Friday, November 28, 2008

Red and Warm


Two onions, chopped and dropped in a pot with some Kalamata olive oil, left on a low simmer as everything else gets prepared: two yellow zucchini, one red, one green pepper. The colour doesn't matter since this is facing a stick blender later, it's simply what was found in the fridge. Add four cloves of garlic, some dried basil, hot pepper flakes, kosher salt, a splash of Chianti. When the onions smell sweet, add two cans of tomatoes.

It tasted fine, but too much like tomato sauce rather than tomatoes and peppers and zucchini. Back to the fridge, find two more zucchini, two carrots cut small, dropped into the bubbling sauce. Carrot in a red sauce strikes me as weird but works well when pureed.

The sauce cooks down. I'd found two grilling steaks in the freezer (odd, since I don't own a barbecue), thawed them and pounded them thin. I didn't have to (you're more likely to do that to a marinating steak), but I liked the idea of wide, thin cutlets. I added a touch of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and left them in a dish.

I turned off the red sauce and took the stick blender to it. It was soupy before, thick after. The carrot and peppers sweetened it, the zucchini gave it body. It was thick enough to be spooned on top of each pounded steak without running. I poured a shotglass of Marsala into the dish, covered it and stuck it in the fridge to marinate overnight. I'll top them with extra peppers and mushrooms before baking.

Steak Pizzaiola is simple, and to some a waste of a perfectly good steak that could be grilled. I disagree. You can look at it as a cheat, a way to use a tough cut of meat, or you can appreciate the distinct flavour of the sauce, the beef and vegetables folding into something different than a meat sauce or simply tomato added after the fact.

On that same evening, I made a Minestrone. Italian for 'leftovers' unofficially (from somebody who clearly doesn't speak Italian). A quarter cabbage cut small, four diced potatoes, two onions, two cloves of garlic, two carrots, more olive oil, the remaining two yellow zucchini and low heat. And half a dry sausage softened with the other savories. Five cups of water and the half-full container of concentrated chicken stock found in the downstairs freezer alongside four chicken carcasses. At some point in my life I became the kind of person who keeps the bones from roast chicken in his freezer for stock. I don't know how I've reached this point, but I do know that it makes for fine soup.

I top it off with one rinced can of fava beans, one can of Romano beans, and a full bunch of chopped parsely. The soup looks green yellow and red, the dry sausage gives it a bite and the cabbage mellows it all out.

Two days before, it was bread. Slow rise bread is a cheat for those who don't like to knead. It got popular a few years ago after a New York Times article allegedly cracked the secret of creating a bakery crust at home. French, Italian and Portuguese bakers across the world collectively shrugged and said "We've been doing this for years, you know..." and the debate is still on for people who care about that kind of thing.

Three cups of bread flour, two teaspoons of salt, one teaspoon of quick-rise yeast, one and a half cups of room-temperature water. Stir it up and cover it and leave it somewhere warmish for 15 - 18hrs (you can cheat it in all kinds of ways, but the bread seems lightest with a longer rise). When it looked right, I dusted a sillicone baking sheet with nine grain flour and dumped the dough onto it, stretched it into a square and folded it three times into a rectangle. I covered it for 20 minutes, then folded that rectangle into a square, re-covered and left it for another two hours.

I put two small covered stoneware pots into a 475 degree oven to get nice and hot (500 would be better; my oven can't handle it). I oiled a knife, cut the square loaf (a very puffy square at this point) in two, oiled my hands and dropped each half into the hot pots, re-covered them and put them back into the oven for 20 minutes before taking the tops off and baking for another 10.

The result is a crusty light boule of bread. No preservatives, no stabilizers. Wrap tight and freeze and heat in a warm oven to crisp whenever your appetite requires it. It goes well with Minestrone, and will be used to sop up the sauce from Steak Pizzaiola. Even when times are stressful, unpredictable and the air pressure's giving you headaches, ya gotta eat.

1 comments:

Mark R. Hasan said...

There's nothing wrong in keeping chicken carcasses or other stock essentials in the freezer. Waste nothing, I says.

I deliberately make too much sauce when cooking chicken or beef or lamb so there's some stock for a future last-minute soup that cannot take more than a few hours to prepare and cool because of, oh, Christmas insanity, for example.

If I had the space, I'd keep several kinds of stock, as well as raw materials. It's all worth the trouble. Try making a pot of lentil soup with a big, fat beef bone. Heart attack killer for sure, but oh-so-rich.

There is no guilt when stocking up for another blasted Canadian winter.

- MZH

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