Crawfish Monica

February 8, 2013
Crawfish Monica with sweet pepper garnish

Crawfish Monica with sweet pepper garnish

If you know me, you know that Thursday is “pasta night.”  There is little variation from that. It was the way it was as I was coming up and it is the way I prefer it now.

Unfortunately, every 1st and 3rd Thursday is also city council night. As such, I am often attending the meeting, which starts at 5;30 pm, and that throws dinner off schedule.

Last night, cold, damp, grey, was a council night. And a pasta night.

It was also the Thursday before Mardi Gras and just a few days after the Superbowl played in the Superdome, so I was especially attuned to New Orleans food inspirations.

In discussing dinner early in the day, I teasingly tossed out the idea of having Crawfish Monica for dinner. While we had everything we needed on hand (including the crawfish tailmeat), the evening’s schedule wasn’t condusive to an involved dinner prep.

We decided that pasta e fagioli would pass muster for Thursday night’s dinner. It could be slow simmered sans pasta until I was on my way home from city hall.

But the crawfish monica stuck in my mind.

With the threatened Snow-easter scheduled to come in overnight, we were prepared to batten down the hatches, have an adult beverage or two, build a fire and enjoy a relaxing dinner.

Crawfish Monica seemed to fit the bill.

It’s a rich dish. Fortunately, it is also satisfying so you don’t need to consume tons.

The dish screams NOLA! It is comforting and slightly decadent.  And it let afforded me the opportunity to have pasta two nights in a row.

Here’s a version of the dish from Emeril Lagasse and found on the Go Nola website.

Crawfish Monica

  • 1 pound linguine or fettucine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Essence, recipe follows
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 pound crawfish tails*
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Return to the pot and toss with the olive oil and reserved cooking liquid. Cover to keep warm.

In a large saute pan or skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, Essence, salt, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the white wine and cook over high heat until nearly all evaporated. Add the cream lemon juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced. Add the crawfish tails and cook, stirring, to warm through. Add the onions and parsley and cook for 1 minute. Add the cooked pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. Cook until the pasta is warmed through, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and add 1/2 cup of the cheese.

Turn out into a serving bowl and top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Serves 6 – 8

*What? You don’t have crawfish tailmeat in the freezer? Why not? Check the frozen seafood section of your favorite supermarket or fish monger. You can order it online from Cajun Grocer. I know, it is not cheap. Splurge and get a couple of pounds to keep in the freezer. You never know when you might want to make some crawfish etoufee or crawfish cheesebread (a recipe I’ll get around to posting someday).  And if you can’t find the crawfish tailmeat or don’t want to order it, use the small “salad” shrimp that are readily available in the grocery store.

Just remember to rename the dish, SHRIMP Monica.


A good night for a good woman’s chicken

January 11, 2013


It’s that time of year again when my mind and tastes turn to all things New Orleans. Carnival season officially started on January 6 (3 Kings Day/Epiphany) and runs until Mardi Gras…the day before Ash Wednesday. Even as I fret about the post holiday “bloat”, I find myself planning if/when I’ll make a King Cake; who I will share Muffalettas with; when I’ll make my next batch of “Jersey Street Gumbo,” etc. My pre-dinner Negroni or Manhattan morphs into a Sazerac; the medieval influenced Christmas carols segue into the second line and rumba rhythms.

Therefore, it really wasn’t a surprise that the daily question of “what do you want for dinner tonight” was answered with a dish from the Cajun/Creole canon. “Chicken a la Bonne Femme.”

I’m told the name means “Good woman’s chicken” or “Good wife’s chicken.” What it is, is just plain G-O-O-D!

While there are myriad vTalkAboutGood!ersions of preparing this dish, we have always stuck with the recipe we found in this book:

We picked this up on our first trip to New Orleans back in 1989. We bought its sequel on our second trip a year later. We use them as much for reference and inspiration as we do for actually preparing all the recipes from them. The recipe for Chicken Bonne Femme is one we do go back to often. It’s a little labor intensive but rustic, satisfying and oh so tasty. Unfortunately, this recipe is for a company-sized meal (serves 8).

On this damp, chilly night when we were craving the dish, we sought a way to scale it down.

Using what we had at the ready, we were able to put together a very tasty rendition of this homey dish just the right size for us.

Give this a try…the “small version” for two. Add a bottle of wine and simple salad. It’s a real big easy…

Chicken Bonne Femme (for two)

(Poulet bonne femme pour deux)

  • 3/4 to 1 pound chicken thighs
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, skin left on, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 pound thin sliced pancetta
  • 1 medium yellow onion sliced thinly
  • Salt, pepper and red (cayenne) pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a 10 inch, ovenproof skillet, cook the pancetta slices over medium low heat until nicely browned. Remove from pan and reserve.

Increase heat to medium and in the fat that has rendered out from the pancetta, lightly brown the chicken thighs (about 3 minutes per side.) Season well with salt, pepper, and red pepper. Remove from pan and reserve.

Brown the sliced potatoes in the remaining drippings 2 or 3 minutes per side. Add a little olive oil if need be to prevent the potatoes from sticking. Remove from pan.

In same skillet, layer some of the chicken thighs, the potatoes, some of the crisped pancetta and some of the onions. Repeat layers as needed to use up ingredients.

NOTE: don’t be afraid to season the potatoes as you layer them into the pan; you can be assertive with the seasoning of this dish.

Cover the pan and place in the pre-heated oven. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove cover and bake for 10 more.

Remove from oven and plate up. Serves 2.

Mustard pie

January 9, 2013

A few years ago I was attending a board meeting of an organization I worked for. The meeting was held in the evening, right after the end of the work day so it was decided we’d order pizza.  As the group tried to decide on how many pizzas and with what toppings, I mentioned the possibility of getting a “mustard pie.”

The group was stunned. No one sitting around the table had heard of such a thing. I couldn’t believe it. Some of these folks were lifelong Trentonians. Others had been around long enough, they surely should have at least heard of this if not tried it at least once.

Nope! They hadn’t and we didn’t get any that night, either.

So what, just what is “mustard pie?”  Simple. Tomato pie (pizza) with mustard.

A plain "mustard pie" from Papa's. Note the mustard peaking out from under the sauce near the crust in the bottom of the picture.

A plain “mustard pie” from Papa’s. Note the mustard peaking out from under the sauce near the crust in the bottom of the picture.

Here in Trenton we take our pie seriously.  There is a particular, indigenous Trenton style that even has its own page on the Slice website. Basically, Trenton pizza or tomato pie has a thin but chewy crust, then cheese, toppings, sauce. Admittedly it is the pie I grew up on and, when done properly, it is the style that I crave over all others.

Unfortunately, what was once ubiquitous to this area has become somewhat of a rare delicacy. Fewer and fewer pizzerias make the true Trenton style any more. The well-known (as much for its lack of a public restroom as for its pies) DeLorenzo’s on Hudson Street in Chambersburg closed about a year ago. Their Robbinsville, NJ store carries on with mixed reviews (but I’m not getting into THAT discussion!).

The competing DeLorenzo’s on Hamilton (the original owners of both stores were brothers with a friendly, familiar rivalry) announced recently that they will be leaving the city for Hamilton Township, NJ. This was the DeLorenzo’s I brought members of the production team working on last year’s “One for the Money” film to for lunch. The entourage was made up of a native  of Buffalo, New York, a Canadian, and a Californian. They were impressed enough with Trenton pie to get permission to use the DeLorenzo’s name along with the names of other businesses for the film.

But I digress.

When we speak of Trenton tomato pie institutions we must pay extra reverence to Papa’s on Chambers Street at Roebling Avenue. Papa’s is the oldest family owned pizza restaurant in the United States!  Opened in 1912, it is still in the same family. Take that, Lombardy’s of New York City!

Stepping into Papa’s is a trip back to my youth. The paneling on the walls, the formica table tops. The decidedly delicious but seriously unpretentious antipasto.  And mustard pie!

I can remember mustard pies being around for a while but nobody really seems to know how they came about. When I asked Papa’s Nick Azzaro about it he kind of shrugged. “I dunno.”

Most people you ask, if they have heard about Mustard Pies at all, will point to a long gone place on Whittaker Avenue called “Shuster’s”.  They were definitely known for their Mustard Pie and use to fly a banner from the front of the building declaring it “The Home of the Mustard Pie.” Yet even those that remember the place and the pie, don’t know how it ever came about.

I pressed Nick a little harder. “You offer it as a special here on Monday nights. How did that come about?”

“I had this kid come to work for me. He used to work at that other place {Shuster’s} before they closed. He said to me one night, ‘You should make a mustard pie.’  So I did.”

What they do is, shape the crust for the pizza, schmear some spicy brown mustard over the crust (not a lot, just enough), then add the cheese, tomatoes, etc. It really is good. Would I want it every time I order a pie? No.  But every so often it is a very nice change.

If you are worried about a clash of flavors, don’t be. Have you ever had cheese board that had a little mustard on the sign for dipping? That worked, right?

Have you made a sandwich with mustard and fresh slices of tomato? The acid bite of the tomato and the sharpness of the mustard somehow both accentuating and attenuating each other?

That’s kind of what happens with the mustard pie.

Next time you are at Papa’s, order a mustard pie. You might just be surprised. Or, if you make pizza at home, spread just a little mustard on the crust before you build the rest of the pie. Get a real taste of Trenton-style.

Gone to the dogs

November 30, 2012
Two "Tony Goes" and a Turbo Dog

Two “Tony Goes” and a Turbo Dog

It was Friday evening of one of those weeks. The question was posed, “What do you want for dinner?”

“An Italian Hot Dog,” came the reply.

Not one to argue, I took a quick inventory of what we had on hand and what we would need to produce this local favorite. A quick trip to the store and I was set.

For those not familiar, the “Tony Goes” is the Trenton version of the Italian Hot Dog: a a dog served on a torpedo roll with yellow mustard, potatoes and green peppers. The “original” Italian-style hot dog, at least according to the Sbarro and Maccaroni families of Trenton. They ran the Casino restaurant (hence one of the dog’s aliases, “Casino dog”) where the sandwich was a specialty. It’s the place the NJ Legislature deemed the home of the offical “Jersey Dog” by proclamation.

Now, I understand that there are other restaurants in the state the claim to have been the originator of this sandwich. I am not going to enter into that debate.

What I know is that I grew up on the dogs from the Casino. They are the “benchmark” I measure all others against.  Or, I should say, the WERE the benchmark. The family sold the restuarant in Trenton a few years back. They made a stab at relocating across the river in Morrisville, PA that didn’t last.

Now, when the mood is upon us, we have to make the dogs ourselves. It’s not that difficult and the results are filling and satisfying. Ideally prepared on a flattop griddle, a large frying pan works well. The idea is to pre-cook the potato (a microwave works well…cook on high until fork tender) and finish it off in the pan with a little oil so it is a little crispy on the outside, soft inside. The pepper should be cooked so the skin is just starting to show some browing and the flesh is softening but retains a little bite. The dogs (we generally use Ballpark Angus bun-sized) are cooked in the fry pan, turning every few minutes until they have browned a bit all around.

Slice open a good, fresh torpedo roll from your favorite local bakery. Add a little yellow mustard, the dog, the peppers and potatoes (NOTE: there are NO onions in this sandwich, just peppers, potatoes and the hot dog). Serve it up. It’s a meal unto itself.

As for a beverage to wash the dogs down with, when I was a kid my choice was the “Lime Rickey” an electric green lime flavored soft-drink.

Nowadays, a beer is good. Abita‘s Turbo Dog works well.

A journey to discover a great snack

November 12, 2012

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

NOTE: Recipe edited to reduce the amount of oil used.

This one was tricky.

On our trip to Italy in 2011, we spend time in the Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Coast. The Cinque Terre, (literally, the five lands) are five villages situated among vineyards and olive groves that line the rocky slopes above the Ligurian Sea, a branch of the Mediterranean Sea.

On the day we hiked from Corniglia (the middle village, high up on a bluff over the sea) back to Monterosso, we stopped for rest and lunch in Vernazza. Just before leaving town for the next segment of our hike, I stopped into a pizzeria that advertised the local specialty, farinata.

Sold by the slice, in small shops, farinata is a large pancake made from ceci (chick pea) flour, water, salt and olive oil, baked in special pans in wood fired ovens. It’s also known as socca (France), cecina (Tuscany), or fainâ (Genoa). Most often eaten by hand, farinata is sometimes served as the filling for a sandwich or on top of a slice of traditional pizza. We like it just fine straight from the oven and a couple of pieces can be quite filling. Farinata is high in protein, but gluten free. It lends itself to doctoring up with toppings or, my preferred, just eaten plain.

Good stuff!

A slice of rosemary infused farinata

This past summer, I embarked upon a quest to make my own farinata. Turning to the internet, I found numerous recipes and several videos suggesting ways to prepare this dish. About the only thing they all had in common was the basic ingredients. After that, everyone had a different take on the best way to make it.The first problem for me was, what to make it in. In Italy, farinata is baked in circular pans made of tinned copper. Some recipes suggested using cast iron skillets, some said try a rimmed cookie sheet. My first attempt was made in an aluminum pizza pan that we had on hand. It was a little too shallow to hold the thin batter without making a mess. I remembered that we had an enameled paella pan and tried that. Better. Much better.

The next obstacle seemed to be the cooking procedure. I immediately discarded the notion of doing it on the stove top, even partially, as in some recipes and one of the videos I had found. Baking was the way to go, but at what temp?

I tried high heat, but that didn’t seem to work. The farinata got a nice top and bottom crust but was either under cooked in the middle or crispy through. Trial and error led me to a process that seems to work for my pan, oven and patience. You may have to play around a bit to find what works for you, but it will be worth it.


  • 600 ml of water (approximately 2 1/2 cups)
  • 200 grams of ceci flour (approximately 1 2/3 cups)  NOTE: make as much batter as is needed, just keep the 3 parts water to 1 part flour ratio
  • 1 to 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh rosemary (or sage, or a combination) to taste
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus enough oil to just coat the pan you cook the farinata in (up to another 1/4 cup) oil for the pan (use a good quality oil as it lends quite a bit of the character to the finished dish)

Mix the ceci (garbonzo bean) flour into water with a whisk. Let stand at room temperature for at least three hours or over night.

Pre-heat oven (with pizza stone, if you have it) to 475. Place the empty pan on the stone in oven so it can heat up while finishing the batter prep.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the foam from the top of the mixture. Stir chopped rosemary, salt, fresh ground black pepper, olive oil into batter. Mix well.

Add enough olive oil to pan to cover the bottom, swirl to coat evenly. Return the oiled pan to the overn and let it heat for just one minute.

Stir batter very well one more time, pour into hot, oiled pan. Immediately reduce heat to 350 and bake for 20- 25 minutes, turning pan once or twice for even cooking. Top should just be turning golden.

Kick on the broiler (high) and broil until top is a deep golden brown (turning once or twice to make sure it cooks evenly).

After about 7 – 10 minutes, removed from oven and sat on rack to cool for 10 minutes.

Gently loosen edges and bottom of farinata. Remove from pan and serve.

This will make a 12 inch diameter farinata that is a nice snack for four to six people. Served with a small salad, it could make a nice light meal.

One potato, two potato

October 28, 2012

A simple potato soup makes a comforting dinner

Faced with dire forecasts of a record breaking storm, we tried to figure out what foods we could prepare that were as comforting as they were nourishing.

With a good supply of local potatoes recently purchased at the Trenton Farmer’s Market, I figured we’d do some soup.

All was good until it came time to start the process. I couldn’t find the recipe I was looking for but, really, how hard is it to make potato soup.  A little stock, a little seasoning. A thick slice of rustic bread, toasted and topped with just a bit of cheddar cheese, a salad and to wash it all down, a glass of Guinness.

Simple Potato Soup

  • 3 pounds (approximately) potatoes, peeled, cut in 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1 quart (approximate) vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cooked, crumbled bacon for garnish

Place the cut up potatoes in a large enough pot that will accommodate them. Add the stock to full cover the potatoes (add a little water or more stock if need be). Over medium low fire, bring the stock to a soft boil and cook, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are cooked through. Using an immersion blender or, working in batches, a food processor, blend the potatoes into the stock until they are a nice, velvety consistency. Add the milk and check for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir well and let sit on low flame for a few minutes more. Serve in bowls garnished with crumbled bacon.

It’ll take your mind off the weather outside.

Barbecue dinner for an October evening

October 23, 2012

Barbecue pork loin, cheese grits and caramelized onions

“Write this one down,” Ann said.

“This one” was a pretty much off-the-cuff meal that just happen to hit some good notes.

It started with a stop at the grocery store while I was out running errands after a dental appointment. I went “fishing” for something to prepare for dinner and was almost going to pick up some beef for stir fry. In the case I noticed a piece of a pork loin that had been split lengthwise. It was labeled “Pork Loin for Barbecue” and that got me thinking, “What if…”

So, I snatched up the pork and headed for the checkout line.  On the way home a plan started to come together in my mind.

I threw together a dry rub and applied it to the pork loin. I put the meat in a glass dish, covered it with plastic wrap and set it in the fridge for the afternoon.

While I took the dogs on their evening walk, I started finalizing the menu and the plan of attack. Some cheese grits and a salad to round out the menu. Caramelized onions and a little sauce of some sort to add a little “pizzaz!”  It sounded like a plan.

By time I got back home with the dogs and fed them, I had the meal completely envisioned.

Judging from Ann’s directive, it worked. So I complied and wrote it down.

Barbecue Pork Loin

  • 1 piece pork loin, cut in half lengthwise (about 1.75 – 2.0 pounds)
  • Dry rub (make your own or use your favorite store-bought one), enough to cover the meat on all sides

Rinse and pat dry the pork loin. Lay the roast, fat side down on a cutting board and make a few shallow slits across it. Flip the meat over and apply a generous amount of rub and pat it in well. Lay the loin, fat side down, in a glass dish deep enough to contain the juices that will leak out of the meat. Apply a good coating of the rub to the top side, making sure to work it into the shallow slits you made earlier. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for four hours or overnight.

Take roast out of refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Prepare your grill (gas or charcoal, doesn’t matter) and once ready, put the pork on the grill over indirect heat, fat side down. Cover and let cook for 7 to 10 minutes. Turn over (fat side up) and let cook until meat thermometer reads 145 degrees farenheit (40 -45 minutes) . Remove from heat, cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

Slice thinly, garnish with some caramelized onions, a drizzle of your favorite barbecue sauce and serve with cheese grits and a tossed salad.   Serves four.

Cheese Grits

  • 1 cup yellow corn grits (polenta)
  • 4 cups stock, water, milk or combination (I used about a cup of corn cob stock and three cups water)
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon sweet butter

Bring liquid to boil in a saucepan large enough to hold it and the cornmeal with room to stir.  Add salt to taste…be careful if using canned stocks, they may be salty enough.

Slowly add the corn grits while whisking briskly to avoid lumps. Grits will start to thicken, turn down heat and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid sticking. Add cheese and butter and stir well. Remove from heat and cover. Will hold for a few minutes until serving. If it thickens too much, add a little more warm liquid and stir until well incorporated.

Caramelized Onions

  • 1 very large or 2 medium onions, peeled, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons light olive oil and/or sweet butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 to 4 ounces of good bourbon

In a skillet just large enough to hold all the raw onion, heat the oil/butter over medium flame. Add the onion and stir. Sprinkle in the salt, stir again until all the onion has been coated with oil and the pieces start to separate. Reduce heat to low – medium/low. Let cook slowly, stirring occasionally to make sure onions take on an even golden and then brownish color. Do not let them stick or burn, about 45 minutes or so. OPTION: after onions are soft and sweetly caramelized, you can add a little bourbon (be careful around an open flame) or beer to the pan and continue cooking until the liquid evaporates. Use to garnish plates.  Good on burgers, too. (Make a big batch and freeze some for later use).


It’s always time for pork roll

September 2, 2012

The Trenton area was put into a state of high alert earlier this summer. Venerated local company Case’s Pork Roll had a fire at its Washington Street facility.  Production was halted for several weeks while the clean-up and repairs were made.

Pork roll, if you don’t know, is regional specialty made from ground pork shoulder, seasoned, stuffed into a casing, cured and smoked. It’s a staple at cookouts all summer long.

Along with Taylor Provisions, Case’s is the last company actually making the product in Trenton. And both have their loyal folowers (think Chevy/Ford or Coke/Pepsi).

Anyway, pork roll (also known as Taylor Ham in some parts of the state) is versatile favorite.

A nice slice grilled and added to a grilled beef patty along with some melted provolone cheese and a thick slice of perfectly ripe jersey tomato satisfies like no other burger.

A couple of slices of pork roll, notched so they won’t “cup”, and fried off in a skillet or on the griddle makes a great breakfast meat to go with eggs and some homefried potatoes.

Perhaps the apex of the pork roll food pyramid is the pork roll egg and cheese sandwich.

Long before the egg mcmuffin and its legion of fast food imitators, this simple treat was standard fare at coffee shops, diners, food trucks and luncheonettes throughout the area.

Pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich

  • two, 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick slices of pork roll
  • two eggs
  • two slices sharp provolone cheese
  • one kaiser/hard roll
  • butter or oil for cooking the eggs
  • salt and pepper

In a small skillet or a griddle over medium high heat, cook* the pork roll slices until just starting to brown (about 2 or 3 minutes). Turn slices over.  If there is room, cook the eggs just until the yolks are no longer runny while the pork roll is finishing. If there isn’t room, just finish the meat and set aside but keep it warm while cooking the eggs.

Slice the roll open and lightly toast.

Lightly butter the roll if desired, layer the eggs, cheese and pork roll onto the bottom of the bun. Top, press down. Enjoy.

(serves 1)

Simple and comforting, the pork roll egg and cheese joins the pepper and egg and the salame and egg in the trinity of anytime sandwiches. They’re great for breakfast, lunch or a light dinner. They are a favorite for a late night snack.  Done well, they will comfort a hangover and cure homesickness in New Jersey expatriates.

Mushrooms and Peppers

August 23, 2012

One summer night we were dining at the late, lamented Cesare’s Cafe here in Trenton.

We’d placed our order and were relaxing with our drinks and enjoying small talk when, out of the kitchen, came Cesare himself. He was carrying a sizzling platter of sauteed mushrooms and hot peppers. “From the garden!” He said, as he placed the platter on our table.

Every table in the dining room got one of those platters that night. That’s the way Cesare was. It was that touch of “home.” Like having dinner at your grandparents house in the ‘Burg. It’s what made the place a favorite and why we miss is it so.

I’m a huge fan of mushrooms. And peppers. Especially hot peppers. The idea of cooking them up together is not foreign to me. They make a nice side/topping for a sizzling steak or some roasted chicken.

Served on their own, with some bread for dipping into the flavor infused olive oil….! What better way to start a meal?

Cesare’s, unfortunately, is long gone. You can find this dish on the menu at Rossi‘s…perhaps the “old ‘Burg’s” remaining hold out.

Or you can make it at home.

Right now, while the local peppers are in abundance in backyard gardens and farmers’ markets, is the time to do it.

So simple. So good.

Mushrooms and Peppers

  • 10 ounce package of fresh mushrooms, preferably brown (crimini, baby bellas) but white will do. Wipe them clean but leave whole, only removing the hardest ends of the stems.
  • 4 to 8 fresh, locally grown hot peppers (pick your favorite or go with what is available from your garden or the market), cut into 1 inch pieces or left whole; stemmed; seeded if you want/need to control the heat.
  • 4 cloves of garlic. Three peeled and whole, one peeled and minced.
  • 1/2 cup olive oil plus more for “drizzling” if needed
  • salt
  • pepper
  • several slices of good bread for dipping and sopping.

In a 10 inch skillet, warm the 1/2 cup of olive oil and whole cloves of garlic over medium/medium-high heat. Let the garlic color (and flavor the oil) but do not let it burn!  (about 5 minutes)

Remove the garlic and add the peppers. If the peppers are of medium to thin walled (banana or cayenne types), cook for two minutes. If thicker, cook just until they start to color and soften.

Add the minced garlic.

Add the mushrooms and stir. Sprinkle lightly with salt and some fresh cracked pepper. Stir to mix well.

Cook until mushrooms and peppers have softened but don’t let them become mush (3 to 4 minutes). Stir as needed.

Remove from heat, place in platter to serve. Drizzle with a little more olive oil if needed.

Serve with bread for sopping.

Serves 2 as an appetizer, 1 as a light lunch.

Ragù di cinghiale in polenta

April 22, 2012

Polenta with wild boar sauce

I don’t know why, but when I ran across a wild boar “mini-roast” at a local market, I had to buy it.

Let’s blame it on the trips to Italy, the reading up on Italian cuisine and culture. I just knew I could make something really good out of this piece of meat.

The experiments began. My first attempt was palatable, but not quite what I was looking for. Eager to hit the mark, I pressed on.

I think I have hit it. The recipe below is the latest version. And I admit it is but a mere representation of the process. You have to taste. You have to imagine. You have to adjust. Use the best of what you have on hand. Go for it. The worst thing you can say is that you know what to do differently next time.

The recipe below should serve four hungry people nicely. Maybe six “normal” people.  It is easily scaled up to serve more if need be.

Wild Boar Ragu

  • 1 tbs fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1.5 LB wild boar*, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 3 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 2 T fresh oregano
  • 6 – 8 fresh sage leaves 1/4 pound pancetta diced
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 large onion 4-5 cloves garlic 1/2 cup carrots, finely diced 1/2 cup sweet pepper 1/4 cup Vin Santo or Brandy 1 14 1/2 oz can chicken stock or more, as needed 6 – 8 ounces red wine
  • seasonings: kosher salt, coarsely ground pepper
  • 2-3 T tomato paste, as needed

Prep ingredients: lightly toast fennel seeds and red pepper flakes, set aside.

Strip leaves from rosemary sprigs, set aside.

Strip leaves from oregano stems, set aside.

Remove sage leaves from stems, set aside.

Place fennel, red pepper, rosemary, oregano and sage in mini-chopper, food processor, blender or chop finely by hand. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper (if using mechanical device, throw whole black pepper corns into mix).

Sprinkle diced boar meat with just enough seasoning mix to cover. Toss with hands. Add some more spice mix. Toss. Repeat until meat is just nicely covered with seasoning set aside in non-reactive bowl for up to 1/2 hour at room temperature. Longer if in refrigerator.

Put pancetta in a heavy stock pot or sauce pan and render out fat over medium low heat.

In the meantime, finely dice the carrot, sweet pepper and onion.

When the fat has rendered out of the pancetta, remove the meat from the pan set aside.

If need be, augment fat in pan with up to a tablespoon of olive oil. Let come up to temp.

Turn heat up to medium and brown off seasoned boar meat in batches. Do not overcrowd pan.

When all meat is browned, deglaze pan with brandy or vin santo. Be careful regarding the alcohol and the open flame.

Add carrots to deglazed pot and stir. Let cook, stirring often, until slightly softened and just browning. About five minutes.

Add onion and pepper to pot. Stir often until softened. About 10 minutes

Smash and chop garlic, add to pot once vegetables are softened.

Stir and cook for 2 -3 minutes.

Make a spot in the center of the pot and add 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Let brown for just a moment and then stir to mix into vegetables.

Add reserved meat and any juices back into pot. Stir to mix thoroughly.

Adjust heat to medium.

Add red wine. Stir and let alcohol cook off and wine reduce.

Add stock. Stir and bring to boil. Reduce heat until just simmering, partially cover and let cook for an hour. Check frequently. Adjust heat downward if necessary; add stock if needed to keep mixture loose.

This mixture should simmer slowly covered until the meat has fallen apart into shreds and the sauce thickened. Shoot for a minimum of two hours, five to six is better. If you have to add liquid, use a flavorful stock and/or more wine.

About 15 minutes before you plan to serve, check for seasonings and adjust as necessary. If the ragu is a little too thin, add another tablespoon or so of tomato paste. Stir and cook to desired consistency.

Serve over polenta, tagliatelle, or maltagliati.

*d’Artagnan produces wild boar roast which can be found in higher-end grocery stores or ordered from the web at–Range-Wild-Boar-Mini-Roast.html They also sell wild boar shoulder and wild boar stew meat.

And if, like me, you had the question about “wild boar” being processed and available in a supermarket, the d’artagnan website explains it this way:

Lean and full flavored, D’Artagnan free-range wild boar bears little resemblance to traditional domesticated pork.

First of all, our wild boars are actually wild. Humanely cage trapped in Texas then brought to USDA-inspected processing plants, where they are thoroughly examined. The wild boars take foraging seriously. They eat greens, native roots, acorns, and pretty much any agricultural crop they can access. As a result, farmers and ranchers in Texas are fully supportive of the law that encourages hunters and trappers to cut down on the population of these nuisance hogs. This works to your advantage, because even in a state as large as Texas, they can’t eat all the wild boar!

Robust enough to stand up to a strong red wine, as well as sauces and rubs, wild boar meat offers a distinctive taste—lean, and pork-like, but more intense, with darker color and tighter grain. Their wild-foraged diet contributes to the unique flavor.

Simply marinate lightly with a balsamic vinaigrette and skewer with sweet peppers, porcini mushrooms, and Vidalia onions for an incredible, easy- to-prepare grilled feast. Also makes a lovely replacement for the other white meat in pork stews, soups or chili.

Truly wild

Natural foraged diet of grass, roots, nuts, fruits, acorns and grains

No hormones

No antibiotics

USDA inspected

Still squeamish? I suppose you could use a boneless boston butt and scale the recipe as required.


  • 1 1/3 cups polenta (corn meal)
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 bay leaves
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup half/half
  • 1/3 cup grated cheese
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T butter
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano

Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Throw in the bay leaves and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves, salt the water to taste.

Increase heat to get a nice boil.

Slowly whisk in the cornmeal until you have a smooth porridge.

Stir often enough to keep the grain from sticking and burning and until you have thick, almost gelatinous mass. (30 – 45 minutes depending).

About 10 minutes in, stir in 1/4 cup of the half and half.

Twenty minutes in, stir in another cup of half and half.

When the polenta is pulling away from the sides of the pot, remove from heat. Stir in the butter, parmigiano and black pepper to taste.

Spread on a serving platter. Top with ragu and serve.