Friday, December 27, 2019

Turkey in the Arista Style, with Tuscan Bread Stuffing

For this holiday season, I decided that I would try something different.  Christmas Eve dinner is a well established tradition in my family, with the antipasta plate and wedding soup, followed by pasta with meatballs and sausage. That tradition has produced many great memories for me going back to my childhood. 

Traditions are good, in fact, they are great.  But, at least for me, I felt that I could be missing something if I didn't take a chance and try something different. There was only one question: what to make?

Recently, my beautiful Angel's parents traveled to Italy, spending time in Lazio, Tuscany and Liguria.  I too spent time in Tuscany, which provided me with the inspiration for the dinner.  I spent a lot of time researching main courses, but I wanted to make something that everyone could enjoy.  I ultimately decided to do an Arista, which is a dish that I previously made. Arista is a roast pork dish that is quintessential Tuscan cuisine. The problem with an Arista is that it is roast pork, and, my beautiful Angel does not eat pork.  My Angel does eat turkey, so I decided to apply the ingredients and cooking techniques of an Arista to a turkey.

To be sure, there are not very many turkeys gobbling around Tuscany. (Although, interestingly, there is a highly challenged study that says the ancient Etruscans, who called the area of Tuscany their home around 900 B.C. came from Anatolia, which is currently known as Turkey.) But, the use of a rub of rosemary, garlic, fennel seed and clove pretty much made this turkey smell like a Tuscan pork roast. 

Additional Tuscan flavor and character was added to the bird with the stuffing.  I searched far and wide  on the Internet for a "Tuscan stuffing."  I came across one recipe for a Tuscan Bread Stuffing. This recipe incorporated many classic Tuscan ingredients, such as rosemary, sage and chestnuts.  The use of pancetta is also key, as its fat provides flavor at every level and stage of preparation.  

Overall, this is perhaps the best turkey that I have ever made; and, according, to my beautiful Angel, the stuffing is the best that she has ever had.  This recipe is now the Savage Boleks' standard for a stuffed turkey dinner.  This may be the beginning of a new tradition ... for now.

Turkey recipe adapted from Reinhardt Hess & Sabine Salzer, 
Regional Italian Cuisine, pp. 148-49
Tuscan Bread Stuffing Recipe adapted from Tasting Table
Serves many

Ingredients (for the turkey):
1 whole turkey (about 12 pounds)
4 lemons, zested
8 to 10 sprigs of rosemary
10 cloves of garlic
4 teaspoons of fennel seeds
4 pinches of ground cloves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 stick of unsalted butter

Ingredients (for the stuffing):
1 1/2 pounds ciabatta bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
8 ounces pancetta, small dice
1 package turkey liver and gizzards (from 1 large turkey)
2 medium carrots, peeled and small dice
2 celery stalks, small dice
1 large yellow onion, small dice
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 cups turkey stock + 2 cups of turkey stock
1 cup roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup minced sage
1/4 cup minced rosemary
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Prepare the turkey.  Rinse the turkey well.  Pat the turkey dry.  Separate the skin from the turkey so that you can apply the rub directly onto the meat. Combine the lemon zest, rosemary, fennel seeds, ground cloves, garlic, salt and black pepper into a small bowl.  Mix well.  Add enough olive oil to create a paste.  Continue to mix.  Once the paste has the desired consistency, apply it to all parts of the turkey, including under the skin.  Reserve some of the rub for basting. Allow the turkey to rest for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.

2.  Prepare the stuffing.  Preheat the oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lay out the bread on a baking sheet and bake until dry, about 25 to 30 minutes.  Transfer the bread to a huge bowl.  While the bread is baking, heat the pancetta in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook, stirring often until the pancetta is crispy and the fat has rendered, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to the bowl with the bread.  Drain the fat into a separate bowl.  Add back 1 to 2 tablespoons of the fat to the pan and add the liver and gizzards.  Cook the ingredients, turning as needed until golden and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes for the liver and 8 to 10 minutes for the gizzard.  Transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop, then add to the stuffing bowl.

3.  Continue to prepare the stuffing.  Add a little more of the pancetta fat back to the pan.  Add the carrots, celery and onion to the pan.  Sweat the ingredients until softened, 6 to 8 minutes.  Transfer the vegetables to the stuffing bowl.   Add the butter to the pan and cook until it begins to brown and has a nutty aroma.  6 to 8 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in the cream to warm through.  Add the butter mixture to the stuffing bowl with the remaining ingredients (namely, the turkey stock).  Using your hands, mix the stuffing to incorporate.  Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. 

4.  Prepare to roast the turkey.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Stuff the turkey's cavities with the stuffing, and place the remaining stuffing in a baking dish.  Roast the turkey for about 3 hours or until the turkey's internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Baste the turkey approximately every hour with melted butter that has some of the rub mixed into it. Fahrenheit. Once the turkey reaches that temperature, remove the turkey from the oven and cover it.  Place the baking dish full of stuffing in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes to 45 minutes, or until the stuffing begins to crisp on the surface.  Remove the stuffing and set on the stove to cool.

5.  Prepare the au jus.  Drain the liquid from the roasting pan into a separator.  Pour the juices into a pot, along with 2 cups of the turkey stock. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper if necessary.  Bring to a boil under medium high heat and reduce to a simmer.  Allow to simmer until you are ready to serve. 

6.  Finish the dish.  Spoon the stuffing into a serving bowl.  Slice the turkey and place on a serving dish.  Serve immediately.


Thursday, December 19, 2019

Roasted Tomato Relish

Side dishes are a rare post on this blog.  It is not that I don't cook sides to go with the main course.  It is just that most of the side dishes that I make are not, in my opinion, blog-worthy.  However, given that I have not been cooking as much recently as I have in the past, and in light of the resulting lack of blog posts because of that fact, I have begun to write some posts about some of the better side dishes that I make. 

This recipe, Roasted Tomato Relish, is one of those side dishes that merits a blog post. Roasted tomatoes -- especially small ones -- are, by themselves, a very delicious side.  The addition of some red wine vinegar and sugar provides elements of tartness and sweetness that works well with the acidity in these little fruits. Add some additional flavor elements, such as garlic, shallots and mustard, then that side dish takes on a little more complexity.   

This is not just a tasty side dish, it is also a very easy dish to make.  In other words, this is a side dish that may become a go-to on Chef Bolek's house menu.

Adapted from Recipe in CSA Cookbook, page 38
Makes 2 cups

3 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
2 shallots sliced
6 garlic cloves, unpeeeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 bay leaf

1.  Roast the vegetables.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, shallots, garlic oil, salt and pepper.  Spread the vegetables across a large rimmed baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 15 to 20 minutes until the tomatoes burst and begin to caramelize.

2.  Saute the vegetables.  Remove the baking sheet from the oven and peel the garlic.  Combine all of the roasted vegetables with the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds and bay leaf in a medium saucepan.  Simmer on medium heat and stir occasionally until the volume is reduced to almost half, 30 to 45 minutes.  The relish should be very thick, syrupy and chunky.  Remove from heat and discard the bay leaf.  Serve warm or chiled.


Saturday, December 14, 2019

Big Creek Vineyard's Frontenac (2017)

"Frontenac is what you grow when you can't grow Cabernet Sauvignon."  That is what the nice person at the tasting room for Big Creek Vineyard told me as I sampled Big Creek's wines with my beautiful Angel.  She tried to explain that, given Big Creek's vineyards are in Pennsylvania, which is slightly too far north for Cab Sauv grapes to grow well, the winemakers have cultivated Frontenac to produce a wine that could stand side by side with a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Frontenac is a truly American varietal, because it is a hybrid grapevine produced with Landis Noir grape with a native Vitis Ripara grape that is more resistant to the cold.  And, it can get very cold at the University of Minnesota, where the varietal was first crossed and tested. After successfully creating the hybrid varietal,  the vines made their way to vineyards, where winemakers used the grapes to produce dry sweet wines or rose wines. Some winemakers have even used Frontenac to make port (as I note below, I can totally see that). 

Located near Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, Big Creek Vineyards takes the Frontenac grape and produces a single varietal wine that, as I note above, is intended to stand on its own like a Cabernet Sauvignon wine.  The tasting was very interesting, and, I have not seen Frontenac wines around where I live (perhaps because Cabernet Sauvignon grows a little better around where I live), so I decided to buy a bottle and do a review. 

The Frontenac pours a solid crimson, almost burgundy color.  The color is very deep, almost impenetrable, suggesting a bold wine.  The wine's aromatic elements are expected, with cherries being front and center. I had some difficulty pulling other aromatic elements from the wine, and, my research did not produce much in the way of descriptors for the Frontenac grape.  (There was a lot about Frontenac Gris, but that is a white grape.)

As for the taste, I can totally see why this grape would make a great grape for port wines.  It is a solid wall of cherries, but not any cherries.  The types of cherry flavor one would expect from a port, just without the aguardente or, in cheaper versions, everclear. The fruit is so forward, that one cannot really discern any other taste elements, such as earthiness, in the wine. 

As the first Frontenac wine that I have ever tried, I have to say that Big Creek Vineyard hit it out of the park.  I would never expected a wine like this being produced in the State of Pennsylvania, as opposed to Maryland or Virginia -- or, for that matter, California or Washington. If you happen to find yourself in the Poconos, or, more specifically in Jim Thorpe, check out Big Creek Vineyards and this Frontenac wine. Until next time...


Saturday, December 7, 2019

Chef Bolek's Oyster Stew 2019

A little more than one year ago, I first encountered the Oysterfest.  A festival surrounding the oyster, the iconic shellfish of the Chesapeake Bay (and, yes, elsewhere, but as someone in the Delmarva, there is only the Bay). The very first thing that I did was serve as one of 500 judges in a taste testing of oyster stews.  I did a post about that experience, which you can find here.  I had such a great time trying the different entries of oyster stew, that I decided to make my own Chesapeake Oyster Stew.

One year later, I returned to the Oysterfest, ready to serve as a judge at the oyster stew competition.  There were only four contestants this year.  Oyster Stew A was very good, but it was lacking a little something in my opinion, although it is hard to explain what exactly was that "something."  Oyster Stew B was very good, and, it helped that I got a few full oysters that I was able to enjoy along with a slight kick in the background of the stew.  Oyster Stew C was good, in that it had the smoky notes that one can get using bacon.  The big drawback was that no one skimmed off the grease, which left a reddish film on the top of the stew. Oyster Stew D was somewhat avant garde, relying upon the flavor of the oyster liqueur than the oysters itself.  Overall, I decided that Oyster Stew B was the best.  As for all of the other judges, a majority chose Oyster Stew A.

After that event, I was inspired to create a new oyster stew for 2019.  I decided to draw from the avant garde nature of Oyster Stew D, but to use actual oysters.  I wanted to make an oyster stew without cream or milk.  That is truly thinking out of the box as that cream or milk is a fundamental characteristic of this type of stew.  The substitute came in a triumverate of liquids.  First, I decided to use white wine, and, in this case, a Chardonnay. The best wine would be an unoaked wine or a slightly oaked wine (which is what I used).  Second, I decided to use clam juice, which gives a taste that works well with seafood soups. (It is great when one cannot find seafood stock.)  Third, I did what every self-respecting cook does when making oyster stew, I used the oyster liqueur. 

The one other major change that I did is to use ham hocks, as opposed to bacon.  The difference is significant because, due to the high salt content of a ham hock, there is not as much grease in the pan as with bacon.  I crisped up the pieces of ham hock to provide some texture elements in the soup, but I had to add a little oil to prevent everything from simply burning.  

In the end, this so-called "avant garde" style of oyster stew was a great experiment.  The only thing that was missing is what I love in oyster stews ... that slight hint of smokiness that comes from the use of bacon.  Perhaps it will find its way back into the Chef Bolek's Oyster Stew 2020. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

16 ounces of oysters, with liqueur reserved
1 cup finely diced onion
1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup of red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup of clam juice
1 cup of white wine, such as Chardonnay
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped
2.5 ounces of ham hock (wiping off most of the salt), diced
3 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

1.  Saute the ham hocks and vegetables.  Add the oil and heat a medium sized pot on medium high.  Add the ham hock and saute, stirring occasionally, until it begins to crisp.  Add the onions, celery, potatoes, bay leaves and thyme.  Continue to saute until the onions become translucent, and the celery and potatoes begin to soften, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add more oil if the bottom of the pot becomes dry to avoid burning the ingredients.

2.  Add the liquid.  Add the wine and stir the ingredients.  Then add the clam juice and the oyster liqueur and stir again.  Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat.  Continue to simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

3.  Add the oysters.  Add the oysters to the stew.  Cook for about three to five minutes until the oysters are opaque.  If your guests want their oysters cooked a little more, let it go for an additional minute or two.

4.  Finish the dish.  Pour the stew into individual bowls.  Add a few oysters to each of the bowls.  Serve immediately.