treat…

These two desserts are delicious and both are low in calories and fat proving that you can still indulge and keep it light. The Peach recipe is just 201 calories and 1.8 grams of fat and the lemon edition of the Creamsicle – the Limoncello Freeze - is just 231 calories, 4.7 grams of fat.

Remember however to eat just one serving. I know, I had a hard time too!

Bourbon-Glazed Peaches With Yogurt

1 (2-inch) piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt
5 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, divided
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
3 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 firm, ripe peaches, halved and pitted (I tried it with both canned and frozen)

Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a medium bowl. Combine seeds, bean, yogurt, 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, and a dash of salt. Let stand for 1 hour; discard bean.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar, remaining dash of salt, bourbon, and vanilla extract in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add peaches; toss gently. Arrange peaches, cut side down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Reserve sugar mixture. Bake peaches at 350° for 10 minutes. Turn peach halves over; drizzle cavities with reserved sugar mixture. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until just tender. 

Serve with yogurt and juices.

 Limoncello Freeze

1/4 cup lemon curd
2 1/2 tablespoons Limoncello (lemon-flavored liqueur)
2 cups vanilla low-fat ice cream
Combine curd and liqueur in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk to blend. Add ice cream to curd mixture; stir to blend. Spoon 1/2 cup ice cream mixture into each of 4 bowls.

Loa Szechaun

Of all the regional cooking in China, my favorite is from the Sichuan province where cooking relies on getting these flavors in sync: sour, hot, pungent, sweet, aromatic, bitter, and salty. 

Yes, there are so many of them challenging chefs to a new and rather complex level of cooking. 

Enter Chef Tony Hu who introduced great Sichuan cooking to Chicago.

Not only has his restaurant Lao Sze Chuan been named the Best Chinese Restaurant in Chicago (one of the 10 best in the country) by main stream media it has also won the Bib Gourmand award from the Michelin Guide for both 2012 and 2013.

At the depth of Sichuan cooking are two key ingredients:fiery chili peppers and the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. I love them both.

If you’ve ever heard the old saying that oil and water don’t mix, try drinking a gallon of water after eating Sichuan food. Experts suggest eating sticky white rice or drinking good Chinese beer which is exactly what we did yesterday.

A late lunch at Loa Sze Chuan proved that Chef Hu’s specialities of Hot and Sour Soup and Dried Chili Chicken can cure anything (Three of us woke up this morning feeling good for the first time in weeks and swear it was the chili peppers) and satisfy just about anyone who is planning their next meal here before they even finish their last one.

Both recipes below are an adapted version. You decide which one is best.

Bon Appetit!

Sichuan Red Chilli Chicken

1 lb. chicken breast fillets, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup potato flour

Salt, pepper, light soy sauce
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1/4 cup chopped spring onions
1 cup dried red chillies, cut in half
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp chinese cooking wine
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and finely ground
1/4 tsp sugar

Combine chicken with marinade and leave for an hour or so. Coat chicken pieces evenly in potato flour and deep fry till cooked (about 1-2 minutes). Drain and put aside.
Heat up 1 tbsp peanut oil in a wok. Fry garlic and ginger for a minute till fragrant, then add chillies (with seeds), oyster sauce and wine. Fry for 1-2 minutes, then add chicken, spring onions, salt and Sichuan pepper (sugar optional). Toss for a minute until evenly coated and transfer to a plate. Serve immediately

Szechuan Wok-Fried Chicken
1 boneless and skinless chicken breast
12 dried red chilies
1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorn
5 slices of peeled ginger
5 slices of garlic
1 stalk of scallion (julienned for garnishing)
1 sprig of coriander (for garnishing)
1 fresh red chili (julienned for garnishing)
3 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine
Salt to taste
Cut the chicken breast into cubes and dip them into batter and deep fry to golden brown. Set aside.
In a wok, heat up some oil until smoke comes out.
Add in the sliced ginger, garlic, and stir fry until they turn light brown.
Add in the dried chilies, Szechuan pepper and quick stir them until you smell the spicy and fragrant aroma.
Add in the chicken cubes and seasoning and do a final quick stir.
Serve hot and garnish with scallion, coriander, and red chili.