Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall-Off-the-Bone Braised Short Ribs

If you’re cooking a birthday dinner for friends and need something a bit special and positively delicious, look no further.

I’ve had slow-braised short ribs on the brain ever since the weather turned chilly, so when our friend Casey’s birthday rolled around a few weekends ago, I was delighted to have an excuse to buy 6 pounds of meat.

A sweet Asian-style braise was my first inclination but since I had my heart set on serving polenta, red wine made a lot more sense. So I put my faith in Anne Burrell (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef) for guidance. Her clever technique calls for pureeing a Mirepoix prior to sautéing so that it easily melts right into the sauce. Brilliant.

While this dish takes close to 4 hours from start to finish, you’ll only need to put in about 60 minutes of active kitchen time before letting the oven work its magic.
This is slow food at its best.

Fall-Off-the-Bone Braised Short Ribs
This dish is perfect for impressing company or for a lazy Sunday. My favorite accompaniment is creamy polenta (shown here) but I'm sure your trusted mashed potato recipe would also do it justice. Adapted from an Anne Burrell recipe.

Serves 8

6 lbs bone-in short ribs
Kosher salt
High heat vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
1 cup tomato paste
1 bottle hearty red wine
2 cups beef broth
1 bunch fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
2 bay leaves

Season the short ribs generously with salt. In a large stock pot (one that’s large enough to accommodate all the meat and vegetables), heat a layer of high-heat vegetable oil over high heat. Working in batches, add the short ribs and brown very well, 3-4 minutes per side (do not overcrowd).

Preheat oven to 375˚F.

While the short ribs are browning, puree the onions, celery, carrots and garlic in a food processor until it forms a coarse paste. 

After searing on all sides, remove the ribs from the pan. Drain the fat and add fresh oil to coat the bottom. Add the pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Brown the vegetables until dark and a browned film forms on the bottom of the pan, approximately 8 minutes. Scrape up the browned bits and let them reform. Scrape them up once again and add the tomato paste; cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan (lower the heat if things start to burn). Continue cooking until the mixture has been reduced by half.

Return the short ribs to the pan and add 2 cups of beef broth or just enough to barely cover the meat. Add the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Cover the pan and place in the preheated oven for 3-3 1/2 hours, turning the ribs over halfway through the cooking time. Check periodically during the cooking process and add more beef broth or water, if needed. Remove the lid during the last 20 minutes to allow browning and to let the sauce reduce. The meat should be incredibly tender when done.

Before serving, taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary (I removed the ribs, added salt, stirred well and returned the ribs to the sauce). Serve with the braising sauce.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Green Herb Garlic Bread

It may be the American way but I always felt that serving plain old bread alongside spaghetti was redundant. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s there I’ll eat it but does a boiled heap of white flour really need slices of baked white flour to wash it down? In the case of garlic bread, absolutely.

There’s something about a toasty loaf slathered with melted butter and chunks of real garlic that make it a different animal altogether. And when you add freshly chopped green herbs, it’s anything but redundant.

I served it with the Italian Wedding Soup I wrote about last week and couldn’t help but notice that Tristan polished off three quarters of the loaf. I’d say it was a hit.

Green Herb Garlic Bread 

Feel free to use parsley alone or any combination of fresh herbs that you have on hand. It's the perfect accompaniment to soups, stews, salads and yes, spaghetti.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped 

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 loaf crusty ciabatta bread or a large baguette

Preheat oven to 350˚F.
In a small mixing bowl, stir together the butter, garlic, herbs and salt.

Slice the ciabatta in half lengthwise and spread each half evenly with the herbed butter. Place cut side up on a sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes.

Sandwich bread back together and cut into slices.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Italian Wedding Soup

Back in my college days, I worked at a little Italian café in Upstate New York as a glorified barista. In addition to sandwiches and desserts, we proudly offered a homemade soup of the day, and when it was Italian Wedding, people went bananas. Nothing sold out quite as fast. So you can imagine my horror the day I saw how the sausage was actually made. I walked into the back room right as one of the kitchen staff was dropping a huge block of frozen Stouffer’s meatball soup into a crock-pot. “Yes sir, we make all of our soups on site.” Oops.

But that didn’t change the fact that Italian Wedding Soup remains one of my favorites. And making it from scratch isn’t all that difficult, not to mention exponentially better.

The soup in its simplest form consists of clear broth, greens, tiny pasta and miniature meatballs that cook right in the hot liquid. Ina Garten, however, inspired me to employ a twist: bake the meatballs. Baking, unlike simmering, imparts color, and color = flavor. But that’s not all. These particular meatballs are made with ground chicken and chicken Italian sausage. The fennel flavor, characteristic of Italian sausages, adds a dimension that ground meat alone can’t. These are so juicy and savory that I would actually serve them on their own as an appetizer. 

As for greens, endive, escarole, spinach or kale are most commonly used. Since I rarely find ways of incorporating it into my cooking, I chose to make mine with escarole.

Escarole is a variety of endive whose leaves are broader and paler. It’s quite bitter, with a taste reminiscent of radicchio, and can be eaten raw, sautéed or chopped into soups. If you’re not a fan of bitter greens, you can easily make yours with spinach.

I made a huge pot of wedding soup last week and ate it for three days straight. And no, getting married is not a prerequisite.

Italian Wedding Soup
If you’re going to be eating your soup over a few days, you may want to cook the pasta separately and add a bit to each bowl before ladling in the hot soup. Otherwise, the pasta will continue absorbing broth and become quite mushy. Adapted from Barefoot Contessa.


3/4 pound ground chicken or turkey 
1/2 pound chicken Italian sausage, casings removed
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs, about 1 large slice of good quality white sandwich bread
2 big cloves garlic, minced 

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley 
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup diced carrots, cut into ¼-inch pieces 

3/4 cup diced celery, cut into ¼-inch pieces
12 cups chicken stock 

1/2 cup dry white wine, optional
2 cups small pasta (I used whole wheat orzo)
1 pound chopped escarole, endive or whole baby spinach

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

For the meatballs, gently combine all meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Using your hands, carefully roll 3/4- to 1-inch sized meatballs and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes until they are cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

For the soup, heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and sauté until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the stock and wine, if using, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and escarole/endive* and simmer until the pasta is tender, about 6 minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer for 1 minute more. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust if necessary.

Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan.

* If you opt to use spinach, wait until the last minute of cooking and add it along with the meatballs.