Cornbread III – The Go To, and Traditional Hot Water Cornbread

There’s a bunch of recipes out there for cornbread, including several of mine, the last of which I wrote about a year ago. I guess it’s not all that strange that my go to recipe has changed again.

Cornbread is as old as fire and grain in human history. Like pretty much everyone else who’s obsessive about food, I’ve gussied up and stripped down cornbread recipes more times that I can remember.

Here in the states, in very general terms, the farther into the Deep South you go, the closer cornbread gets to its deepest roots. One of the recipes I’ll share here today, hot water cornbread, harkens back very closely indeed. Go west, into Texas, or pretty much anywhere up north, and the stuff gets sweeter and and more cake-like.

All that aside, whatever version you make will only be as good as your corn meal. No matter how pumped up or stripped down your recipe, if your meal isn’t fresh and of good quality, it’ll be impossible to make a really stellar final product. That’s especially true with hot water cornbread, where the meal used has literally nothing else to hide behind.

Fortunately, there’s a resurgence in great corn and corn meal, much of that centered in the Deep South, but not all. Do a little searching, and you’re more likely than not to find a small mill near you.

That’s good for a number of reasons – you’ll get fresh stuff, it’ll likely come from local corn, and you’ll be supporting one or more small, local businesses. With a wealth of heirloom varieties coming into cultivation, you’ll find a lot more options out there than you did in years past.

So it’s a great time to tweak your personal recipe. That may entail nothing more than a new corn variety, or it might lead to a full blown overhaul. If you love cornbread, you simply must explore all those regional twists and niche recipes – that’s where brilliance and inspiration often hides. Small mills offer variety on grind, too – which is important, I think – I love the nuttier taste of a coarse grind.

For either version shared here, cast iron is a key element. Cast iron provides excellent thermal conductivity for this dish – in essence, that’s the ability of the cooking vessel to conduct heat, or more specifically, to absorb heat from areas of higher temperature and move it to areas of lower temperature, like your batter.

For my current go to, there are a couple more key steps – Preheat your oven with a rack in the middle position, and your cast iron skillet on that.

Having your skillet oven hot is important for two reasons – first, it’ll foster a nice, crispy crust to start forming as soon as you drop batter in the skillet, and secondly, it’ll brown your butter – that’ll yield a deeper, richer smell and mouth feel, and a lovely nutty minor taste note.

What I’m doing now is more or less southern-style cornbread. There’s no sugar, it’s 50%-50% flour and cornmeal, and the way it’s built pretty much guarantees a great finish every time – Bold words, I know, but I’ll stand behind them. And for purity’s sake, there’s the hot water version too – try that when you come across some truly special cornmeal.

Flour note – I use bread flour for my cornbread. It has a little bit higher protein content than AP, a.k.a. a bit more gluten. I like that, because I get a better rise out of it while maintaining a nice overall density. You can certainly use all purpose, if that’s what you prefer.

Urban’s Go To Cornbread


1 Cup Cornmeal

1 Cup Bread Flour

2 Cups Buttermilk (Or 1 1/2 Cups Whole Milk and 1/2 Cup Sour Cream)

1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter

2 large Eggs

1 Tablespoon Baking Powder

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

Preheat oven to 425° F and place a rack in the middle slot. Slide your dry cast iron skillet in there too.

In a large mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder – whisk to thoroughly incorporate.

In a second mixing bowl, combine buttermilk and eggs, (or milk, sour cream and eggs if you go that road) and whisk thoroughly to incorporate.

When your oven is preheated, add the butter to your skillet – keep an eye on that, so you get it melted and browned, not burned – this should only take you a couple minutes at that temp.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients, carefully adding the browned butter.

Whisk just enough to combine things, then use a spatula to quickly get the batter into the hot skillet.

Bake for 22-25 minutes, until cornbread is golden brown, and a toothpick stuck in the middle of the skillet comes out clean.


Serve hot, then eat more the next morning, if any survived.

Hot water cornbread is the real deal in the south, or as my friend Carter Monroe puts it, ‘What we in The Provinces refer to as “The Grown Folks Method.”’

Also known variously as corn pone, hoecake, or corn dodgers, this is cornbread stripped to its roots.

When I asked Carter if folks would make different versions for kids and adults, he wrote, ‘Nah, the Northern version of what I call “cake” cornbread has permeated the south. This is old school. What those of us who are wore out grew up with.’ That’s more than good enough for this here Yankee.

When you contemplate making this version, remember what I wrote above. Hot water cornbread often was and is made from freshly ground meal, from good local corn – that’s key, frankly, because that meal is what you’re going to taste here. There’s nothing else in the mix but enough water to get to the consistency you like and a little salt to make everything pop – that’s it.

Coarse or fine ground is also up to you, but far as I’m concerned, it aughta be coarse for this.

There’s no sugar in there, so whatever sweetness you’ll taste comes from the corn. There’s no leavening, so you won’t get a rise either, albeit you can manipulate things quite a bit. Make a thicker batter with some air whipped into it, and you’ll get cornbread with a creamy, soft middle – the corn/water slurry will trap some air bubbles as it fries. Leave it thin and you can have it as crispy as you like.

Oh yes – this version is fried in oil, y’all, not baked, which adds a whole new texture, and subtle flavor notes. This brings a frying fat into play as well, so what’ll it be? Leaf lard, peanut oil, or corn oil will all do fine, and each will have a slightly different flavor profile. If you’re feeling modern, avocado oil is a great choice – it has a great, buttery taste.


This is hot water cornbread, which means the water matters too. If you have funky water, you’ll get funky cornbread. We happen to be graced with such, so we use a filtered pitcher for cooking water, and that’s what I’ll recommend to y’all if you share that malady.

Finally, although there’s not much salt in the recipe, you’ll taste it. Kosher works fine, but this is a great place for some fancier salts to express a subtle flavor note too – use ‘em if you’ve got ‘em, I say.

Hot Water Cornbread


3/4 Cup Cornmeal

1/2 to 3/4 Cup Water

1/2 teaspoon Salt

Frying Fat of your choice

Heat water to near boiling – do 3/4 cup, so you have some leeway once you see how things shake out.

In a mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, 1/2 cup water and salt and whisk to incorporate with a fork.

Adjust water ratio to your desired consistency if the initial balance is too thick for you.

In a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, add enough oil to get about 1/2 inch depth.

Heat oil, using an instant read thermometer to monitor temperature – you want right about 375° F.

Once your fat is up to temp, add generous soup spoons of batter – You can get 3 or 4 in a 12” skillet without crowding.

If you like things thin and crispy, use the back of the spoon to tamp down each dollop a bit, otherwise, let it ride for a softer middle.

These will cook quite quickly – about 1 to 2 minutes per side – when you’ve got a nice golden brown, it’s time to flip.

Transfer cooked cornbread to a paper towel lined wire rack to cool a bit.

As soon as you can grab them without burning yourself, devour with abandon.

Urban’s New England Baked Beans

If you’re from New England, chances are good you grew up with oven baked beans. There’s a brand that’s emblematic of that heavenly dish – beans from the B&M company. As good as they are, those are canned, and we can do much better at home, from scratch.


Boston is known as Bean Town, and one of B&M’s venerable offerings is their Boston Best version, so you wouldn’t be out of line assuming that the company is based there – but it’s not. Way back in 1867, George Burnham and Charles Morrill got together in Portland, Maine to start a canning company. They’re still at it right there, at 1 Bean Pot Circle. Their beans are still slow cooked in brick ovens, and they’re still damn good canned beans.


Beans came to New England colonists via the natives, who taught them to plant them as the Three Sisters, with corn and squash, a scheme that enriches soil, mutually supports, and discourages weeds and pests. Baked beans naturally followed, especially as a sabbath meal that kinda cheated, by cooking them Saturday night so they’d still be hot the next day.

Baked beans became specifically a Boston thing in the late 1700’s, when the town was a major rum producer and exporter – molasses was used to make rum, and it also made great beans. A fair amount of salt pork also moved the through town, headed for ships stores and provided by local farmers. Thus a legendary dish was born.


A traditional New England baked bean sports major notes of pork and molasses, with minors of onion, garlic, mustard, and smoke. Tomatoes were generally accepted as food around the middle of the eighteenth century, and gradually found their way into baked bean recipes. Plenty of other herbs and spices are fantastic there too – The ever musical parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are great starting points for further exploration.

Jacobs cattle beans
Jacobs Cattle Beans


As for the bean itself, you’ll find plenty of advice to the effect that Navy beans are the only proper one to use, but that’s bunk. Navy and Great Northerns were and are used by canners because they hold up well to cooking, canning, and long term storage. While New Englanders appreciate those characteristics, they also like a little variety in the garden. Baked beans were and are still made with other local heirloom varieties, like Soldier, Yellow Eye, or Jacobs Cattle. If you’d like to try those out, Green Thumb Farms of Fryeburg, Maine will sell you some.

Soldier Beans
Soldier Beans


With a recent resurgence in heirloom bean cultivation, you can and should do some sleuthing and find new favorites – Check out your local scene to see what’s being grown around you. Online, Rancho Gordo is the place for stunningly delicious beans. If you prefer Navy or Great Northern, I highly recommend Camellia as a source.


A very common complaint about home made baked beans centers on bitterness. It’s assumed that the problem is not enough sweetener, and most folks simply throw more brown sugar at the mix, but that’s not really a solution. Too much sugar disrupts the delicate balance of flavors, and I n any event, the problem probably lies in the molasses you’re using.


Dark and blackstrap molasses dominate in stores, enough that many of us don’t know there are other options out there. Frankly, neither of those is what you want in your beans. Blackstrap molasses is boiled three times, resulting in a very thick, dark, bitter product. While it’s relatively high in vitamins and minerals, it’s absolutely not good at all for cooking. Dark molasses is twice boiled, meaning it’s still pretty bitter.


What you want is light molasses, also called sweet, first, mild, or Barbados – That’s the stuff that will produce great baked beans in your kitchen, and it’ll do well in just about any recipe calling for molasses. Sulphured molasses, by the way, means it was treated with sulphur dioxide as a preservative – and yes, you can taste that, so, look for unsulfered on the shelf. Grandma’s brand, which is fairly ubiquitous, is light if it’s the original yellow label version – their ‘robust’ green label is dark.


What pork to use? Anything with a good fat content will do. Bacon, belly, fat back, and salt pork all come to mind, and there’s nothing wrong with sausage if you like that best. Whatever you choose can go raw into this recipe, so long as it’s cut fairly small – It’s going to have plenty of cooking time.
I get powdered smoke from Butcher and Packer, and it rocks – it’s 100% natural and can’t be beat. They have hickory and mesquite. If you must, you can use liquid smoke, but I find that stuff pretty harsh.

Mixteca salt comes from Rancho Gordo and is amazing stuff. It’s mined in Puebla, and has a high bicarbonate content – Added at the beginning of cooking, (I do so after the brief initial boil), it will soften your beans appreciably. It ably replaces baking soda, which imparts a taste I don’t care for at all.


What to bake your beans in? If you’ve got clay or earthenware, that’s a top choice – It imparts a subtle note you can’t get elsewhere, and is hard to describe if you’ve never experienced it. Barring that, a really heavy vessel like cast iron that will really hold heat will work great.


My recipe isn’t a classic anything, and frankly, there’s no such thing – Everybody’s Mom and Gramma did things their own way and so should we. This is what I love best when I make New England baked beans. Try it, and then tweak it to make it your own favorite.

Urban’s New England Baked Beans


1 Pound Dry Beans

1/2 Pound Bacon, Belly, Fat Back, or Sausage

1 small Sweet Onion

2 cloves fresh Garlic

1/2 Cup Light Molasses

1/4 Cup Agave Nectar

6 0z. can Tomato Paste

2 teaspoons Dry Mustard

1teaspoon Sea Salt

1 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

1 teaspoon powdered Smoke

2 Turkish Bay Leaves

Pinch Rancho Gordo Mixteca Salt

In a single mesh strainer, rinse beans and check for stones, (I’ve never found one in any Rancho Gordo bean package, but you should always check)


In a heavy sauce pot over medium high heat, add beans, bay leaves, and at least 2” of water above bean level.


ALWAYS maintain at least 2” of water above cooking bean level. Have a kettle ready to go for hot water to add as needed.


Bring beans to a boil for 10 minutes, then add a pinch of Mixteca salt and reduce heat to the barest simmer you can achieve – you literally want a lazy bubble now and again and nothing more.


Simmer beans until they are al dente – not done, but not tooth breaking hard. Cooking time varies depending on the variety you use.


Peel, trim and fine dice onion.


Peel, trim and mince garlic.


Dice whatever pork you’re using.


When beans are al dente, pour them carefully into a single mesh strainer over a stock pot, reserving the bean broth.


Preheat oven to 300° F and set a rack in the middle position. NOTE – If you’re cooking in clay, do not preheat your oven, start with it cold.


In a large mixing bowl, combine onion, garlic, tomato paste, agave nectar, salt, pepper, smoke powder, and dry mustard. Stir well to fully incorporate.


Add beans to the bowl, along with 2 cups of bean broth. Stir well to fully incorporate. You want a very soupy mix, far wetter than you want your finished beans, so add more liquid if needed to achieve that.


Transfer the bean blend to your cooking vessel, and slide that bad boy into the oven.


Cooking time will be at least 3 hours and may be longer. Check beans and give a stir after the first hour, and then about every 30 minutes.


If your beans look too dry, add bean broth 1/2 cup at a time and stir well to fully incorporate.


Beans are done when they’re tender, bubbling nicely, and at the consistency you like – some go for a wetter bean, some drier – do what you like best.

New England baked beans
Urban’s New England baked beans


Serve nice and hot, and accept the myriad accolades from your adoring diners.

Ragù alla Bolognese

It’s almost the winter solstice, and comfort food is called for. There’s no better time for low and slow – something that’ll make the shack smell wonderful all day, and seriously hit the spot at dinner. Pasta alla Bolognese is the ticket – There’s history behind this dish, and also some important caveats about doing it right – if you’re going to call it pasta alla Bolognese, that is.

Pasta alla Bolognese


Bologna is up in the middle of the cuff of the Italian boot, anchoring the Emilia-Romagna region. It’s an ancient Etruscan city that’s changed hands a few times – both Celts and Romans made it theirs for a while. Bologna is gorgeous and well preserved, famous for architecture and the oldest university in the world, the Università di Bologna, established in 1088 AD. It’s a city of music and culture and food, including the deservedly famous ragù that carries its name.


And what a ragù it is, which leads to our first caveat – what we’re making here is not just Bolognese, it’s Ragù alla Bolognese, or if you wish, sauce in the Bolognese style. It is one of the legendary Italian ragùs, as anointed by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina – well, by the Bologna chapter thereof, anyway… The etymology of ragù is French, from ragout, meaning pretty much any sauce where proteins and vegetables are stewed. Meat sauces in Emilia-Romagna definitely predated whatever French influence might have taken place, and it wasn’t until the early 19th century that recipes for ragù appeared that more or less mirror the modern day versions.


As with all great dishes, there really isn’t one classic ragù alla Bolognese, because everyone’s Momma makes the best. Naturally, other regions of Italy take umbrage to claims that ragù alla Bolognese is better than what they make. This battle is nowhere more pronounced than between Bologna and Naples, where the equally delightful ragù alla Napolitana hails from. That said, (at least in this country), if you google ‘ragù alla,’ the overwhelming result will be Bolognese, with a smattering of Napolitana and maybe a Genovese or two, (and by all means, you should explore them all.)


Like ‘salsa,’ ragù is a broad word – it too means sauce in essence, but it also speaks to the way a ragù is made. In northern Italy, the meat is usually ground or finely minced, with sautéed vegetables in a meat stock that gradually reduces over the low and slow cook. The protein might by beef, poultry, lamb, or wild game, and often includes offal. And here’s Caveat Number Two, in a proper ragù alla Bolognese, the tomato content is quite a bit less than you likely think it is – it really is a meat sauce.

In the south, where the Napolitana style reigns, the proteins are cut larger – beef, pork, or sausage, cooked low and slow in veggies and plenty of tomato. The meat is often removed and served separately, while the ragù goes over fresh pasta.

Ragù alla Napolitana


Caveat Number Three – Despite what that google search may show you, there is absolutely no such thing as ‘authentic spaghetti Bolognese’ – In Bologna, you will never, ever see that. What you will find is ragù over fresh tagliatelle, a long pasta a bit wider and thicker than fettuccine – It’s great to make at home too.

If you’re not up for that, there is a wealth of good fresh pasta out there these days – and if that doesn’t work, then a short, ridged dry variety, like rigatoni, penne rigate, or conchiglie (aka shells), will work great too. The diff between spaghetti and tagliatelle may seem nitpicky, but it ain’t – it’s truly seminal to the overall flavor and texture of the finished dish.


So, what meat to use? Start with beef for your first run. If you have a butcher, (and you probably do, even if it’s your local grocery store – just ask them), or the capability to grind your own, you can do up something special, which needn’t be fancy by the way – chuck is prefect for this dish. If not, fear not – fresh 80%-20% ground beef will do fine. Don’t go any leaner than that, as a fundamental sweetness of the ragù depends on the fat content.


Ragù is a study in low and slow – sautéing, sweating, and braising all play a part. The intention is to get as much as possible out of the ingredients and into an integrated sauce. As such, you don’t need to add any kind of stock when you make this – it’ll make its own for as long as it’s needed, and in the end run, much of the extra liquid will be absorbed. When you plan on making this dish, pencil in a good 5+ hours for the process, (and all day is better yet).

Don’t fret if you gotta go do an errand or two though – any good Bolognese Mamma will tell you it’s fine to shut things off for a bit, go do your thing, and kick it back in gear a bit later – so long as it gets the overall cooking time it needs.


What to cook your ragù in? In Emilia-Romagna, many a Nonna would tell you that earthenware is the only thing that’ll do. Not everyone has the wherewithal for stovetop clay cookery, (though if you do, you most certainly should). If you don’t, then choose a heavy vessel that retains heat well – a cast iron Dutch oven or deep skillet is perfect.


As for wine, you’ve really gotta have it in this dish. Tradition holds with the ubiquitous ‘dry white,’ but you really can use what you have and like – really – you’re going to make this yours, and you get to choose.


Many recipes call for imported Italian plum tomatoes – That might be the thing to do in the middle of winter, but if you’ve got access to fresh Roma’s then use those – I don’t care where they’re from or what they’re named, fresh beats canned, every time. If you do have to go canned, check out our post on who’s better and who’s best.


When it comes to seasoning, those Bolognese Nonnas often use nothing but salt and pepper, depending on fresh ingredients to carry the day. That’s totally cool, and delicious, but if you like an herbaceous note or two in there as I do, add one. Caveat Number Four is this – do not leave the nutmeg out, and if you can, get a fresh whole one and grate a little into the dish – it’s key to the signature flavor of true ragù alla Bolognese.


Final note – the process outlined below is important. This can perhaps be best summed up in a question from my friend, Russ Robinson, who wrote in response to an image of this sauce cooking, ‘I am a huge fan of scratch Bolognese. A few times I’ve ended up with bitter red sauce. I can throw sugar at it. but I’m thinking some step was missed in the process early. Ideas?’ I told him that I knew exactly why, and that all would be revealed herein – as it shall be. Take note that there’s nothing really exotic in here – the real magic is in the technique.


This recipe will make plenty for 2-4 folks, with leftovers likely, because it’s even better the next day.

Urban’s Ragù alla Bolognese


1 1/2 Pounds ground Beef, (you certainly can go with beef & pork if you like)

4-6 fresh Roma Tomatoes

1 small yellow Onion

2-3 stalks fresh Celery

2-3 fresh Carrots

2-3 cloves fresh Garlic

1 Cup Whole Milk (or cream, if you’re feeling frisky)

1 Cup Wine (drier is better, but really – use what you like)

2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter

Whole Nutmeg (ground is OK)

Sea Salt (or kosher)

Black Pepper

1 Tablespoon Oregano


1 Pound good Pasta

Parmigiano-Regiano or Pecorino Romano Cheese


It’s a good idea to use a bunch of bowls and cups to arrange your ingredients.


Trim, peel and dice about 1 1/2 cups of onion.


Trim and dice about 3/4 cup each of celery and carrot. If you have celery leaves, separate and mince or chiffonade cut those.


Trim, peel and mince garlic.


Rough chop tomatoes, then process in a bowl with a stick blender to a sauce – A blender is fine for this too.


Portion milk and wine, (separately)


Set up your full mise en place right beside your stove.


In a heavy stock pot over medium heat, add the oil and 2 tablespoons of butter – allow to melt and heat through.


Add the carrot and sweat for about 2-3 minutes, stirring steadily.


Bring heat up to medium high and add onion and celery – sauté until the onion starts to become translucent but not browned, about 2-3 minutes – stir steadily to thoroughly coat the veggies in the fat.


Add the garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smells dissipates, about 1-2 minutes.


Add the wine and stir the veggies until the raw alcohol smells dissipates, about 2 minutes.


Transfer everything from the pot to a bowl.


Add the meat to the stock pot – season with a generous three finger pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper.


Mix the seasoning in while working the meat to break it down into smaller pieces – The salt helps extract liquid from the meat, making that more available to the sauce, so don’t skip this step.


When the meat is starting to brown and has lost most of its raw red color, add the milk and turn the heat down to medium low.


Simmer the meat and milk, stirring gently, until all the milk has been absorbed by the meat, about 4-6 minutes, but really, as long as it takes – This step is critical to get real Bolognese and to avoid what happened to Russ – allowing the meat to cook with and fully absorb the milk prevents the acidic wine and tomato from creating a bitter sauce. There’s a subtle softness and sweetness to Bolognese done right that can be achieved no other way.


Add a grating of fresh nutmeg, about a 1/4 teaspoon, and stir to incorporate – The smells you get at this point are pretty heavenly.


Add the veggies and oil/butter blend back into the meat and stir to incorporate.


Add the tomatoes, celery leaf, and oregano. And stir well to fully incorporate all your ingredients.


Turn your heat down to low, and cook uncovered for at least 4 hours, and longer is not only fine, it’s better.


What you want is an occasional lazy bubble forming in the sauce – no hotter. This is genuine low and slow, and why we want that heavy, heat-holding pot to cook it in.


What you’re after in your final product is a sauce where the fat is visibly starting to separate out, as you see in the image below.


If your sauce dries out while cooking, add about a half cup of water and stir that in as needed – but make sure that your finished products conforms to the sentence above.


Taste and adjust seasoning.


Boil and drain your pasta, leaving a tablespoon of water in the pot.

Return half the pasta to the pot with the burner off.


Add a tablespoon of butter to the pasta and toss to coat.


Add about 2 cups of sauce to the pasta, and toss to incorporate.


Serve with freshly shaved Parm or romano and crusty bread on the side, (to sop the sauce up with), and a nice glass of Italian red.

Crab Bisque

One of the great joys of cooking is receiving a thoughtful gift from a friend. When you’re blessed to live near the cold Pacific Ocean as we are, that often means something from the sea. So it was recently when a coworker of Ms blessed us with freshly caught Dungeness crab. It was a cold December weekend, so something really comforting came immediately to mind – crab bisque.

Urban’s Crab Bisque


I posted some images of the cooking process before I wrote this, and a couple people asked, ‘what’s the difference between chowder and bisque?’ It’s a good question – Both often contain shellfish, (and frankly bisque must to be bisque). Past that, chowder features big rustic hunks of ingredients, while bisque is creamy, smooth, and oh so rich.


Bisque is a strained or puréed soup, with stock made from shells, thickened with rice, cream, or roux. Its roots are in eighteen century France, albeit then it contained game birds – it wasn’t until the next century that shellfish made their way into the dish. There are numerous claims that the dish originated in the Bay of Biscay, which is likely hooey – the etymology of the word bisque is bis cuit, meaning twice cooked. For the record, soup that doesn’t contain shellfish that are called bisque is nothing more than a marketing ploy – ‘Whatever Bisque’ sells a bunch more product than ‘Whatever Soup’ does.


Over on this side of the pond, it took bisque a while to catch on. In colonial New England, lobster, oysters, and clams were so plentiful they were often referred to as ‘poverty food,’ and were not relished by many. It wasn’t until the 19th century that they became truly de rigueur.


Making bisque at home has an undeserved reputation as a fussy, even scary process. Fact is, it’s a gas and not at all difficult. While the stock needs simmer time to come into its own, the actual soup making phase is quite quick. You’ll need cooked crustacean for this, including the shells – which means you’ll need to do some disassembly prep, but that too is part of the fun.


The stock, freshly made from scratch, is the real heartbeat of this dish. The combination of crab shells and an aromatic base is intoxicating – it’s what makes bisque great. Traditionally, the aromatics are mire poix, but as you’ll see from our post on the subject, there are lots of options out there for you to play with.


There is often booze in bisque – usually wine, sherry, or brandy (cognac for instance). It’s there to impart a flavor note – some would say it’s mandatory, but really it’s up to you. Same goes for what you use. Tradition is fine, but add what you like – if you have a red that you think would be nice in this dish, use it, even if it ‘should be a dry white wine’. I’ve had bourbon crab bisque that was to die for, and añejo tequila adds a subtle smokey sweet note.if you don’t like booze, fear not – it’ll be delightful without it.


If you go with wine or sherry, simmer it until the alcohol and most of the moisture is cooked off – you can add this step to the process after you’ve made the stock and before you sauté the veggies. If you decide on high proof stuff, flambé that – flaming it will achieve the same end as simmering wine.


Seasoning your bisque is another perfect vehicle for self expression. Stateside, a lot of folks swear by Old Bay, and you wouldn’t go wrong with that. Old Bay has a lot of stuff in it, with major notes of bay leaf, black pepper, cayenne, salt, mustard, and celery seed, to warm minor notes of allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon – Knowing that, you could certainly pull out a few of those for your own blend, if you don’t feel like going the full Monty. If you want to try something a bit more traditional, fines herbes would be a great choice – major notes of parsley and chive are married to minors of tarragon and chervil – it’s an absolute classic in French cooking, for good reason.


For prepping your crab, here’s my routine – crack and harvest meat from body joints and major claws and legs, then leave whatever is in all the little nitpicky sections in place and use that for stock. You’ll get plenty of meat, and glorious stock as well.

Urban’s Crab Bisque


5 Cups Water

4-8 ounces cooked Dungeness Crab

Cooked Shells from 2-3 Crabs

2 Cups Heavy Cream

1 Cup Dry White Wine

1 medium Onion

1 medium Tomato

3-4 stalks Celery

1/2 Red Bell Pepper

3 Tablespoons Avocado Oil

2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter

2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste

2 teaspoons Fines Herbes

2 Turkish Bay Leaves

Sea Salt

Fresh ground Pepper

Peel, trim and dice onion.


Trim and dice celery, reserve tops and leaves for stock.

Mire poix


Trim and dice red pepper and tomato.


In a heavy stock pot over medium heat, combine water, the crab shells, 1/4 cup of onion, the celery tops and leaf, the tomato, the bay leaves, a three finger pinch of salt, and 8-10 twists of pepper.

Stock for crab bisque

Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for at least an hour, and two is better.


Remove pot from stove and carefully pour the broth through a single mesh strainer.

Base stock for crab bisque


Return the pot to the stove over medium heat. Add the wine and simmer until the raw alcohol scent dissipates, about 1-2 minutes.


Return strained stock to pot and bring to an aggressive simmer.

Crab bisque


Add 1/2 cup onion, the celery and bell pepper, and simmer until the stock reduces to about 2 cups – about 15 minutes.


Reduce heat to medium low and add the tomato paste and cream to the stock. Whisk to incorporate and allow soup to heat through, about 5-8 minutes.

Crab bisque


With an immersion blender, carefully pulse until you have a smooth, uniform consistency.


Turn heat down to a bare simmer, add fines herbs, and allow everything to marry, whisking occasionally, until the bisque thicken a bit, about 10-12 minutes.


Add crab meat and butter, whisk to incorporate, and allow to heat through, about 3-5 minutes.

Crab bisque


Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.


Serve nice and hot with crusty bread or oyster crackers and a nice glass of wine.

Gastriques

While we’re on the subject of sauces that seriously elevate your game, we must touch on gastriques. Not only are they fairly simple and quick, they’re delicious – and they give you another tragically hip French culinarily word to casually toss about.

Urban’s Sweet Cherry Gastrique

Gastriques are a combination of caramelized sugars and acids. They’re great for several reasons – Standing alone, they add a delightful zing to dang near anything – meat, poultry, seafood, tofu, veggies and spuds to name a few. Added to a basic pan sauce, they’ll elevate the flavor profile and add a really nice shine, (we do eat with our eyes, after all). They’ll also add depth and complexity to other sauces, soups, or stews. Of course they’re also perfect to play ‘what have I got that needs to be used’ with – If your kitchen’s like ours, fruit can find itself in that category fairly often, and a lot of that works wonderfully in these sauces.

Goodies for a cherry gastrique

If the description of a gastrique makes you think of sweet and sour sauce, you’re spot on. Many cuisines employ this trick in a dizzying array – whether it’s gastrique, sweet and sour, agrodolce, agre dulce, Thai sweet chile sauce, al pastor, hoisin, Worcestershire, or catsup, they’re all the same concept – Think about what most American barbecue sauces use for primary ingredients, and there you are again. Just as with those examples, a gastrique can be anything from a thin sauce to a very thick one, depending on what you like and want it to do.

These days, we’re blessed with a whole lot of options when it comes to sugars and vinegars – I see white, brown, dark brown, Mexican, rock, turbinado sugars, as well as honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, molasses, and various simple syrups we’ve put together. In vinegar, I see white distilled, cider, balsamic, white balsamic, white wine, red wine, sherry, port, malt, Japanese rice, Chinese Chinkiang (black, plumb, and white), banana and pineapple from Rancho Gordo, and likely some more I missed. You probably don’t have all that at hand, but the point is that you can if you want to. Lighter sugars give lighter flavor, even when caramelized, whereas using molasses means you won’t have to caramelize much at all. Light vinegars yield light taste, while intense fruit varieties, or smoky black Chinkiang are much bolder. Gastriques are a delight for experimentation.

All that stuff aside, a simple gastrique is fast. Let’s say you’re cooking beef, and you just want a little sparkle added to that – sugar and red wine or vinegar will do the trick – couldn’t be simpler. Add dried cherries or cranberries and you’ve got something bolder. With any variant, make sure that what you’re using tastes good to you. Taste the vinegar and the sugar, so you know exactly what to expect.

Booze, especially good stuff made from fruit, can make spectacular sauces – brandy in any of its iterations is wonderful, (plain old brandy, Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, and so on). Port and sherry will too. The cooking process will remove the raw alcohol flavor, and if you use fairly high proof stuff, you can flambé it to do that quickly without losing flavor – and it’s fun – just don’t burn your house down.

Damn near any fruit will work great in a gastrique. You can mash, blend, or purée before you add if you want, or you can let stuff cook in the sauce – it’ll release all its goodies that way, and ripe fruit generally cooks down quite quickly. Dried can be reconstituted first, or just tossed in to do its thing. Citrus fruit can simply be squeezed, zested and squeezed, or rough chopped. Do give some thought to what sugar and vinegar you use – heavy versions of either will overwhelm delicate fruit, so pair accordingly.

General caveats – since you’re caramelizing sugars, don’t leave gastriques unattended for long, because those will burn. Cook over medium to medium-low heat. A little butter added at the end of cooking helps the shine stand out. Herbs and spices are fine and go great with all the constituents mentioned – Just choose carefully, and watch your ratios – These should be a minor flavor note, not a knock out punch. Warm spices like cinnamon or allspice go well with stuff you’d expect them to, like apples and peaches. Rosemary or thyme pairs well with berries and citrus, and so on.

Think of the gastrique as specifically providing a tangy element to your overall presentation. For instance, you might use a honey/malt vinegar/tomato/lemon gastrique for a pan sauce made from a whole roasted chicken. Gastriques will keep for a few days refrigerated in an airtight bottle, (repurposed hot sauce bottles are perfect). That said, fresh is best, so Len toward building in small batches that will get used pretty quickly.

Here’s a super simple iteration that you can customize hundreds of ways. You can serve this stand alone, or add a basic pan sauce, as the second version below does.

1/2 Cup Sweet – Sugars, Honey, Agave, Molasses, etc

1 Cup Acid – Vinegars, Wines, Booze, or combinations thereof

1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter

Pinch of Salt

Add sweet to a sauce or sauté pan over medium heat and cook, whisking steadily, until whatever you’ve used darkens in color, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the acid and whisk thoroughly to incorporate.

Continue cooking and whisking until the sauce reduces to a syrup-like consistency, about 5-10 minutes.

Add the butter and salt, whisk to incorporate, and turn the heat off.

Plate your stuff and add the gastrique.

Sherry Gastrique is made the same way – it’s great for chicken, fish, and veggie dishes and sides. Raspberries also go great with this combination of sweetener and vinegar.

1 Cup Champagne Vinegar

1 Cup Amber Agave Nectar

1/2 Cup Dry Sherry

Urban’s Sweet Cherry Gastrique

This is great for lots of things – from beef, pork, or poultry, to Brussels sprouts. Varying the sweets and acids will yield whole new iterations.

1 Cup Sweet Cherries (dried, fresh, whatever you’ve got)

1/2 Cup Broth (see below for more on this)

1/2 Cup Cider Vinegar

1/2 Cup Blackstrap Molasses

1 Ounce Unsalted Butter

Pinch of Salt

If you’ve cooked a protein, grab the vessel you cooked things in, put it over medium heat, and add 3/4 cup water.

Scrape all the naughty bits off the pan bottom, whisk to incorporate, and let that reduce to about 1/2 cup.

A simple pan sauce

If you didn’t cook anything worthy of using, any stock will do – Match that to what you’re making the sauce for, (veggie stock for veggies, beef for beef, and so on.

If you braised, slow roasted, etc, use 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

When your stock is heated through, add the molasses and whisk to thoroughly incorporate.

Add the vinegar and cherries and whisk to incorporate.

Reducing a sweet cherry gastrique

Let the sauce cook at a bare simmer until you reach the consistency you want – from fairly light to very syrupy is a range of about 5 to 15 minutes cooking time.

Sweet Cherry Gastrique

Plate your meal, add the gastrique, and smile smugly while your diners swoon and make yum yum noises.

Pot roast with a sweet cherry gastrique

Blackberry Gastrique goes great with beef, pork, and meaty mushrooms like porcini. Blueberries and cranberries also are great with this combination of sweetener and vinegar. Again, this will go great with a pan sauce version like the cherry one above.

1 Cup Malt Vinegar

1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar

1 Cup fresh Blackberries

Pan Sauces

When you hear the term ‘pan sauce,’ what do you think of? You do think of something, right? Hell, gravy is a pan sauce, albeit on the heavier end of things – Something lighter than that but still plenty potent is the epitome of this genre, and a must have for your cooking arsenal – They’re easy, fast, and they elevate your cooking game appreciably – I’d argue that employing these well is a trait that separates good cooks from OK ones.

Pan sauces are created from the liquid and the little nasty bits generated by searing or roasting meat or fowl, and that’s why such a simple thing tastes so wonderful. These sauces are traditionally put back on the stuff they’re made from, but if you don’t try them on potatoes or veggies now and again, you’re missing a big treat. In fact, spectacular pan sauces can also be generated from roasting fish, potatoes, and vegetables, so never throw that stuff away.

Pan sauces lend themselves perfectly to meat and poultry for a couple of excellent reasons – First, they add a bit more moisture and pizazz to roasted proteins, and secondly, they can and should easily be prepared during the time those proteins are resting, subsequent to cooking and prior to carving.

In essence, these are emulsions, formed by combining two or more liquids that usually don’t stay together well – AKA fat and acid. Juices from what you’ve roasted, along with the fond, (that’s the hip chef name for the naughty bits left on the pan), provide the core fat component. An acid is added, most often in the form of wine. Then comes seasoning, a little more fat, and a little aromatic base. Everything gets whisked together, et viola. With minimal prep, a pan sauce can easily be put together in the time it takes your steaks or chops to rest.

As for what you should use, it’s really a ‘what have I got’ question. Fresh herbs of any kind pretty much always get the nod. Whatever red or white wine you’ve got on hand will do fine. Onion, shallot, and garlic are all good, as are capers and olives. Used sparingly, dried herbs and blends are fine – just keep in mind that they won’t have enough time to get much past their dried stated in a sauce made this quickly. Citrus makes a dandy minor note.

Get your mis en place together before you start the sauce – that’s key to keeping things simple and fast. On the flip side, don’t leave a pan sauce sitting for very long after it’s done – This is a temperature fused emulsion, and it will separate as it cools – so get it on the plate ASAP to avoid the uglies. You do warm your plates for service, right?

If you try a sauce from potatoes and/or veggies, keep in mind that there’s no fat, so add that accordingly – another couple tablespoons of oil and/or butter will do the trick.

Varying pieces of the puzzle will reward you with whole new flavor profiles – different wine and citrus, maybe a couple drops of Worcestershire or Maggi instead of fish sauce, different herbs or aromatics, mustard, horseradish, sweet minor notes from honey or agave – the sky is the limit, and again, the best way to experiment with this is to search your fridge and pantry and use what needs to be used.

Here’s my fave general purpose sauce to get you started. Branch out from there, and make ‘em yours.

Urban’s Go To Pan Sauce

The good stuff left over in the roasting pan

1/2 Cup White Wine (I use whatever is there and open)

2 Tablespoons minced Shallot

1/4 small fresh Lemon

3 Tablespoons Ghi (Unsalted butter is fine)

Spring or two fresh Herbs, (Thyme, Oregano, Sage leaves, Rosemary are all great – a light hand of dry is OK if that’s all you’ve got)

3-4 drops good quality Fish Sauce, (Red Boat is my go to)

Pinch of kosher salt

3-4 twists fresh ground pepper.

Pull whatever you roasted from the oven and the pan and transfer to a platter to rest, somewhere warm and loosely covered with metal foil.

Carefully pour off most of the fat from the roasting pan, leaving a couple of tablespoons.

Place the roasting pan on a burner over medium heat, (it’s already hot, so it doesn’t need a bunch of help in that regard – And handle the hot pan carefully!)

Toss in the shower, and sauté until it becomes translucent, about one minute.

Add the wine, and using a fork to scrape up all available naughty bits, and get all of that stuff loose.

Cook until the raw alcohol smell dissipates, about 1-2 minutes.

Squeeze in the lemon juice and whisk to incorporate.

Add the ghi or butter a bit at a time, and whisk steadily to incorporate.

Add the fish sauce and herbs and continue to whisk.

Turn burner heat off, add salt and pepper and adjust as needed.

Slice your protein, sauce, devour, accept raving accolades from your diners.

Parmigiano-Reggiano Stock

You might call it Parmesan, but it really is Parmigiano-Reggiano, ya know. It is arguably the most popular of Italian cheeses worldwide, and rightfully so. When you tase the real deal, aged between 24 and maybe 48 months, the depth and breadth of flavor notes is stunningly good. Maybe, subconsciously, that’s why so many of us save the rinds, even if we don’t do anything with them – the stuff is so damn tasty, we just can’t bear to throw out the ‘inedible’ part. Fear not, I say, because thankfully that inedible thing is hogwash. Last spring, I wrote about stuff you can do with the rinds, but somehow, I missed making stock – time to fix that.

Real deal Parmigiano-Reggiano comes from the five provinces that are allowed to call the stuff by its proper name – Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Mantua. Sorry, but anything else from somewhere else is just cheese. The outer most layer of a wheel of Parmesan Reggiano is the place where all the interaction with the outside world has occurred, while inside, that miraculous cheese matures. The rind hardens, forming a barrier to keep bad things out while allowing moisture to leave the cheese over time. When we buy it, we obviously want a reasonable ratio of rind to cheese. Don’t go too far on that, though, and definitely save rinds, because parmigiano rind stock is liquid heaven.

Parmigiano stock, made with aromatics, herbs, plenty of rinds, and simmered low and slow is the ticket. What you get will be redolent with the scent, taste, and umami powered mouth feel only Parmigiano-Regiano can provide. It is the stuff for staples like Italian wedding, white bean, or minestrone soups. Use it to cook beans low and slow and the results are truly ethereal. Freeze it in resealable ice cube trays and add it to pan sauces or veggies. Cook rice with it and prepare to swoon – no, I’m not bullshitting – it really is that good.

Best of all, it’s incredibly simple to make. There’s a lot of versions out there – This is my take on it, powered by soffritto, the legendary Italian aromatic base, with fresh herbs. Try it the way I’ve written it, then tweak your next batches to your liking, and make it truly yours.

Note: if you’re not a rind saver, you’ll find that quite a few retailers now sell them by the pound – so long as the initial quality is good, and they’ve been properly kept, you shouldn’t hesitate to buy them that way. If you do save them, refrigerated in an airtight container is fine – they’ll last for months.

Urban’s Parmigiano-Reggiano Stock

1 Gallon (16 Cups) fresh Water

1 Pound Parmigiano Rinds

1 large Sweet Onion

2 fresh Carrot

2-3 stalks Celery

6-8 fat cloves fresh Garlic

1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

8 sprigs fresh Oregano (2 Tablespoons dry)

6 sprigs fresh Thyme (1 Tablespoon dry)

1 Tablespoon Tasmanian Pepperberries (regular old pepper is fine, but not nearly as complex)

2 Turkish Bay Leaves (not California!)

Peel and quarter the onion, smash and peel garlic, rough chop carrots and celery.

Add the olive oil to a heavy stock pot over medium high heat, and heat through.

Add onion and carrots and fry for 2-3 minutes.

Add the garlic and celery and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes.

Add the water to the veggies and allow to heat through until the stock starts to simmer, about 6-8 minutes.

Add the all remaining ingredients and stir to incorporate.

Once the stock comes to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, uncovered.

Simmer for at least 2 hours, and up to 4, stirring occasionally to make the sure the rinds don’t stick, and to test the strength of the stock.

When the stock smells strongly of parmigiano, is slightly cloudy, and everything other than the absolute outer hardest layer of rind has gone into solution, you’re done.

Pour the stock through a colander and send all the non-liquid stuff to compost.

If you’re finicky, you can further clarify the stock through cheesecloth, but frankly, who bother? This is good, rustic stuff in your kitchen, not something done for presentation at a white linen restaurant – live a little and let it be.

Cool stock to room temperature. Store in clean glass jars with enough headroom to not break the container when freezing, about 2”. Also do some up in ice cube trays for smaller batch fun.

Stock is fine refrigerated for 3-4 days. If you want to hold it longer than that, freeze it – it’s good there for a couple of months.

A Couple Quick Fajita Marinades

Decided to make fajitas with some leftover steak, only to discover we really didn’t have enough for three folks. I dug into the freezer and found some very nice, fat shrimp that wanted to join the party, so two marinades needed to get made.

Steak or Chicken Fajita Marinade

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1/4 Cup Chili Powder

3 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 Lemon

1 Lime

2-4 cloves fresh Garlic, minced

1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar

1 teaspoon ground Cumin Seed

1 teaspoon crushed Chile flake of your choice

2-3 drops Red Boat Fish Sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground Pepper

Juice and zest the citrus, grind any whole spices.

Combine all in a non reactive mixing bowl and whisk with a fork to incorporate thoroughly.

This batch size will marinate 2-3 pounds of steak, chicken quite nicely – 3 to 4 hours will do the trick nicely.

Here’s my go to chili powder mix, too –

Urb’s House Made Chili Powder

3 Tablespoons ground Chiles of your choice

1 teaspoon ground Cumin

1 teaspoon Smoked Sweet Paprika

½ teaspoon ground Mexican Oregano

½ teaspoon ground Garlic

For the shrimp, M wanted something ‘lighter and more herbaceous,’ and asked me to use up some oranges too if I could – I could.

Shrimp Fajita Marinade

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

2 small Oranges, zested and juiced.

2 fat cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1/2 teaspoon Lemon thyme

I Green Onion top, diced.

3 finger pinch of Salt

5-6 twists fresh ground Pepper

Combine all in a non reactive mixing bowl and whisk with a fork to incorporate thoroughly.

Shrimp don’t need to want too long in an acidic marinade – 30 minutes tops will get the flavors infused without making the shellfish mushy.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

In 1972, my family spent a month touring Italy. We stopped, of course, in Perugia, where my older sister was studying abroad, at the Università per Stranieri di Perugia. We stayed at a hilltop hotel with a rather large dining room. One night, Ma and Pa went out by themselves, and my older Bro and I had dinner there – That was the first time I experienced Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

The plates were, for a 12 year old, huge. A lady at the table next to ours showed us the right way to do things – grab some pasta with a fork, spin that into the bowl of your spoon, then pop that lovely stuff into your mouth. The stuff was stunningly good, and it became an instant favorite for me, but try as I might, I couldn’t finish. First the waiter looked appalled, and asked if I didn’t like it. I denied this, just said it was too much, but the process was already underway. Next came the head waiter, then the maitre d’, and finally, the Chef. With all these guys gesturing and beaming, I finished that damn plate. Ever since, I’ve been more judicious about my intake, and well that I should be – This is seriously rich stuff.

Carbonara is another of those fascinating dishes that are hard to pigeonhole. It’s a Roman thing, in all likelihood – and the locals have heartily embraced it as such. It’s delightfully simple, stemming from the pasta/cheese/pepper family of dishes, like cacio e pepe – maybe more like pasta alla gricia, since carbonara must have cured pork to be authentico. While the roots go way back, this is not an old dish. Carbonaro means ‘charcoal burner,’ and lead to the sobriquet, ‘coal miners pasta,’ but that is probably poetic license.

Carbonara appeared in Italy post World War II, because quite frankly, there was little or no eggs or bacon in that war torn collection of city states prior to the war. There was plenty of both afterwards thanks to the presence of American GIs and their vast supply stores. I think the Carbonara moniker came about because pepper and diced bacon kinda look like coal, if one is being imaginative. This line of reasoning is substantiated by the notable absence of the dish in Ada Bono’s seminal 1930 work, La Cucina Romana – If carbonara had been part of the scene, I guarantee it would have been in her book – and it did appear in Elizabeth David’s 1954 edition of Italian Food. In any event, Italians loved it, and so did the GI’s.

Like any seminal dish, there are a lot of potential rights and wrongs around making Carbonara, I mean come on – it’s Italian cooking, OK? In Italy, 90% of the time you encounter it the meat will be guanciale, the pasta will be spaghetti, the cheese will be Pecorino Romano, and the only other ingredients will be eggs, black pepper, and salt – anything else will be received akin to putting pineapple on their pizza.

Guanciale

Guanciale is worth checking out, but it can still be a bit hard to find here in the states. It is cured pork from the jowl or cheek, notably porkier and fattier than bacon or pancetta. The magic lies in the fat, which melts beautifully when it’s cooked, adding marvelous depth of flavor and mouth feel to a dish. Americans tend to use bacon for Carbonara, which is fine, really, especially if it’s really good bacon – sure they frown on this in Italy, but even pancetta can get you looked at funny over there. I think you should use what you like, but trying a cured pork product you’ve not had before should be on your dance card.

While the pasta you deploy doesn’t have to be spaghetti, it should be something with a hefty surface to volume ratio – that’ll allow the simple and relatively small amount of sauce involved to fully deploy. Folks have been known to double the sauce and use something like penne, and while that would technically be wrong, I’d snarf it down.

Pecorino RomanoParmigiano Regiano

The cheese should be Pecorino Romano, but if you like parmigiano regiano, use that – Just know that they’re very different things – Pecorino is a salty, sharp, almost smoky sheep’s milk cheese, while Parmesan comes from cows – it’s nuttier and funkier stuff.

If ever there was a dish that wanted the best, freshest eggs you can find, this would be it. The taste and the appearance of the dish depend on great eggs, because they constitute most of the sauce – a watery, pale supermarket egg is not going to make great carbonara. Most cooks use whole eggs, while some employ only yolks, and either is fine, really.

As far as other stuff in carbonara goes, everything I’m about to mention does not go into the dish according to purists, and I feel strongly that you try the traditional dish at least once – After that, do what you like – it’s your kitchen. Some folks deploy a little cream in their sauce. Veggies from peas to broccoli and leaks to mushrooms have made their way into the mix. One thing you must never, ever do, however, is buy and eat anything from the store called ‘carbonara sauce’ – knowing what is likely in that stuff to make it shelf stable, it should be obvious that it’s not something you want in your pasta.

Mise en place for Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

1 Pound Dry Pasta

4 Large Eggs

8 Ounces Guanciale, (Pancetta or bacon are fine too)

1/2 Packed Cup Pecorino Romano Cheese

1/2 Packed Cup Parmigiano Regiano Cheese

Fresh Black Pepper

Cut your pork into roughly 1/2” cubes.

Grate cheese.

Fill a large pot with 5-6 quarts of water, then add 4 tablespoons of kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat.

Add the spaghetti, allow the water to return to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a rolling boil.

Cooking Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Boil pasta until it’s al dente, about 6-9 minutes.

In the largest skillet you’ve got, sauté the pork over medium heat until the fat is rendered out and the meat is crisp, about 3-4 minutes. Turn off the heat and slide the pan off of the burner.

Crispy pork for carbonara

Reserve 1 cup of past water, then drain the pasta into a colander.

Egg and cheese mix for carbonara

Crack the eggs into a small mixing bowl, then whisk – add the cheese and whisk to fully incorporate.

Slide the skillet back onto a burner on medium and let it heat back through for a minute.

Add the pasta and half the reserved pasta water and use a couple of forks to incorporate that with the meat and fat – a lot of the water will evaporate and that’s OK.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Pull the skillet off the heat again, then add the egg and cheese blend and the rest of the pasta water, and use the forks to quickly incorporate everything – work quickly to get the pasta coated with the egg and cheese mix, and take care that the eggs don’t sit on the bottom of the skillet and scramble – if you get a little of that effect, don’t worry – we’re all human, it happens, and it’ll still be delicious. It’s your kitchen.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Season the pasta liberally with fresh ground black pepper, take a picture, then portion onto plates or bowls and serve pronto. Every time I spin a fork full of this lovely stuff, I’m right back in that dining room in Perugia.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Boston Brown Bread

If you’re from New England, and specifically Boston, you know all about Boston Brown Bread – Pared with Boston baked beans and fresh cole slaw, it’s graced many a Saturday night supper throughout New England.

The B&M company, not to be confused with the huge British food conglomerate, has been making baked beans and brown bread for over 150 years, and there’s a reason they’re still around doing just that .

A lot of folks, even locals, think that B&M is a Massachusetts based enterprise, but it ain’t so. Way back in 1867, George Burnham started a canning business and was joined by Charles Morrill – and Burnham & Morrill was born. B&M has been a fixture in Portland, Maine at One Bean Pot Circle, ever since.

Their rightfully famous beans are still slow cooked in brick ovens, and their brown bread is The One, as far as I’m concerned. Brown bread cans are filled with batter and the product is baked therein – and that’s just how you can do it at home.

In the 19th Century, Brown Bread was poverty food throughout the British Empire, although it eventually gained cache for the health benefits of the mixed flour used to make it. It eventually crossed the big pond and became a staple for the colonists, then a sentimental favorite. Keeping in mind that lobster was also once considered ‘poverty food,’ I don’t think there’s a stigma attached to liking brown bread.

Boston Brown Bread is a great recipe for folks who are nervous about bread baking – It’s easy, fast, and almost foolproof – Brown Bread is steamed, rather than baked, and requires very little prep time.

If you’ve never tried it, do. Served hot with fresh butter, ham, baked beans, and cole slaw, you got that legendary Saturday Night Suppah – And it’s great the next morning, too.

 

Boston Brown Bread

1 Cup Whole Milk

1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour

1/2 Cup Rye Flour

1/2 Cup Corn Meal

1/3 Cup Dark Molasses

1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon Allspice

1/2 teaspoon Orange Zest

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 Tablespoon Butter for greasing cans

NOTE: there are folks, (even B&M), who make this with raisins or currants within – I’m not one of them, but if you are, you can add a quarter cup to this recipe.

there are also purists who pull eschew the addition of flavorings such as vanilla, allspice, and orange zest – I’m not one of those, either.

 

Rinse and dry two 28 Ounce metal cans with one end of each cut off.

Move a rack to the bottom third of the oven and heat the oven to 325° F.

Choose an oven safe pot or dish deep enough so that you can fill it with water to about halfway up the sides of the cans. Boil enough water on the stove top to fill that pot or dish.

Lightly coat the insides of the cans with vegetable oil.

In a mixing bowl, combine wheat flour, rye flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, and salt.

Add the molasses, milk, vanilla and zest to the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cans. Cover the top of each can with a double thickness of aluminum foil and tie securely with kitchen string. Place the cans in your deep pan and slide that into the preheated oven.

Carefully fill the pan with boiling water to about halfway up the sides of the cans.

Bake for 70 to 75 minutes. At seventy minutes, remove the foil tops. When the edges of the bread begin to pull away from the sides of the cans, you’re there.

Remove the cans from the oven, place on a wire rack to cool for 1 hour before sliding the bread out of the cans. If the bread is a bit sticky, a thin bladed knife run around the can will free it up.

Don’t forget to have plenty of fresh, local butter on hand…