Saturday, January 16, 2010

Buon Appetito!

This week, my brain got it into it’s head I wanted, nay, NEEDED to cook Italian. Where this came from, I do not know. I am not Italian. I have never been to Italy. I am not planning a trip to Italy. I own no Italian clothing. Apart from pizza, tomato sauce and lasagna, I have never cooked any Italian dishes. And seeing how Roxie the Diet is still around (and doing quite well—12 kilo down so far) it is not as though I have been eating much Italian food. (Roxie, she does not like the pasta). Nonetheless, somehow, from out of nowhere, the obsession emerged. Must. Cook. Italian.

Okay, I can go with this. Unlike the other nonsense my brain comes up with (running half-marathons, knitting sweaters), this could even be fun! Then, I looked over my schedule and realized that, nope, my brain had done it again. I had absolutely no time to do a meal. I tried to reason with my brain—immediately post-year- end is just not the right time for an accountant to be entertaining. Perhaps when things are a bit more calm? Like after I retire? My brain was having none of it. Must. Cook. Italian. it repeated. What’s a girl to do? I gave in. I invited some friends over for Shabbat dinner (“why waste perfectly good guinea pigs or rats when you have friends to test shit on”, that is my motto) and started to plan a menu.

My menu planning requirements were as follows:
1) All recipes had to be kosher or kosher-convertible.
2) As one of my guests is a vegetarian, it had to include vegetarian-friendly dishes.
3) The food had to be stuff that I could eat during the week without killing my diet.
4) No minestrone soup. I do not care how authentically Italian minestrone soup is. I hate it.

I was assisted in my menu planning by another one of my guests, Lydia. Lydia lived in Italy for a year back when she was a student. As such, Lyvia had eaten actual Italian food, cooked by Italians, in Italy. This makes her an expert. Between help from Lyvia, my beloved Moosewood cookbook , the Web and some random but useful suggestions, I decided on the following line-up:

First Course: Antipasti and Hallah (I was going to make focaccia as well, but seeing how I had a grand total of four hours to prepare everything, I realized that this was not going to happen).

Second course: Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Third course: Salad

Fourth course: Chicken Cacciatore, Eggplant Marsala, Pasta and Green beans

Fifth course: Tea and cookies

Why so many courses? Because that is how it is done in Italy. Each meal lasts approximately a year. That…and every single dish includes bottles and bottles of alcohol. I suspect that Italians go through life in a state of constant feeding and mild inebriation. Sounds fun, no?

There were a few preparation snafus. Mid-chicken cacciatore preparation I discovered that the white wine I had in my cabinet was a muscat, and not the dry white wine the recipe called for. I ran to the mercolet (mini-market) downstairs where I found them about to close. Fortunately the register was still open and they had semi-dry white wine in stock. I figured that would work. Then, the eggplant marsala had me worried. After I added the sherry, the dish took on a distinctly unappetizing aroma. I was in a panic. What was I going to feed the rabbit? Had Moosewood steered me wrong? As per the recipe instructions, I waited until the very end to add the garlic and, like magic, the dish started to smell like something one would actually want to eat. Finally, the whole wheat spaghetti I prepared was not so tasty to begin with. Then it proceeded to dry out on the plata (electric hotplate one uses to keep food warm during Shabbat) and as its grand finale, just as I was about to serve it, the Pyrex exploded. Apparently, “do not put a hot Pyrex dish directly on a marble counter top” is a good rule to live by. Alternatively, the rule could be “do not try to serve happy-clappy, new-age and rather disgusting whole wheat pasta at an Italian meal, lest one anger the gods of Italian cooking and they aim a divine lightning bolt at your kitchen”.

In the end, I have to say that the meal was quite a success. My trusty lab rats and I stuffed ourselves silly after which we lolled about on my couches, munched on cookies and tried to explain to one guest how, exactly, a guy keeps a woman’s feet warm. In the end, we decided that we would wait a few years until he was a bit older, and then Lyvia, as the elder of the group, would sit him down for a conversation about the birds and the bees.


Of everything I prepared, the red pepper soup was the only item made from a recipe billed as low calorie. Despite this, it was tasty. The original recipe is here; my enlarged, meat-meal-ready, and annotated version is below.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

12 red bell peppers
8 black peppercorns
Whatever amount of dried thyme you think translates into four sprigs of thyme. Because you forgot to buy it.
2 bay leaves
3 teaspoons olive oil
3 cups diced onion (or however many cups one gets from two large onions)
Quantity of minced fresh garlic that can only be described as “I am not planning on getting to close to anyone for the foreseeable future, and perhaps even the next year”.
5 cups parve chicken broth
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Random number of shakes of Tabasco.
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 container of unflavored soy milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Preheat broiler.

Cut bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil for 15 minutes or until blackened. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand for 15 minutes or until you finish prepping the chicken cacciatore (about 40 minutes). Whichever comes first. Peel and chop. Curse the Italians for their deranged obsession with peeling tomatoes and bell peppers—vegetables that G-d clearly did not intend to be peeled.

Place peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaves into a little metal tea thingy because you do not have cheesecloth, and, to be perfectly honest, are not entirely sure what cheesecloth is.

Return to the recipe. Ask yourself “do I have a Dutch oven”? Do I know what one is? Determine that the answer to both questions is “no”. Give up on the Dutch oven thing, and heat oil in a big metal pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 15 minutes or until onion is lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Add bell peppers, metal thingy, broth, vinegar, salt and pepper and hot pepper sauce to pan. Increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Taste. My G-d, but this is vile. Did you add too much vinegar? Apparently you did! Dump in the soy milk in a desperate attempt to tone down the flavor. Realize that you added the salt and pepper at the beginning of the recipe instead of waiting for the proper time, which is now. Following directions is not your forte. This is probably why you are not married.

You cannot place the bell pepper mixture in a blender because your blender is dairy and if you use it, than the soup will be dairy and then everyone will go to hell because you have served them milk and meat together. And that would be bad. Instead, dump it (in installments) into a food processer and set it to liquefy. Repeat procedure with remaining soup. Pour pureed mixture into your soup tureen (deemed “posh” by your British guest). Forget to add the chives when serving.


mrs. Gudrun Johansson said...

I am certainly going to try this meal, do though have a question about the right amount.
Assume the container of unflavored soy milk, what is wrong with decent dairy, soy milk not to be a garbage container?

Baila said...

I'd be a lab rat for your experimental cooking anytime. To me, if someone else cooks it, it's delicious. (Well, most of the time anyway). Where do we get the other recipes?

Tzipporah said...

I'm trying to figure out what the f* "parve chicken broth" is...

Shira Salamone said...

"Parve chicken broth" is a concoction made of vegetables and various flavoring agents (natural and/or chemical, depending on whether the overall concoction is labeled "all-natural"), formulated to taste like chicken soup without benefit of chicken.

Tzipporah said...

Shira, do you have a recipe? Or is this something you can buy only in Israel and Williamsburg?

Sarah said...

Shira, don't forget lots of MSG which I think other than salt is the main ingredient in parve chicken broth.

Gila, the soup sounds yummy. By the way, you do know that if you stick tomatoes into a metal bowl (metal so it doesn't melt like plastic nor explode like your pyrex) and then boiling water on them, they peel super easy, right? I have become a soup fiend this winter and because I read something about canned tomatoes having some terrible unhealthy thing that leaches out of the can and into the tomatoes I stopped using them but the boilding water deal makes it super easy (as long as I can find tomatoes that are decently ripe...) still.

Shira Salamone said...

Tzipporah, since I can barely boil water, I'm not the best person to ask for a recipe. :)

Sarah, you're certainly correct in saying that MSG is often an ingredient in fake chicken broth, unless it's labeled all-natural.

Tzipporah, since I'm not much of a cook, I haven't tried it myself, but is Imagine brand Organic No-Chicken Broth available in a kosher and/or natural-foods store near you? It's kosher parve. Imagine Foods, an organic-foods producer, sells quite a number of kosher soups. My husband and I both love their Butternut Squash soup, which, despite its creaminess, is parve, in addition to being gluten-free and nightshade-free (though a tad high on sodium and carbs), and is a good source of vitamin A.

Word Verification letters: remsrugi. S'rugi?! Have the programmers have been watching Israeli television? :)

Anonymous said...

when are we getting a new post???!!!

I miss you.

Anonymous said...

i second the other anonymous.....i am seriously missing my "my shrapnel" fixes.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, I check this blog every couple days if not everyday, hoping for a new post.

Would you mind leaving a comment or e-mailing me ( letting me know if there is a new post coming. Maybe the wait would be more tolerable if I knew there is a new post coming...idk.

Anonymous said...

Is everything okay?

Tzipporah said...

Gila, dear, you ok? Miss you.

If you're just avoiding the Internet in general, I have a cure for you:

Laugh your A$$ off. :)

Gila said...

Sorry--have just been overworked/ overstressed/ overtired and such. Goal is to be back blogging again after Pesach.