There’s no doubt that a great batch of homemade spaghetti sauce is serious comfort food. In an ideal world, you want to make something that cooks low and slow, developing serious flavors, but what about when you get a hankering at 4:45 in the afternoon? Here’s how I scratch that itch. This is a simple sauce that tastes much richer than it might sound, and I assure you, it’s incredible the next day. The fresh veggies, citrus, pungent lemon thyme, piney savory, and subtle, herby sweetness of the marjoram is the key – Spaghetti Sauce a la Urban.
For the proteins, keep in mind that you can and should grind your own at home; if you don’t have the capability for that, dice it and you’ll be fine. If you prefer a vegetarian version, I’d substitute firm local tofu, or eggplant. Make sure all your veggies and proteins are as fresh as can be. Do use whole canned tomatoes; they hold more flavor than stewed, crushed, diced, etc, the quality is often better than fresh at this time of year, and they’re certainly less expensive.
8 Ounces Fresh Angel Hair Pasta
2 20 oz cans Whole Tomatoes
1/2 Pound Ground Pork
1/2 Pound Angus Beef
1 Cup Black Olives
1/2 Sweet Onion
1/2 Sweet Pepper
1 Stalk Celery
1 small Lemon
1/2 small Lime
3-4 Cloves Garlic
2-3 Sprigs Parsley
1/2 – 1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1/2 – 1 teaspoon Savory
1/2 teaspoon Marjoram
2 whole Bay Leaves
1 Cup Red Wine
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Toss the tomatoes into a large pot over medium low heat. Process with an immersion blender until you’ve got the consistency you like. I prefer to leave things a bit rustic, rather than going all the way to smooth sauce.
Rinse, peel, top and seed the onion, sweet pepper, celery, garlic, citrus, and parsley. Fine dice the onion, pepper, olives, and celery; if you have celery leaves, by all means, use them, that’s where the real flavor is. Mince the garlic, chiffonade the parsley. Quarter the citrus.
In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, add the beef and pork, and season lightly with salt and pepper. When the meats are nicely browned, add the cup of red wine and continue cooking until the raw alcohol smell goes away. Add the proteins to the tomato blend
Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the sauté pan and allow to heat through. Add onion and pepper and season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent. Add garlic and continue to sauté until the raw garlic smell is gone. Add all that to the big pot
Add 1/2 Cup of Sherry to the sauté pan and deglaze, thoroughly scraping up all the little bits. Once the raw alcohol smell has burned off, add that to the pot as well.
Squeeze citrus into the big pot, stir to incorporate. Crush by hand and add the lemon lemon thyme, savory, and marjoram. Add parsley and bay leaves, stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust salt and pepper seasoning as/if needed.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for an hour or two, stirring regularly.
Serve Over fresh angel hair pasta, with freshly grated Parmegiano, crusty bread, a nice green salad and a glass or two of Old Vine Zinfandel.
The next day, add a cup of cheese to the blend, and bake for 30 minutes at 350° F. As promised, it’ll be spectacular.
Roasted Pumpkin seeds, AKA Pepitas, are a great treat, and as is the case with many seeds, pretty good for you, too.
My Cousin Sally writes, OK, Eben – Halloween is upon us, which means it’s time to nom on delicious toasted pumpkin seeds! Yay! But here’s the dilemma… Recipes on the Internet vary from 250 degrees to 400 degrees and 7 minutes to 50 minutes. And some recipes boil the little suckers before toasting! What the heck. Thoughts??
P.S. I used to go with the soy sauce and seasoned salt route, but now I’m a fan of the olive oil and sea salt mix. But I’m perplexed by the temp and time…
Great question! Here’s the drill for making great roasted pumpkin seeds every time.
Remove seeds from sugar pumpkins, and by golly, save or use that flesh for wonderful things, like Pumpkin Flan. Roasted seeds make a great garnish for squash bisque, and make a fabulous garnish on Oaxacan style chiles rellenos.
Simmering the seeds in salted water is a must-do – It helps make the seed covers less chewy, more crunchy, and also gets seasoning deeper into the seeds. It also helps remove any residual stringy stuff.
Use 4 Cups of water with 2 teaspoons salt for every Cup of seeds.
Bring salted water to a boil, then add seeds, stir, and reduce temp to maintain a steady simmer.
Cook for 10 minutes, then drain through a single mesh strainer.
Pat dry with paper toweling.
Preheat oven to 400° F – High temp roasting will give the crunchiest, most consistent results.
Note that Avocado oil is especially good for this – it’s got the highest smoke point.
Season each cup of seeds with,
1 Tablespoon Avocado Oil, (Olive or vegetable oil is OK)
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon chile flake or powder
Savory seasonings work better than sweet, as the sugars tend to make seeds prone to burning in a high temp roast. Any combo you like is worth trying – Soy-Lime-Garlic, Lemon Thyme & Sea Salt, Smoked Salt and cracked Pepper, etc. Our Go To Seasoned Salt is fantastic here.
If you really want a sweet version, roast seeds with just the oil, then add sweet seasoning after the roast – The oil will help it stick, and you won’t burn your goodies.
Roast, evenly spread on a baking sheet, for 18 to 20 minutes, until nicely toasted.
Remove from oven and baking sheet, allow to cool before decimating.
And as my Sis, Ann Lovejoy notes over in her wonderful blog, “Store pepitos in a tightly sealed jar out of direct light for up to 2 months or freeze them for longer storage.”
The slow food movement took hold in Italy, back in 1989, and it’s been chugging along ever since. The initial focus was, “food that’s good for us, good for our environment and good for the people who grow, pick and prepare it. In other words, food that is good, clean and fair,” all inarguably good stuff. The movement has branched out somewhat in the intervening twenty seven years, and as such, it was inevitable that cookware would also become a part of the deal, and indeed it has – In recent years, what we cook in and how we cook it has garnered every bit as much attention as the food itself.
In the late ’90’s, cookware began one of its greatest evolutions to date. Home cooks found themselves able to buy stuff far superior to the schlock that had ruled the roost previously. One of the very early deal makers in this regard was All Clad‘s Emerilware, a full 11 piece set of which M and It bought in 2002 for less than what a single top of the line All Clad stock pot was going for. Why so cheap? Well, made in China rather than the U.S., frankly, and some minor metallurgical tweaks. That said, they’re still multi-layer steel, aluminum and copper bottoms bonded to stainless bodies – Fourteen years later, they show obvious signs of heavy use, but they’re in perfect working order with years left on them.
Then, as the slow food movement penetrated other parts of the world, this trend toward high-end cookware took an interesting turn as well – a one hundred and eighty degree U turn, to be exact. Suddenly, cast iron was back in vogue, both raw, from venerable makers like Lodge, (who’ve been casting cookware since 1896), and in the considerably pricier enameled iteration, and the most famous version thereof, made by French manufacturer Le Creuset – They’ve been around since 1925, and are still going strong. The fact is, you can’t go wrong with cast iron – The only crime you can commit in this regard is to not have any in your kitchen. For my mind, a cast iron skillet and a Dutch oven are not optional, and that’s sage advice, if I do say so myself.
Then the venerable crock pot got a make over, and the electric slow cooker caught fire as well. While the name brand crock pot is a child of the 1970s, the roots of the cooking method go back way further yet, to what was, and is still called a straw box. As you can see from the picture, this is nothing more than some form of box big enough to fit a slow cooker like a Dutch oven, with room enough to allow a nice, thick layer of straw to be piled all around the cooker. Foods heated in the Dutch oven are stuffed into the straw box and left alone for the day – The latent heat of the food in the well insulated box finishes the cooking in a nice, slow manner – Its great for cassoulets and such.
And lately, the clay cooker has made a resurgence as well, with venerable makers like Römertopf from Germany offering a wide range of fired clay cookware that’s not only fun to use, but quite lovely, (When I climbed aboard the clay cooker train for the writing of this piece, M noted that “it’s too pretty to cook in,” and it darn near is!) Cooking in clay might just signify the farthest back that we can practically go in pursuit of the good old days – It’s been done for thousands of years, and by cultures from literally all around the globe.
Thus we come to the Big Question at hand – How much, if any of this stuff do you actually need?
Let me answer that with a story. A friend of mine used to own a music store. I was there one day buying an amplifier, and he mentioned that he had some really nice Fender Stratocasters that I, “needed to take a look at.”
As we admired the guitars, I noted, “Well, they’re pretty, but I already got two Strats and a Tele – I don’t really need another one.” He looked at me as if I was the dumbest human he’d ever layer eyes on, sneered slightly and retorted, “What the hell does ‘need’ have to do with another Strat?!” And there you have it, in a nutshell.
How many knives do you really need? Two or three really will do. How many pots and pans? Well, that’s more complicated, and it depends on how much cooking you do and want to do – Realistically, I think anything less than a couple of sauce pans, a couple of sauté pans, and at least one big stock pot just won’t cut the mustard. How many and what kind of slow cooker you need is also complicated. If you have a good, cast iron Dutch oven, truth be told you probably don’t need anything else, but you may want more, and rightly so.
That single Dutch oven is versatile as all get out. From stove top, to oven, to camp fire, it can and will do it all, and a good quality oven will be something that you pass on to your kids and their kids after them – There’s much to be said for those qualities, and that’s why I’ll stand by the assertion above – If you only have one, I’d choose a Lodge cast iron Dutch oven and be most content, indeed.
What then, about enameled cast iron versus plain? My answer will be blasphemous to some, but I’ll stick by it – I’ve owned more than one piece of Le Creuset, and two Lodge Dutch ovens. I don’t own any Le Creuset currently, because all of the pieces we have went through the process of enamel chipping from the bottom, and were eventually retired – With regret, I’ll add, because Le Creuset is beautiful stuff. Now, let me interject that, were you to buy Le Creuset stuff new, you’ll find that it comes with a limited lifetime warranty, and while there are caveats and requirements, I know more than a few folks who have either gotten a brand new replacement for free, or a significant discount on same – In other words, Le Creuset not only makes a kick ass pot, they’re still a most honorable company.
That said, the enamel is pretty, and will cut down on some preventive maintenance on your part, but you’ll pay for those premiums – Le Creuset is fabulously expensive, just like those top end All Clad stock pots – A lodge Dutch oven like ours will set you back around $40, and their enameled version will run you about $60 – That same size of Le Creuset costs $300 – Get the picture? Me, I’m OK with the maintenance – It’s why I have my knives made with high carbon blades instead of stainless – It’s about feel, and performance, and frankly, I’m OK with maintaining my stuff – That’s how I know how it’s doing in general. Oh, and for the record, I still own my Lodge Dutch oven, and the second one was gifted to my Sis, who was without and therefore in need.
And electric slow cookers, what about ’em? Well, the need factor is kinda like those Strats… Slow cookers are handy as all get out, and they’ve come a long way. Programmability, multiple cooking temps and profiles, and much higher quality cooking vessels and insulating materials have made these toys, errr – tools, a very attractive option. If you’re of a mind to make a soup or stew, cassoulet or roast, and want it to go all day low and slow, you’ll spend less energy doing so, and likely be much safer in using a slow cooker, as opposed to leaving an unattended oven or range in all day. Our Frigidaire Professional series 7 quart cooker cost about $60, and I highly recommend it.
And what about those clay cookers? While most of the world has been cooking in clay for millennia, many people in this country got their introduction back in the ’70s, when a British firm called Habitat introduced The Chicken Brick to America. On sale in Britain since 1964, the brick is a vaguely chicken shaped, unglazed terra-cotta cooker made in England by Weston Mills Pottery. The brick worked, and worked well, but it was kinda gimmicky, so a lot of folks got one as a wedding or Christmas gift, and then never actually used the silly thing. All that aside, the recent resurgence in interest regarding cooking in clay has spurred a revival – While Habitat discontinued sales of the Chicken Brick back in 2008, they’ve recently come to their senses and are again offering this iconic cooker.
While the brick as made of unglazed terra-cotta, the stuff offered by Römertopf and a few other German makers is glazed clay. In either iteration, there are some things you must and must not do when cooking in these vessels, and that frankly is what caused a whole bunch of folks to never even try to use that wedding gift. Clay cookers cook in large part by steam heat, and that means you need to soak the whole cooker in water for 15 to 20 minutes before you load food into it.
Next, it’s best not to load cold foods into a clay cooker, so you’ll also have to get your bird or roast or whatever out of the fridge for long enough to allow it to get fairly close to room temperature. And clay cookers don’t do well in preheated ovens – That can lead to cracks, and cracks are bad – So you need to load that bird into that cooker and into a cold oven. This means that you actually will cook at a higher temperature than you normally roast at – With our Römertopf, we cook chicken at 450° F for about an hour, whereas regular roasting gets done at 350° F or thereabouts. Next caveat – You can’t take a clay cookers out of a hot oven and set it directly on a cold countertop – Doing so risks cracks, and again, they’re bad… Finally, you can’t clean a clay cookers with soap, and for the same reasons, (its porous, yeah?), you don’t really want to cook fish in one unless you’re not going to cook anything but fish in thereafter, because it’s got a memory like an elephant.
Right about now, a fair chunk of you are thinking, “OK, Eben – What you’ve just done is convinced me that this clay cookers thing is a major pain in the ass, so why in hell would I put myself through all that just to cook a damn chicken?!
The answer is that the chicken you cook in that pain in the ass clay cooker will be the juiciest, tenderest, moistest chicken you’ve ever cooked. M said so, the very first time I used the Römertopf, and she was right. A clay cooker becomes a small, very efficient, very moist cooking environment, and without any other adjuncts whatsoever, it passes that moisture on to what you’re cooking. Römertopf makes cookers from quite small to large enough for a full sized turkey – we bought a medium size, which has a stated size of slightly over 3 quarts, and cost fifty bucks – Not cheap, but as you can see, this is a well made and truly beautiful thing – Almost too pretty to cook in, as M noted. What it fits is pretty much the fattest local chicken you can find, but not much else – I quickly found that our cooker truly wouldn’t hold anything else, which initially made me nervous, because I come from the mire poix in the bottom of a Dutch oven with some chicken stock school of roasting. What I found out is exactly what all the makers of clay cookers tell you – You don’t need anything in that cooker to make an incredible, notable chicken – The cooker will do the magic – And indeed, it does. I stuffed that bird with apple, fennel, onion, and some fresh herbs. Cooked it at 450° F for an hour, then popped the top off for about 10 minutes to let the bird brown. Pulled it out, put it in a towel on the counter top, gave it a 10 minute rest, and dug in.
It was, as noted, an incredible chicken, but let’s face it – I bought this cooker to write this post, and as good as that chicken was, it could have been a fluke, so I did the scientific thing – I bought another chicken a week later, did all the proper prep, but this time, I did nothing other than to throw that bird into the Römertopf with a tiny bit of olive oil rubbed on the skin, followed by our signature seasoned salt blend and fresh ground pepper – Didn’t stuff it, didn’t tie it, nothin’ – Just cooked the bugger, and…
It was the best damn chicken I ever made, hands down, bar none, no bullshit.
So, now – What do you need?
Have now had quite a few of you ask if I was biased/bought for the purposes of this piece. Those who’ve asked are quite new here, so it’s a fair question. Here’s our answer –
We have never accepted any ingredient or article for free or any kind of reduced price in exchange for a favorable review, and we never will.
We have far more than enough followers and readers to warrant the ability to run ads on this blog, and to receive deals such as I just described – Again, we’ve never done any of that, and never will.
This is a completely independent blog, and everything you see here is bought by us at full retail price from the same places you can get yours. We’re about helping folks discover new things, becoming more food independent, and making from scratch everything that you can, period.
as prolific as I try to be, I must of course have a real job in order to pay the bills. I’ve just made a major shift out of restaurant management, into an Area Manager position with Schwan’s, here in my home town.
This move will cancel too many years of 2-3 hour daily commutes to and from work, as well as blessing me with a Monday through Friday work week. I couldn’t be happier about those changes, frankly.
I’ve got to learn a whole lot in a relatively short time period, so during the transition, new posts will be few and far between. Fortunately, there’s something like fifteen years of good stuff here to revisit and revise. I’ll be leaning on those archives while I get up to speed.
That said, what I post may well still be new to you, so stay tuned! By the same token, please do poke around and see what’s here. I’ll be back on track with weekly new posts just as soon as I can.
if there’s something you want and can’t find, or if you’ve got a specific request, drop me an email or message, and I’ll go to work for you.
Thank You for being here, it’s deeply appreciated!
Back in June, 2017, Sotirios ‘Sam’ Panopoulos passed away in London, Ontario, Canada. While you’ve likely never heard of Sam, you know him well through his iconic dish, the Hawaiian Pizza – That creation, loved or reviled, came from the mind of a 28 year old Greek immigrant to Canada. I’m here to declare, formally, that I love Hawaiian pizza – and maybe you should too.
Sam and a couple of brothers owned the Satellite restaurant in Chatham, Ontario, due east across Lake Saint Clair from Detroit. It was the early 60’s, so a place called the Satellite was very fashion forward, indeed. They served a mishmash of stuff, from burgers to Chinese food made by a Chinese chef. He later noted that it was the Chinese penchant for blending elements of the five major tastes in a dish that got him thinking about inventing a pizza – He’d enjoyed eating that in Italy and the US, and thought he might be able to come up with something original. He was right.
Today’s version of the Hawaiian pizza is not what Sam started with. His shining contribution was the pineapple – Canned Dole pineapple, which begat the Hawaiian thing. He later recalled that, in Canada at that time, “People only put on mushroom, bacon and pepperoni, that’s all. I had pineapple in the restaurant and I put some on, and I shared with some customers and they liked it. And we started serving it that way. For a long time, we were the only ones serving it.”
Sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Get the mix right, and things can be delightful. What Sam had done was add a tacitly sweet note to what was, as he noted, a pretty heavy mix. Yet pineapple did more than that – It added acid, which cut the fatty mix of cheese and meat, and offered a minor sour note as well. It may seem wrong, but I think it was brilliant, and the explosion of that now legendary combo on the world of pizza would seem to support that.
Now, the Hawaiian is almost always tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, and pineapple. It is surprising to me that seemingly equal faction either love the combination or loath it. The President of Iceland recently denounced it, (albeit tongue in cheek), prompting Canadian PM Trudeau to quip, “I have a pineapple. I have a pizza. And I stand behind this delicious Southwestern Ontario creation.” Many chefs have vilified the thing, from Gordon Ramsay To Tony Bourdain, sometimes prompting outraged defenses in response from yet other chefs. Somewhere in print, the haters actually invoked Godwin’s Law, and declared that those who like Hawaiian pizza are ‘worse than hitler.’
What is it about pineapple on pizza that’s so polarizing? Purists cite Neapolitan roots and flatly state that pineapple has no place there – I imagine these folks have kittens over quite a few other ingredients as well. Sweet notes in a pizza certainly aren’t taboo – Hell, that’s what tomatoes do, for cryin’ out loud – and pineapple has been eaten in Italy for a long, long time. In the states, it’s a top ten fruit, so it’s not broadly disliked here either. Google the first sentence of this paragraph and you get a whole raft of discussions and levels of intensity – It’s interesting, but all that stuff doesn’t necessarily answer the question.
The whole thing really seems to boil down to two arguments – either that pineapple just doesn’t belong on pizza, or that it just doesn’t taste good – To both, I call bullshit. If you like pineapple, and want to use it, do so. If you’re running a pizzeria that swears eternal fealty to all the arcane rules of the game, then by all means, don’t. If you don’t like the taste, no matter what, then don’t eat it – it’s that simple. But if you’re cooking at home, and you want to, then to paraphrase Alton Brown, by God, have pineapple.
As for the taste thing, fact is, this is often enough true. A poorly made pizza isn’t likely to taste good at all – but that’s easily remedied. Let’s face it, a notable chunk of commercial pizza from big name chains and the stuff at the grocery store is crap – They’re not generally made with love and care, and you get what you pay for. Change that, and it’s delicious.
Tony Bourdain infamously had nothing good to say about Hawaiian pizza, (most of it highly profane, I might add). Yet he was forced to swallow his smartass comments when, in Rome, he ran into Gabriele Bonci of Pizzarium. Chef Bonci does pizza right – great dough, top notch ingredients, just a few things combined on each slice. Bourdain made the Hawaiian crack, and Bonci immediately said ‘No, is good,’ and made some. They both agreed it was good, but not great. Then Bonci disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a sauté of onion and hot peppers added, and bingo – Even Tony had to admit it rocked.
That harkens all the way back to what Sam Panopoulos said about first offering pineapple on pizza – It was added to whatever you liked. It’s all about balance, and what Sam gleaned from Chinese food was a well balanced thing. Love it or hate it, the fact that it flourishes decades after its inception says it’s true.
So, if you’re not from the hater camp, try it done right. Fresh pineapple is always best, but truth? Canned will work fine if you blend and cook it well. You don’t need to use fancy ham, but you sure can if you want, or sub bacon, or whatever porky deliciousness you prefer. Make or buy great dough, sauce, and use as much fresh stuff as you’ve got for toppings. What you see in the images herein was made with fresh dough, tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalapeños, and basil out of our garden, and locally made smoked scamorza cheese. Use different chiles if you like, red onion, maybe a few capers for a bitter note – experiment, have fun, and surrender to Sam.
One interesting side note – Sam died one year to the day before Bourdain took his own life in France.
We love ribs, especially when M does them up. This time around, we decided to do something we don’t do very often – a wet treatment, as opposed to a dry rub – Our usual go to. A citrus fennel glaze is what we came up with.
The sauce is the star here, and for good reason. It’s a grade A example of the organic way M and I arrive at a dish, based largely on what we’ve got on hand, and often initiated by a single thing – In this case, a left over blood orange was the spark – a leftover that had given up its zest for an earlier meal.
Initially, we were leaning toward a Chinese style rub, then veered off on a tangent. M found that blood orange and wondered aloud if we couldn’t do something with that. A short brainstorming session yielded what you see herein. This sauce could be used on a lot of things, from chicken or beef, to Brussels sprouts or carrots.
While this might seem like alchemy, I assure you, it’s not. Often, when we’re brainstorming things, I’ll whip out our copy of The Flavor Bible, a book that you aughta have in your kitchen, if you don’t already. You’ll find a wealth of parings and affinities therein that truly can and will spark your imagination and creativity.
And I can’t stress enough to be bold in endeavors like this – If you like stuff, and you think that stuff might go well together, then try it. If you’re at all nervous about committing to a full blown recipe, then cut off a little piece of this and a little piece of that, pop them your mouth, and see what you think. If it’s good, go with it. If it’s not, search elsewhere. That, in a nutshell, is how you build your own ideas into culinary reality.
We used a rack of spare ribs, but you can do any cut of rib you like, (Baby Back, St. Louis, Rib Tips, County Style, or beef ribs.)
Preheat oven to 250° F and set a rack in the middle slot.
Season ribs with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, (we use our go to seasoning salt for pretty much everything).
Wrap the ribs tightly in aluminum foil, fat side up and dull side of the foil facing out.
Set the package on a baking sheet, or the bottom of a broiler pan, and cook low and slow for about 2 hours, until the rib meat is very tender.
Juice from one fat and happy blood orange.
1/4 Cup Orange Marmalade
1/3 Cup chopped fresh Fennel bulb
2 small cloves Garlic
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco chile flake, (Use any chile variety you like here)
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Teaspoon Arrowroot.
Remove ribs from oven, set a rack on a high slot, and increase temperature to 375° F.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter, then add fennel and sauté for a couple minutes until it has notably softened.
Add garlic and sauté another minute until raw garlic smell dissipates.
Reduce heat to medium low.
Add orange juice, marmalade, and chile flake, stir well to incorporate.
Cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce is quite liquid, (that’d be the marmalade relaxing a bit.)
Add half the arrow root and stir to incorporate. Allow the sauce to cook for another minute or so. Sauce will thicken slightly – Add the rest of the arrow root if you want things a bit thicker.
Unwrap the ribs, and flip them meat side up onto the pan. Baste or pour sauce liberally onto the ribs in an even layer.
Return the ribs to the oven on the high rack, and cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and starting to caramelize.
We served ours with an gratin potatoes, a lovely green salad, and fresh, crusty bread. They were falling off the bone tender, and the sauce was a perfect foil to the richness of the meat.
This year’s garden has been hit and miss. Some things have done nicely, others not, even with staggered plantings. That struck home when we had a look at the cucumbers and realized we wouldn’t get enough to make a winters worth of pickles and relish – That’s when inspiration struck – Why not go for a big batch of Giardiniera, the King of pickled veggies, instead?
Giardiniera, (Jar-dhi-nare-uh), is a delightful pickled vegetable mix, either done up as bite sized pieces or a relish. Redolent of fresh veggies and good olive oil, wrapped around lip smacking brininess that rivals a great cornichon – This is something we all need to be making at home.
Pickling foods to preserve them hardens back thousands of years and crosses numerous boundaries – almost every society does and has employed it. Everything from veggies, to meat, fish, fruit, nuts, and even eggs can end up in the pickle jar, much to our advantage. Pickling not only helps preserve things through the dark months, it adds a vital zip to what can otherwise be a rather bland time of year.
Giardiniera hails from Italy, and means literally, ‘from the garden, (also called sottacetto, or ‘under vinegar.’) While variants come from all over the boot, the versions we’re most familiar with has southern roots, down where the mild Mediterranean climate fosters a wide variety of veggies, the best olive oil, and great sea salt. That’s where those colorful jars filled with cauliflower, carrot, olives, onions, peppers, and chiles hailed from.
You’ll likely find jars of the bite sized version of giardiniera in your local grocery, with the fancy olives and other pickled goodies. While some of the commercial stuff is pretty good, none of it can match what you can make at home, and to top things off, it’s remarkably easy to do, (And frankly, the relish version of giardiniera is much more versatile, and rarely found in stores).
Seasoned with fresh herbs, maybe even touched with a little hot chile flake, giardiniera is fabulous on sandwiches, (including burgers and dogs), pizza, salads, and as a table condiment with more dishes than you can shake a stick at. Now is the time to be doing up a few batches of your own – it’s fairly traditional for giardiniera to be made in the fall, as a catch all for all those late season veggies we don’t want to lose to the first frost.
The American home of giardiniera is Chicago, where that famous Italian beef sandwich hails from. Slow roasted beef, cooked over its own jus, sliced thin and slapped onto a nice, dense roll, ladled with a generous spoon of giardiniera, a little jus, and eaten in the classic sloppy sandwich hunch – a little slice of heaven.
Making giardiniera is a real treat. Your first and foremost issue, naturally, is what to put into the mix. The blend I outlined earlier is generally recognized as the classic base mix, but pretty much anything goes, (I should note that peppers and chiles were not in the original Italian versions of the dish, as they didn’t show up in European cultivation until the 1700s.) firm veggies, like carrots, celeriac root, turnips, cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus do well. Peppers and chiles will do well too, though really soft stuff like tomatoes tend to break down quickly.
Making giardiniera couldn’t be easier. While some recipes call for cooking or fermenting, (both processes are perfectly fine), the simplest version is, for my mind, best – Just brine your veggie mix for a day or two, until you reach the degrees of zip and bite that you like, and that’s it. You’ll find recipes that call for the mix to be stored in brine, oil, vinegar, and a simple vinaigrette – My money is in the latter option – that will provide a nice stable medium, and a great taste as well.
There are typically mild and spicy (AKA Hot) versions, and extensive regional variety, like the Chicago style that includes sport peppers and an accompanying degree of heat. Down south, the version that goes with a muffuletta sandwich is mild and heavier on the olives. Those are great, and worth your time to build, but really, look upon giardiniera as a launching pad for creativity – You really can’t go wrong if it’s made with stuff you love – For instance, I didn’t have celery when I made up the relish version, but I did have fresh celeriac root, and it turned out to be a wonderful substitution.
You can use any oil and vinegar you like for the base vinaigrette. Seasoning can be as easy as good salt, olive oil, and vinegar. When you feel like adding additional spices, be conservative in both number and ratio – The rule of three is a good thing here.
Unless you process your giardiniera in a hot water bath, keep in mind that this is basically a fridge pickle. If made carefully, and packed into sterilized glass jars, it will last a month or two refrigerated. Just keep in mind that they’re not shelf stable unless you go through the canning process. Accordingly, what we offer below are small batches that will make a couple of quart jars of finished product. There are cooked and fermented versions out there, and we’ll leave those for you to explore.
For the base mix
1 Green Bell Pepper
1 Red Pepper
1 small Sweet Onion
2-4 Jalapeño Chiles
1 medium Carrot
1 Stalk Celery
1/2 Cup Cauliflower florets
1/4 Cup Pickling Salt
For the final mix
1 Cup White Vinegar
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6-8 large Green Olives
1 Clove Garlic
1/2 teaspoon Chile Flake
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
Rinse all produce thoroughly.
Stem, seed, and devein the peppers and chiles, (leave the veins in the jalapeños if you want more heat).
Cut all veggies for the base mix into a uniform fine dice, about 1/4″ pieces. It’s not important to be exact, just get everything about the same size and you’ll be fine.
Transfer the mix to a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl. Cover the mix with fresh, cold water with an inch or so to spare.
Add the pickling salt and mix with a slotted spoon until the salt is thoroughly dissolved.
Cover with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, take a spoon of the mix out, gently rinse it under cold water for a minute or so.
Test the degree of pickle and softness of the veggies. If you like what you’ve got, move on – If not, give it another day.
When you’re ready to prep the final mix –
Remove the base mix from the fridge and transfer to a single mesh strainer. Run cold water over and through the mix, using your hand to make sure that the salt solution is rinsed off.
fine dice the olives, peel, trim and mince the garlic.
Add all ingredients to a glass or stainless mixing bowl and stir with a slotted spoon to thoroughly incorporate.
Sanitize two quart mason jars either by boiling the jars, rings, and lids for 3-5 minutes in clean, fresh water, or running them through a cycle in your dishwasher.
Transfer the mix to the jars, and seal. Refrigerate for two days prior to use.
For the bite sized version, cut everything into roughly 1″ pieces, )or larger, depending on jar size and predilection), and process as per above. A bay leaf or two is a nice addition.
When the garden churns into production mode, I get a serious salad Jones on a regular basis. There’s something about watering becoming an exercise in dinner recon and going outside to prep for dinner that seems very right to me. This seems like a good time to talk about building great salads, and what to dress them with.
When fresh veggies are abundant, they deserve some extra care, especially lettuces. If you’ve ever been served a salad that really popped for you, it’s a guarantee that the level of prep and presentation went well beyond what usually happens at home, even if things looked really simple. Recreating that at home is not difficult, and well worth the effort.
The first thing that really needs to get done is a gentle but thorough washing of anything and everything you’ve harvested. We don’t use any chemicals on our garden, but regardless, there’s dirt and maybe a critter or two that needs to be found and removed. This is also the time to inspect and remove any wilted or damaged parts. Have a big bowl of icy cold water ready beside your station, and drop stuff into it as you’re done with it. Even freshly picked greens start to lose water and crispness quite quickly when it’s hot out – The cold water will keep them in top form. After everything has had a good soak, change the water and let them have a second cold bath. These steps should be done right before assembly and service of the salad.
As you prep additional goodies for the salad, place them into sealable airtight containers, (preferably glass). A lot of us at home make too much, and mix it all together in one big ol’ bowl – Ask yourself how often you have that green salad again, until it’s gone? The jumbled mix invites things to go bad, and other ingredients to get thrown out – Like when your tomatoes or cukes go first, but they’re mixed with everything else, and… With everything prepped, offered, and stored individually, folks can build their own mix, and leftovers lend themselves readily to new dishes.
Invest in a container or two specifically designed for storage of lettuce and veggies. We have two that both have a drain tile over the bottom, snug fitting kids, and ventilation options. These things genuinely will store lettuce and veggies for longer and better than any other option we’ve tried – It’s actually pretty amazing – Lettuce and cabbage stays crisp and other stuff, from carrots and celery to chiles and green onions, last far longer.
Make dressings fresh, just as you do your salad. Building even relatively complicated dressings take no time at all, and is a delightful exercise. Dressings in big ass plastic squeeze jars isn’t how we should want things to be – That’s done for the benefit of the seller – not for us. Whip up what you need, plus some extra to go to lunch with you tomorrow. Building in smaller, fresher batches yields far superior results, and furthers exploration of what you really like – Maybe even your own signature thing – And that’s very cool indeed.
Fresh herbs rock in salads, within bounds of reason. When they’re fresh, herbs are at the pinnacle of their potency – Keep That in mind, along that with the fact that a whole sage leaf may be enough to season a whole batch of stew, and you get my drift. Use them sparingly – incorporated into dressings may be your best bet for balanced flavors that don’t overwhelm.
A basic lettuce blend is great as a base. If you’re of a mind to add more stuff like cabbage, kale, arugula, frisée, or chicory, keep in mind that not everyone may share the love – Allowing your crew to decide for themselves if they want to add them will often make for happier campers, and again, it gives you greater leftover flexibility.
Emeril Lagasse used to have a shtick on one of his shows, wherein he’d say something to the effect of, ‘I don’t know about where your lettuces come from, but mine don’t come seasoned.’ There’s wisdom there – Good greens certainly have flavor and texture, but a wee sprinkle of salt and a twist of pepper will make those different tastes pop all the more.
Finally, here are three dressings I’m really liking this summer.
Urban Dijon Vinaigrette
1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Aged Sherry Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 teaspoon Agave Nectar
1 sprig fresh Thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 clove fresh Garlic
Pinch of Salt
A few twists fresh ground Pepper
Trim, smash, and mince garlic.
Pull leaves from thyme stalk and mince.
Combine all ingredients in a mason jar and cover, then shake vigorously to combine.
Allow to marry for a few minutes, and shake again prior to serving.
Urb’s Herby Vinaigrette
This is a very vibrant dressing – Makes a great marinade for chicken or pork too.
Fresh herbs are best when you have them.
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil
1/2 Cup Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon minced fresh Garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh Sweet Onion
3 teaspoons Oregano
2 teaspoons Tarragon
2 teaspoons Parsley
2 teaspoons ground Black Pepper
2 teaspoons ground Mustard
1 teaspoon Rosemary
1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 whole Bay Leaves
Combine all ingredients in a mason jar and cover, then shake vigorously to combine.
Allow to marry for a few minutes, and shake again prior to serving.
Urb’s Teriyaki Joint Dressing
If you’ve ever had teriyaki in the Pacific Northwest, you’ve had a variant of this dressing.
I love the stuff, and I bet you will too. If you go all out and make fresh mayo at home for this, it’s stunningly delicious.
1 Cup Mayonnaise
1/4 Cup Toasted Sesame Oil
1/2 Cup Rice Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Dark Soy Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Granulated Garlic
Combine all ingredients in a non reactive mixing bowl and whisk vigorously to combine.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to serving.
With all that to consider, it aughta be a pretty swell salad season, don’t ya think?
It’s high summer here in the Pacific Northwet and, (I apologize for this next part), it’s been a very pleasant one indeed – Lots of sun interspersed with decent period of cool and plenty of rain. This means the garden is very, very happy. Despite the recent broad scale heat wave, reports from friends all across the country indicate similar bounties – This begs the question, what should we do with home grown produce?
Planting and growing a garden is an exercise that can easily lead to excess. Starters and seed packs look so dang appealing, we load up maybe more than we need. Add the unknown factor of actual produce yield, and we can easily find ourselves swimming in the stuff – Ask anyone who’s planted zucchini about that – especially the folks who don’t like zucchini…
So what should we do with our garden bounty? The answer is to have a plan, and confirm that what you have in mind is doable in the time you’ll likely have. Just as we don’t cook as often as we’d like to, (or think we will), our best laid plans for dealing with a lot of produce have to be tempered by reality. It is absolutely possible to grow a lot of veggies and keep waste to a minimum – Here are some ideas you might find appealing for your situation.
A lot of gardeners fail to take into account the amount of work actually needed – Something needs to be done daily. Frankly, this is a privilege and not a chore, and should be recognized as such. With as crappy as the world’s gotten lately, stepping into your garden after a day of reality is a gift. Watering, weeding, trimming, checking for pests, harvesting – It’s all good therapy, and it’ll keep your garden healthy and productive. And do ask yourself how often things you’ve grown rot on the vine – it happens a lot in home gardens. Making sure that what you’ve grown makes it to someone’s table really is job #1.
Stagger your planting. For one thing, doing so ensures that the kits keep on coming, and has the added benefit of making harvesting more manageable. Read up on the expected times from plating to harvest for what you grow, so you can plan accordingly. This simple step will help quite a bit, and it’s fun too –having new stuff growing and thriving is absolutely good for the soul as well as the stomach.
Be realistic about what will get used right away. With the way and frequency most folks cook, that’s an unlikely scenario. A lot of homegrown produce gets wasted because we don’t take this factor seriously enough. All that stuff looks great sitting on the counter or in the fridge, right up to the point that it starts to rot and has to be tossed. If you come all the way through the non-productive months with stuff from your garden frozen, dried, or canned, you’re doing well. Yes, fresh tastes best, but home grown is a delight any time of the year.
Some form of meal planning is a must, to avoid waste and get the most out of what we buy or grow. When harvest season is in full swing for your garden, take into account what’s fresh now, as well as what will be within the next few days, and incorporate as much of that as you can into your planning. That’ll go a long way toward limiting garden waste.
You don’t need a vacuum sealer to freeze stuff, but you do want to have sufficient, appropriate containers or wraps to get the job done. A lot of fruit and veggies will fit canning jars or glass storage containers with airtight lids, and a layer of parchment with another of metal foil on top of that will also do a fine job. Any of those options will do a good job of resisting freezer burn too.
A dehydrator does the best job of drying, but your oven on warm, or plain old solar radiation, will do fine. Store dried produce in airtight glass containers. From fruit and veggies to herbs, this is a great way to extend the harvest year round. Keep this stuff in a cool, dry corner of your kitchen out of direct sunlight, for best longevity and flavor retention.
Pickling is a great way to enjoy your homegrown goodies. A fridge pickle can be done very quickly indeed, with a minimum of fuss.
Share the bounty liberally. This is what we’re called to do as humans and members of a community. Contrary to all too common belief, food banks and shelters are happy to take excess home garden produce. It’s a wonderful gift to those in need, and if the opportunity doesn’t feed your desire for a couple more starts of this and that, I don’t know what will. Got older folks who can’t garden any more in your neighborhood? How about single parents, or young moms with their hands seriously full? Far too many of us are shy about asking, and we shouldn’t be – Chances are very good that your offer will be gratefully accepted and appreciated. How about your coworkers? Are folks at the job blown away when you describe all that you’re growing? They’ll be all the more thrilled when you share the bounty – Maybe even them zucchini.
What could possibly be more American than the sloppy joe – lots of things, actually. While the iconic loose meat sandwich has origin claims all over the lower 48, the straight skinny is that this messy gem came from Havana, Cuba – And you can rest assured that this is not your mom’s sloppy joe.
Those of us who’re old enough will remember stuff like the Manwich from the 1960s, (and other atrocities). Go back farther though, and hints of the true roots come to light – Names like ’Spanish hamburger’, and ‘minced beef Spanish style’. American origin stories focus on the Midwest, where loose meat sandwiches have been popular since the mid nineteenth century. Sioux City, Iowa and an ephemeral cook named Joe back in the 1930s is about as good as the story gets – Yet there was direct evidence out there – like a 1944 ad from the Coshocton, Ohio Tribune that read, ‘Good Things to Eat’ says ‘Sloppy Joes’ – 10c – Originated in Cuba,’ – and there you have it.
There is, of course, the world famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida – That joint sells upward of 50,000 of the iconic sandwiches annually – yet they are not the original. That would be Jose Garcia Rios’ Havana Club, a tiny bar attached to a grocery store in Havana, Cuba, that opened back in 1918. The store sold a lot of seafood, and the floor was eternally covered in ice and packing materials – As such, locals started referring to Jose G. as Sloppy Joe, because Habaneros truly love fond but slightly barbed nicknames – and it stuck. According to Mark Kurlansky in his wonderful book, Havana – A Subtropical Delirium, ‘Sloppy Joe’s specialized in a sandwich of the same name that was a perfect expression of Havana at the time. It was the traditional Cuban dish picadillo, served on an American-style hamburger bun,’ and that is where it all began.
Cuban picadillo is different from what you’re likely familiar with. It’s ground or shredded meat powered by Cuban sofrito, the signature aromatic blend of onion, garlic, and bell pepper, often with other veggies and herbs added as the cook sees fit. If you google ‘Cuban picadillo,’ you’re more likely than not to find a recipe that includes ground beef, potatoes, onions, garlic, cumin, bell peppers, white wine, tomato sauce, raisins, olives and capers. The reason that this iteration is so prolific isn’t necessarily because it’s the most authentic, but because it’s the most copied – often word for word, by different posters. Picadillo is a core Cuban dish, and as such, everybody makes it, and nobody makes it the same way.
Kurlansky included this passage on the subject in his book – ‘Below is the recipe as the bartender (at the Havana Sloppy Joe’s), gave it to me, translated into English. But first you have to make a picadillo, so here is a recipe for picadillo given to me more than thirty years ago at an equally famous Havana bar, La Bodeguita del Medio: Grind meat (beef) and marinate it with salt and lime juice, or vinegar. Make a sofrito with minced garlic and onion sautéd with the ground meat. This should be done slowly. Now the Sloppy Joe: Saute picadillo in oil: add black pepper, onion, garlic, cumin, bay leaf, and tomato sauce, and finish with demi-glace sauce. Add salt to taste and when it is cooked, add (green) olives. Keep on medium heat for 5 minutes to finish. Serve over a hamburger bun.’
That struck me as a much sounder base to work from. It’s safe to say that, if we have stuff we like at hand, any Cuban cook would encourage us to add some – to a point. Cuban cooking is fundamentally simple, not always because of a dearth of ingredients, but because that’s how they do things – When ingredients are good, it’s best to allow them to shine. As for process, I like it a lot – Most folks will want to treat the dish as a slow cooked stew, and that’s fine – but I really dig doing the low and slow with the meat first, adding that carnitas cooking step of lightly frying the beef in oil before final assembly, and then using reduced, fresh beef stock as a stand in for the demi glacé.
Here then is my swing at a Cuban Sloppy Joe. We use a slow cooker here – I think you get brighter, more distinct flavors that way, since the potent ingredients go in at the end of the cooking process. The recipe is bulked up beyond what you’d need for a single meal, because leftovers like these are a thing of beauty. Note that there are no hot chiles this dish. I’ve been told more than once that most Cubans don’t really do a lot of hot food, rarely using hot chiles. They do use onion and garlic generously, which adds plenty of spicy notes. They also don’t salt things nearly as much as we do up here in el Norte – This recipe reflects those predilections.
Finally, there’s no reason at all not to serve this over rice with a side of beans the first night – That would be more in keeping with Cuban cooking than the hamburger bun – 24 hours later, the mix is much firmer and, frankly, better than it was on day one – That’s the time to bring out the buns.
Urban’s Habanero Sloppy Joe
This is an all day low and slow dish, so plan accordingly.
3 Pounds Beef Roast, (Chuck, Rump, Cross Rib, or Bottom Round will all shred nicely)
1 large yellow Onion
2 mild Anaheim Chiles
1 Green Bell Pepper
2 stalks Celery
7 fat cloves Garlic
1 bunch fresh Cilantro
2 14 oz cans diced Tomatoes (if it’s tomato season, absolutely use fresh – but you’ll need 8-10 big ones)
1 Cup stuffed Manzanillo Olives
2 Cups Beef Broth
2 Tablespoons Banana Vinegar (Cider vinegar will work fine)
2 fresh Limes
2 Tablespoons Non Pareil Capers with Brine
2 teaspoons Mexican Oregano
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
3-4 Turkish Bay Leaves
5-6 twists of ground Black Pepper
4 Tablespoons Avocado Oil for cooking
Peel and trim onion. Smash and skin 2 cloves of garlic. End trim celery and carrots. Rough chop half the onion, the celery, and the carrots.
Place beef roast, onion, garlic, celery, carrots, and a quarter teaspoon of whole cumin in a slow cooker. Add a three fingertip pinch of salt and a couple of bay leaves.
Cover the roast about 3/4 way with water and set the cooker on low – Cooking will require around 8 hours for most devices.
Keep an eye on the water level and don’t let it drop much – I keep it pretty much where I started at throughout the cooking process.
Check internal temperature of the beef after 7 hours of cooking – You’re after 160° F. When you reach that, pull the roast out of the cooker and let it rest for 15 minutes. Retain the beef broth in the cooker.
While the beef is cooling, prepare your mise en place for everything else – An assortment of small bowls or ramekins is really indispensable in a kitchen – If you don’t have a bunch – get ‘em.
Dice remaining onion. Smash, peel, end trim, and mince remaining cloves of garlic. Stem, end trim, and dice Anaheims and bell pepper. Chop 1/2 packed cup of cilantro.
Transfer one can of tomatoes to a mixing bowl and process to a sauce with a stick blender. Leave the other can diced, and retain the liquid.
Measure out and either rough chop or quarter the manzanillo olives, as you prefer.
Measure out 2 tablespoons of capers with brine.
Halve the lime and squeeze out 1/4 cup of juice. Retain any extra, cut into 1/8ths for garnish.
Measure out 2 tablespoons of vinegar.
Measure out 2 teaspoons of oregano.
Measure and grind 1/4 teaspoon of cumin.
In a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat, add a tablespoon of oil and heat through. Add the onion, chiles, and bell pepper, and sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about 1-2 minutes.
Turn off the heat under those veggies and let them sit.
Beef shredding time – You can do this by hand, or with two forks, which I find easier – You need pretty stout flat wear, and you should hold them close to the tines. You can cut things to length if you like, then shred with the grain of the roast.
In a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat, add 3 tablespoons of oil and heat through.
When the oil is nice and hot, add the beef and let if fry for a minute or so before flipping it – You want to get a thin coating of oil to char slightly.
Once the beef has been evenly fried, (about 3-4 minutes), add a cup of stock from your slow cooker and deglaze the pan. Scrape all the naughty bits off the bottom. Chances are good most of this cup will boil away, which is OK – add another and let that heat through until it’s simmering.
Add the can of diced tomatoes and the can you sauced, and stir to incorporate.
Once the mix is simmering again, add the sautéd veggies and a three finger pinch of salt, a few twists of ground pepper, and 2 Bay Leaves – stir those in thoroughly.
Reduce the heat to maintain a bare simmer and allow to cook for about 30 minutes.
Add the cilantro, olives, capers, oregano, lime juice, vinegar, and cumin – stir to incorporate.
Let cook on a bare simmer for another 30 minutes.
Serve hot, and try not to eat it all the first night.
Again, I’ll recommend you do rice and beans as we did the first night, and go for buns on day two – The flavors have thoroughly married and it’s that much better, as well as tighter then.