Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Spiff Up Those Harvested Garden Crops.

August, a time to begin harvesting the bounty of the gardens, and having in mind to store and/or share.  For some gardeners, this may be a second coming for crops such as tomatoes, squashes, peppers, and other hardy vegetables.  Potatoes, onions and garlic are dug up and placed in root cellars; or heavy duty containers layered with straw.  Herbs have been clipped, tied, labeled and hung upside down for drying; their aromatic scents soothing the mind, body and soul.

However, that does not mean that the enticement to eat is thinking about hibernation.  The colors of vegetables tickle the mind with recipe ideas.  The tomato fruit ripened sweet, begging to be sliced and eaten.  Perhaps layered upon toasted rustic bread, smeared with garlic and paired with Buffalo mozzarella and savory leaves of basil.

So comes an introduction to another Italian dish, Pizzaiola.  “Pizza” is within the name, but the inclusion of tomatoes, garlic and onions is as far as it goes.  Hailing from Campania, Naples, Pizzaiola features a Neapolitan style of cooking, focusing on cheaper cuts of meat.  The meat is sliced, or cut into pieces or strips, and cooked slowly in a sauce of tomatoes, olive oil and oregano; some versions include garlic, capers, peppers and basil. It is a way of making a hardy meal with what little you have to work with. So on to my story...

I have made this dish during my first marriage, but my ex-husband always hated it.  Funny thing about him was, his ancestry was Italian and he disliked Italian foods.  Should have known right then there was something not quite right about him; never trust an Italian that does not enjoy food of his own heritage.  However, that is water under the bridge, and my second husband, Roy has enjoyed all I have made.  Well, except for Eggplant Parmigiana which we both dislike.  Oh, I will make it for those who ask for it, I do not discriminate when it comes to culinary cultures.   

Anyway, back to the Pizzaiola which I typically make with thinly sliced chuck steak which is cheaper, but also fattier in texture.  To tenderize, lightly sprinkle salt, ground black pepper and red wine vinegar (two tablespoons) over the sliced meat (two pounds).  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Defrosted was a one quart container of vegetarian pasta sauce containing a pureed mixture of tomatoes, eggplant (see, it has its uses), zucchini, red bell peppers, garlic, onions and Italian herbs.  However, the garden has been harvested; hitting the vegetable bin: tomatoes, onions, zucchini, mushrooms (store bought) and green bell peppers. The colors would be amazing in the skillet, simmering in my rich sauce with slices of steak!

Now let’s put this masterpiece together, shall we?

Carefully unwrap the meat on a large plate, or juices will be running all over your counter.  Using a large, deep skillet, add two tablespoons of olive oil, high heat, and sear the meat on both sides.   If you happen to use a leaner cut of beef, it is not very fatty, so leave it in just long enough to get the sear, but not cook it completely. Fattier meats will take a bit longer and you want to discard the melted fat, or you'll end up with an oil slick on your sauce. Yuck!

Give the skillet a wipe down with a paper towel; now spread two cups of sauce in the pan and lay the beef on top of the sauce.  

Typically I would just use sliced onions, but this time I was going for the whole color palette. Two tomatoes cut into wedges, 1/4 lb. of sliced white mushrooms, two sliced zucchini, one julienned green bell pepper, and one sliced large onion. There was no need for extra minced garlic or Italian herbs as it was already in my sauce. Yes, yes, some of these vegetables were already in the vegetarian pasta sauce, but they had been cooked down and pureed. We were going for texture here. Spread the vegetables over the steak.  

Spread remaining sauce over all and work it between the vegetables with a spoon.  

Cover the skillet with a lid, set the heat on medium-low and let it cook for two hours. Occasionally stir the sauce throughout the vegetables and meat; if the sauce is bubbling hard and splattering, reduce the heat to low. Since it will be cooking for two hours, you do not have to rush to make your pasta, but have it ready once the Pizzaiola is done. 

Usually the Pizzaiola is served over Rigatoni; this tubular pasta with ridges catches onto, and holds the sauce so well.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat and as much of the veggies as you can to a serving platter. Take your cooked pasta and immerse it into the sauce remaining in the skillet and let it cook together for about five minutes. This will allow the pasta to pick up the flavors from the sauce.

There should be eight servings to this meal, however, Roy overindulged and doubled up on his plate.  I just love that man, and he so loves my cooking.  Watching him eat, and the pleasure on his face, it just fills my heart with love and joy. 

Anyway, if you want to impress your family and/or guests, consider making this Italian dish.   
Thinking to yourself, how do I make this a more romantic meal for two?  Embark on a new adventure into Pizzaiola, making it a luxurious cruise using London broil. The evening before,   cut the London broil into one inch pieces, seasoned with salt, ground black pepper and a sprinkling (two tablespoons) of red wine, instead of red wine vinegar.  Encased in plastic wrap, the meat marinates overnight, the red wine infusing a heady flavor, and tenderizing as well.   Spoon the Pizzaiola over long, flat strands of Tagliatelle, and perhaps have a Lady and the Tramp moment. Do not forget the candlelight!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Hmmm of Fried Dough.

Fried foods, in general, give the kind of mouth-feel that says, "All is right with the world."  Why, is the question, but we all know the answer, it is the fat.  It does something to our taste buds, and our brains, which make us feel happy all over.  Fats are able to dissolve quickly, concentrate flavor, and release odor chemicals into the air.  The molecules from these chemicals enter the nose and mouth, so you are experiencing the “taste” even before the food is eaten.  For example, sizzling bacon in the pan, the smell wafting throughout the kitchen, the salivary glands begin working and you can “taste” that bacon before it is fully cooked. 

But, is eating fat good for the human body?  Good question, and the answers are surely confusing when considering Unsaturated Fat vs. Saturated Fat vs. Trans Fat.  Unsaturated Fat has two categories, and these are the best fats, nutrition wise: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated.  Contrary to the name, the “saturation” deals primarily with not how the food, being fried, absorbs the fats, but the human body.  The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has a short, but informative, and easily understandable, article on the different fats available, and their benefits, or lack thereof.  (

Using “bad fats” for cooking is often justified by thinking the basic nutrition of a food will outweigh the “bad”.  For instance, deep fried vegetables, even the light Tempura style, are packed with veggie nutrition, right?   Sure, whatever you say; but we all know it is the crunch of the deep fried batter that we crave, and no one is thinking about nutritional value.

Now when it comes to deep frying, dough is a favorite in many cultures.   Native Americans have Fry Bread, which is nicknamed the “scone” of Utah.  Zeppole; singular term is Zeppola, and in the Southern dialects it is Zeppoli, are light, deep-fried dough balls about 2 inches in diameter.  They originated in Italy to celebrate the Feast of Saint Joseph.  Since it is typically in the season of Lent, these can be compared to the German, Fastnachts; a type of deep fried donut made with flour, sugar and a fat.  If in New Orleans, the Beignet is the equivalent; all can be covered in powdered sugar, cinnamon, and, sometimes, filled with fruit or jam.

The all American favorite is the donut, supposedly invented by Hanson Gregory, an American. He created the ring-shaped dough-nut in 1847, aboard a lime-trading ship, when he was 16 years old; then taught the technique to his mother.  He punched a hole in the center of dough, with the ship's tin pepper box.  This enabled the dough to cook thoroughly throughout, and easy to flip over.  Now this story has been deemed an old sea tale, considering fried dough has been around for centuries, within many global cultures.  The hole in the dough-nut is attributed to a Jewish refugee, from czarist Russia, named Adolph Levitt; responsible for inventing the first automated doughnut machine in 1920. His machine-produced doughnuts were labeled the “Hit Food of the Century of Progress” at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair.

Whether it is fry bread, beignets, Zeppole, or any other type of fried dough, deep down inside, we all have a little Homer Simpson in us.  "Hmmm...Donuts".  Nuff' said, and here are two recipes to try when you have got that fried, sweet food craving.

Apple Fritters


Oil for frying
2 cups flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
2 and ½ tsp. cinnamon
2/3 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 and ½ cups diced apple (peeled)


3 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 and ½ tsp. vanilla
½ cup warm water


Fill deep fryer to fill line, or deep skillet halfway up, with oil; bring temperature up to 375F.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and cinnamon.  Add in milk and eggs; beat, on medium speed, till smooth; fold in diced apple.

Use 1/3 measuring cup to spoon up batter, and a rubber spatula to ease the batter into the oil.  Depending on size of deep fryer, or deep skillet, 2-3 fritters can be made at a time.

While first batch is frying, in a small bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla and water to make the glaze; whisk until smooth and creamy.

When fritters are golden brown, drain on paper towels and let cool slightly; dip fritters into glaze and place on jelly roll pan lined with waxed or parchment paper.

Makes 6-8 fritters.

...but not to be outdone...



Vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. baking powder
Powdered (confectioner’s) sugar


Pour oil to fill line in a deep fryer, or deep skillet; bring temperature to 400F.

In medium bowl, mix together flour, eggs, sugar and baking powder until smooth.  Using a teaspoon, drop batter into the hot oil; depending on size of fryer, about 3-4 at a time.

To turn the Zeppoli in the hot oil, use a wooden chopstick or kebob skewer.  When the Zeppoli floats to the top, and is golden brown all around, remove to paper towels to drain. While hot, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes about 2 dozen.

Mary Cokenour