Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

This is a classic Tuscan dish that is very simple to make and very easy to improvise. The most important element of this dish is the steak -- it should be a porterhouse steak, and, preferably, a big one. When I make this dish, I use a porterhouse steak that ranges anywhere from 1.5 to 2 pounds. It is best prepared on the grill; however, you can also use the broiler. Enjoy.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina
(serves 3-4)

1 2lb Porterhouse steak
3 cloves of garlic
4 sprigs of rosemary
sea salt
black pepper
Balsamic vinegar

Dice the cloves of garlic and the rosemary. Put it in a bowl. Add liberal amounts of salt and black pepper (I usually add more pepper than salt). Mix the ingredients. Then rub the ingredients onto the porterhouse steak. Let the steak rest for a few minutes.

Heat the grill to medium heat. Put the steak on the grill and let it cook for a few minutes. Turn the steak 90 degrees. After all, you want to get the grill marks. Let it cook for a few more minutes and then turn the steak over. Repeat to ensure there are grill marks on the other side.

Cooking times vary depending upon the size of the steak. One good way to check if the steak is done is to press on the steak with the tongs. If the steak seems firm, then it is fine and should be removed from the grill. Let the steak rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then serve.

To properly serve the steak, you should cut around the bone, which will result in two "filets." Slice each of the filets and leave them with the bone.  Drizzle some balsamic vinegar over the steak and serve.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Polpettini d'Agnello

Maccheroni alla Chitarra con Polpettini d'Agnello is a classic dish from the region of Abruzzo. The dish has three components: (1) the pasta, (2) the sauce and (3) the lamb meatballs. This recipe takes several hours to make, principally because of the time needed to cook the sauce and really intensify the flavors within that sauce. This recipe also calls for handmade pasta, using the rather unique "chitarra," which is a traditional pasta maker from Abruzzo. I have made this dish several times and, each time, I tweak the sauce and the meatballs to bring out new tastes and give each meal its own personality.

The Tomato Sauce
The recipe begins wtih the tomato sauce, which is slow cooked for at least three to four hours, but I prefer to cook it five or more hours. The sauce cooks down over the long period of time, concentrating the flavors of basil, oregano, crushed red peppers and tomatoes. It is a simple sauce, based on the recipe handed down in my family. To make the sauce, you need:

1 can of tomato paste
1 can of tomato puree

3 cans of water (use one the paste can for one and the puree can for two)

Dried basil, to taste

Dried oregano, to taste

Crushed red pepper, to taste

Salt, to taste

Crushed black pepper, to taste

2 cloves of garlic, diced

Olive oil

In a large pot, heat the garlic in the olive oil. Saute the garlic and, after a couple of minutes, add the paste, puree and water. Mix the ingredients well. Then add the basil, oregano, onion powder, salt and pepper gradually, tasting it as you go along. Let the sauce simmer for about 3 to 4 hours, checking it occasionally for taste and to ensure that it does not cook down too much.
Lamb Meatballs

The meatballs can be made of beef, pork, or veal; however, I really like ground lamb. When the herbs and spices are added to the meat, it really adds several layers of flavors that complement the lamb. These meatballs can convert anyone who is wary of eating lamb because of any preconceived notions about that "lamb" taste. To make the meatballs you need the following:

Approx. 2 lbs of ground lamb

1 cup of bread crumbs

1 egg

Dried basil, to taste

Dried oregano, to taste

Onion powder, to taste

Garlic powder, to taste

Crushed red pepper, to taste

Crushed black pepper, to taste

Salt to taste

Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly. Take the mixture and form a medium-size ball with your hands. After forming the meatballs, brown the meatballs in a frying pan with a couple of teaspoons of oil. After the meatballs are browned, pat them down to remove the excess oil. Then add the meatballs to the tomato sauce.

Chitarra Pasta

This recipe calls for handmade pasta, no boxed pasta, no electric pasta makers. Although the recipe is simple, it can be difficult in execution.

4 cups of flour
3 eggs

Create a volcano with the cups of flour and break the eggs into the the center of the volcano. Make sure that the "walls" of the volcano are thick enough to hold the eggs in the center. Take a fork and begin to beat the eggs gently. As you are beating the eggs, begin to incorporate the flour from the sides of the mountain, starting at the top. Continue to add flour until you have a consistent paste. As the mixture comes together, form it into a ball.

Clean the workspace and then sprinkle flour over the working surface. Gently knead thedough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Make sure that there are no sticky spots in the dough (as a sticky dough will simply clog the pasta machine). Once the dough has been kneaded, begin to run it through a handcrank pasta machine at the widest setting. Repeat this five or six times. Then run the pasta through each of the other settings on the pasta machine, except for the last setting.

Once you have finished with the second-to-last setting, lightly sprinkle it with flour and set aside for a couple of minutes. Then cut the pasta into segments.

If you have a chitarra, place the pasta on top of the strings. Using a small rolling pin, gently run the pin up and down the pasta until it falls through the strings. Repeat for each segment.

To cook the pasta, place it in a pot of boiling water (with salt added). Cook the pasta for a couple of minutes. When the pasta is done, drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Paglia e Fieno

Paglia e Fieno, also known as "Straw & Hay," is a traditional pasta dish from the Emilia-Romagna region. This recipe is a modified version of a recipe that I tried during a class taught by Stephen Sands at the L'Academie de Cuisine. The original recipe called for the use of reduced chicken stock. I modified the recipe to use dried mushrooms and the reserve liquor from the mushrooms in place of the stock, making it vegetarian-friendly. Also, the original recipe called for the use of prosciutto, and I have kept that in the recipe as an option for those non-vegetarians.

Any mushroom can be used in this recipe, although it is best to mix a few varieties together. You can use shiitake, oyster, cremini, porcini, or a pre-packaged mixture of wild mushrooms. When I have made this recipe, I usually use dry porcinis with a pre-packaged mixture of wild mushrooms (available at gourmet stores or from Most recently, I made this recipe with morels, chanterelles and a mixture of wild mushrooms.

This recipe is also best with handmade fettuccine - old school style with the hand crank pasta maker. However, for those who do not make their own pasta, look for fresh fettuccine.


Paglia & Fieno
(Serves 4-6)

4 oz. prosciutto
12 oz. mixed, wild mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, cremini, porcini, morels, chanterelles, etc.)
1/2 large lemon, juiced
2/3 to 1 cup of reserve liquor from dried mushrooms (see below)
1 cup to 1 & 1/2 cup of heavy cream
1clove of garlic, finely minced
2-3 tbsp. of butter
Fresh basil
Fresh parsley
Sea Salt
Fresh ground pepper

First, rehydrate the dried mushrooms in warm water for approximately 30 minutes. Be careful, mushrooms are like sponges and will take in a lot of water. Check them a couple of times and remove them from the water after no more than 30 minutes. Take the liquid and run it through a cheesecloth to remove any remaining dirt or other matter. Pour the liquid into a sauce pan and add a few fresh basil leaves, salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer for approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

Cut the proscuitto into thin strips. Take the mushrooms and slice them into thin pieces. Drizzle the lemon juice.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter to a saute pan and saute the minced garlic. Pour in the whipping cream and the reserve liquor and reduce until smooth.

In a separate saute pan over high heat, add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. After the mushrooms begin to lose their moisture, add 1-2 tablespoons of butter and saute the mushrooms until tender. Once the mushrooms are tender, add the prosciutto and fresh parsely. Simmer on very low heat until all ingredients are warmed through.

When you are ready to serve, add the mushrooms to the saucepan with the heavy cream and reserve liquor and mix the sauce together.

Once the pasta is ready (i.e., after you have brought a pot of salted water to a boil and cooked the pasta in it), add the pasta to the sauce. Garnish the pasta and sauce with a chiffonade of basil and with fresh, grated parmigiano reggiano.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Angeli della Fragola

Strawberry Angels.... Or, more appropriately, Strawberry Shortcake Angels. This is my first creation. Inspired by my Angel (you know who you are). I prepared this as a dessert for Christmas. Of course, this dessert can be made for any occasion.

This is a very simple recipe - premade shortcakes, fresh strawberries, fresh mint, and whipped cream. Yet, there is a lot that can be done to tweak the recipe. For instance, vanilla beans and lemon can be used to provide contrast to the other flavors.

I'm still experimenting with this recipe, which is my own creation. That's right, this is something new. There are three layers - one premade and two to be made. The shortcake shells are available at any grocery store. The filling in the shortcake shell consists of diced strawberries, and the scrapings from vanilla beans. The topping is a whipped cream, which gives the appearance of clouds. Strawberries act as the angels and fresh mint represent their wings. After I made this recipe, I thought of using lemon zest to create halos. That will be for the next time.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4-6

2 pints of fresh strawberries
2 vanilla beans
2-3 tablespoons of strawberry jam
whipped cream
fresh mint
pre-made shortcake shells

Select the largest fresh strawberries and set aside, as those strawberries will be the angels. Take the remaining strawberries and dice them. Take the vanilla beans, scrape the vanilla and add it to the diced strawberries. Also add some chopped mint. Then, add the strawberry jam to the mix all of these ingredients.

Take a spoonful of the strawberry mixture and place it in each shortcake shell. Once all the shortcake shells are filled, take a spoonful of whipped cream and place it on top of the strawberry mixture. Try to place the cream in a manner that replicates clouds.

Once the whipped cream is added to all of the shortcake shells, take the large strawberries and slice them in half (to make it easier to eat them). Place the two halfs together in a shell, using the cream to hold the strawberry halves together. Then take two good size mint leaves and anchor them in the whipped cream. Repeat with each shortcake shell.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Brodetto alla Pescarese

This is my take on a classic Italian dish. A brodetto is a seafood stew often prepared by fishermen along the Adriatic sea using whatever fresh fish is available to them. Thus, the fish used in a brodetto almost always varies, and, to add to the complexity, a brodetto may also contain shrimp, mussels, clams and/or calamari.

The spices used in a brodetto also vary from town-to-town and region-to-region. In this recipe, I focus on spices and flavors that are emblematic of Abruzzo -- crushed red pepper and saffron. I do not provide measurements for the spices because I go by taste, adding a little at a time until I achieve the desired taste.


(serves approx. 6-8)
A Chef Bolek Original

2.5 pounds of fish, preferably different types (such as red snapper, bluefish, turbot and/or tilapia)
1.5 pounds of shellfish, preferably 16-20 count shrimp
2 cans of whole tomatoes (canned with tomato puree and basil)
2 cans of water
1.5 cups of a dry white wine (preferably a Trebbiano d'Abruzzo)
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 medium sized shallot, diced
1 large onion, sliced
Crushed red pepper, to taste
Saffron stands, to taste
Dried basil, to taste
Olive oil
Flat leaf parsley, chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Mixed peppercorns, ground, to taste
Baguette, sliced

Pour a little olive oil into a pot and heat to medium. Add the onion and shallots and cook for a few minutes. Then add the garlic. Cook until the onions, shallots and garlic are translucent.

Add the whole tomatoes, water and the white wine. Mix the ingredients together with a slotted spoon, breaking up the tomatoes. Add the crushed red pepper, saffron, dried basil, salt and ground pepper. Continue to mix. This is the base of the brodetto and it should simmer for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Add the fish and allow the fish to cook for a few minutes. Then add the shrimp. Once the fish and shrimp are cooked through, remove the brodetto from the heat.

Toast the baguette slices and put a slice at the bottom of each bowl. Spoon the brodetto into each bowl and top the brodetto with flat leaf parsley.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Okay, I'm not a chef, at least not in the classical sense. I do not have any formal training. I am not employed as an executive chef, sous chef, line cook, prep cook, or any other cook. I have a dream of being a chef in my own restaurant, like Michael Symon and his restaurant Lola or Mario Batali and his restaurant, Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca. But, alas, I'm just a regular guy motivated by a love of food, wine, beer and, of course, cooking.

My love of cooking was prompted by a vacation I took in 2006 through the Smithsonian Journeys. The trip, called "Joys of the Italian Table," was led by local chef and restaurateur, Francesco Ricchi. I learned about the various aspects of cooking and wine growing in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany and, more importantly, tasted the various foods and wines of those two regions. This trip marked the beginning of my love for cooking. Ever since then, I have been learning as much as I can about cuisine and cooking, beginning with the various regions in Italy. As my knowledge and skills improve, I hope to expand my efforts into the differing cuisines of far distant lands as well as close to home.

I created this blog to post my recipes, whether traditional or experimental, for those who are interested. I realize that the world of interested individuals will probably will be a small group of family and friends. Nevertheless, rather than having to e-mail recipes over and over again, I thought I would create a blog where anyone could get the recipes anytime they wanted.

I hope to do more with this blog than simply post recipes. When I have the time, I will also post my observations and ruminations about food, wine and beer.

I should also point out that I'm not a professional blogger. This is my first foray into the blogging world so please excuse the mess....