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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Carrot, Eggplant, Sausage Pasta Sauce

Carrot, Eggplant, Sausage Pasta Sauce 

Let’s not mess around.  Grab your apron!  Time to get right to it!

2 Large eggplants, halved and roasted in a 400ºF oven (200º C).  Allow to cool and scrape out the meat.  Discard the skin.  Hint: I used a spray of Pam olive oil to keep the eggplant from soaking up too much oil.

2 Cans cooked carrots, with juice, about 28 ounces or 800 grams
3/4 Pound of loose Italian sausage, crumbled
1  Medium sized sweet onion, diced
5-6 Cloves of garlic, chopped
Small bunches each of fresh rosemary and sage, chopped
3-4 Good shakes of cinnamon
3 Teaspoons paprika for color.
1 Can coconut milk (Not coconut cream, or the sweetened style coconut cream)
Note: Chicken stock for thinning the mixture, if necessary.  I didn’t use any.
Salt and pepper to taste

Get your sous-chef to open a bottle of wine and pour you a glass.

If you’re a fainthearted cook, stop right here.  For this dish I used the TLAR method, That Looks About Right. If you’re a cook who worships the perfection of precise numbers, you’re on your own.

I put everything, but the sausage and coconut milk in my food processor and got it as close to a fine liquid as I could.  If you want to add the coconut milk as well, go ahead.  My machine wasn’t big enough!

Note: Don’t bother to clean the machine yet.  You’ll need it in a minute or two to shred the sausage.

Pour the mixture in a large pot, on medium heat, and stir in the coconut milk, if you haven’t already.  Put a top on the pot, but leave space for the steam to escape.  Stir from time to time to keep it from sticking on the bottom. Once the mixture gets to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer.  Taste and season.  All the ingredients are already cooked, so you’re heating it to let the flavors meld. 

The mixture is going to be thick, and as it cooks it will get thicker.

While the sauce cooks, fry the crumbled sausage in another pan until it is cooked through.  Drain off the grease, add the sausage to the food processor and turn it into a fine mince.  Pour it in the mixture in the pot and stir well.

Now you can clean the food processor and I have a splendid two word solution:  “Hey sous-chef!”

Serve over spaghetti! I used zucchini spaghetti.

But you say, “Not a pasta fan.”  Well, I have good news.  Often the difference between soup and sauce is all in what you like to call your mind! Try a bowl of this wonderful stuff all by itself!  Add some freshly diced onion, a big squeeze of fresh lemon and some Sriracha hot sauce! Delicious! 

Time to top off that glass of wine before you dig into this absolutely delicious, creamy and exciting pasta sauce or soup or creamy vegetable stew!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Spinach and Sausage

Spinach and Sausage

I’m an unrepentant spinach lover.  Haven’t found a way I don’t like it, but I’m always searching for something new, pretty much as I search for new wines, whiskies, and beers.

Yes, I’ve tried boiled and buttered, spinach with onions, more than a dozen versions of that Indian favorite, saag paneer , creamed spinach, varieties of raw spinach in salads, and other ways that stretch my memory to the limits.

Lately, standing in my kitchen and reviewing the contents of my refrig and wondering about alternatives, without having to drink and drive, since I was already downing my second glass of fermented grape, I hit on the idea of sausage and spinach, fried in a pan. Hey, I also had a big handful of mushrooms to use, and a sweet onion from some strange corner of the earth. Garlic?  Well, hell yes!  Grated cheese also spoke to my taste buds in a loud, but timorous voice.  “What about me???”

Well, then, nothing left to do than strive bravely onward!

Spinach and Sausage, serves 4

Only equipment you need is a stove, a large, high-sided frying pan, and a stir stick.

5 Cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 Sweet onion, peeled, cut in half and sliced thinly
8 button mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 lb of sausage, crumbled
1 to 1.5 pounds of spinach, well rinsed and drained
Enough grated parmesan for the cheese lover inside you
Hot sauce (I used Sriracha)
Salt and pepper to taste

3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter ( prefer French butter)

Turn the heat to medium. Drizzle the olive oil in the pan and add the butter.

When the butter melts and starts to sizzle, add the garlic, onion, and mushrooms.  Stir and cook until everything just begins to change color.

Empty the garlic/onion/mushroom mélange into a bowl and set aside for now.

Add the sausage to the frying pan and cook, breaking it up as much as possible.  When the meat is no longer pink, add the garlic et al back in the pan and stir.  Now add the spinach and allow it to cook down, stirring and turning the whole pile, so everything gets its fair share of the heat.

When the spinach leaves are wilted and soggy, add as much parmesan as you like.  Stir well, taste and add salt and pepper.

Inform your guests that there’s only enough for four and some of them will have to leave.  (Hint: Only inform the ones who did not bring wine.)
Now you can also drop a few friends from your Christmas list.

Serve in individual bowls. Stand by!  It’s time to put some heat to the meat.  Give yourself another generous shake or two of parmesan, then as much hot sauce as you like.  Stir. Taste.  Pour more wine.  Gobble and slurp. Converse only if you must.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Back to Bari: La Tana del Polpo (The Octopus Lair)

La Tana del Polpo  (The Octopus Lair)

The best restaurant we visited in Bari, Italy, is on a narrow, cobblestoned back street. 

You would probably walk passed the plain and completely understated and yellowed signs on either side of  the old double doors, that announce:  La Tana del Polpo.  Trattoria di Mare.  Spaghetteria. Don’t think any of my three faithful and world-traveling readers need translations of the last two.

How in the world did we find this place?  It’s quite easy.  First you find a couple of English femmes, mother and daughter, who speak Italian.

No, they do not hang out on street corners, waiting to help the helpless.  You have to actually strike up a conversation and end up spending a pleasurable two days with them before they let you in on one of the best seafood restaurants in the ‘Seafood City’ of Bari, Italy.

The place was filled with natives, which is always a good sign.  And even with its humble location and atmosphere, the restaurant required reservations.  That’s also a good sign!

The place was packed! The waiters hustled!  The noise level was enhanced by the normal shrieky strain of Italian voices and waving of hands.

Speaking of Italian voices, have you ever heard two or three middle aged Italian men chatting, sitting at outdoor bar-tables on a narrow street, with high stone walls and excellent acoustics?  Sounds very much like the discussion will end with the forfeiture of a life or two.

The fast paced chat is actually:

-      This beer is so ordinary, I don’t think I can finish the whole six pack!
-      Giuseppe, when you say that, I know I have to guard my beer!
-      If a calf drank this, the poor little thing would think he suckled on the wrong nipple!

What it sounds like to the non-Italian to hear Italians practically screaming:

-      You mamma so big she needsa bench in the confessional!  Da priest smella her breath and say, Please don’ta bringa you dog in here!
-      Oh yeah? Two plus two in you house makes 1 ton.
-      I be kind and use a sharp knife to take you balls off!
-      Careful you don’t cut you sister’s face!

But, in La Tana del Pulpo, the conversation is more modulated, like a train coming through the station, but not blowing its whistle.  

The waiter approaches, passes out menus and asks if we want something to drink.  He was giving us the benefit of the doubt.  
“Wine and keep it flowing!”

 “So, you want a bottle?”
 “Yes!  And three glasses! And bubble water!”
“And la bella signora con gli occhiali e i capelli alla moda?”  (The beautiful lady with glasses and stylish hair?)

Yes, we were in Italy, where lucky-in-love is not a hope, but a mandate.

Soon splendid appetizers arrived, of which the octopus salad was the star of the show.  I’ve never cared much for octopus.  I’ll always eat some, but find other choices more appealing.  HOWEVER, we all tore into this vinegary-tender gift from the sea as if a farmer had called out, “Last one to the trough starves!”

Also, the razor thing salmon carpaccio, around chunks of tuna melted in our mouths.

How about the wine?  A superb regional wine from the Primitivo grape. Have you tried a Primitivo?  Some call it Zinfandel by another name.  Not so.  Maybe first cousins, but not at all the same.  To my taste buds, Primitivo carries a more lush flavor and a fruitier nose. In fact, if a bottle says Primitivo, I’m going to try it, even if the label doesn’t ring any chimes.

And the main course?  Spaghetti alle Vongole (Spaghetti with clams). Outstanding!  I ordered sole and have never had a better grilled fish! Lightly charred and ever so tender! A fresh slice of lemon squeezed over the fish....Mamma Mia!  

One of the more adventurous members of our newly formed clan, ordered spaghetti darkened with squid ink, and with chunks of fat shrimp in a wonderful cream sauce.

The food at La Tana del Polpo is so very good and fresh….as a matter of fact, a waiter brings out a platter of freshly caught fish for you to choose…    If  you not sure what you want, let the waiter make the choices, as he did for us with the octopus salad.  No matter what you order, it’s going to be superb.

Afterwards, the four of us wandered off for a nightcap, a fitting end to a day of adventure and an evening of fabulous seafood in a restaurant I would happily visit often!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Buying Wine in the Alsace

Buying Wine in the Alsace

If you’re driving to Alsace to buy wine, the first thing you’ll notice is it’s kinda sorta different from Germany and kinda not. Alsace is in France, n’est pas?  Sometimes even the French don’t know.  In 2011, the then President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, when speaking to a group of French farmers in Alsace, mentioned that he was in Germany and the farmers booed.   Good reason.

A field of rapeseed flowers
Read about the benefits of rapeseed oil:

Are you familiar with Alsace? Perhaps you remember from your high school modern European history class. Alsace and Lorraine ring any bells? Those two French provinces have bounced back and forth between France and Germany for the last hundred years and several wars: 

1870-71, the Franco-Prussian War.  This time France, under Napoleon III, attacked Prussia seeking an easy victory and renewal of his declining power.

Of course, as with all wars, this one was much more than the simple explanation I just gave you.

Result:  Prussia and a coalition of German states bloodied the French nez. Germans captured Paris. Bismarck rode on the back of this victory and was able to bring together a united Germany.  Germany annexed Alsace and half of Lorraine, along with the city of Metz.  Sacre Bleu!

1914-1918, World War I, The War to End All Wars. That would be funny except for the millions of military and civilians who were killed or left homeless.

The Result:  France got back the territory it lost in the Franco-Prussian War.  Merveilleux!

1939-1945, World War II. Germany overran France and conquered most of Europe, Alsace and Lorraine included.  German control lasted until the end of the war.  In 1947, Alsace voted to remain a part of France.  

Now you know why when you drive into the French province of Alsace on a bright sunny day, with nothing on your mind but satisfying your lust for the grape, you continue to see the names of towns that are definitely German:  Oberhausbergen, Bischheim, to name only a couple.  The people in Alsace not only speak French, but also Alsatian, a Germanic dialect.  And, it’s not difficult to also find German speakers. As some wits have put it, Alsace is not quite French and not quite German either.

But, on to wine! Vive le raisin!

A hint about Alsatian wine, with more to follow.  Riesling grapes are grown on both sides of the Mosel river, in Germany and France, yet the wines taste remarkably different.  Same with the Pinots.  Soil? Sun? Temperatures?  Those much smarter than I have unsuccessful tackled that conundrum. 

Years ago, while wandering off the beaten path, we happened upon a winery that turned out to be a lasting favorite.  As I’ve noted before, wine taste is personal, often depending on your age (yes, taste buds do change) and what appeals to your palate.  Not to overstate it, but a wine you swear by may not be a wine I would choose.  Magazines that rate wine?  Ignore them and taste for yourself.

The Metz Bleger vineyards produce a number of vintages: Pinot Noir (of various descriptions), Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner, Moscato, and Alsace’s sparkling wine, Crémant.

As I said, there are various qualities and styles of each, so when we began tasting, the tasting lasted for an hour or more.  This was an afternoon of “Yes, thanks, I will taste another,” which all too quickly devolved into “Jes tinks gimme a new grass….glass.”  You want to sell wine, take a lesson.  These folks loaded over 200 bottles in our trunk and backseat.  Fortunately, my companion took tiny sips, as though Queen Elizabeth had gently placed a white-gloved hand on her shoulder.

Such fortitude and iron will!

Ok, fine, you’re thinking, but what about the wine, aside from the obvious, that in a game of taste buds vs brain power, it’s checkmate by the taste buds every time.

In general, what I like most about Metz Bleger wines is their smoothness.  Most of the vintages subdue the harshness of heavy tannin, in favor of pure enjoyable flavor.  The range of sweetness is remarkable, from the dry, but still roundly finished Pinots, to dessert white wines.

My personal preference is the half dry.  I don’t like to lick my lips and then have to brush away the dust, but neither do I prefer wines that are too flavorfully light.  There are some dry whites that attract me, because in the French whites the tannin is almost always subdued.  And in the proper context, I can also relish a delightfully sweet desert wine….but only a glass.

Is it too much for us to suggest wines have personalities?  I’m thinking of a white that adds sparkle to the summer day as you sit by your garden and watch the flowers dance in the light breeze, or a pungent red that warms the heart as you sit by the fire on a frigid winter evening and gaze at the flickering flames.

I like to think of the wines of Metz Bleger, as the beauty of sunshine and a comfort on cold winter nights.  That must be why we keep going back!