Sign of Spring

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basking in the sun
lettuce in a window box
stronger by the day

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Adapted Chicken Scarpariello

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Using Lidia Bastianich’s recipe as a starting point, I added sautéed spinach and Italian sausage to the basic recipe. Served with mashed potatoes, and a salad, this dish served six with leftovers.

One thing I know about myself is that I hate last minute cooking when we are having friends over for dinner. To avoid that, I tend to do as much as possible ahead of time. In the case of this dish, I think that prepping and seasoning the individual components before combining them added to the flavor. Baking the sausage certainly eliminated some of the grease.

Ingredients:

About 4 pounds of boneless, skinless
chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces.
6-8 Italian sausages, cut into chunks
About a pound of baby spinach, sautéed in olive oil and garlic.
6-8 garlic cloves (depending on size), thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
olive oil, Kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. dried oregano

Make Ahead Method:

  1. Up to a day ahead, cut the thighs into generous bite-sized pieces (not too small!) Season with salt and refrigerate.
  2. This could also be done a day ahead. Bake the sausage links in a 375 oven for about 35 minutes. Drain off excess grease. Cool and refrigerate.
  3. Over moderate heat, lightly saute a clove or two of minced garlic in a deep pot filmed with a splash of olive oil. Add the baby spinach, seasoned with salt. The mountain of spinach will quickly reduce to a fraction of its former self. Cool and set aside, or refrigerate. Drain off excess liquid.
  4. When you’re ready to make the dish, heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large skillet.  Season the chicken with salt. Cook the chicken in batches to enhance browning. Add an even layer of chicken to the skillet. Cook until lightly brown on all sides. Remove and repeat with the next batch.
  5. Return all the chicken to the pan. Cut the sausage links into chunks. Add them the chicken. At this point, add the garlic. Toss everything together to combine and stir things around for a few minutes to brown everything and cook the garlic.
  6. Add the vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let boil for a minute or two. Sprinkle with the oregano. Cover and cook over low heat until the chicken is fully cooked. Timing depends on the size of the pieces, and how far you are in the cooking process. Check after ten minutes or so.
  7.  Add the spinach. Stir to combine. Check for seasoning.
  8.  At this point, I transferred everything to a baking dish. About 45 minutes before dinner, I covered the pan with foil and put it in a 375 oven. I uncovered it for the last 15 minutes.

Restaurants often serve this combined with a tubular pasta to make an all-in-one dish. But it was happily sided by mashed potatoes at our house.

 

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Grandpa’s Stuffed Artichokes

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Interestingly enough, in Italian households, Spring and artichokes seem to go hand in hand. We have fond memories of Frank’s father’s stuffed artichokes.

I basically followed his simple approach to the process, only adding lemon. I also decided to steam them in a Dutch oven instead of in a baking dish covered with aluminum foil.

Method:

  1. Rinse the artichoke, separating the tight leaves somewhat to eliminate any grit that might be trapped. Cut off the stem. Using scissors, clip off all of the sharp pointed ends. Scoop out at least part of the center sharp top of the choke. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the artichokes. Soak for at least a half hour in cold water. Toss the lemon skins into the water. I used a soup pot with a lid to keep the artichokes submerged..
  2.  Dry the artichokes. Gently separate the leaves enough to sprinkle Progresso crumbs between the layers. Drizzle olive oil over the crumbs. Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  3. Place in a Dutch oven with a tight cover. Add a cup or two of water. You want the liquid to be about an inch deep. Toss in some pieces of lemon. Cover and bake in a 350 oven for about an hour. Artichokes are done when an individual leaf pulls out easily.
  4. There are recipes that include Parmesan cheese, additional seasoning, and a more complicated process, but this was Grandpa’s method. So, by definition, it’s the best method for our family.
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Restaurant Inspired Shrimp

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Biagetti’s in West Haven, CT is memorable on many levels. It’s Old School Italian at its finest. The last time we were there, I had lightly sautéed shrimp on a bed of lemony spinach. The shrimp were large and butterfied. They were dipped in flour and then in egg before sautéing, creating a light crust. The spinach included garlic and lots of lemon.I decided to attempt to create the dish from memory. It wasn’t exactly the same, but it came pretty close.

I used 26 to 30 count shrimp, so I didn’t butterfly them. I used the whole pound for the two of us because I wanted leftovers for a salad the next day. I used 10 ounces of fresh spinach because it cooks down to a fraction of its former self. I also added a diced onion along with the garlic.

Method:

  1. Saute an onion in a bit of olive oil until softened. Add a couple of cloves of minced garlic, and some Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Add about 10 ounces of fresh spinach to the pan. Sauté until limp. Squeeze a fresh lemon over the mixture. Keep warm.
  2. Pat shrimp dry. Dredge in Wondra flour and then dip in beaten egg. Heat a shallow layer of olive oil in a pan. Saute the shrimp in a couple of batches until they are light brown and crispy. This will happen quickly. Sprinkle with salt when they come out of the pan.
  3. Serve the shrimp over the spinach.
  4. Easy. Light. Lovely.
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New Birth

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and then there were lambs
singing a song of springtime
and new beginnings

 

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Paths

Thinking about paths.
Some solitary
and shaded.
Some populated
with sprites.
All beckoning.

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Original No-Knead Bread

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I read an article recently about the advantages of slow fermentation during the process of baking bread. A slow rise contributes not only to better flavor, but also to increased nutrition. This caused me to think about the fact that I’ve been taking short cuts for years, and it was time to get back to some original roots.

When Mark Bittman first published Jim Lahey’s technique for no-knead bread in the New York Times in 2006, bread bakers and non-bread bakers alike jumped on the band wagon with wild enthusiasm. The Lahey technique involves using a tiny amount of yeast and a 12-18 hour fermentation process, but, as the name indicates, no kneading. The complete process is fully explained on line.

Many variations followed. A whole industry of bread books mushroomed. The technique I’ve adopted over the years involves more yeast, a two hour initial rise, and an overnight rise in the refrigerator. It works well. The thing is, I made the original recipe the other day, and found the flavor to be more pronounced, and the crust darker and richer with a delightful crunch. So, at least for no-knead bread, I plan to go back to basics.

 

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