Friday, January 18, 2013

Earthy, rustic fare on New Year's Eve

Greg and I invited over to my apartment two dear friends over for NYE.  They are newlyweds expecting their first child (a girl - we are all very excited!).  Pie in hand and bundled in thick coats against the sharp cold of the evening, they made their way over to my apartment in the city to ring in the new year with us.  

No celebration is ever complete without good food.  And lots of it.  With that motto in mind, Greg and I served the following menu:
     To start, "charcuterie cones": thinly sliced chorizo salami, topped with a mound of radicchio salad (shredded radicchio, chopped peperoncini, toasted pine nuts, and finished off with a red wine vinegar olive oil dressing), and rolled up into a cone.
     Appetizer: sausage and radicchio orecchiette
     Main course: Asian-brined pork loin, sauteed mustard greens, and herbed bulgur-lentil pilaf

Greg slicing the pork loin

mustard greens sauteed with fresh garlic and minced shallot

home-made apple pie, lovingly baked by our friends

sausage and radicchio orecchiette
herbed bulgur-lentil pilaf

The sausage and radicchio orecchiette is a recipe from the the Cooking Channel's Extra Virgin, co-hosted by actress Debi Mazar and her native Italian husband Gabriele Corcos.  They live a rather charmed life, splitting their time between their home in Brooklyn and a house just outside of Florence, Italy.  Each week, they invite viewers into their kitchen to share with them fresh, traditional Tuscan-inspired recipes.  Even to a casual follower of the show like myself, it's clear that their passion for food and for each other (even after a decade of marriage they appear madly in love) is authentic.  Their creations are simple dishes with earthy, rustic flavors.

The orecchiette is my favorite of their dishes.  The fats from the pork sausage lend a rich, hearty flavor to the dish, and the crushed walnuts are a healthy way of adding further flavor and texture.  Radicchio, with its tinge of bitterness, nicely complements the sweetness of the sausage, and the wine completes the perfect harmony of flavors.  (Although most of the wine gets cooked away, we used chicken broth for this meal.)

The herbed bulgur-lentil pilaf we also served that night is really special, not only for its flavor, but also for the fact that it is the first dish that Greg and I ever cooked together.  It is really simple to make but oh, so delicious.  And it's nutritious enough to stand as a meal in itself.  The lightness of the bulgur, the slight crunch of the lentils, the earthy notes of the herbs, and the zestiness of the lemon juice, all work to make this magical dish.

All photos courtesy of my friend Jason

Sausage and Radicchio Orecchiette
Recipe courtesy of Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar, Extra Virgin.  Serves 4 to 6.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
1 handful fresh mint
2 fresh bay leaves
4 (6-ounce) pork sausage links, casings removed
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 handful walnuts, hand crushed
2 cups orecchiette
1/2 head radicchio, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onion and the sausages and using a wooden spoon, break up the sausages into small pieces as you brown them. Add the mint and bay leaves and continue to cook.

Once the sausage is golden brown, add the wine to the pan, and stir away, let the alcohol evaporate, then lower the flame and season with salt and pepper. Add the walnuts and let the sauce slowly simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions for al dente.  When ready to serve, add the readicchio to the sauce, and stir well.  (You want to wait until the last minute to make sure that it stays crunchy.)

Add the cooked pasta and toss.  Add some grated Parmesan, to taste.  Serve immediately.

Herbed Bulgur-Lentil Pilaf
Recipe courtesy of Ellie Krieger.  Serves 4. 

1/2 cup green lentils
1 cup bulgur
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 yellow pepper, seeded and finely diced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives 

1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place lentils and 2 cups broth in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Boil 5 minutes, then reduce to a simmer and cook until lentils are tender and most liquid is dissolved, about 30 minutes.  Drain any remaining liquid.  

While lentils are cooking, place bulgur and remaining 2 cups chicken broth in an other small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until most liquid is dissolved and bulgur is tender, about 13 to 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.  Add the bulgur to the lentils.

Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add peppers and cook until peppers are tender, another 5 minutes.  Add the onion mixture to bulgur-lentil mixture.  Stir in parsley, basil, chives, lemon zest, lemon juice, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss to incorporate.

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