Sunday, December 27, 2009

"La Bella Cucina" & "Family Circle Great Chicken Recipes" - (Italian) Sunday Meat Sauce and Chicken Breasts Mornay

Date I made these recipes: December 24th and 25th, 2009

La Bella Cucina – How to Cook, Eat, and Live Like an Italian by Viana La Place
Published by: Clarkson Potter/Publishers
ISBN: 0-609-60518-6
Recipe: Sunday Meat Sauce – p. 139

Family Circle Great Chicken Recipes by Family Circle magazine, edited by Patricia Curtis
Published by: Cowles
© 1968
Recipe: Chicken Breasts Mornay – p. 114

You know, just about everyone else I know stresses out about presents and family gatherings and getting the Christmas cards out on time and decorating and whatnot at this time of year but not me. I stress out about food, specifically: what do I serve for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?

You think I’d be prepared by now given that I went through the same stress last year…and the year before…but alas, no. Guess I’m a slow learner.

You’d also think that with a cookbook collection of almost 1,150 cookbooks that this wouldn’t be a problem and again you’d be wrong. There’s something about a holiday dinner that makes me feel like I should be cooking something fancy and complicated like beef Wellington when what I really crave is a good casserole. (Actually, what I really wanted was a greasy hamburger but for that, one really needs to go out to a greasy dive to get one and good luck finding a greasy dive that was open for Christmas!). And so I pored over recipe books and finally came across a chicken and cheese sauce dish to which I added side dishes of noodles and broccoli—all the components of a good casserole had I mixed them all together.

As to Christmas Eve, it is traditional in my family to have spaghetti and meatballs (or sans meatballs depending on what the Pope had to say about meat on Christmas Eve –can you say buzzkill?) and this dish wasn’t quite that but it did involve meat and so na-na! This recipe came from one of my mom’s cookbooks, one of the few she had on Italian cooking and while it’s not our family recipe, it did in a pinch.

As far as Christmas dinner was concerned, I used another one of my mom’s recipe books – Family Circle’s Great Chicken Recipes. (My mother loved Family Circle and Women’s Day magazines and every time I see them on the shelf I think of her) I think we can safely establish that it wasn’t even close to something like Beef Wellington but I wanted comfort food and I wanted easy and so voila, mission accomplished.

Now I’m gearing up for the next cooking dilemma – what to make for my family when they come to town for New Year’s? The first order of business was to make reservations for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in town, The Lexington, (because I have my priorities straight) and I think the rest of the time, I’ll cook yet another round of spaghetti, this time with meatballs, and a roast and perhaps even a turkey breast—or not. But while I mull over that conundrum, the Green Bay Packers are playing and so “Tally ho and away we go, see you next week in a brand new show!” (It’s from the Heckle & Jeckle [cartoon] Show in case you were wondering—and yes, I am that old! And yes, Heckle & Jeckle are two talking crows—what’s your point?!).

Sunday Meat Sauce – serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 ½ pounds assorted veal, pork, beef and lamb not ground but cut with scissors or a sharp knife into small pieces or dice (ask your butcher to do this; most will happily oblige). Note: I used just beef and veal.
Sea salt and a grinding of black pepper
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 fresh bay leaf
½ cup red wine
1 pound very ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
Spring or filtered water, as needed
1 pound imported artisanal pasta (almost any shape works with this sauce except very delicate ones, but ruffled lasangette pasta is a particularly fine match)
Freshly grated recorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or a mixture of the two

Heat the olive oil and onion in a braising pan our soup pot. Cook over low heat until the onion is golden and tender. Add the meat and brown over medium heat for several minutes.

Add the salt and pepper to taste, hot pepper flakes, bay leaf torn in half, and red wine. Let the wine bubble until it evaporates.

Add the tomatoes, stir, and cook, covered over low heat for 1 ½ hours, stirring regularly, until the flavors develop fully. Check often and add water as needed to prevent scorching.

Cook the pasta of your choice in abundant salted boiling water. (I can’t say as I’ve ever seen a directive to use “abundant” salted boiling water before but I like it!) When al dente, drain well and toss with the sauce. Generously sprinkle with a handful of cheese and toss again before serving. Serve with extra cheese at the table.

NOTES: as previously discussed in my blog about The French Laundry’s lasagna, this is a bad time of year to buy fresh tomatoes so I used Pomi, a boxed product that can be purchased at an Italian grocery store or more of an upscale grocery such as Lund’s or Byerly’s (local stores). As to the meat, I diced it as small as I could but still felt the result was more like stew meat in tomatoes than a true ragu which typically consists of slow-braised meat that just falls apart after cooking.

Chicken Breasts Mornay – Makes 4 servings
I just had to hoot at the tag line for this recipe: “A nippy cheese sauce sparks bland and delicate white meat.” I don’t know if “nippy” is the right word but it made me chuckle.
4 chicken breasts
¼ cup flour seasoned with ½ teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper
¼ cup (1/2 stick) melted butter or margarine
Mornay sauce (makes about 1 ¼ cups)
2 teaspoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup milk
½ cup chicken stock
¾ cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon prepared mustard
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Melt butter or margarine in small saucepan; remove from heat. Blend in flour, salt, and pepper; stir in milk and chicken stock. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens and boils 1 minute.

Add cheese, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until cheese melts; remove from heat. Stir in parsley; serve hot.

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