Pasta alla Putanesca, that’s what!
It’s time to address comfort food, and what could be more comforting than meatloaf?
My mother used to make a simple, basic meatloaf. We all loved it. Ditalini makes meatloaf too, but hers is fancier: she puts a roll of mozzarella cheese wrapped in sliced ham into the center of hers, and I’ll post that recipe one of these days. I’ve been craving basic comfort lately, so I started making my own meatloaf using a simple recipe taken off the web. Then, last week, my youngest sister (née Neufchâtel deMenthe) sent me a meatloaf recipe that reminds me of our mother’s, and that’s the one I’m going to share here. Her recipe is sized for a big family, but if you’re cooking for two it’s a simple matter to cut the ingredients in half.
Make a sauce by mixing the following ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil: ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, vinegar, and nutmeg.
Combine meat with the remaining ingredients plus half the sauce in a large bowl and mix well.
Shape meat mixture into a loaf and bake at 350°F for 40 minutes. Pour the remaining sauce over the loaf and bake an additional 20 minutes.
I cut the ingredients in half to make a smaller loaf and substituted the following: a cup of breadcrumbs for the corn flakes and Grey Poupon for the prepared mustard. I served it with broccolini, lightly steamed then sautéed with butter, squeezing a little lemon over the top just before serving.
Yesterday I posted a short entry about holiday gluttony, along with a photo of our Christmas Eve seafood feast. It occurred to me you might want to know how we prepared it. My recipe for shrimp boil is already in the index; below you’ll find our recipes for steamed mussels and boiled lobster claws.
Ditalini’s Steamed Mussels
Scrub the mussels under running water with a stiff brush. Melt butter in a medium to large stock pot; add the onion and sauté until clear. Pour in the wine and add the mussels. Raise heat to medium or high, cover the pot, and steam the mussels for about 5 minutes or until their shells open. Use a large slotted spoon to remove the mussels and place them in a serving bowl. Grind some pepper into the wine broth in the pot, then pour it over the mussels. Sprinkle the mussels with parsley. Serve in individual bowls with wine broth and crusty bread.
When Ditalini went shopping for shrimp at Costco, she also found a bag of lobster claws in the shell. After I boiled the shrimp (per this recipe) I simply dumped the lobster claws into the same pot of boiling liquid, put a cover on it, and boiled them for 5 minutes. We didn’t even serve the claws with butter—they were delicious right out of the shell.
Ditalini and I drove to Las Vegas with our daughter Escargot and doggies Mortadella & Ubracio to spend Christmas with our son Baguette, daughter in law Truffle, granddaughter Biscotto, and grandson Pesce. All the deMenthes together again!
Of course the holidays are all about eating. Baguette activated Fortress of Smoke™ Las Vegas, and when we arrived on Sunday we feasted on hickory smoked pork shoulder and hot links. On Monday, Christmas Eve, Ditalini and I prepared our traditional seafood feast. Christmas day, Baguette prepared our traditional family clam chowder with a baked ham on the side.
Have just been informed our Tucson friends, upset over missing the Christmas Eve seafood feast we normally serve in Tucson, demand we produce another seafood feast at our house on New Year’s Eve. Can we possibly eat more seafood? Oh, we’ll manage to choke it down somehow.
And I’m not even going to mention the deserts: Truffle’s lovely cheesecake, pumpkin pie, apple pie. Nor the appetizers: beer-boiled shrimp, cheese, olives, crackers, homemade giardiniera relish (thanks again to Truffle). Let’s just say we gave thanks for country, company, friends, and family in the grand tradition.
Who came to Crouton & Ditalini’s house? Number one daughter Escargot, of course. Number one son Baguette drove down from Las Vegas with our daughter-in-law Truffle and grandson Pesce (granddaughter Biscotto is away in college, so we were missing one deMenthe). In keeping with tradition, we invited a single friend to share the bounty: Grissini Asperagi.
More photos? Sure, why not?
Let me just say, right off the bat, that this was an experiment based on a popular Southern dish, shrimp & cheese grits. Next time I’ll add a green vegetable on the side for color, and perhaps substitute chicken breast meat for the chicken Italian sausage, because the strong fennel taste of the sausage fought with the taste of the Sriracha sauce. It will still be a robust and somewhat fiery dinner, only with fewer competing flavors.
First, bring water to boil in a sauce pot, adding a little salt. Slowly pour in the polenta meal, stir thoroughly, and reduce heat to low. Periodically stir the polenta as it cooks. It will probably take at least half an hour. If it gets too thick, add more water … it should come out slightly less runny than grits.
While the polenta is cooking, make a roux by heating a little cooking oil in a shallow frying pan and whisking in the flour. Keep whisking it as it cooks and thickens, then slowly add wine (or chicken broth if desired) to make a nice smooth base for the sauce. Keep this on low, whisking occasionally.
Cook your chicken Italian sausage in another frying pan. When the sausage is done, add the shrimp and pearl onions and cook on low a few more minutes.
Add the Sriracha sauce and Old Bay seasoning to the roux and whisk again until blended and smooth. Add the shredded cheddar to the polenta and stir it in well so that it melts inside the polenta … you’re going for something like cheese grits, only better.
Spoon the polenta onto a plate. Spoon a little Sriracha sauce over the polenta, then top with sausage and shrimp. Spoon some Sriracha sauce onto the empty part of the plate, then top with pearl onions, as shown.
This entry isn’t a recipe, though it’s closely related to one, Crouton’s New Mexico Green Chile Stew. I wanted to share a bit of local color with you, namely the Hatch green chile roasters who set up shop in front of our local Safeway during the season. Here they are with their gas-fired roaster, burning the skins off fresh Hatch chiles and selling them in quart-sized ziplock bags.
In this part of the southwest, fresh green chiles from Hatch, New Mexico are as big a deal as lobsters in Maine or sweet spring corn in Iowa. You can’t believe how good roasting chiles smell!
Now that I finally have a cell phone with a decent camera, I’ll keep an eye out for the tamale vendor who sometimes works the parking lot at the same Safeway. The best tamales in Tucson are home-made and sold by people in parking lots … when I see a tamale vendor in front of Safeway I always buy a bag. I’ve never made my own, partly because they seem like such a lot of work, but mainly because the ones I get in parking lots are so heavenly. Note to self: buy some, take photos, write a post for Crouton’s Kitchen!
Yesterday someone set up a gas-fired roaster in front of the local Safeway and started roasting fresh Hatch green chiles. They smelled so good I couldn’t resist buying a bag and rushing home to make a pot of New Mexico green chile stew. I know, there’s another green chile stew recipe here at Crouton’s Kitchen, but this one is the more authentic of the two and the ingredients are slightly different, so I’ve added it to the recipe index.
Heat olive oil over medium heat, then brown the meat, garlic, onion, cumin, and oregano. Add vegetable broth, reduce heat to low, simmer for 30 minutes. Add cubed potato to the stew and simmer another 45 minutes. While this is going on, cut the stem ends off the roasted chiles, slice them in half, rinse out the seeds, and lay flat on paper towels. You can also seed the Serranos at this time (remember to wash your hands really well after handling the Serranos).
Chop up the roasted chiles and Serranos and add to the stew. Add water to the broth if it cooks down too much. Continue to cook over low heat another 20 minutes or so, until the potatoes are soft and the meat is tender. Add the tomatoes and cook another 10 minutes. Serve with good crusty bread, as shown.
New Mexico green chile stew is traditionally made with pork. I thought I had a pork tenderloin in the freezer but when it thawed it turned out to be the unused half of a beef roast, so I used that instead. It’s great with beef, but I wish I’d had the pork, if only for authenticity’s sake. You can get Hatch chiles in cans, already roasted and peeled, but if you can get them fresh by all means do so. I was going to use a can of diced tomatoes but decided at the last minute to chop up fresh Roma tomatoes out of deference to the wonderful fresh roasted chiles. The smell of this dish cooking will draw people from miles around, so it’s a good thing this cooks up enough for four to six people.
Finally … is it “chili” or “chile”? You’ll notice I spell it both ways here on the blog. Properly, the peppers are chiles, and if you’re making New Mexico green chile stew … at least to my half a mind … it gets the e. If, on the other hand, you’re making Tex-Mex chili beans or chili con carne, then it’s spelled with the i, at least in Crouton’s kitchen!
Yesterday the chile roasters were back at the corner Safeway, so I bought another bag of fresh Hatch chiles. This time I had pork shoulder in the freezer, but since it would have taken two days in the fridge to thaw — and since I wanted to cook with the fresh chiles right now — I made this batch of stew with chicken instead. The only substitutions were two cut-up chicken breasts for the pork, and a can of chicken broth for the vegetable broth. Here’s how it turned out (and yes, it was delicious):
Hmmm … I’ve prepared this stew twice now and have yet to use the traditional meat ingredient, pork. I do have some pork shoulder in the freezer, and one of these days I’ll get around to it. When I do I’ll post another update!
I had some home-made pulled pork at a friend’s house last month and decided to try it myself. My goodness, even Ditalini liked it. I’ll definitely do this again.
Slice the onions. Layer the bottom of a large crockpot or slow cooker with onion, add the pork shoulder or butt, then layer the remaining onion on top. Pour in the ginger ale. Set the crockpot to low, cover, and cook for 12 hours. When cooked, drain the contents of the crockpot into a sturdy colander. Discard the onions. Place the pork on a large cutting board, or better yet into a shallow casserole dish. Pull the pork with forks, discarding any large pieces of fat. Return the pulled pork to the crockpot, mix in the barbecue sauce, cover, and cook on low another 4-6 hours.
This is dead easy, but you need to plan ahead. I put the pork in the crockpot at 9 PM, let it cook overnight, then took it out of the crockpot the next morning at 9 AM. After discarding the onion and fat, and pulling the pork, I put it in the refrigerator until about 2 PM that afternoon, when I added the barbecue sauce and began cooking it again. It was ready by 6 PM.
I bought a pork shoulder roast that was nearly 8 lbs, so I cut it in half and froze the unused part. I used Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory & Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce, but next time I’ll probably use my own barbecue sauce recipe, which is a bit spicier.
When it came time to move the cooked pork shoulder from the crock pot to the colander, I lifted it out of the crockpot with two large utility forks. These are for lifting whole cooked turkeys or large heavy roasts, and they also turned out to be the perfect tools for pulling the cooked pork shoulder apart, as shown above. Sturdy serving forks will work just as well, I think. You can also wait until the pork is cool and do it with your fingers.
You could probably chop up the cooked onion and mix it in with the pulled pork, but I decided not to and am happy with that decision. The pulled pork was melt-in-your-mouth tender and utterly delicious.
This recipe will easily feed six hungry people. Since there are only three of us in the deMenthe household, we have plenty of leftover pulled pork. Fortunately, I’m told it freezes well. What’ll I do with the remaining four pounds of pork shoulder? I’m thinking New Mexico Green Chili Stew!
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