Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving?


What Thanksgiving?

Working this holiday weekend as always so we had dinner on Sunday the 20th instead.

One genuinely silver lining in this crummy cloud--I get to post my pics before anyone else (and if anyone has already posted those are probably from last year or someone's cheating with a time machine).


But before anything--

'Man does not live on bread alone' or so the saying goes; might say the same of proteins. Instead of antipasti (before the pasta) we had antiturkey (before the turkey) which as it turns out happens to be pasta.

Confused? Good. 

Marcella Hazan's recipe is called 'The Only Tomato Sauce You'll Ever Need' and with a name like that who can resist? Plus it's done in 45 minutes (more or less, if you time your pasta carefully). Plus it calls for at most five ingredients, including salt and pasta.

So: one 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes (San Marzano preferably); five tablespoons of butter; half an onion, salt to taste. Toss everything into pan (minus the can silly) simmer on medium heat for forty-five minutes. Pull out onion (the recipe says 'discard' but after simmering in all that tomatoey goodness who's going to turn down a perfectly cooked snack bulb?). Sometime during the simmering crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. 

And that's it. No fooling. Ready to ladle over noodles. 

Well not really. I doubled the portions (two cans instead of one, ten tablespoons of butter--well maybe twelve--so on and so forth) because I know how everyone loves the stuff. Ten minutes before it's done (Stir or tomatoes will burn) you should have a pot of water boiling to which you add enough salt that you can taste the brine, throw in the dried pasta (if cooking time is nine minutes, cook for eight) yank out at the right moment and--this should happen quick--shake once twice to get rid of excess water, drop in pan. 

Y'all know what happens next: pasta will continue cooking, sucking up sauce and releasing starch that adds flavor and body, a match made in heaven. Church bells toll, angels sing, glory be hallelujah.

Well maybe not in your kitchen but they do in mine. Maybe I should have my head examined. 

At one point I asked C if it tasted all right; he said yes. I asked if it needed anything. He said meat.

I looked at him hard. "Okay, but next time we do it the way it's supposed to be done, meatless."

So I chopped a pound of Steely's (one of the best butchers in town you betcha) rope sausage and tossed it into the sauce. And in deference to C's palate, sprinkled a tablespoon or two brown sugar.

Yes it tasted great (look at pic below). Hot pasta, not tangy but tangy-enough tomatoes made unctuous by all that butter, adorned by sweet-salty sauteed pork.  

Still--next time I stick to the recipe. 


 

On to the main event: thawed out the lamb leg. 

O you thought I was going to do turkey? 

Three things:

1) Turkey's bland bland meat that takes forever including brining, subcutaneous butter insertion, dry rub, and marinade to season right; 

2) Turkey's near-impossible to cook--you either have to truss or spatchcock the bird or better yet cut it up and cook in batches (dark meat first--takes longer--breast to follow).

3) It's my holiday (Nov. 20) and I'll cook whatever I want darn it.

So: thawed out leg, plonked it on rack and pan, and according to the recipe found in Food and Wine magazine (I know I know I've posted this on Facebook time and time again--well this is the official story written specifically for this blog okay?) stabbed carcass all over with the tip of a sharp knife, inserted little slivers of garlic into the slits like so:



The recipe called for harissa and helpfully provided a link to where I might order some online. Three problems with that: 1) Not all that proficient at ordering online; 2) the harissa might not be so fresh and pungent if ordered online; 3) I don't have the cash to order online (the lamb I bought last year when we happened to have a little disposable income; been comatose in the freezer since).

So I made my own

It's not rocket science; soaked ten dried chilies (in my case anchos and pasilla negras) for thirty minutes in hot water, scraped out the seeds cut off the stems tossed in a food processor with three cloves garlic, pinch of salt, two tablespoons olive oil, teaspoon ground coriander, teaspoon ground caraway seeds (as if I could find any, so took some seeds and ground them on a stone mortar--better that way), half teaspoon of ground cumin and blitz the sucker till creamy.

Instant harissa.

Slather maybe a couple of tablespoons on the leg, rubbing some into the garlicky slits; season with salt all over. Garlanded top and bottom with sprigs of fresh thyme. The result should look something like this:



Tuck that baby in the fridge overnight.  

The next day stick roast in 325 F oven for two hours, with two cups of water in the bottom of the pan. 

Crucial difference: recipe called for adding nearly a pound of dried apricots and a cup of oil-cured black olives, but L, C and A made it  clear to me on pain of death (or at least a very serious maiming) that a pound is not enough; they want more. More, they want it sweeter and meltingly soft, a compote almost. 

So I added two pounds of apricots with the water. What hey you only live once. 

Two hours up transferred the steaming meat on a platter, took out rack, stirred oil-cured olives (can't find pitted, so I cut em in half by hand) into the apricots, added oil-cured lemon slices.

Lemon slices what lemon slices? Forgot to tell you: the day before (Such a timey wimey narrative we weave) sliced two lemons thinly, piled on a plate full of sugar and salt, drizzled with olive oil, stuck in the fridge overnight.

The result is a pile of somewhat mushy fruit and bright citrus, on which we plop our massive browned appendage (blackened thyme sprigs discarded of course) as seen below:


 That metal rod sticking out the side isn't a centurion's spear by the way but a thermometer. Stick back in 325 F oven for around thirty minutes, or when internal temperature hits 135 FThe results should come out something like this:

Let meat rest for 45 minutes (Look I promised delicious food not fast food); meantime pour half a cup of red wine (I used a Cabernet Sauvignon--how should I know what label or year? It's red wine is all I care about), tasted, sprinkled a tablespoon of brown sugar.What can I say? Rich tender meat with a smoky spicy crust (thanks to the harissa), accompanied by a salty-bittersweet compote of apricots and olives and wine. Served with mixed greens that I dressed in Weyira olive oil and balsamic vinegar (no really that balsamic is so thick and sweet it's almost like raspberry syrup, fit to pour as condiment over ice cream).

A, L & C loved the lamb; loved the apricot compote (jam?); loved the sweet thick dressing on the greens. The lemon's still too bitter and tough to eat (next time maybe I'll slice em thinner and oil-cure them weeks in advance)--but boy doesn't it look pretty on that plate?


Next: for my next not-quite holiday (I'm working Christmas Eve), dry-aged roast beef maybe, and a goose cooked two ways--well one can always dream. Stay tuned.

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