Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beef stew with Red Wine and Vegetables

This, announces Marcella, is a clean tasting stew uncomplicated by herbs and seasonings. Well, she is right about that.
(Note the absence of herbs and seasonings). Interestingly she asks that the meat be shallow fried, rather than just fried in a little olive oil or butter. Perhaps that makes the difference, I thought.
The great thing about this dish is the veges. Bizarrely, they are not browned prior to being put into the stew.
Instead they are just plonked, along with a whole lot of red wine, and no stock or water. Also bizarrely, for me, the wine is not reduced, except for a few moments. I would normally expect to reduce that much wine by half before adding the (browned) veges.
Anyway, as I said, the whole lot gets plunked in, along with some olive oil.
And eventually some peas - the best bit about this stew.
It only cooks for about 2 hours total. I would normally expect about 3 for this cut of meat, although it was soft enough after 2.
The end product though lacked the flavour that Marcella says she craves. It was a bit like, well, meat braised in red wine with a few soft veges. Very wholesome, healthy and all the rest, but you couldn't serve it to guests. 
Next time I'll brown the veges (except the peas), and throw in some bay leaves, thyme and cloves, and also reduce the wine a bit. Marcella is not getting many wins on the board here. I think the braised chicken is about it. I must be due for one.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

This is another of Marcella's famous dishes. The way people rave on about it on blogs and the rest you would think it was the second coming. I thought I would give it a go, although part of me was scared of the butter.

Once I had all the ingredients it was simply a matter of throwing them in the pot. Well, peeling the onion and cutting it in half first.
My that is a lot of butter.
That's pretty well it. It simmers away for a while. The taste was pretty poor until the last few minutes, and then it seemed to come together in the end - good enough perhaps for it to be eaten out of the pot, as Marcella promises.
Of course I needed the pasta. Spaghetti I think.
And a bit of parmesan cheese.
The final product was very rich, and I must say, not as enjoyable as my other pasta dishes. I won't be making it again, at least to eat as a main course. Or even a first course. I might try again with better tomatoes, and perhaps as a sauce for gnocchi. But I must say quite disappointing I'm afraid. Pity.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Polenta by the No-Stirring Method

Polenta. The realm of real Italians. Aussies might cook Italian without knowing it, but they never cook polenta without knowing it. I mean, who does. When I started out I thought I would cook it the 'proper way' ie by stirring for the whole time.

First step was to stir like a madman while letting the grains run in.

The whole thing bogged up then and there. Perhaps it was meant to. Anyway, stirring it was a bitch. Marcella wanted me to stir for 40 minutes. Was she kidding? I immediately looked for the no-stir method.

No stir my arse! I still had to stir for a minute every 10 minutes. That's still a lot of stirring. And I couldn't seem to get the stuff to simmer as she wanted, so I just whacked it on low.

Eventually the time ran out - I'm not sure it was coming cleanly away from the walls as it was meant to. But I put it in a bowl anyway. And no, it wasn't metal.

And this is what it looked like when I plunked it over.

So how did it taste? Well, pretty ordinary. I wonder if it is because I didn't cook it right, or if the truth is, it never does, and its use is historical only ie if you didn't grow up on the stuff you wouldn't actually eat it. Marcella says you can eat it if you put butter and cheese in it, but that's true of anything isn't it?

I ate it with Chicken Fricasseed with Red Cabbage, which was delicious. But the sauce didn't save the polenta. Next time I'll make mash.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chicken Fricassee with Red Cabbage

You know, Marcella isn't lying when she says that Italian food is often unattractive. I mean, just look at the above. But then she also says she cooks for flavour, and in this case I can attest to it. Who would have thought that half a red cabbage, simmered with some onion, garlic and red wine, would form a beautiful sauce for a tender chicken? Well that's what we have here.

As usual you need to start with your ingredients.

Next thing is to cook the onions and the garlic. I've had trouble before with the onions getting too brown before the garlic does. That sounds strange as it is usually the other way around but there you go. I think the way to get around this is to have the heat down pretty low for quite a while. 

Eventually it will look like this. If you burn either the onion or the garlic then throw it all out and start again.

In goes the cabbage.

The cabbage takes 40 or 50 mins. Again, low heat means you won't burn it. You don't want to burn it. Because this dish takes two hours I sometimes cook the cabbage the night (or morning) before I cook the chicken. 

Of course to cook the chicken you need to be able to cut a chicken up.

First thing you need is a good chicken. Buy a free range one - the most expensive you can. And you need a sharp knife. Buy a good one and a sharpener. 

There we go. Easy with a sharp knife. Of course, if you are a good cook you will use the carcass for stock. If you are lazy you give it to the cat.

Either way you then need to wash, dry and brown it. 

So it looks like this. Let it sit while browning Don't stir and stir. A few minutes each side should do it.

After 40 or 50 mins the cabbage was tasting pretty bloody good. So I added my chook and the wine and I was away. I didn't add the breast until the last 10 mins as you can see below. This is the first time I held it out - so it doesn't dry - but to be honest I don't notice it when it's left in. 

In the end it tasted great and looked like a mess. Or as Marcella says, a dense, clinging sauce on your tender chicken. 

I've served this before with crusty bread, it is a treat. Today I was brave and cooked polenta. The chicken was fabulous and tender, the sauce was wonderful. The potenta was a bit crap but that's another story. 

Next time I think I"ll cook it with mash.

Definitely a keeper. 

UPDATE: I've since made it with proper mash and it is fantastic. Forget that polenta crap.