Carpe Pepper! Tuscan Peposo – The Other Beef Stew


Peposo – A Fiery Love Story

Peposo simmering in the pot

Peposo simmering in the pot

 

I love simple dishes. Many simple dishes come to us from medieval times – though they may sometimes use ingredients that are no longer easy to find, most dishes in the 12th century used bread, meat, fish, veggies – just as we do today, only differently, because – half a millennium and more!! And they were often quite simple, particularly if they were dishes of the people.

People learned clever ways to make inexpensive cuts of meat tender and delicious and ways to use spices to enhance that flavor.

One of my favorite old dishes is peposo – Tuscan pepper stew. Peposo is sometimes called Tuscany’s answer to chili. It’s a rich, savory stew that emphasizes simplicity of preparation and long slow cooking. This particular dish also emphasizes lots and lots and lots of black pepper, both cracked and ground.  Sometimes, it is said, pepper was used so liberally to disguise a cut of meat that may have gone off a bit.

That’s not what we’re doing here.

The dish originated in the 13th century and is documented as having fed the laborers working to create tiles – an incredible-for-the-time 4,000,000 terracotta tiles – for the dome, or Duomo, of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence (1420-1436).

Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral - the Duomo

Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral – the Duomo – Home of “The Original” Peposa

These workers were not wealthy, and used a cheap cut of meat that – I *think* – is today known as the shank. I didn’t have a shank when I made this dish, so I cut up a piece of chuck roast and it worked beautifully. I think any cut of beef like the shank or beef short ribs, boned, or skirt steak, or shin, would work just beautifully in this dish. It is definitely fun to experiment!

The first time I made Peposo, I followed the recipe closely and was pretty sure I was going to fry everybody’s esophagus. Except, of course, mine, as I am immune (gasp, wheeze!).

I was delighted to find that the large quantities of black pepper called for in the recipe just melted into the dish, which ended up peppery but not overly so, and entirely delicious.

So, of course, I tried using a bit more pepper – particularly the cracked pepper – and it was wonderful.

I’ve made a few other modifications to this dish so check out the recipe below – this is a different kind of beef stew and I think you’ll like it. The Italian workers certainly did!!
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Crawling on the Floor of the Ocean, Tasting Delicious – Dungeness Crab!


Crab Nuggets

Crab Nuggets

We are fortunate enough to live by the shores of Puget Sound. It’s a beautiful place to live – we’re grateful to be in the Pacific Northwest and one of the chief reasons we love our little bay so much is because it’s filled with sweet, delicious Dungeness crab.

Dungeness crabs crawl about on the floor of the ocean eating the muck from the bottom and transmuting it into sweet, utterly delicious flesh. It’s just remarkable!

We generally haul in anywhere from 100-200 gorgeous Dungeness crabs over the course of a season. Then it’s Picking Time – we gather round, drink wine, and pick crab meat for freezing.

The secret to freezing crab meat properly, so it tastes wonderful a few months later, when it’s Fall or even Winter and you’re craving the taste of fresh crab, is to first chill it thoroughly in a Ziplock bag. Then, once it’s partly frozen, remove it from the Ziplock and vacuum seal it with a Seal a Meal or similar.

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Look! Up on the plate! It’s a bird, it’s a plane – it’s Bacon chicken liver pâté


Chicken liver, dill frond, tomato jam

Chicken liver, dill frond, tomato jam

Is there any food as delicious as chopped chicken liver that is also as unappealing looking?

I have come to the conclusion that chopped liver on a plate – liver pâté for the foodies amongst you – is visually unappealing no matter how it is tarted up.

My mother made this dish regularly and placed it on a plate in a ring with a gelatin glaze. I hated the way it looked, but I loved the way it tasted!! As soon, of course, as I scraped the glaze off, where it sat, quivering on my plate like a rejected golden retriever. A retriever made of gelatin!

Organ meats are one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat. If you can, when you make this dish, try and find organic chicken liver. Awesome nutrient qualities + a liver that has processed fewer toxins means you are Winning!!

So, since chopped chicken liver is basically yukky looking, I took another approach. Read the rest of this entry »

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Breakfast Scramble – Seasonal Feasting


Last year,  we spent a few days in Portland and stopped by Navarre for a bite of breakfast. Navarre is a Spanish style cafe with Basque influences. In my admittedly limited experience it’s one of the best restaurants of its kind – or any kind – in Portland.

In the morning, Navarre does omelets, but they aren’t really omelets – they’re called scrambles. A scramble, apparently, is an omelet that is shaken, rather than stirred – an omelet that  does not fold neatly over a tidy packet of whatever-you’re-using-as-filling, but whose fillings are precisely chopped and dropped into the pan with the eggs, then folded about, hither and yon, ultimately forming a lovely, cohesive whole.

After leaving Navarre, I vowed to recreate their techniques for preparing this seemingly simple, yet beautiful and delicious dish. I  think I’m making progress. Here are a few ideas, a recipe and some photos to show you where I’m now at with this dish.

By the way,  scrambles like this make wonderful Breakfast for Dinner meals! Read the rest of this entry »

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Serendipity and the Beans – Green Beans with Vietnamese Caramelized Pork


I recently borrowed a large, coffee table cookbook from a friend – and Annette, I promise I will return it soon!! The book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, by Andrea Nguyen, is one of those wonderful cookbooks that offers not only dishes and recipes but core cooking techniques and pantry basics as well as rich insights into the cuisine of Vietnam.

It  came quite serendipitously, as I’d just gotten a ton – OK, a bag full – of just picked, gorgeous green beans from “East of the Mountains”. When we say “East of the Mountains” here in the Skagit County / Salish Sea area, we mean the Cascade Mountains, east of which are the fertile irrigated valleys that produce much of the nation’s apples, hops, sweet cherries, hops and much more. And green beans – and peas – East of the Mountains is the largest lentil production area in the country!

Yakima Valley Green Beans

Fresh Green Beans from East of the Mountains

We Love Stir Fried Green Beans

Many Asian cuisines have some type of stir fried or flash fried green bean dish. Often the dish has a bit of heat, a bit of aroma via herbs such as Thai basil and aromatics like garlic or shallot, a bit of darkness via soy or Kecap Manis (kind of an Indonesian soy based ketchup) or Nam Pla  (fish sauce).

Our own version(s) of this dish usually go like this – get some great green beans, put ‘em in the fridge. They are so beautiful that you are seduced, you buy them without necessarily thinking “what then will I do with these?”

And that’s OK, at least in our house, because we’re always up for a quick flash fried green beans-with-pork-herbs-soy-and lots of garlic. The general idea is to first heat a big wok. Now, by “heat”, I mean we turn the heat on under the wok and go off to play Words with Friends until the smoke detector goes off – it’s our timer. Then flash fry the green beans in just a T of oil, a little garlic, some soy and some pork until everything is seared and tasty and the juice from the beans + the added liquids makes a lovely light sauce. Serve over rice. The problem is that it’s tough to properly cook the beans and the pork together and it’s inconvenient to cook them separately. One great solution is to use Vietnamese Caramelized Pork with your flash fried green beans. Read the rest of this entry »

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Experiential Cookery – Savory Smoked Salmon and Asparagus Fritters. Or maybe they’re pancakes.


Side View - Asparagus Smoked Salmon Fritter / Stuffed Pancake

Side View – Asparagus Smoked Salmon Fritter / Stuffed Pancake

What is the difference between fritters and pancakes? What’s in a name? A batter of flour, milk, and eggs is common to both, although the flour may be amended by almost any additional starch, such as potato, and enhanced by rising agents such as baking soda or baking powder.

You make a pancake by frying a small amount in a pan to form a thin cake (a cake fried in a pan, aha!), which you can offer a slightly Continental flair by calling it a crêpe.

But it’s still a pancake.

You will typically serve this basic pancake with butter. Sugar. Maple syrup! Distilled fruit juices. You can even fill it up by folding or rolling it around something. Like bananas. Or blueberries. Or. . .Bacon!!

So that’s a pancake. If you dip a filling in the raw batter, then fry it up, voila! You have a fritter. Now this is – of course – more of a guideline then a rule, but you see where we’re going with this. My take, after much observation of fritterists and pancakistas is that:

If there’s more stuff than batter, it’s a fritter. If there’s more batter than stuff, it’s a pancake. Pancakes and fritters have both been around for a very long time – see the recipe snipped below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Recipes: Algorithms or Heuristics – Pad See Ew – Factory Style


Pad See Ew - in the Wok, almost ready to serve

Pad See Ew – in the Wok, almost ready to serve

Heuristics, Algorithms and Recipes, Oh My!!

Some people like recipes that are algorithmic – in fact, most recipes are algorithmic. So many tablespoons of this, a cup and an eighth of that, 14oz. of flour – cook for 25 minutes at 387 ° Fahrenheit – you know the drill.

The thing is – ovens vary – 375 in one oven is 352 in another, and one person’s fast simmer is another’s medium boil. A cup – sure, that’s a cup, but you know, the real way to measure is with weights, and my cup of flour might outweigh yours by 15-20%!!

In that spirit, I offer this yummy heuristic recipe for Pad See Ew. Fat rice noodles with meat and egg and gai lan (Chinese broccoli), dark soy, onions and a few other condiments, this is street-food comfort food at its best. OK, you can use broccolini. Or, if it’s around, you can even use broccoli – standard, beautiful broccoli – if you just cut the stems into long thin strips and split the florets into 3-4 pieces, depending on their size. Read the rest of this entry »

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The loving kindness of gentle eggs


When they won't drip off the fork, they're ready!

When they won’t drip off the fork, they’re ready!

Years ago, my wife was ill and – as is sometimes the case with sick people – was rejecting food. Too spicy! Too bland! Too crunchy! Too much like – food!

I have a strong feeding instinct and it was being balked. Then, as in a dream, I saw it – a savory egg custard. What sickie would not love such a thing!!?

But – a traditional egg custard would not have the texture I felt she wanted and I felt it needed a little updating.

I soon found myself in the kitchen making what we now call gentle eggs. Our son asked me what I was making that took so much stirring and I said something like “Oh, I’m stirring them a lot, but I’m stirring very gently!” to which he responded, “So – these are “gentle eggs”, then?”.

 

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Snack Food as an Art Form – Tortilla Espagnole


 

An elegant potato frittata - a national snack food!

An elegant potato frittata – a national snack food!

I was lucky enough to win the blue ribbon at our local Culinary Art Society monthly dinner gathering with this dish – a rich, elaborate potato frittata that is one of the most popular types of tapas in Spain today. I adapted this recipe from one shared by Bobby Navarro (100eats100days).

I remain convinced that it is not necessary to fry the onions in the large semi-deep-fry amount of oil (see the recipe below) that you’ll later use for your potatoes. Proponents of the “cook the onions in the deep pool of oil” note that this will give the potatoes a better, more onion-y flavor.

I don’t think so, but I was in a hurry, and so – I cooked to the recipe’s indicated technique. Next time I make these, I’m going to try an entirely different technique and will report back to you on how it turns out!

This is the classic Spanish tapas and is something you will see (we did!) at virtually every place in Spain where tapas are sold or given away. I’ve tarted it up a little with some good local chorizo and a little homemade sofrito.

I love how the Spanish have transformed snacking into an art form. In the States, snack food is a mercilessly commercial operation, where we are besieged with engineered snack foods designed to turn us into, well, mindless munchers. In Spain, snacking – tapas – is an art form that celebrates local ingredients, unusual and beautiful preparations and regional culinary heritage.

Makes enough for 2 tortillas, about 50-60 small wedges as tapas. Served with chorizo and homemade sofrito.

Ingredients

  • 3 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes (or use any waxy potato), peeled and sliced into approx. 1/8th” slices
  • 3 large sweet yellow onions, peeled, halved and sliced into very thin slices
  • 14-16 large eggs (depending on the actual size!)
  • 1-1/2 T coarse salt (I used Kosher)
  • Half a sweet red pepper, chopped
  • ½ lb. chorizo (sausage style, not cured)
  • 1 Pint homemade sofrito
  • Olive oil for frying, so no need to use expensive Extra Virgin, whose flavors will be lost in the fry!

Method

Put potato slices in a large bowl of warm water for about ten minutes or so to remove surface starch. Strictly speaking, this is not required, but it makes for much easier frying and a cleaner tortilla. Treat your potato slices like this and they will not stick to the pan or to other slices!

Remove from water, spin dry, then pat dry with paper towels.

Heat about 1” of oil in a good sized fry pan. Note: You can re-use this oil and not that much of it stays with the tortilla! It should be hot enough that an onion slice sizzles immediately after being dropped in.

Fry sliced onion until it begins to turn a little golden, about 8-10 minutes.

When the onion is almost done, add the red pepper and stir fry for another minute or so until the pepper has softened.

Remove onions with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined container. Try to shake off as much oil as possible from onions, and then turn them once or twice in the paper to make sure as much oil as possible is removed.

Using the same oil put about half the potatoes into the pan and fry them until they’re puffy and golden, about 10 minutes. Move them about a bit with a heatproof spatula or tongs, so they cook evenly.

Remove potatoes with slotted spoon, again shaking off as much oil as possible, and add to onion mixture. I like to put another paper towel or two on top of the potatoes briefly to remove additional oil, but it’s not required.

Repeat with remaining potatoes. Sprinkle with 1 T of the salt or to taste (mine is for a little bit more salt), turning gently to let salt come in contact with as much of the mixture as possible.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk eggs and mix with the remaining salt. You want to mix them a bit, but not so much that they homogenize entirely and get runny.

Mix the potato onion mixture with the eggs and fold in gently

Heat a medium sized nonstick fry pan and add a little of the olive oil from the potatoes. Add half the egg potato mixture and fry gently over medium heat, stirring a little with a spatula. When the eggs have just begun to set up, turn heat to low and cover the pan. Cook another few minutes until eggs are set, but still a bit loose.

Put a large plate over the pan and invert the pan over the plate, plopping the omelet into the plate. CAREFUL, there’s hot oil here! Slide the omelet back into the pan and cook for another few minutes until both sides have been lightly browned.  As Julia Child says “Flipping anything is an act of faith.” Have courage – this will work for you!

Slide tortilla out of the pan onto a cutting board and let cool. Repeat with rest of egg potato mixture. Slice into thin wedges for tapas.

If desired, top each wedge with a little fried chorizo, add a small thin piece of manchego cheese atop each wedge, and serve on top of slices of baguette, cut on the bias and lightly toasted or grilled. Spread a bit of your homemade sofrito on each baguette slice before arranging the tortilla wedge – you’ll be glad you did!

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There Are Two Kinds of Cooks in the World – Stuffed Scalloped Potatoes Gratin


Stuffed, Scalloped Potatoes with Kale Salad

Stuffed, Scalloped Potatoes with Kale Salad

No. Really. Two kinds. And hang on for a moment, because towards the end of this piece, we’re going to talk about what they are. But first, let’s talk stuffed scalloped potatoes.

They are astonishingly good, you can make them in a wide variety of ways – they’re one of those dishes that can be elegant and mannered or real refrigerator cleaners. And I mean that in the very best of all possible ways. Read the rest of this entry »

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