Casa Mia

Casa Mia

Thursday, October 27, 2011

How about polenta or soup to warm up the kids this Halloween night?

Fall is here - the official kick-off of long sleeved shirts, apple pies, fires in the fireplace, pumpkin spice lattes, afghans, stews and soups. As kids, mom insisted that our Halloween night meal be something to keep us warm on our trick or treating trek so the menu usually consisted of a dish meant to stick to our ribs like polenta with a pork tomato sauce or a hearty beef soup. Even my sister who was not a polenta fan managed to fill herself up enough to brace the cold and satisfy mom enough to permit her to celebrate with the donuts and cider that became an after trick or treating tradition. (Not to mention the loot she collected!)

Anyone who is reading this and knows me, will of course assume that I repeated the Halloween tradition with my own kids. I too have one child who loves polenta and another who does not so I've switched it up between polenta and beef soup every year, even as my kids became adults. With an almost 2 year old grandson preparing for his first trick or treat adventure, Halloween festivities will begin early at my house on Monday and this year, I'll  introduce him to polenta. I'm not sure if any of you will be interested in trying this one out yourselves, but I'm providing the details anyway plus the recipe for beef soup, which just may go over a bit better.

Happy Halloween!

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
1 lb. hot Italian sausage (optional)
Rack of pork spareribs, cut
2 34oz cans of Italian peeled tomatoes
olive oil
1 clove garlic
oregano & basil
1 container of Quaker yellow corn meal

To make the sauce:
  1. In a large dutch oven, brown garlic in 2T. olive oil. Add the sausage and spareribs in batches to fill the bottom of the pot but do not overlap. Sprinkle with oregano and brown meat on all sides; remove from the pot and reserve. Drain excess fat from the pot.
  2. Puree the tomatoes in a food mill. Add the meat to the pot, the pureed tomatoes, basil and pinch of salt. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, reduce heat and simmer until thickened and meat is tender, stirring frequently.
  3. Sauce can be made in advance and reheated when making the polenta. Remove meat from the sauce using a slotted spoon, shaking off excess. Serve the meat with the polenta.
To make the polenta:
  1. Bring a large stockpot filled with cold water to a rolling boil. Add salt to taste.
  2. Using a wooden spoon to stir, slowly sprinkle in some of the polenta. Stop and stir to remove lumps. Repeat the procedure until all the corn meal is used noting that the more corn meal that is added, the thicker it becomes and the harder it is to stir. Alternate between a spoon and whisk to work the corn meal into the appropriate consistency.
  3. Tip: It is advantageous to use 2 people to make polenta as it thickens. One person can sprinkle in the corn meal while the other stirs.
  4. When all corn meal has been added, the polenta should be cooked uncovered for 5-10 minutes, using a whisk to smooth out the consistency. The polenta should resemble a thick porridge.
  5. To serve, ladle the polenta into a flat dish and top with sauce and grated locatelli (or parmiggiano) cheese. Eat from around the edges of the plate into the middle. 
Beef Soup
6 beef short ribs
3 carrots sliced on an angle
2 ribs of celery sliced on an angle
1 yellow onion
bay leaf
salt & pepper
1 large can Delmonte tomato sauce
acini de pepe pastina

  1. In a large stockpot, add short ribs, whole onion, sliced carrots and celery, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Fill the pot with water about 3/4 full.
  2. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, stir in Delmonte sauce and cover. Cook for 3-4 hours. Taste for seasonings and add more salt if desired.
  3. Remove onion and beef. (Remove the beef from the bone, shred and add to the soup or reserve for other use. My husband makes a beef salad with vinegar and oil to serve as a second course.)
  4. In a separate pot of salted water, cook the acini de pepe. If the stockpot is large, cook 1 lb. of pasta; for smaller stockpots, use 1/2 lb. (I cook the pasta in the soup.)
  5. Add the acini de pepe to the soup and serve. Top with parmiggiano cheese.  

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's that time of the year again!

In spite of the fact that I am completely overwhelmed, I did manage to make my Easter bread and pizza rustica again this year. As it is Good Friday, I can't vouch for the pizza but the bread is better than ever, and prettier! See for yourself...

Even the Easter babies have improved. Granted, they are not the cute babies with handkerchiefs that Gram made each year, but they are getting better with age. The only story I have about them can be found in the archive from last year - 3/16/2010.  

It's really not worthwhile for me to provide you with this recipe as mastering the Easter bread is not an easy task. It literally takes years not only to perfect the intricacies of the two designs, but its taste as well as it's meant to be on the drier side and a bit denser than most breads. Balancing the right amount of anise seeds and sugar with the flour and salt is another technique that needs to be cultivated over the years. All in all, I don't know why anyone would make these breads, even I, except that traditions die hard in this family!

Happy Easter All!

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Real Thing?

To all my faithful followers:

Several months ago, my father was diagnosed with cancer and life as I had known it was drastically changed. Memorial Sloan Kettering has saved his life and, thankfully, we just celebrated his 80th birthday.The pain and desparation of the experience prevented me from cooking and celebrating or giving any of you a laugh with the anecdotes of my life and the recipes that made those occasions infamous in this blog. It's been a tough struggle and an extremely difficult few months but I am happy to say that I'm back!

So here's what's been going on:
  • My youngest daughter, Noelle, got engaged in November and I threw the newly betrothed couple a party in January with all homemade hors d'oevres. Dad was on the mend at that time so the bash was a perfect way to purge. My next blog is dedicated to that joyous event so stay tuned.
  • Ryan turned 1 and though I didn't cook anything exotic for that celebration, Noelle made Elmo and Cookie Monster cupcakes and it was a memorable day. Check this out!
  • I decided it is time to pursue the direction in my life that I have always loved: catering. I'm starting off small with my sauces, my brother's stromboli's and Noelle's cupcakes and I've got a name - da casa mia - from my house, or "homemade" in other words. What my brand has that others don't is purity in the ingredients I use, the individual touch put into each item and the sincere dedication to the providing foodies and busy working folks alike with the best tasting foods they will spend their hard earned money on. The website is currently under construction, the packaging is at the printer's and the tastings will hopefully be on the horizon at local delicatessans and specialty food stores.
Dedication to high quality is probably the most important ingredient so to prove to myself that my sauce would be considered as such so I could prove it to you, I purchased a jar of Bolognese Sauce, one of 6 that I will be marketing, from the culinary mecca, Williams Sonoma. The packaging was great and the label boasted of the high quality of the beef used, the nutritional facts, and the methods for refrigerating or freezing the unused portions. Everything about the product seemed pretty authentic so I paid my $16.95 (wow!) with the intention of buying and sampling the other "authentic" sauces like alfredo, all'amatriciana, tomato basil and carbonara and cracked open the jar last week. The smell alone belied the purity and authenticity of its label - the taste pretty much like what I expected a jarred sauce to taste like, although I am a virgin bottled sauce eater: chemicalily, acidy, metallic. Not a taste I am used to, not one I would attach my name to, and certainly not one I would expect my friends to buy. Dedication to high quality from a high end shop like Sonoma's isn't pure folks.

Save your money for the da casa mia sauces!  Oh hell, make them yourself - you have the recipes!