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Friday, October 21, 2016

Sometimes Ya Gotta Have Pie: Cream Pie!

Sometimes when ya gotta have pie, ya just gotta have pie!  I think you know what I mean.  Maybe it’s one of those late night episodes on TV, when the detective sits on a stool at the counter in a late night diner, sipping his cup of black coffee, and his partner says to the blond, gum chewing waitress, with the pencil stuck behind her ear:  Could I get a piece of pie, please?

That’s it!  He just pulled the trigger and shot you right in the brain with a pie bullet!  Before, you were thinking sleep, but now…!!!  Gimme a frapping fork and a glass of milk!

You’ve got my empathy, but more than that, now you’ve got my recipe.  Simple, quick, if you use a pre-made crust, which of course I don’t because pie crust is one of those holy of holies that take me back to the happy days of childhood, the intoxicating aroma of my momma’s kitchen, and the soft tones of her voice as she explains how to make her pie crusts.

See, now I’m having sensory overload, between a detective creasing a mile high pie with his fork, and boyhood dreams of my momma’s kitchen.

I’m just sayin’ it ain’t my fault!  I gotta have some pie!

Cream pie

For the crust:  If you’re in a hurry, use (my throat is clogging up as I write these words) a frozen, store bought piecrust.

But, if you’re a kitchen hero, as I am, you’ll make your own crust.

1 ½ Cups all-purpose flour (plus a little when you roll it out)
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt (I use kosher salt) *
1 stick, plus 4 ounces of cold butter
3-5 Tablespoons cold water

Put the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl.  Cut up the butter and add it to the bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.  Add three tablespoons cold water and mix with a fork.  Not moist enough? Add another tablespoon or two of water.  Just make sure you have workable dough, but not soggy.

Form the dough into a ball, then press it flat with your hands.  I do this on a wide piece of plastic wrap, with the dough mashed down the about as thick as my finger.  Wrap the pancake of dought with plastic wrap and put the it in the refrigerator for an hour to chill.  Heat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC)

Remove the dough from the refrigerator, dust your counter top with flour and roll out the dough into a thin crust.

Fit the raw crust into a pie plate and crimp the edges.  Take a fork and pierce the bottom of the crust a few dozen times.  Don’t be shy.  This will keep the dough from bubbling up while it bakes.

Slap the piecrust in the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is golden.

Allow the piecrust to cool to room temperature.

For the filling:

2 Cups whipping cream
¼  heaping cup of confectioners sugar
1 generous splash of real vanilla extract
2 bananas, peeled and sliced
A handful of whole almonds, roughly chopped

Whip the cream until it starts to thicken, then add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue to whip until the peaks are fairly stiff. 

Put the chopped almonds in a small pan, along with a pat of butter.  Stir occasionally, until you can see and smell the toasting almonds.  Remove from heat, put the almonds on a plate and allow to cool.

Puttin’ it all together:

Cover the bottom of the cooled crust with slices of banana.  Fill the pie with the whipped cream.  Scatter the toasted almonds over the top and place in the refrigerator until the pie is chilled, about half an hour.  Ready to eat!

Don’t like bananas?  Feel free to slice fresh strawberries, ripe pears, or any other fruit that crosses your hungry mind.

If you use a commercial crust, this pie will take about 45 minutes to make.  Takes me a bit over an hour if I make my own, but that includes a fair amount of cooling/chilling time, during which I am able to sit on my couch with a brandy and watch the detective finish eating his pie.

*  How can salt be kosher?  It’s not, but it’s a coarse grind that’s used to cure kosher meat.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Italian Sausage and Sauce Over Polenta! Bella, Bella, Bella!

Like Italian sausage?  Don’t like it?  Doesn’t matter.  You’ve never had Italian sausage like this because you’re going to make it yourself, then you’re going to serve it in a homemade sauce over polenta. When you taste it, you’ll be asking yourself…why didn’t anybody tell me about this 30 minute recipe before?

Simple answer.  It’s my recipe and this is the first time anybody’s ever seen it.  Lucky you.  A charter member of my very exclusive club.

Enough babbling.  Let’s get started on Italian Sausage and Sauce Over Polenta:

For the sausage:

1 lb mixed ground beef and pork  (use all pork if you must, but either way for goodness sakes, buy fresh ground, pure meat, without growth hormones and antibiotics)
2 Tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar (or use regular vinegar and 1-2 level teaspoons sugar)
1 heaping teaspoon each of: onion powder, garlic powder, basil, oregano, thyme
1 heaping Tablespoon paprika
1 Tablespoon fennel seed
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper

Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Form into patties small enough to fit easily in the middle of your palm. (about 2 ½ inches wide)

Put the patties in a large frying pan and cook on medium heat until just barely browned. Remove them from the pan.  Don’t worry if they’re not cooked through.  You’ll cook them some more in the sauce.

For the sauce:

6 good sized very ripe Roma tomatoes, cored and chopped (Juice and all.  I buy Romas and let them sit a few days to truly ripen)
1 medium onion diced (I used 3 shallots)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 scant Cup dry white wine
salt and pepper

Use the same large frying pan you cooked the sausage in.  Medium heat. Add a little olive oil. Put in the onion and garlic and stir for 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and continue cooking on medium heat until onions are just soft.  Add the wine. Use your stirring tool to scrape the browned sausage bits off the bottom of the pan.  Allow the wine to reduce a little.

Add the sausage patties and mix them together with the sauce.  Cover and cook on medium to low heat until the vegetables are very soft. Stir frequently.  You want the vegetables to cook in their own juices and meld with the sausage flavors.

When the sauce is soft, take the sausage and sauce off the heat, set the pan aside and cover.

For the Polenta:

6 Cups of lightly salted boiling water
1 ½ Cups cornmeal
half a stick of butter
more salt to taste.

Boil the salted water in a large saucepan, and stir in a cup and a half of corn meal.  Slow pouring keeps the corn meal from lumping. Cook until the polenta is slightly thickened.  Whisk to stir out any lumps.  If the polenta gets too thick, add a bit more water.  You want it creamy, like oatmeal, not set like pudding.

Serve the polenta in individual, shallow bowls and ladle the sausage and sauce over the top.

A wine suggestion:  Any mellow Primitivo.  If you look up Primitvo, you’ll see something about Zinfandel.  Don’t pay any attention.  Primitivo is only a cousin, and a much darker, richer cousin, with mountains of flavor and a rounded finish.

When you serve this dish, you’re going to get cheers from the slightly inebriated crowd!

As a European traveler, I’ve come to recognize, when you say French or Italian, you’ve just said DELICIOUS!

Monday, October 17, 2016

More Than An Italian Deli: It's Issimo!

Issimo!  Walk through the door into a wonderland of Italian delicacies, a hundred varieties of succulent hams and sausages, cheeses from the soft and luscious to the hard and enveloping, verdant basil pesto, shimmering green olives, wines from a thousand vineyards, liquors, and bulging gift baskets that scream “You deserve this!”

Yes, it’s all here, wrapped in the warm atmosphere of old-world hospitality and comfortable service.  You may be in Germany, but you just stepped across the border into the Mamma Mia! wonders of an Italian gourmet paradiso.

Issimo, which should really be called Bellissimo (lovely), is owned and manned by two Italian brothers, Franco and Vincenzo, aided by a host of always smiling, always delightful young ladies.  Stride to the deli counter and even if it’s your first trip, Franco will treat you as his favorite customer.  Not sure what you want?  Samples abound and if not, just ask.
Signor Franco at work

So of all the delectable deli selections, which do I favor?  Way too personal a question, but today I’m in a sandwich mood, pecorino cheese dotted with peppercorns, tender truffle filled ham, emerald green, almond stuffed olives, and paper thin slices of red, spicy salami, similar to oversized Spanish chorizo.  Oh, yes, and a couple of bottles of Bulgarini Lugana, and a bottle of Iris’ rose tinted Isabella Spagnoto Prosecco.

Ok, so it’s a fab deli…what else?  Oh, it’s much more than that.  You’ve come to the home of the best party platters!  And what about those sumptuous gift baskets?  Dried pasta, sauces, jams, jellies, and of course a couple of bottles of wine.  All of them direct from the fragrant farms and vineyards of Italy.

Jessica behind the bar.

Down a short hallway, behind the deli is a whole different Issimo, the bistro Issimo.  On a sunny day, I often sit outside on the porch and sip an espresso, a glass of wine, or dine like a king on one of Issimo’s light lunches.  If the skies are drizzling, I go inside and join friends at the mahogany bar for more of the same.

Tucked away behind the bistro, in the back room, featuring shelves and shelves of delicious wines, is a long, dark wood table for wine tastings that are a hell-of-a-lot more than simple wine tastings!  An Issimo wine tasting is an eating, drinking extravaganza, and one you’ll want to share with a dozen or more of your closest friends. Vincenzo, with his all-encompassing knowledge of Italian viniculture, will be your guide.

Vincenzo, our guide to the pleasures of Italian wines

Aferdita sets the table and oh what a table!

At a recent wine tasting, we began with the Prosecco I mentioned earlier, moved on to a Pinot Bianco (2015), the Indolente Bianco (2015), followed by Amir DOC Reserva (2008) and finishing with Singe 1974 DOC (2013) Primitivo di Manduria.

A note about Primitivo.  Often described as Zinfandel, Primitivo is actually a genetic cousin and unlike its light colored and often denigrated American kin, Primitivo is dark red, fruity, and dry to semi-dry.  Surprisingly complex, it’s my favorite Italian red.  One of those wines you sip over dinner and conversation, accompanied by satisfied smiles. “OH yeah! And by the way, I’ll need a couple of bottles to take home.”  

According to Vincenzo, Primitivo is the oldest grape varietal in the world.  Mellow, smooth, rounded finish, it’s no wonder it’s still around.

Another little tidbit imparted by Vincenzo:  Italy grows 348 varieties of grapes, while Germany has 40 and there’s a big reason.  The climate in Italy ranges from the very sunny, Mediterranean south to the much cooler Alpine north.

The wines we tasted came from tiny vineyards, which may produce only a few thousand bottles.  Doesn’t sound tiny?  A big producer like Gallo produces millions of bottles more than Germany’s total output. 

In whatever country, the small vineyards appeal to my romantic instincts.  I picture small farms, with a few acres of gnarled vines covered in fresh green leaves, with tight bundles of dark purple grapes peeking through.  In the stillness of the countryside, hawks soar overhead, mountains rise majestically in the background, and dedicated vintners in muddy boots nurture wine instead of industrializing it.

Sylvia kept the wine flowing.

Back to Issimo:  At the normal wine tasting, you get a sip here and there, with not enough juice to let your taste buds pair it with the food.  But, as I said, Issimo’s wine tastings are not like any other.  Vincenzo, Sylvia, and Aferdita replenished our goblets throughout the two-hour meal.

Bellissimo indeed!

By the way, one vine can produce 2.5 Kilos (5.5 lbs) of grapes, or two bottles.  At an Issimo wine tasting, you’ll strip several vines.

Never been to Issimo?  Here’s the web site. (Closed Mondays)

‘Bout time you find yourself a cutie, or someone else’s, and head to Issimo.  Ciao Baby!  And a little more Primitivo, per favor!