Looking north from Fire Island

Looking north from Fire Island
Continuing the cooking articles I write every summer

Friday, October 23, 2009

Italian Style Munchies

I'm closing up the summer house for winter, and need to toss food that won't last. So there's this half pint of Ricotta just waiting for a decision. and it's fresh. I stirred in some honey, and a glug or so of cane jelly Robert gave me as a gift a few years ago. Cane jelly has the essence of molasses, or treacle. It's sweet, but it also has a bite. It's best when spread on warm scones.

Mix some good honey into the ricotta, add cane jelly to taste. Mix well, but leave a few puddles of the sweets, And when you are certain you are alone, tuck into it.

Let this be our little secret.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The best eggplant parmegiania

Every hill town in Italy has its own way of doing this delicious treat. My favorite Italian chef Paul DiBari gave me this one.

Peel and slice the eggplant in 1/3 inch slices. Lay them on an oiled baking sheet. Salt to let the juices drain. Blot the slices, sprinkle with oil, salt and papper, bake at a low oven for twenty minutes. Let cool.

Make a big, delicious pot of marinara sauce. Lay a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a baking pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with the softened eggplant. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese, and a few handfuls of grated mozz. Drizzle a few gugs of excellent olive oil over everything. Next, more sauce, eggplant, cheese, and so on. Top with more sauce, grated cheese and more mozz.

Bake just until the cheese colors. Let cool. Cut into squares with a sharp knife or a pizza cutter. Serve warm, not hot.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Comforting Baked Pastas


Something magic happens when pasta is baked with its sauce. Baked Ziti comes to mind, as do baked raviolis, or chicken and spaghetti. Pasta is a thirsty thing. Even once it’s cooked, it keeps absorbing the sauce and its flavors. That’s the wonderful thing. That’s why we always finish the final cooking of pasta in its sauce, the better to absorb the flavor into the pasta. Every time I make lasagna -- a baked pasta -- the day it’s cooked the juices are runny, it’s delicious, and then the day after, when the flavors have gotten more developed, the pasta tends to dry out and needs a fresh dousing of red sauce. Just keep some sauce aside and do it, you’ll thank me.

Most of my baked pasta dishes are based on Neapolitan cooking, and use basic red sauce as a main ingredient. Use your favorite Marinara, buy a good one, or try mine: You’ll save money.

Vegetarians you know what to do, it’s still a great sauce. a sweet Italian pork sausage, peeled, four skinned chicken thighs, a medium sized onion, finely chopped, half a whole head of garlic, (yes!), peeled and chopped, huge pinch oregano, crushed, four bay leaves, 4tb olive oil, water 1/4 can, 2 cans of crushed tomatoes, or whole and in puree, chopped coarsely. You know I love texture. salt - big pinch, kosher, black pepper, ground, generous, red pepper flakes, 1/3 tsp., sugar 1 Tsp. Peel the sausage, chop coarsely, skin the chicken, place in a pan with oil and fry - add the red pepper flakes, chopped, then the garlic, onions, fried ‘till translucent, chopped tomatoes, rinse the can with water, add the water to the pot, and everything else. Bring to the boil, lower the flame to a simmer, cook till chicken thighs are done. Remove thighs, and bay leaves. NOTES: always make a large batch as it freezes so well, lots of olive oil improves the sauce texture and flavor. Water added at the start will evaporate and allow the flavors to emerge. Use a full cup when you begin cooking, don’t worry about having too thin a sauce. It cooks down

BAKED LASAGNE WITH EGGPLANT: This simple dish is merely an assembly process. Get or make 3 cups at least of red sauce, meat or meatless your choice. Peel and slice an eggplant lengthwise into 1/3 inch slices. Drizzle with S&P, oil and water, and bake ‘till the vegetable softens. You will turn the slices once. Boil a large amount of water, and cook the noodles to al dente, and drain them, coating them with oil to keep them from sticking together. Make your cheese mixture: Ricotta cheese, grated parmesan, pepper, fresh chopped parsley, nutmeg, one egg. Slice up half a pound of mozzarella cheese. Into an oiled baking pan, a layer of sauce on the bottom, then a layer of noodles, then sauce, eggplants, noodles, sauce, cheese mixture, another layer of noodles, sauce, cheese slices, more sauce, grated cheese, and drizzle generously with olive oil. Bake for an hour at 350f or ‘till the pasta bubbles at the center. I generally cover the noodles and bake for 2/3 of the time, then remove the cover for ten or so minutes to brown the top.

RIGATONI BAKED WITH SAUSAGES AND MOZZARELLA CHEESE (Twice as fast as lasagna, but with the same basics and just as good a result.) 1. Boil a pound of DeCecco brand Rigatoni in salted water and drain. 2. While still hot, souse the pasta with 2 to 3 cups hot marinara sauce, and add the sliced sausages. 3. Spoon in the cheese mixture; distribute it but leave it in whole pools, not mixed in. 4. Top with mozzarella cheese slices, drizzle liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake ‘till the top of the cheese starts to turn golden. Serve with some more marinara sauce on top.
Sauce: your favorite red sauce. 3 cups. Slit sweet Italian sausages lengthwise, and cook them in the sauce. Slice the cooked sausages and return to the sauce, add sausages and sauce to the warm pasta, Cheese Mixture: Mix a container ricotta cheese with nutmeg, fresh black pepper, fresh chopped parsley, grated parmesan cheese.

BAKED CHICKEN AND SPAGHETTI: This is one of my best and easiest host dishes, and my friends never stop asking me for it. Baking spaghetti gives it a delicious chewy quality, and the pasta totally absorbs the sauce. Skin and trim the thighs and drumsticks from two chickens, and place them in your large skillet and fry them in some oil till ¾ done. Preheat your oven to 350f. Add 3 cups favorite red sauce, and simmer. Boil a pound of spaghetti al dente, add the pasta to the skillet and toss all ingredients well. Bake partially covered for 20 minutes. Sometimes I add a few cut up sweet Italian sausages to the chicken, and enhance the meal. A good green salad is often the best company to a baked pasta dish.

MIDDLE EASTERN RAVIOLIS AND NOODLES (KELSONNES): My Syrian grandmother used to make these, and she never used a cup or spoon measurement. There were only “handfuls” and “pinches”. I offer these approximations, where a cup equals two handfuls, but Grandma’s hands were the magic ingredient. Dough: 5 cups flour, 2 eggs, big pinch salt, 2 cups cold water (approx) Filling: mixture should be thick. 2 lb Muenster cheese, grated finely. 1-2 eggs, pinch salt, ½ tsp baking powder. Method: Combine first three ingredients and add the water slowly until you get a soft dough. Combine all ingredients for the filling, set aside. Roll out half the dough on a floured surface till you get it ¼ inch thick. Drop heaping teaspoons full of the cheese mixture onto the dough in rows around 3” apart. Cover the mounds with the other half of dough, rolled out. Use a water glass, press out raviolis, and seal the edges. Set aside the unused dough, which you will slice into noodles. Boil 6 qts water and two tsp salt, Place Kelsonnes into the boiling water ‘till almost tender, around 20 min. Drain, place into two buttered baking dishes, and top with two sticks of melted butter. Cover, and bake at 300f for 30 min. For extra crispness, uncover and bake an additional ten minutes. In the summer time sometimes these were served with sour cream or yogurt. The Kelsonnes may be frozen prior to boiling. Freeze them on parchment, then store in baggies.

You can always write to me at
michael.safdiah@gmail.com , and I will answer all cooking questions.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sardine Melt

This is a variation of the Patty Melt. Open a can of good sardines, drain the oil, better yet feed it to the cat or dog. Hard boil 2 eggs: Set the eggs in a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil, Remove from the fire and let the eggs sit ion the water for nine minutes, Peel the eggs under running water, and break up the eggs and sardines. Add a few TB finely minced onion, and parsley, 1/2 tsp capers, salt, pepper, 1/2 tsp sugar, and something spicy like minced kimchi to taste, or red pepper flakes. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon, or lime. Check seasoning.

Spread fish mixture on top of a slice of whole grain bread, top with slices of sharp cheddar cheese, broil until the cheese melts, and starts to brown.

Sure you can do it with tuna, but the sardines just taste better.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day you can afford

It's like the economy, or whatever you call it, sucks. Prices are over the top, and the little money you have hides from you, buys nothing. As if things were not bad enough, here comes that dreadful day which will somehow test your love for your sweetie. As a restaurateur, I would spend hours listening to (mostly men) begging me for a table for two on that special night. Not only a table, but also the one near the fireplace, (which, by the way was fake. We used Sterno) As though this one table on that one night was the key to their romantic salvation. We even had several proposals of marriage happen at the remote, small table by the window.

Let me be frank here. Imagine a crowded restaurant, the 130 degree kitchen is shooting food out like a machine gun, sweat pouring from shouting cooks who are trying to produce dinners at the speed of light, waiters all calling for their orders at once, a nervous maitre d’ looking at his watch to turn tables to be ready for the next wave of hungry romantics, but the first seating couples are determined to remain and play koochie-coo, and why shouldn't they. In a word it was bedlam. Now ask yourself, is this the right place to share that special intimacy that both of you deserve?

No restaurant can be all the romantic things you hope for on that particular evening. However, there are alternatives. You can decide to celebrate on the day before, or after the big day. Intelligent, practical couples do that. Or, you can cook something at home. I’ll tell you how. It will be delicious, and you will have done it yourself. How’s that for a Valentine dinner?

Le menu:
Green Salad, Sauteed club steak, red wine, special dessert, baked potato, French bread

Order some flowers, light candles, dim the lights and put a cloth on the table. Make the table pretty.

Buy a very extravagant dessert with the money you’ve saved. Place it on serving dishes. Set aside.

Buy a bottle of smooth red wine, spend at least 15 dollars. Open the wine ten minutes before serving.

Buy two club steaks, trimmed.

Scrub the potatoes, puncture the skin in several places, bake them in foil, or nuke them for five minutes on high, no foil.

In your salad bowl, pour one ounce of lemon juice, 3 oz EVOO. Mix well, and add the lettuce. Get a head of Boston Lettuce, tear the leaves and set them in the bowl. When you are ready to serve the salad, you can toss the greens to cover the leaves with dressing. Sprinkle some coarse salt and pepper on the leaves.

Buy a thin baguette of French bread, and partially slice the bread.

Make scratches on the surface of the meat, rub in some crushed fresh garlic, salt, pepper, soy sauce, and olive oil. Allow to sit for half an hour at room temperature.

Get some nice music on the hi-fi. Dim the lights. Heat up a heavy skillet. Add a few teaspoons of oil to the pan, and place the steaks in the pan. Cook one side for three minutes, then turn the meat to do the other side. Test for doneness. Remove the meat from the pan and let it sit on a warm plate. At least 8 minutes.

Catch the juices from the meat, replace them into the pan. Add a jigger of brandy or wine, a teaspoon of mustard, and 2 oz. cream. Mix very well, and pour over the steaks.

Pour the wine, and eat.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sauteed Pork Filet in a Mosaic of Pita

My friend Andy got me to use dried pita bread to sub for bread crumbs. The advantage is it remains crunchy, while soaking up the delicious pan juices of oil, butter, herbs and meat juices. I let the pita dry, crush the pieces to smithereens, Instead of fine crumbs, I end up with tiny pieces of flat read. Click on the photo to see a close up of what I mean.

Pound a pork chop, or chicken breast in plastic wrap until really thin. Season and flour, dredge in beaten egg, then again in more flour, egg, and press the crumbs onto the meat. Press quite hard, even use a pl;astic bag, and let the meat rest a few minutes. I use my bare hands to do this, then rinse them afterward. It will be somewhat messy. Nothing beats hands as reliable kitchen tools.

Into a non stick skillet, some olive oil, an equal amount of butter, and some fresh rosemary and crumbled sage. Fry the meat, turning when the meat is done and the bread coating looks golden. Serve with lemon slices on the side.

So here's what makes it great: The bread forms a mosaic pattern on the meat, which is both tasty and crunchy. Very crunchy. That flavorful, buttery crunch adds a new dimension to the dish. The sage gives a sharp, exciting note to balance the meat. I urge you to try it. There are no rules, as long as you remain in touch with what you’re doing, and create something you like. Your own good instincts will guide you.

Remove the meat to a warm plate, finish the sauce in the pan with a few tablespoons of tarragon vinegar, and drizzle over the meat. Serve with slices of fresh lemon on the side.

Chicken Fried Steak with Coffee Gravy

This was inspired by a Texas classic I love. I learned the recipe calls for cubed beef, which is not cubes of beef, but steaks of tough, lean beef which have been run through a shredder to break up the muscle fiber. The shredder never got it tender enough for me, so my meat mallet had to do the rest. Noise and rattling utensils drove the dog out of the kitchen, but brought the cat. Once I got the meat as thin as I could, I hit it lightly and repeatedly along its entire length with the back of my chef's knife to further disguise its identity. A few minutes in a plate with buttermilk to further tenderize it. Now a double coating of flour, salt and black pepper. I also like a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Lay the steak into a non stick pan with hot corn oil, turn once, cook to medium rare, and remove to a warm plate. Pour off all but a tablespoon of oil. Add a TB of flour, stirring well. Add a cuppa coffee, some milk, salt, pepper, a teaspoon of good mustard, a few dashes of hot sauce, and whisk over a high fire until the sauce thickens. Use your instincts to get the consistency you like. The more you cook, the thicker it gets. If it's too thick, add some milk and whisk some more. It's a no-brainer.

Cover the bottom of a plate with the sauce, top with the steaks, garnish with a dab of mustard, and serve at once.