March 26, 2015

March too, shall pass

My yoga instructor asked us a really interesting question last week. What was the worst year of your life? The purpose for recalling this moment was to understand just that, it was a temporary moment in time. It forced you to acknowledge that bookending this period were moments of something other than misery and despair. Each person in class had come out on the other side of their remembered year. How reassuring it is to know that Nonna’s relentless adage, “this too shall pass” is truth? Of course there is one small caveat. You have to choose to move towards happiness. You have to force yourself to make uncomfortable, often scary choices and then own them. That’s the only way to end up somewhere different from where you were.

Anyways, taking that metaphor even further during these damp, blustery winds of March I considered what was the worst food of my life. Pea. Soup. Ugh. It’s awful. The color, the texture, and oh the flavor…so not good.

Except that lately it clearly has been pea soup weather. It’s been chilly, windy and raw; all prerequisites for a comforting bowl of something steaming, thick and filling. So I considered what changes would make this, “throw-in-a-pot and you’re done” recipe appealing. With a few thoughtful adjustments I arrived to something different than what I remembered as a kid (sorry Mom).

While you’re enjoying your bowl of warm deliciousness consider this, March too will pass. Some day, it will be April.

Pea soup

Nonna and Mom both use the recipe from Joy of Cooking for pea soup. I more or less follow along with a few changes. I never make this recipe without doubling it and throwing half in the freezer. All that’s required of you is some dicing, skimming and simmering, why not get two meals from one pot?

1 lb dried green peas
8 cups cold water
1 smoked ham shank
4 carrots, small dice
1 onion, small dice
2 celery stocks, small dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Cayenne pepper to taste (I put at least 1 large TBSP into my pot)
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the peas in a large stockpot with the ham shank and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, skimming off the green foam that rises to the surface and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

After an hour add the carrots, onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf and thyme. Let simmer another hour, stirring often to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom.

At this point add your seasonings and check for consistency. I almost always add another 1-2 cups of water to thin out the soup. When the meat begins to fall off the shank bone the soup is ready to eat.

The absolute worst part of eating pea soup can be the consistency. If it’s not piping (like your house is on fire) hot it will take on a congealed mush-like state. So. Bad. So serve hot and eat as soon as humanly possible.

March 11, 2015

Catholic guilt with a side of eggs

Melting! It's happening. I view March as a remarkably useless month until the snow begins to melt, and only then do I admit to myself that February is over and spring will come again. Last week Boston hit 40 degrees for the first time in a record 43 days. Today I am sitting on my porch, windows open, happily listening to the sounds of ice becoming puddles. I have hope that someday soon, our chickens will be able to free range the yard again.

So, chickens happened. About a year ago Tom and I decided we wanted to be chicken owners. Tom researched coops, I researched breeds and on Easter weekend the United States Postal Office delivered a parcel of day-old chicks.

Today, our flock of seven ladies (Brenda, Goldie, Henrietta, Rosie, Annabelle, Red, and Martha) keeps us in eggs all day long. They've formed a very friendly chicken club together and enjoy throwing a dance party every time someone lays an egg.

We’ve always been an “egg happy” family and I tend to be obnoxiously specific about how I like my eggs prepared. I recently watched Moonstruck for the millionth time, which means that I've been experimenting with "eggs in a basket". The oh so Italian-American scene in the kitchen where Rose is making breakfast for Loretta, and not-so-subtly dishing out a healthy helping of Catholic guilt always makes me want to make eggs and call my mother.

Eggs a la Moonstruck

Remember when the proverbial “they” said that eggs were bad for you? Nonna got so MAD. She refused to believe it. Recently, the powers that be changed their tune, and eggs were taken off the no-fly list. This is why I say it's always good to question authority.

2 TBLS extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs
2 slices of bread
1 fire-roasted pepper, sliced thin
1 garlic glove, sliced thin
salt and pepper to taste

Using a small biscuit cutter (I use the top of a small mason jar), cut a hole in the middle of each slice of bread.

Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan, add peppers and garlic and sauté for about two minutes. Push the peppers off to the side. Add the two slices of bread and toast on one side for about two minutes or until golden brown, flip and wait about another minute for the second side to begin to brown. 

Crack your eggs into each hole. It's easier to crack each egg into a small bowl first and then pour into the hole. Cook for about two minutes until the whites begin to set. Salt and pepper the eggs. 

Using a spatula, flip each slice of toast and cook for approximately one more minute.

Serve with peppers on top of each egg.

March 2, 2015

Bocci and meatballs

Last night it snowed. Again. On March 1st. All I hear these days is grumble, grumble, snow, grumble.

Whenever one of her children experiences a “crisis of self”, an unforeseen life emergency or find ourselves stuck in a general pattern of “when it rains it pours” (or more appropriate perhaps, when it snows it blizzards) my mother tells us the same story. She was going through a difficult break up. She had just received her pink slip at work and then later that afternoon a drunk driver totaled her car (while she was in it). She had the police officer drive her to Nonna and Papa’s house where they of course, were hosting a neighborhood bocce party (they were always hosting bocce parties).  As my mom tells the story, she walked into the backyard, burst into tears and Nonna shook her head, told her to get herself some wine and then said, really Ann Marie, what are you going to do when you have a real problem?

So, to all of my fellow New Englanders moaning about the 100+ inches of snow, the colossal ice dams (I’m not saying I want one to land on anyone, but it would be kind of great to see a few people get a “close call”…), the impossibly cold temperatures, the inability to drive down the pothole ridden, ice covered streets, the… wait, what was my point?

Right. We could have REAL problems and winter isn’t making my list. Snow is what we do in Massachusetts. So to all the winter haters I ask you, what are you going to do when you have a real problem? Probably, you should just pour yourself another hot toddy and make some meatballs.

One last note- to this day, Nonna has yet to determine any life situation to be a “real problem”. Something to think about.

Tiny Veal Meatballs 
Adapted from Angela Catanzaro’s recipe in Mama Mia, Italian Cookbook

It takes some time to roll out these delightful little balls of deliciousness, but I assure you that they are well worth your efforts.  Being so delicate and small, there is no need to fry them; they can be cooked right in your tomato sauce.

My favorite way to prepare these meatballs is to poach them in some homemade chicken stock with leeks, kale and some Arborio rice. It’s the perfect antidote to a snowy night.

1 slice day-old bread
1 lb ground veal (if you [unlike me] have issues with eating baby cows feel free to substitute ground pork)
2 eggs
2 TBSP grated Pecorino cheese
1 tsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Soak the bread in warm water for 5 minutes, and then squeeze it dry with your hands. Combine bread with remaining ingredients, mixing well. Angela Catanzaro says you should then “shape the meat into balls no bigger than a filbert”, which according to our friend Wikipedia, is an alternative name for a hazelnut.