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Ropa Vieja

ropa vieja

Ropa vieja, or so it is said, is “The National Dish of Cuba,” and I suppose it’s OK to say such a thing, but I’ve encountered a number of other things that probably could qualify for such a title. Setting that aside for the moment, I really wanted to come up with something that could be made in a slow cooker rather than done fresh, and after looking around a bit, I found some good ideas that gave me a place to start and the result was very high on my list for a great slow cooker recipe.

To understand ropa vieja, you really have to understand that it’s basically a stew using flank steak, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc., then supplemented with olives and a little cilantro. And like most stews, it actually gets better a day or two after you make it. I mean that, too. It gets really better after it’s been cooked and refrigerated a day or so.

The slow cooking method gives the flank steak a chance to cook slowly and gives you that sort of “ropy” texture that makes the dish just what it’s supposed to be, but without a long time standing at the stove. It works really well for this. And I promise you, this will be a mainstay on your menu for a long time to come.

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A Lovely Tuna Risotto

tuna risotto

There are a whole lot of great reasons to do almost any kind of risotto, but this one conjures up a kind of Mediterranean seafood risotto that really wins, big time. It’s dubbed a tuna risotto, but that really doesn’t even begin to understand this dish. It’s full of tomatoes, wine, some peas and of course tuna. It’s a kind of Italian seafood fest and then some.

I found this in an old New York Times article I think all the way back to 2008, kept it around for a year or more, and then finally tried it out one day. I’m sorry I didn’t try it much sooner. It’s that good. I half expected the tuna would kind of wash out everything else, but in fact it really brought out the other flavors. Made them better. And other than a bit more garlic than originally called for, I really didn’t change the dish all that much.

It’s a gem.

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Gazpacho — The Perfect Treat for Labor Day

gazpacho

The thing about gazpacho is — the truth is that there really isn’t a recipe. By that, I mean that you can do a lot of different things and still, at the end, what you have is gazpacho in one form or another. 

The one thing you need is to have a mess of good tomatoes, especially home grown tomatoes, a little garlic and some sliced onions, maybe say about a half an onion for about 2 pounds or so of tomatoes. There are plenty of other things you can do with gazpacho, but with bad tomatoes, I wouldn’t even give it a try.

Why bother with gazpacho? Mainly because when it’s done well, there is basically not a single thing I can think of that hits the spot on one of those days when the summer sun is hot and the cool, crisp temperature of that perfect tomato concoction is just perfect. Nothing even comes close to it.

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Effortless Pork Chop Braise

effortless pork chop braise

I’ve never been a big fan of pork chops, as a general rule. In fact, there really is only one other pork chop recipe on Discovery Cooking in the two-plus years I’ve been writing here. Part of that is that it’s really a difficult task to get a chop that’s  not too dry or just unfit to eat, really. But I came across a really simple pork chop recipe that, for some reason, I just had to try, in part because it was a simple evening meal that for some reason just seemed like I had to give it a shot. The results were very good. Even excellent, in fact.

This recipe uses  chops that are very thick. If all you can find at the grocery are thin, under an inch thick, stop by the meat counter and ask for something at least an inch and a half or maybe two inches or more. You’ll be glad you did. The rest of the recipe is fairly simple, with mainly tomatoes and a bit of anchovies, and some polenta, rice or noodles to soak up the juices. 

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A Very Basic Shakshouka

Basic Shakshouka

Shakshouka is a beautiful, colorful blend of North African and middle eastern culinary traditions that makes for a tasty and hearty breakfast or dinner. It’s also versatile. You can add any number of ingredients to this basic recipe and so long as you’ve got that bright red, spicy sauce and some eggs, you’ve still got shakshouka. My only departure from the standard base is to add some onions, because, well, I like onions.

Like most dishes from this region, it’s hard to pin down the origin, but most of the sources I found credit the start of the modern version to Tunisia. From there it spread across North Africa and into the Middle East, where it now is a favorite breakfast or dinner in Israel. In Tunisia, the dish often includes artichoke hearts, potatoes and/or broad beans. I’ve also had it with sausage, chick peas, and feta cheese, in various combinations.

In other words, experiment and have fun.

This version uses harissa, the arabic blend of spices built around chili peppers. You can find it either in paste or dried form in most mainstream groceries, these days and it’s easy to find online. Some recipes I’ve seen call for other chili-based spice blends. Again, use what you like. You also can add more eggs to stretch the dish to feed more people, so long as everyone gets an egg or two.

A Basic Shakshouka
Serves 4
Shakshouka is a beautiful, colorful blend of North African and middle eastern culinary traditions that makes for a tasty and hearty breakfast or dinner.
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Ingredients
  1. Olive oil
  2. 2 Tbsp. harissa (or to taste)
  3. 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  4. 1/2 cup diced white onions
  5. 2 large red peppers, diced small (about 2 cups)
  6. 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  7. 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  8. 1 28 oz. canned whole tomatoes
  9. 4 large eggs
  10. Salt
Instructions
  1. Heat a large heavy skillet (cast iron is great) over medium heat and when it fully heated, add enough olive oil to just cover the bottom.
  2. When the oil is heated, add the onions and peppers and saute until they're softened.
  3. Add the harissa, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cook for another minute or two.
  4. Add the tomatoes, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for a further 10 minutes, using the back of a wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  5. When the sauce has reduced a little and become very thick, use a spoon to make four evenly spaced indententations in the sauce and gently break and egg into each indentation.
  6. Reduce temperature a little, cover and simmer until the eggs are poached to your liking.
  7. Remove from the heat, leave for a couple of minutes to settle, then spoon into individual plates and serve with fresh bread (Challah is great for this).
Discovery Cooking http://www.discoverycooking.com/
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Tuscan Panzanella

Tuscan Panzanella

Ah, tomatoes. When I was growing up, my grandfather always had a dozen tomato plants in a little garden spot that actually was on a neighbor’s property (better sun) and from the early part of June I’d check them almost every day, first to trumpet the first tiny yellow blossoms, then the first little green fruits, and finally, the best day of all, when then first few tomatoes were ready for picking. Now, it’s the Saturday farm market, where the first ripe, local tomatoes are showing up. And that means it’s time for panzanella.

Panzanella (or at least the 20th century version) is a salad from Tuscany that’s designed to take advantage of fresh tomatoes. In its pure, traditional form, is it merely ripe, juicy tomatoes tossed with a little oil, vinegar, onions and chunks of stale crusty bread (which softens as it absorbs the tomato juices). Modern chefs have upped the ante by adding a host of other fresh ingredients, including fresh mozzarella, lemon juice, basil and other herbs, and garlic.

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Fregola Sarda with Zucchini, Tomatoes and Sausage

fregola sarda

Fregola Sarda is one of my favorite pastas. I first encountered it at a restaurant in Las Vegas and when I couldn’t find it at any of my local grocers, I resorted to ordering online. Then I found a terrific little Italian deli that stocks a lot of different pasta types by Rustichella D’Abruzo just a few miles from home. Naturally, I grabbed some fregola and broke out the pasta pot.

If you’ve never seen fregola Sarda, it’s made with semolina flour rolled into small balls about the size of baby peas, then toasted in an oven. As you might guess, it’s native to Sardinia. The toasting gives the fregola a nutty taste and the little balls of pasta brown unevenly in the oven, they’re not uniform in color like most pasta. That makes a dish of fregola visually appealing, even on its own.

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