The Literate Chef

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Pickled Beets

In Recipes, Vegetables on March 31, 2012 at 10:38 AM

Pickled Beets

By Betty:


7 Medium size beets
Water to cover the beets
Pickling Marinade*

Preparation Step I (cooking the beets):

  1. Remove stems and roots from the beets and place in a large pot with water to cover.
  2. Cook beets for 2 hours on medium heat. Beets are done when a fork is easily inserted into the beet.
  3. Remove beets from cooking water with a slotted spoon, chill under cold water and remove skins.
  4. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water for the marinade.
  5. Slice beets into 1/4 inch thick slices and set aside.

Preparation Step II – (making the pickling marinade).

*Ingredients for pickling marinade:

1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup beet  liquid reserved from Step I
½ cup sugar
pinch of mustard seeds
10 whole cloves
16 black peppercorns

  1. In a small saucepan combine the above ingredients and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Pour marinade over sliced beets and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Before serving, strain the marinade through a fine sieve and pour the strained liquid over the beets.

Serve as side dish.

Please see: The Maturing Palate

The Maturing Palate

In General Articles on March 31, 2012 at 10:38 AM

As we mature, our palate does as well!  That statement is admittedly anecdotal and based solely on personal experience.  But think about it, how many foods did you as a child once eschew only to find yourself in later years enjoying, as if they were always a part of your diet?

My mature palate discoveries   have included Calves Liver, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli Rabe, Fish and Beets! Yes, beets; that deep-red, firm and smooth vegetable which resembles nothing else in taste or texture and that, when forced upon me as a child, produced an involuntary gag reflex, appear to be good for you , as mother always claimed, and they taste good as well.

Beets, also known as beetroots, can be boiled or roasted and eaten warm, as a side dish; boiled and pickled and eaten cold, as a side dish; boiled, not pickled and either warm or cold used in a salad, particularly with goat cheese, which has a great affinity for beets. Last week, while trolling the aisles of the supermarket, I spotted a great sale on beets, a bag of 12 for $3. Being unable to resist such a bargain, I threw the bag into my shopping cart with little thought as what to do with them.

Betty, having grown up with Pickled Beets as a mainstay in her family, knew exactly what to do with them. She boiled and peeled them, then pickled half of them, setting aside the other half, which she chilled and added to salads during the week. So after eating beets for the past week in these various forms, I am on to the next discovery.

Chouriço Omelet

In Egg Dishes, Recipes on March 25, 2012 at 3:26 PM

Chouriço Omelet


2 tbsps. unsalted butter
4 oz. coarsely chopped Chouriço, Chorizo or Linguiça
2 eggs, whisked with ¼ tsp. of turmeric, if desired
2 tsps. chopped fresh chives


1.    In a low-sided, non-stick omelet pan, melt the butter on medium heat.
2.    Add the chouriço and lightly brown for three minutes, turning frequently.
3.    When the chouriço is browned, push to the middle of the pan and slowly pour in the eggs.
4.    Shake the pan lightly to let the eggs spread out.
5.    Reduce the heat to low and let the eggs settle, raising the edges with a spatula, from time to time, to allow the liquid to run off to the sides.
6.    When most of the liquid solidifies, sprinkle with the chives, carefully fold over and let sit for 30 seconds.
7.    Serve and enjoy!

Please see: A Serendipitous Halibut Dinner

Roasted Halibut with Chouriço and Porcini Mushrooms

In Fish, Pork, Recipes, Seafood on March 25, 2012 at 3:25 PM

Roasted Halibut with Chouriço and Porcini Mushrooms


1 lb. Halibut fillet
.5 oz. Dried Porcini Mushrooms
8 oz. fresh spinach
4 tbsps. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8 oz. Hot Chouriço or Hot Chorizo,* sliced into ¼ inch thick pieces and then quartered
2 San Marzano tomatoes, chopped and drained
1 tbsp. chopped Cherry Pepper*, stem removed
1 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. chopped fresh chives


1.    Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees with the rack on the highest level.
2.    Rehydrate the mushrooms according to instructions on the package. If no instructions are included, soak the mushrooms in 1 cup of warm water for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and set aside, reserve the liquid for use in the sauce.
3.    Steam the spinach in 1 cup of water; drain, and when cooled, squeeze out and discard any liquid, set the spinach aside.
4.    Place the halibut in a greased roasting pan and roast for 18 minutes. When done, place under the broiler for 2 minutes.
5.    While the halibut is roasting, heat the olive oil in a 10-12 inch sauté pan on medium heat; add the chorizo and lightly brown for 3 minutes, turning frequently.
6.    Add the tomatoes, cherry pepper and mushrooms, reduce heat to medium low and mix well, cook for 3 minutes more.
7.    Add the wine, raise the heat to medium-high and let boil for 3 minutes until reduced by approximately half.
8.    Add the reserved mushroom-soaking water and boil for 3 more minutes. You should wind up with about 1 cup of liquid.
9.    Divide the spinach in half and place in the center of two bowls. When the halibut is done, slice in half and place each piece atop the spinach ‘bed’.
10.    With a slotted spoon, remove most of the chorizo and mushrooms from the sauce (reserving some for garnish) and spread around the halibut/spinach combination in the bottom of the bowl.
11.    Pour the sauce and the remaining chorizo and mushrooms over the halibut and sprinkle with the chives.

*If the spicy (but not overwhelming so) combination of hot chorizo and cherry pepper is not for your palate, leave out the cherry pepper and use regular chouriço, chorizo or linguiça.

Serve with a well-chilled bottle of dry white wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or a crisp, fresh, Arneis from the Italian Piedmont.

Please see: A Serendipitous Halibut Dinner

A Serendipitous Halibut Dinner

In General Articles on March 25, 2012 at 3:25 PM

With the recent spate of Spring weather that we have been experiencing, since even before the official start of the season, and with the grill having been fired up last week for the shell steaks that accompanied Aunt Emma’s Sauteéd Mushrooms, I thought that grilled striped bass would be in order for last night’s dinner. However, upon visiting the local fishmonger, alas, there was no bass! But he did have a beautiful piece of halibut fillet and it was of a good thickness, slightly more than one inch throughout.

Having found in the past that grilling a halibut fillet doesn’t seem to work, because the flesh, while dense, seems to fall apart on the grill, I now had to figure out what to do with it. For inspiration I stopped by the supermarket, and in trolling the aisles my eyes lit upon Chouriço. I had not cooked fish with sausage before, but the combination works very well in Paella and in Shrimp Jambalaya, and having read pasta recipes that combined clams with smoked sausage, I thought… why not?

I began to envision the dish taking shape. First, it would need some form of a sauce and should be served in a bowl as a one dish meal, as is done in many restaurants. Accordingly, I picked up a bag of spinach which would serve as the ‘bed’ for the halibut. Next, maybe some mushrooms to add to the chouriço to create the sauce. In the mushroom section I found a package of dried Porcini mushrooms, which, with their big flavor, would be a perfect counterpoint to the rather bland halibut. Then, a couple of San Marzano tomatoes to give the sauce a base, and maybe a Cherry Pepper to give it some heat and white wine for the liquid. Those three ingredients presented no problem, as they were all at home. Finally, I grabbed a package of fresh chives to add color and a bit more flavor.

The end result, Roasted Halibut with Chouriço and Mushrooms, was even better than I had imagined. And this morning, I used up the remaining chouriço for a quick Omelet.                                                                      

Roasted Halibut with Chouriço and Porcini Mushrooms

Chouriço Omelet

Aunt Emma’s Sautéed Mushrooms

In Recipes, Vegetables on March 20, 2012 at 1:16 PM

Aunt Emma's Sautéed Mushrooms


1 lb. Cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp. finely minced garlic
¼ cup chopped, fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
Kosher salt to taste


1.    Heat the olive oil on high heat in a 12 inch, non-stick sauté pan.
2.    Add the garlic, stir well and reduce heat to medium.
3.    Add the mushrooms and sauté for 12 to 15 minutes, until they give off and then absorb their liquid.
4.    Add the parsley and salt, stir well, and cook for another minute of two.
5.    Remove the sautéed mushrooms to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon and serve immediately.

Please see Anndemma


In General Articles on March 20, 2012 at 1:15 PM

Anndemma, or as correctly pronounced, Aunt Emma, was a real character. Big Mike’s older sister, who in 1910 at the age of 4, crossed the Atlantic with her mother, sister and older brother, stood an inch or two under five feet. However, what she lacked in height she more than made up for in the size of her heart. Emma had a wonderful laugh and smile that filled her face. She and her husband, Uncle Eddie, were building superintendents in New York and supported my grandparents who lived with them. Most of my Sundays as a child were spent visiting them, surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins, enjoying a three hour dinner accompanied by family stories and jokes.

There were a lot of dishes on that Sunday dinner table which most of the adults relished, but which were much too weird or exotic for me; things like snails, scungilli salad, baccalà, capozella and tripe were not for my childish palate. At that age, I was not too enthralled with anything that swam in the ocean, stared me in the eye, or came from the innards of some animal. I was very content with lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken and roasted potatoes.

Shortly after Betty and I were married, she took Emma on a food shopping trip to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Visiting her favorite butcher, Betty bought the usual cuts of beef, veal, chicken and pork that we liked to eat. Emma, however wasn’t interested in such ordinary fare and instead ordered calves brains, tripe and pig’s feet, much to Betty’s horror. In the fish market next door, it was flounder fillet for Betty and snails and eel for Emma.

When it came to vegetables, one of Aunt Emma’s mainstays was, as she pronounced it in a Sicilian dialect, ‘galdoons’, which she picked from the city parks, and on which I couldn’t help wonder how many dogs had made their mark. Of course she rinsed and dried them before cooking, but I still would have nothing to do with them until I was much older. Actually, by that time, I had discovered that their real name was cardoons, not ‘galdoons‘, and that breaded or floured and then fried, they were delicious. The problem is trying to find them! But one vegetable dish that she always made, and for which the main ingredient is readily available in any supermarket, is sautéed mushrooms.

Yesterday being a beautiful and sunny 68 degrees, I decided to fire up the gas grill and cook some shell steaks for dinner. To accompany them, I made a batch of Aunt Emma’s Sautéed Mushrooms and Betty prepared a delicious mixed green salad with spiced walnuts, dried cranberries and a bleu cheese/champagne vinegar dressing. With that meal we bid adieu to Winter on its last day, and today we welcome Spring!

Dorothea’s Homemade Italian Sauce

In Beef, Meat, Pork, Recipes, Sauces on March 10, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Dorothea’s Homemade Italian Sauce served Over Penne

By Grammy Betty


3 35 oz. cans of San Marzano Tomatoes, mashed
3 small cans (8 oz.), of Del Monte Tomato Sauce
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 ½ tsp. sugar
1 lb. hot Italian sausage
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
1 small onion, chopped
16 Grammy’s Meatballs – 2 lbs. prime (90% lean beef) chopped meat, 1 ½ lbs. used for Grammy’s Meatballs and the remainder reserved for adding to the sauce.)
2 small cans (6 oz.) of Contadina Tomato Paste


1.    Add the mashed tomatoes and their juice to a large (8 qt.) pot.
2.    Add the garlic, sugar and Del Monte tomato sauce.
3.    Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer.
4.    In the meantime, add the sausage to a skillet, pierce them with a fork, and cook over medium heat until done.
5.    Remove cooked sausage and add to the sauce, and remove all but 2 tbsps. of rendered fat and add to sauce.
6.    Add chopped onion to the scrapings and remaining fat  from the sausage, brown and deglaze the pan, add to the sauce.
7.    Make the 16 meatballs (see Grammy’s Meatballs for recipe) and add to the sauce.
8.    Brown the remaining ½ lb. of chopped meat, add in the tomato paste, stir and cook for 5 minutes or so, over medium heat, remove and add to the sauce.
9.    Simmer sauce uncovered, on a low flame, for approximately 4-5 hours, stirring occasionally.

Due to the thickness of the sauce, it is best served over a pasta shape that will trap and hold the sauce, such as Penne, Ziti, Rigatoni or Shells (conchiglie). Add some chopped fresh basil to each bowl, and serve with grated imported Italian Cheese, and Dorothea’s Homemade Hot Pepper Sauce, on the side.

A good bottle of Italian red wine, such as a Rosso di Montalcino, the less expensive cousin of Brunello, makes this pasta dish just perfect!

Please see: The Secret’s Out!

Note: The unused sauce can be frozen in meal sized batches. Often it thickens after taken from the freezer. When this happens, simply add some water to thin the sauce to your liking.

Grammy’s Meatballs

In Beef, For Moms on the Go, Meat, Pasta, Recipes, Sauces on March 10, 2012 at 3:53 PM

Grammy’s Meatballs

By Grammy Betty

Our granddaughter, May, defines the term fussy eater. So imagine how thrilled The Literate Chef and I were when she devoured my meatballs during a recent visit. With the love of our granddaughter in mind, I share my recipe for Grammy’s Meatballs.


1 ½  lbs. prime (90% lean beef) chopped meat
2 eggs
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Locatelli-Romano
½ cup whole milk
½ cup Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp. salt
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsps. Extra Virgin Olive Oil for browning the meatballs


1.    Place all of the above ingredients, except the olive oil, in a large bowl, and kneed them together until well mixed and spongy.
2.    Form into 16 medium size (about 2 inches in diameter) meatballs.
3.    Heat the olive oil in a skillet over a medium-high flame.

Browning the Meatballs

4.    Add the meatballs and brown on all sides for approximately 5 minutes.
5.    Reduce flame to medium and continue cooking, turning frequently, for an additional 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately.

(Note: If adding the meatballs to Dorothea’s Homemade Italian Sauce, skip the last step and add the browned meatballs directly to the sauce, where they will continue to cook.)

Please see: The Secret’s Out!

The Secret’s Out!

In General Articles on March 10, 2012 at 3:53 PM

Dorothea & Her Granddaughters - Easter, 1977

By Betty

The year was 1967.  There I was, a young bride, the daughter of a woman whose culinary skills as described by my sister would ‘choke a maggot,’ attempting to please the palate of a man whose mother concocted such meals as Stuffed Artichokes, Steak a la Pizziaola, Paella, and Mussels Marinara, meals I had never heard of, let alone eaten.

I can still remember my very first cookbook, in which I took great pride of possession, the Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook.  Each day, I would come home from work and peruse its pages, looking for something exotic to prepare for my husband. I will never forget how he raved about a meatloaf that I had made from that cookbook, Meatloaf Tanta Clementina.  I was so proud of myself that I made it every week, for many weeks! Although my husband never complained about the lack of variety, as I am sure that he wanted to encourage my efforts, he never hesitated to jump at the chance to have dinner at his parents’ house.

My mother-in-law, Dorothea, like all doting Italian mothers, began to suspect that I could use a little help in the kitchen and decided to share her much-coveted recipe for ‘Sauce’, it was never called ‘Gravy’. I often asked her to simply write down its steps and measurements, but in the true fashion of an accomplished cook, she rarely, if ever, measured anything.

It was easier for her to enter my tiny kitchen and waltz me through the steps. I intentionally use the word waltz, because working side by side with ‘mom’ was truly a culinary dance. Her melodic voice and gentle manner guided me through each step, leading to the final culmination of a sauce that, if it were to be put to music, would end with a huge crescendo and the audience jumping to their feet with applause.

I was honored that my mother-in-law shared her sacred recipe with me, a neophyte in the kitchen, but I am certain that she did it out of concern for her son’s well-being. Prior to our wedding she had experienced a meal at my mom’s house, and was, I am certain, quickly able to assess the limitations of my culinary expertise. Baking had been my mother’s forte, so she always had deferred to my then recently deceased father for the more substantive aspects of family meals.

I had to practically swear a vow of Omertà that my lips would be sealed to any and all who requested her recipe. Her main fear was that some huge company would snatch it up, produce and market it and she would lose out on the royalties. Now, several years after her death, and with her son emerging as The Literate Chef, I believe that she would be honored to be a part of his enterprise, thus I unseal my lips in good faith.

Over the years, as my culinary skills have grown, I have ventured to slightly alter her sauce, but its essence remains unchanged. San Marzano Tomatoes, sugar, lots of sausage and garlic, as well as numerous ingredients added to prime chopped meat to make soft, delectable meatballs, are just some of the many ingredients that make her sauce outstanding.

This sauce is indeed time-consuming to prepare, but in my opinion it is worth every effort. The recipe produces enough  for several meals so I often break it down and freeze it in smaller batches for spur of the moment meals for my family and friends.

Our four-year old granddaughter, who is extremely selective about her food (actually I think she lives on air), loves Grammy’s Meatballs. That, in and of itself, makes Dorothea’s Homemade Italian Sauce worth the preparation time and effort.

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