Tag Archives: tomatoes

Chicken, Sausage, and Capers on Polenta

29 Oct

Chicken, Sausage, and Peppers on Polenta 001

It was a year ago last Friday that I sat down at my computer and, with a short preamble, wrote down what I had for dinner that night. Thus began Dinner with Jonny. I started it solely for my own amusement, and that’s pretty much the same mindset I retain; I figure that if I’m entertained by what I write and share, then people who read my writing will be as well. If I, an amateur cook, make a kick ass dish, others might have similar success.

I also have kept in mind that a great many people are intimidated by cooking and I seek to ameliorate that problem by showing that a bit of levity and less convolution in trying to cook make the world a better place. The best teachers understand this as it relates to any subject, and as a teacher, I can’t help applying this principle to whatever I do.  For example, language acquisition scholars will tell you that, if you want to learn a language, have some drinks with native speakers of that language; it loosens you up, and after a few beers, you’ll forget that you’re shy about trying to speak another language (you’ll also realize that most native speakers love when people try to learn their language and you’ll make lifelong friends). While I won’t go on record that I promote alcohol consumption in learning new skills, the idea behind it resonates a truth: you learn more if you’re having fun, so lighten the fuck up, world.

Before I share the recipe for this beautiful and healthful dish, I think it’s high time that I share some insights about the general public that I have gleaned since I began writing this blog. You see, WordPress keeps statistics on a great many aspects of a blog: what countries read my blog, the busiest times of day, my most popular posts, etc.

One of the most fascinating features is the record of what search terms people use that bring up my blog via google, yahoo, or any other search engine. So for this blog post, I’ve decided to give you a sampling of the keyword searches that have brought up Dinner with Jonny in some regard since its inception. Just so you know, the three most common terms that brought up Dinner with Jonny are “burritos,” “torta rustica,” and “croutons,” in that order.

But here is a sampling of some less benign doozies, and reader discretion is advised:

  • drop your panties drink: ‘Tis fair enough, I suppose. A man’s gotta eat.
  • drink panty greaser: As an English teacher, I struggle understanding this, yet I’m intrigued. Is it a new form of Spanish fly?
  • forme pussys made of torta (sic): I have spent considerable time processing this one to no avail. If you have an idea, post it in the comments section.
  • cream my tight c**t: I’m guessing one of my creamy dishes helped this lady out marvelously. Hopefully.
  • roast chicken porn video: It must be southern. In fact, it has to be.
  • having cazzo for dinner: “Cazzo,” for your information, is “dick” in Italian. I admit, I have offered this to both my brothers a few times, but never literally.
  • pussy pot pie/ penis pies: If you search long enough, I bet you can find a penis pot pie, too, kids. Don’t limit yourselves.
  • Canada penty hot sexi porno lady (sic): It seems that I actually got Borat to read my blog. I’m honored.
  • make a frog sandwich: This could be a French delicacy or a French porno, if you think about it.

And my favorite,

  • candied nuts and students: It’s must be a fund-raiser or a person with considerable issues.

As always, my gimcrackery leads into an exceptional dish. This is yet another example of a Weight Watchers’ dish that’s easy to make, filling, and damn tasty. 1 1/2 cups of this is a 5 on the old Weight Watchers system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off very well), and if you serve it with two slices of tubed polenta, you’ve got a huge dinner for 7 points. I’m guessing you can make a sausage and pepper sandwich a la New Jersey just as easily, but you would need to adjust the points accordingly because of the bread.

Chicken, Sausage, and Capers with Polenta

Serves 4

Old Weight Watchers 7

Ingredients:

2 tsp. olive oil

3/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast (two small or one large), cut into 1″ pieces

1 18 oz. tube of pre-cooked polenta (Trader Joe’s has a fine one)

cooking spray

1/4 lb. precooked turkey or chicken Italian sausage, hot or mild, cut into 1/2″ slices

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup chicken broth

2 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained

2 tbsp. grated parmesan plus a bit more for garnish

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large non-stick skillet. Saute the chicken pieces until they’re golden and no longer pink, about 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pieces to a bowl and set aside.

Slice the polenta into eight disks. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay the slices on it. Bake these for 20 minutes. They should be ready when the main dish is ready to serve, fyi.

In the same skillet, add in the sausage and brown them briefly. Add the red wine vinegar until it almost evaporates in a minute or two, scraping the fun stuff off of the bottom of the pan. Add in the bell peppers, onion, garlic, and oregano. Cook this until the peppers get soft, about 6 minutes or so, stirring fairly often.

Stir in the tomatoes, broth, and capers, and bring it all to a boil. Return the chicken to the skillet and add in the parmesan. Reduce the heat a bit and let it simmer for about 5 more minutes until it thickens a bit.

Place two polenta disks on each plate and divide the chicken mixture between the four plates. Top with some parmesan and you get this:

Chicken, Sausage, and Peppers on Polenta 006

For those of you that read this blog regularly, thank you for letting me indulge in my passion for cooking, eating, and writing for the last year. Still, I hope none of you is responsible for those search terms above, either.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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The Sauce

30 Mar

The Sauce

I can think of no better picture to accompany this blog post than the one above.  It truly says volumes about my heritage, my blood line, my handsomeness, and the true essence of Italian food.  I believe this was the first or second time Tony had eaten my sauce, and he has always done so with gusto, as should everyone.  Funnily enough, this scungillio is a picky eater (unlike his uncles and his pop), but when it comes to my sauce on pasta, he’s at the table waiting with fork in hand as we put the plates together.

I have posted two tomato-based pasta sauce recipes on here before, and in both posts I made sure to note that they aren’t MY sauce.  I have also said that most Italians have their own version of sauce (again, I never heard the term “Sunday gravy” until I saw The Sopranos), which is most likely derived from their mom’s or nonna’s recipe. I am no different in this regard.  My mom taught me how to make sauce eons ago, and after screwing with and tweaking the recipe for years, I finally got to my version which tastes like no other I’ve had anywhere.  I didn’t even write it down until about 5 years ago; a student wanted to make her boyfriend dinner and asked if I knew how to make spaghetti and meatballs.  Writing it down was the tough part because I always had just made it, kind of like singing a tune you’ve known for years under your breath as you work away.

In any case, I truly think that an Italian’s sauce mirrors their soul to a degree, and ’tis true concerning this one.  Me?  I’m sanguine, sweet, complex, thick, and intense.  And so is my sauce.

Another essential element of a good sauce is this:

The Pasta Pot

The pot (and the readiness) is all.  Notice how it’s not perfect like a Martha Stewart ad: it has chips in it, it’s discolored, the lid handle’s a bit loose.  Yet I swear by this cast-iron beast and it’s importance in making a good sauce.  My mom swore by hers, too, which was an ugly olive green monster of a pot that weighed 15 pounds at least.  A good pot cooks everything evenly, so go to T.J. Maxx, drop $20, and you’ll have this buried with you when the time comes. It’s a must.

Half of the time, I make a Bolognese-style sauce, which is with browned ground meat in it; the other half of the time I make a marinara, which is sans meat.  With either one, you can make some meatballs or sausages, of course, which will add to the overall flavor of the sauce.  Personally, I rarely eat pasta because I prefer to make a meatball or Italian sausage sandwich on some good bread.  Make a salad to round it all out and everyone’s happy.

The Sauce

One batch will serve 4 to 6 people, usually

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 lb. ground beef, pork, or veal (turkey would work too, although ‘twould be sacrilege), browned and drained (optional)

5 cloves garlic, peeled

2- 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes (or whole peeled tomatoes crushed with your hands)

1 1/2 cups red wine

1 1/2 cups water

(*or enough red wine and water to fill one of the big cans, which is what I do)

2- 6 oz. cans tomato paste

1 tbsp. salt

3 tbsp. sugar

1 heaping tbsp. dried basil

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, depending on your spice-whimsy

and about 3 hours of time

Makin’ It:

In a large pot (like the one mentioned in my preamble), heat the olive oil over medium to medium-high heat.  Add the onions. You need to get them brown, and it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to do it.  This is the most important part, really. It’s where the flavor of the sauce comes from.  When they’re brown, throw in the garlic cloves and, if you’re using it, the browned meat.

Carefully pour in the tomatoes.  Pour the wine and water into the cans and swish it around to get as much tomato as possible from the cans.  (Note:  I wrote 1 1/2 cups of each liquid above, but I guesstimated because I usually use the equivalent of one large tomato can o’ wine and water, as noted above.) Stir.

Stir in the tomato paste, salt, sugar, basil, and red pepper flakes well.  Raise the heat to high and get it boiling.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 or 3 hours until it’s thick and happy.  Scrape the sides of the pot every 15 minutes (or so) so the sauce doesn’t stick to the sides.  Taste for salt, dip some bread in there and mangia while you cook-a.

If you’re making meatballs or sausages, put them in during the last hour of cooking and serve them on the side.  Pour the sauce over your favorite pasta and pass the parmigiano.  Pour some vino, raise the glasses, say it loud, and say it proud:

Acqua fresca, vino puro,

Fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs #1

18 Dec

Sauce and Balls 2

The picture above displays a bit of my soul. I have had meatballs and sauce on a weekly basis since I was born, I think.  I remember my mom starting the sauce around noon, and then the house would smell of tomato and garlic for the rest of the day.  As we came in and out of the house while playing, the aroma got stronger the closer we got to dinner.  My brother Chris had (and still has, I would guess) a penchant to take whatever bread was around, drench it in sauce, and then eat it with gusto, maybe even with a meatball on it.  In time, I acquired the same habit.  Simply put, this spaghetti sauce and meatballs is THE representative Italian-American dish.  We all do it in some shape or form.

(On a side note, The Sopranos got the “Sunday Gravy” idiom into the American vernacular when referring to sauce; I myself had never heard it called thus until I watched The Sopranos. Then again, my family emigrated from Naples straight to Los Angeles, so perhaps if I lived in New Jersey or Brooklyn, I might have a different experience of this.)

Any Italian who makes sauce has their own variation (kind of like how everyone has their own version of meatloaf, as I noted a few weeks back).  We might have learned it from our moms or grandmas or pops, but at some point we diverge from them and start playing, as Italians are wont to do.  I have my own recipe for sauce and for meatballs based on the one my mom taught me, which she learned from my nonna.  My brother Andy has his recipe for sauce and meatballs, probably based on my mom’s, and then suffused with his own interpretation.

My brother Chris gave me the recipe below a few weeks ago.  He has a few recipes for sauce and balls, but he told me that I need to make this and then, after I taste it, to try not to play with myself.  Go figure, I changed it a bit when I made it yesterday, and it is quite different from MY sauce (I will post MY sauce sometime in the near future…all good things to those who wait).  Still, I stayed pretty close to what he sent me and, no joke, it’s one of the best I’ve ever made and/or eaten.  What is superior in this recipe compared to mine is that it takes 1/3 of the time, which is a beautiful thing for people who are busy.  He told me that he got it from a New York Times cookbook, and I tried to find it online.  Alas, I found nothing near it, but my mentioning it here will serve as the equivalent of documentation.  If I come across it in the future, I will notate it then.

Spaghetti Sauce and Meatballs

Note:  Start making the balls when the sauce has been cooking for about ten minutes or so.

The Balls

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground veal (you could probably use beef if you’re in a pinch or if you’re anti-veal)

2 tsp. olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon dried dill, crushed, or 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsely, or 1 tsp. dried

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/4 cup grated parmesan

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (use dried if needs be)

1/4 cup flour

2 to 5 tbsp. of oil (veggie or olive) for frying

Makin’ It:

Heat the 2 teaspoons o’ olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add the onion and garlic.  Cook this until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes, and then set it aside to cool.

In a large bowl, add the veal, dill, parsely, nutmeg, salt, pepper, cheese, egg, and bread crumbs.  Add the cooled onion and garlic mixture now.  Wash your hands well.  Then, mix this puppy up with your hands (it’s the only way) and don’t be afraid to handle the meat too much.  Just get it all mixed together very well.

Have a glass of cold water next to you for you to keep your hands moist as you roll the balls.  Take about a 1/4 cup of the meat mixture and shape it into a ball.  Repeat until you have roughly 15 to 18 balls of fairly equal size.

In a large skillet, heat about 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat.  When it’s ready, a drop of water will sizzle and pop; don’t put in the meatballs until this happens.

Dredge each meatball in the flour and shake off the excess.  Put in half of the meatballs in the hot oil in a single layer, and cook these guys until they’re quite brown on every side.  Use a fork and tongs or some combination like it to move the balls around in the oil.

Shake off any excess oil (or drain them on paper towels) and put them directly into the simmering sauce.  Once they’re all in the sauce, cook them for about 30 minutes longer and they’re ready to go.

To serve, remove the balls to a separate bowl and pass them around the table with a serving spoon.

The Sauce

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife

1/2 cup white wine (or red, if that’s what you have)

2 28oz. cans crushed tomatoes (if you have diced, put them in a bowl and crush them with your hands)

1 tbsp. dried basil

1 tsp. salt (and then to taste as it cooks)

1/2 black pepper (and then some more to taste)

Makin’ It:

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan or pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat until hot.  Add the onions and cook them for a few minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium low and add the garlic.  Cook the onions and the garlic slowly for 20 minutes or so until the onion is golden brown (note:  This is KEY!  Browning the onions is where a lot of the flavor comes from, so don’t rush it).

Once they’re golden, raise the heat to medium high again and add the wine.  Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan if there are any.

Add the tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper and get it boiling.

Reduce the heat and let it simmer, partly covered, for 30 minutes.  Stir it once in a while. Add the meatballs and cook for another thirty minutes or longer, until the pasta is ready.  If the sauce gets too thick, add some water to it.

Make whatever pasta you want according to the package instructions, drain, and then put it back in the pot.  Immediately add about a ladle or two of sauce and mix it well into the pasta.  It coats the pasta.

Fill a bowl with pasta, top with a ladle of sauce, and pass the parmigiano and the meatballs.  Serve it with some good Italian or French bread, and end it all with a light salad.  Everyone’s happy.

Drinks!  You drink red wine with this.  The chianti with the basket around the bottom of it?  Go for it.  It’s made for this meal.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

p.s.  Thanks to my brother Chris for sharing the love by throwing this recipe our way.

©Jon Marino 2012