Friday, August 29, 2008

Colombian Connection- Sancocho

Wow! It's Labor Day weekend already! Did this summer ever just fly by! We've been on vacation these past two weeks, just kicking back and enjoying family, children and South American visitors.. cooking up a storm and sampling foods we've never had the chance to try before. One might say it was a unique gastronomical experience, and one we will remember for a very long time. Much laughter and even more chatter in these weeks, with very little English spoken..
but with the help of our adoptive Colombian daughter/translator, a wonderful connection was made.. a Colombian connection. Remarkably enough, much conversation transpired, observations were made, questions raised.. oh, the many questions! :o) Traditions were compared, and recipes were shared and prepared.. and hopefully this will become an annual family gathering every summer from now on!

Our adoptive daughter brought her real parents to the states for a two month visit.. they came bearing gifts, warm hugs, smiles, food, Colombian condiments, spices, coffee, real cocoa, and liqueurs that I'm not still quite sure how they managed to clear US customs with.. but then again, I don't think I really want to know! LOL Before they made the trip up here to Maine her Mami took 3 days to prepare this dish. Have you ever seen these before.. or even moreso.. had the chance to taste these delicious morsels?

These are Colombian Tamals.. a labor intensive traditional fare. Plantano (banana leaves) wrapped bundles that were filled with chicken, pork, rice, carrots, potatoes, yams, onions blended with a delicious 'hoago' relish/sauce, and then slowly steamed for a day. These were served for breakfast, Colombians' largest meal of the day, with breads, along with real hot cocoa that a soft stringy cheese had been added to. This was just so good, but a bit heavy for this tummy, so early in the day. Fortunately.. they thought ahead (though it shocked freezing food simply isn't a part of Colombian cookery) our daughters froze a few up for us.
We then slowly steamed them and had for dinner the other night and simply savored ever bite!
Here's a shortened recap of photos the kids took while preparing these Tamals.. so much time, improvising and effort went into this process than Mami was accustomed to preparing in her own kitchen. I had to smile when they told me she somehow managed to bring 34 fresh banana leaves into the US, just to make us Tamals. Wow!

Mami's finished Colombian Tamals

Some of the other foods prepared for us was roasted plantains & corn and roasted blue fish that we caught on a grand fishing day. Pappi brought us some Aguardiente, a liqueur that I could only compare to our anisette, though what we drank clearly had a definitely stronger kick to it! We had planned to have Mami show us how to make arepas, but ran out of time, so I will definitely look forward to learning this next summer when they visit again. And speaking of fish.. our visitors were fascinated with the types of fish we enjoy here, they were particuliarly interested in swordfish and bluefish.. both new to them. They also just loved our lobsters, mussels and steamed clams, also new to them. Some observations made.. they couldn't get over how much food is wasted here in the US, as well as the high price we pay for fresh fruits and vegetables..they were awed by our rising and falling tides, and our highways, not to mention EZPass! LOL Isn't it remarkable the things people take note of when they visit our country. I thought Mami was going to throw the Captain of the boat we chartered overboard, as he cleaned and fileted all the fish caught for us and tossed the bodies overboard for the gulls!! She insisted we save one whole 9 pounder for her to prepare for us all in it's entirety, which he gladly did! LOL

Mariella & Marcos.. have a very safe journey back to Colombia! See you next year!

Now I know this is primarily an Italian family recipe blog, and just like most Italian homes, every family has their own version of lasagne right? -- Well, so do the Colombians when it comes to making Sancocho, their traditional flavorful soup broth, served with large pieces of fresh assorted vegetables and meat. I had never tasted this soup, but decided to surprise our guests by preparing some.

In Colombia, Sancocho is beleived to be so powerful that it can bring the dead back to life, so it is often served after every party or whenever mucho imbibing has taken place, or after a night of celebration. Well, we did much celebrating, so I thought this easy soup to prepare would be most fitting.

I'm not sure who was more surprised, myself, for the way it turned out or our company that I made it for them.. but I have to say I received one of the nicest compliments when Pappi said " I cannot believe that I traveled so far to be served wonderful Sancocho made by a 'gringo'! LOL It simply made my day! Not knowing what to expect, nor what I was shooting for flavorwise, I have to say, the end result was one of the most tasty soups I've ever eaten. This recipe will be a regular winter soup on my menu for certain.

· 4 carrots, chopped
· 6 garlic cloves
· 3 peppers – sweet green, red, orange – seeded & chopped
· 1 medium red onion
· 1 jalapeno pepper
· 2 cups fresh cilantro

Put all of the above ingredients into a food processor and blend well, forming a paste. Add a bit of water if it won’t pulverize easily

In a large pot, combine the paste mixture with 5 qt water, 4 low sodium chicken bouillon, 2 TBLS ground cumin, ground pepper & just sprinkle of salt. Bring to a rapid boil and add:

· 1 medium yucca, peeled & cut into pieces
· 3 plantains – pelled & cut into 2 inch pieces
· Assorted chicken pieces - I added 8 whole legs, 6 boneless thighs, 4 boneless
chicken breasts- cut into 2 inch pieces

Simmer for 30 minutes and add:

· 6 ears of fresh ears of corn – cut into thirds
· 8 potatoes – peeled and halved

Simmer this an additional 30 minutes. When the potatoes are tender, remove from heat. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes and serve with chopped cilantro garnish. Enjoy!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Roasted Plum Tomatoes

Roasted Plum Tomatoes are a real favorite of ours. With all the rains we have been having, tomatoes are pretty abundant in our garden. So I thought this would be a good weekend project. My sister makes these weekly in season using her dehydrator, but I much prefer the oven method. This weekend I used my Roma tomatoes.. a favorite for roasting, making two trays and I made one tray of cherry tomatoes up for my neighbor. You can use any tomato that is growing in your garden, or stop by your local farmers market to pick up a nice selection there. I made two trays, one with with ground anise seed added to my blend. The herbal choices are endless, so give it a try & experiment with flavoring. Spread your roasted tomatoes over baked eggplant, or topping for bruschetta, over other grilled veggies- zucchini & squash, add a few to your risotto ( yum!) or in your pasta dishes. But don’t forget to sample a few right off the cookie sheet.. warm from your oven!

· 2 lb fresh picked Roma tomatoes
· 2-4 tsp extra virgin olive oil
· 6 garlic cloves, mashed and diced
· dried herbs: basil, oregano, summer savory, thyme
· ground anise seed (opt)
· sea salt, white pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Wash tomatoes and slice in half. Spread them in a single layer on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Drizzle with half the olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped garlic and dried herbs or your own preferred herbal blend. Pop into the oven and bake for 5 hours, or until the texture is right. I don’t care for overly crisp dried tomatoes, so this is the cooking time that works best for me. When they are done baking, I simply flip each tomato over and slide the peels right off. I like to leave a few peels on for variety. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and let cool. Pack your roasted tomatoes into zip lock bags and refrigerate if you are planning to use them up soon.. they freeze beautifully, and there’s nothing nicer than having your own home grown roasted tomatoes for your winter dishes, if you can wait that long :o) Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lobster Risotto

Hard or soft, unmistakably delicious.. Maine lobster.

It’s hard to believe that at one point in time, lobsters were considered nothing more than a poor man’s dinner at best.. even used as bait by local fishermen. But once lobsters finally stumbled into the gourmet spotlight in the urban centers of Boston and New York, they are now hailed as one of the ‘must have’ foods when visiting Maine. With their bright red color and unmistakable flavor, lobsters are now forever linked with traditional Maine dining.
Nothing but the harder shelled variety is available during coolor months here, but with the dog days of summer bring lobsters with a much softer touch…

Ayup, soft shelled lobsters are now here. Which is better? Arguably,I think it is a draw. And one that can be boiled down to one of quality vs. quantity. Most visitors enjoy the summer prices, sometimes as low as $4 per pound.. tough to argue at these prices. The thing about soft-shells for a tourist is that it’s very easy to eat.. no crackers needed! But for the first time eaters, the soft shelled lobster is not all it’s cracked up to be. The reason they cost so little.. there’s not nearly as much meat. The new shell hasn’t had enough time to fill up, as opposed to our hard shelled lobsters overflowing with succulent meat. Flavorable as ever.. you bet! Yes, molting season does have it’s advantages and disadvantages. Dollar for dollar and pound for pound, I’ll take hard shelled lobsters anyday. But when you have a lobsterman friend, who generously shares his trappings with his good friends, especially on certain birthdays and holidays, I’ll gladly take either :) The menu could be anything from steamed, to lobster stew, or chowder to baked & stuffed, or lobster rolls… but this week I wanted to try something a little different, at least for me. So after a celebratory birthday steamed lobster dinner this week, I ‘knuckled’ :) two tails along with a few cups of broth and decided to try my hand at lobster risotto. I could easily eat risotto every night of the week. But this dish I think I’d save for special occasions.. unless of course you have your own lobsterman friend too!. Creamy, rich and absolutely marvelous flavor. Thanks John for such a great gift.

Cooked lobster meat
3 cup seafood broth
2 TBLS white truffle oil
2 carrots, grated
¼ cup shallots, minced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 TBLS salt free butter
zest of one orange
1 cup arborio rice
sprig of fresh thyme
1/2 cup white wine
2-3 cups low sodium chicken broth
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
fresh parsley
ground pepper

Simmer chicken broth and keep warmed. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add shallots and carrots and sautee for a few minutes. Add arborio rice & stir around cooking for two minutes more until all the rice is well coated. Add white wine and reduce heat to low. Simmer until wine is fully absorbed, stirring constantly. Add 2 cups chicken broth and 1 1/2 cup seafood broth. Simmer on low until the rice becomes creamy, adding the rest of the seafood stock and broth by ladleful until it is gone, stirring often about 20 minutes or so. Add lobster meat, fresh thyme, orange zest, butter, and red pepper flakes, stirring until heated through. Remove from heat. Stir in truffle oil,parsley and ground pepper. Allow it to rest a few minutes and then give it one last good stir and serve. This is one risotto I wouldn't consider adding any cheese to. I wanted the lobster and truffle oil to shine through.. and it surely did! Enjoy.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The kitchen is closed..Penne with Chicken & Broccoli

The kitchen is closed today and I’m on my own, so I decided to make a favorite of mine.. Penne with chicken & broccoli. A nice light, easy lunch dish that’s a breeze to prepare. The children and grandkids will be arriving next week and no doubt we’ll be cooking up a storm. So for today, I’m just going to enjoy my solitude and a good book, Peter Pezelli’s Every Sunday, that reviewers describe as ‘a funny novel-- with a heart as big as the state of Rhode Island’. We’ll see :)

1 lb penne, cooked aldente
2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into pieces, rolled in a bit of flour and seasoned with salt & pepper
¼ cup chicken stock
4 cups sautéed broccoli florets
4 garlic cloves, mashed
¼ cup dry white wine
1 shallot
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
3 TBLS romano cheese
gound pepper, sea salt

· Add olive oil to sauté pan and sauté 2 garlic cloves for a few minutes. Add
broccoli, salt, pepper two minutes and then add juice of squeezed lemon over
· In a separate pan add olive oil, sauté 2 garlic cloves and chopped
shallots or onion. Add wine. Add cut pieces of seasoned and floured chicken
breasts, chicken broth and sautee on high for 5 minutes. Now add the
broccoli mixture to the chicken pan.. drippings and all.
Cook for 3-4 more minutes. When the penne is cooked, mix in the broccoli and
chicken.. grated cheese & black pepper and toss well before serving. Enjoy!

Panzano Porchetta

You might say porketta.. I say porchetta, but no matter how you slice it.. it's absolutely scrumptious! A couple of years ago we spent a month in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Each day we would visit a new hill town and explore the villages and marketplaces along the way, picking up the the freshest of ingredients, that we would buy for our evening meal.

My favorite of all all the markets was in Panzano. Panzano in Chianti.. located mid-way between Florence and Sienna, with it's beautiful hill-top location overlooking some of the most marvelous views of rural Tuscany & magnificent vineyards. With land as rich as it is, temperate climate coupled with a region abundant in produce of both soil & sea it's no wonder the classic culinary delights remain in the characteristic cuisine of Tuscany. Along with it's vegetable, cheese and sausage vendors, was the porchetta truck. This alone was worth the trip! Crowds stand ten deep to place their orders for this specialty..porchetta roasts and sandwiches. Warm slices of tender herbed roasted pork just waiting to melt in your mouth, piled high into a marvelous sandwich.

Now I realize most of us seldom have the opportunity to roast a whole pig over charcoal nor visit Panzano in Chianti.. but you can come pretty darn close right in your own kitchen. In our family, the herb mixture is always the subject of debate and you can add whatever you prefer, but most Italian cooks would agree, rosemary, garlic, fennel, peppercorns and sage are a must. I like to prepare my porchetta the day before I am going to roast it. I find really intensifies the flavor so much more.
Recently, I submitted my family recipe to a local restaurant here that is holding a 'sandwich contest'. I'm keeping my fingers crossed it gets picked.. first prize is a 10 day stay in Tuscany! You just know I wasn't going to pass up this contest :) So here's my submission and family recipe.

6 lb bonessless pork loin roast- butterflied into thirds (easier to roll it this way)
10-12 garlic cloves - smashed
2 TBLS olive oil
4 TBLS ground fennel seed - leave few whole
2 TBLS sea salt
1 tsp dried oregano leaves
5 fresh sage leaves, diced fine
ground black peppercorns - leave a few whole
1/4 cup fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tsp shallots,diced fine
zest of one lemon

To prepare Porchetta:
Open the pork roast. Smash garlic cloves slightly and sprinkle randomly over the meat. (It may seem like a lot of garlic, but you'll be surprised how mild the flavor will be once cooked)
Sprinkle the sea salt, ground peppercorns evenly over the meat, then sprinkle the ground fennel seed, oregano, rosemary, shallots, sage, rosemary sprig, a good drizzle of olive oil & zest of one lemon.
Now roll the meat up tightly in a jellyroll fashion. Rub olive oil and extra mix over the surface of the roast and tie securely all around roast with butchers twine. Now put your seasoned, rolled & tied roast in aluminum foil into refrigerator overnight. This is the key to making a really good porchetta.. to develop the flavors. Bring to room temperature two hours before roasting.

When your are ready to cook the roast, bake in 325 degree oven for 1 1/2 foil, then raise temperature to 400 F and cook unfoiled 1 -1 1/2 hour longer, until very golden browned.
Cut off the butchers strings & discard. Allow the roast to stand at least two hours before slicing. I roasted potatoes, fennel bulb, carrots & garlic in porchetta drippings as a side.

For the panini:
Use a good crusty Italian peasant bread slices, lightly brushed with olive oil
Layer sandwich with as many slices of porchetta that will fit & season lightly with sea salt & pepper & grill in medium hot skillet until toasted on both sides.

* I prefer my porchetta sandwich served cold..(ungrilled), stacked high with thin slices of porchetta, with just lettuce & sliced tomato & provolone.. wrapped in butcher paper to be savored with a nice glass of wine. :+).. but that's just me!

Variations: If served grilled/panini.. add a bit of pesto drizzle to the sandwich, or sliced portabella mushrooms.. or simply good imported provolone cheese... or even a nice balsamic.
I've assembled roast porchetta in flatbreads, panini, rolls & wraps.. any way you serve it, it's yummy!! Mangia! Hope you enjoy!