Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Kansas City Strip Steak Fra Diavolo

     Fra Diavolo Variations
     There are two major variations of Fra Diavolo sauce.  One is made with olive oil, butter, garlic and crushed dried red chile pepper.  The butter olive oil sauce version usually accompanies shrimp or lobster.  
     I used to sell lobster fra diavolo at a classy Northern Italian restaurant many years ago.  This entrée is made by splitting large lobster tails in half and sautéing them quickly in butter, olive oil and garlic.  Crushed dried red pepper and crushed black pepper are added when the lobster is halfway cooked.  After the peppers are added, the temperature is reduced and small splash of dry white wine or chicken broth is added, then the liquid is evaporated to finish the lobster.  
     Steak Fra Diavolo is sometimes prepared with a butter olive oil crushed red pepper sauce, just like lobster fra diavolo, but the spicy "a la minute" tomato sauce version of Steak Fra Diavolo is more popular.  Which version of fra diavolo is applied to a steak just depends on an Italian American chef's preference or interpretation of the recipe.  
     Fra Diavolo Origins
     Fra diavolo is an Italian American creation, but most chefs in Italy know the recipe and its variations.  I have worked with Italian chefs who literally just got off a plane from Italy and had never been to America before, yet the chefs cooked Lobster or Steak Fra Diavolo on their first night in a restaurant like they knew the recipe by heart.  This goes to show that Italian chefs worldwide do communicate Italian cuisine trends with each other, wherever they happen to be.  

     Fra Diavolo literally translates to "Brother Devil."  The word "brother" in the translation refers to a monk or a priest.  Fra Diavolo was the nickname of Michele Pezza, who was a heroic Italian guerilla leader who resisted the French occupation of the Kingdom of Naples in the late 1700's.  Michele Pezza often disguised himself as an Italian priest when reconnoitering in French army territory and this is how he earned the name Fra Diavolo.  
     Michele Pezza is symbolized as the last cavalier in many of the works of the French writer Alexandre Dumas and there is an opera that is named Fra Diavolo.  An Italian guerilla freedom fighter, a priest who was a spy and a cavalier!  This romantic opera hero is associated with the words "fra diavolo" and this is why Steak or Lobster Fra Diavolo is a nice speciale del giorno for a Valentines Day menu.  
     Today's Recipe
     There really is no single definitive Steak Fra Diavolo recipe.  Lobster or Steak Fra Diavolo is basically an entrée that allows a chef or sauté cook to boast their own cooking skills and their mastery of hot chile pepper flavor balance.  Steak or Lobster Fra Diavolo is usually a speciale del giorno that is meant to impress guests that enjoy spicy Italian flavors.     
     Earlier in this article, I described how lobster fra diavolo is made and I mentioned that steak fra diavolo is usually made with a tomato sauce that is cooked to order.  I apprenticed with many Italian chefs during my career.  Every Italian chef that prepared steak fra diavolo seemed to have their own interpretation of the recipe and each chef's interpretation involved showing their finesse in creating flavor.  Some Italian chefs added dry white wine, while others added dry red wine.  Some added extra garlic.  Some added sage or oregano.  Some used fresh overripe local tomatoes and some used canned tomatoes imported from Italy.  Some used crushed dried red pepper and some used fresh red chile pepper.      
     Today's recipe features a Kansas City Strip Steak that is prepare Fra Diavolo style.  A Kansas City Strip Steak is a loin steak that has a portion of the bone attached.  A New York Sirloin Strip Steak is boneless.  Many steak enthusiasts tend to prefer steaks that have the bone attached, because more flavor is created.  There is some kind of a primal instinct that is satisfied by carving steak meat off of the bone and this adds to the appeal.  
     The peppers that I chose to use in the fra diavolo sauce were red Fresno Peppers.  Fresno peppers are about the same size as a jalapeño, but they look more like a large Tuscan Pepper.  Fresno peppers have a little bit more spicy heat than a jalapeño or a Tuscan Pepper.  The flavor of a Fresno Chile Pepper tastes like a definitive classic hot red chile pepper.  There are no fruit or tobacco flavor undertones and there is no green vegetable flavor in this breed of chile pepper.  The flavor of red fresno peppers is perfect for making Kansas City Strip Steak Fra Diavolo.     

     Kansas City Strip Steak Fra Diavolo:
     This recipe yields 1 serving!  Like many Italian saute recipes, everything is cooked in one pan.
     Step 1:  Select a 12 to 14 ounce Kansas City Strip Steak.
     Season the steak with sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium high heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of blended olive oil.
     Add the strip steak.
     Add 1 whole red fresno pepper.
     *Sauté the pepper, till a few golden brown highlights appear and the pepper becomes tender.
     Set the whole pepper aside and keep it warm on a stove top.
     *Sauté the steak on both sides, till it is almost cooked to the preferred state of doneness.  (For example, if medium rare is preferred, cook the steak rare at this stage.)
     Step 3:  Remove the steak from the pan and set it aside.  Keep the steak warm on a stove top.
     Drain off any excess grease from the pan.
     Step 4:  Place the pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter. 
     Add 2 cloves of thin sliced garlic.
     Sauté till the garlic becomes a light golden color.
     Step 5:  Add a few onion strips.  (about 1/5 cup)
     Add 1 teaspoon of minced shallot.
     Add 1 seeded diced red fresno pepper.
     Sauté till the onions start to turn clear in color.
     Step 6:  Add 1/2 cup of dry red wine.
     Add 1/2 cup of beef broth.
     Simmer and reduce the liquid, till only about 1/2 cup remains.
     Step 7:  Add 1/2 cup of imported Italian tomato puree.
     Add 1/4 cup of imported crushed Italian San Marzano Tomatoes.
     Add 1 small pinch of ground sage.
     Add 1 small pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 small pinch of basil.
     Add 2 to 3 pinches of crushed black peppercorns.
     Add sea salt to taste.
     Step 8:  Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a very thin tomato sauce consistency.  
     Step 9:  Add 2 pinches of minced curly leaf parsley.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of virgin olive oil.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Step 10:  Return the strip steak to the pan.
     Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a medium thin tomato sauce consistency.
     Step 11:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Place the steak on a plate.
     Spoon the sauce over the steak and onto the plate.
     Place the sautéed whole fresno pepper on top of the steak.
     Garnish with a small lemon crown that is pressed in chopped curly leaf parsley.

     Fra Diavolo is one of the tastiest steak preparations that there is!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Pasta e Fagioli

     Pasta e Fagioli!
     Pasta Fagioli is delicious, hearty and full of flavor!  Italian Pasta Fagioli recipes can vary from one household to the next and there are many regional interpretations.  This Italian specialty can be served as a soup or a complete entrée.  There are vegetarian versions and some recipes feature Italian pork products.  Ditali Pasta is most often used to make Pasta Fagioli, but the pasta shape is open to interpretation too.
     Overall, Pasta Fagioli reflects upon simple peasant style food.  Depending on the family or chef, Pasta Fagioli can inspire sentimental memories of poor economic times or it can elegantly express a healthy peasant style harvest season meal.  The ingredients in a Pasta Fagioli recipe usually reflect upon family traditions.
     I learned today's Pasta Fagioli recipe variation while apprenticing with a great Sicilian Chef in a New York Italian style fine dining restaurant.  Sicilian chefs always seem to go over the top of the scale when impressing guests with flavor and the style of his Pasta Fagioli certainly accomplished this task.  The Sicilian chef stated that to achieve peak flavors, Pasta Fagioli should always cooked to order.  His choice of pasta was Fettuccine and it creates an interesting visual effect.
     By the way, the word "Fagioli" is pronounced as "FAH-Zooo" in America.  The chef died laughing when I pronounced Fagioli the first time as "FAGGY-O-LEE!"  I was still a very green apprentice back in those days.
     Pasta Fagioli:
     This recipe yields one large bowl of zuppa!  
     This style of Pasta Fagioli is always cooked to order and it is never prepared ahead of time.
     To make 2 or more portions, an extra wide soup pot is the best choice.
     Step 1:  Cook 1 small portion of fettuccine in boiling water, till it becomes al dente.
     Cool the pasta under cold running water.
     Drain the water off of the pasta.
     Set the pasta aside.
     Step 2:  Heat a wide sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of imported Italian Pancetta that is cut into small 3/16" thick strips.
     Sauté till the pancetta starts to lightly brown.
     Step 3:  Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic.
     Add 1/4 cup of small chopped onion.
     Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
     Step 4:  Add 2 large escarole leaves that are sliced into wide ribbons.
     Add 2 paper thin slices of imported Italian Prosciutto that are cut into 3/8" wide ribbons.
     Sauté till the escarole wilts.
     Step 5:  Add 3 tablespoons of imported Italian canned crushed plum tomato.
     Add 8 to 10 whole Italian Parsley leaves.
     Add 2 thin sliced fresh sage leaves.
     Add 1 pinch of oregano.
     Add 1 small pinch of crushed red pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of basil.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Briefly sauté for a few seconds, till the herbs become aromatic.
     Step 6:  Add 3 cups of chicken broth.
     Add 1 cup of rinsed cooked cannellini beans or rinsed canned cannellini beans.  (Cannellini are white kidney beans.)
     Step 7:  Bring the soup to a gentle boil.
     Rapidly simmer and reduce the soup, till the broth develops a full flavor and the soup reduces to about 3 1/2 cups in volume.
     Step 8:  Add the reserved small portion of al dente cooked fettuccine pasta.
     Step 9:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer and reduce till the volume of the soup is about 2 3/4 to 3 cups.  The broth should be very rich and not watery.
     Step 10:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Immediately pour the soup into a large shallow soup bowl.
     Try to expose some of each of the ingredients on the surface of the soup.
     Serve with finely grated Italian Parmigiana Cheese and sliced Italian bread on the side.
     This is a great tasting Pasta Fagioli.  Escarole adds a very light buttery cabbage flavor.  Pasta Fagioli is a great afternoon soup that is really a full meal! 

Friday, December 18, 2015

French Saffron Dill Clam Chowder

     A Nice Light Clam Chowder!
     Chowder was originally created in France.  The first chowders were very simple and milk was not always part of the recipe.  Local folks simply gathered clams and mollusks along the shoreline in Northern France, then simmered the shellfish in a broth or water with mild herbs and salt pork.  Western world ingredients, like potatoes, were added to the recipe later in history.
     Even in modern times, many chowders are not made with milk.  By far, the most popular are Manhattan Chowder and Bahama Chowder.  Both of these chowders feature tomato and mild peppers.  Along the American Northeast Coastline, there are a few local chowder recipes that are only made with clams, onion, bacon and potato.  These clear broth chowders are also satisfying on a cold day.
     I used to sell plenty of today's rustic French style Saffron Dill Clam Chowder in Florida during the hot humid summer months.  A great French chef taught me how to make this chowder at a small café.  This chowder has a light thin body and it has a great flavor.  Clam juice is not used to make the broth.  The broth is made with light chicken stock.
     I usually make my clam soups and chowders with fresh clams or fresh frozen clams.  Where I currently am located in Chicago, the fresh seafood has not been looking too good for a few months.  It pays to be careful about choosing fresh seafood and canned clams are always an option for chowders.
     For today's recipe, I chose to use canned baby clams.  If there is not any good fresh clams available, then canned baby clams are a good choice.  Both canned baby clams and tiny Ipswich Clams are very tender, when compared to canned chopped large ocean clams.  Canned chopped large ocean clams do tend to be tough and rubbery.
     We used to garnish this soup with a few toasted croutons at the French café in Florida.  For today's chowder presentation, I chose Indian Masala Khakhara Bread.  Masala Khakhara is a very thin unleavened bread that is flavored with turmeric.  Masala Khakhara can be found pre-made in Indian markets.
     French Saffron Dill Clam Chowder: 
     This recipe yields 1 large portion of chowder!  (About 2 1/4 cups)
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Add 3 tablespoons of finely chopped celery.
     Add 3 tablespoons of finely chopped onion.
     Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
     Step 2:  Add just enough flour to absorb the excess butter while stirring.  Stir till the butter is absorbed and a roux forms.  (2 teaspoons is plenty)
     Step 3:  Raise the temperature to medium heat.
     Add 3 cups of light chicken stock, while stirring.
     Stir occasionally, till the chowder starts to boil.
     Step 4:  Add 3 ounces of canned baby clams.  (Do not add the clam juice to this soup!)
     Add 1 bay leaf.
     Add 1 pinch of Crocus sativa Saffron (or 2 pinches of Safflower Saffron).  (Rub the saffron between your fingers, so the full flavor is released.)
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh dill weed.
     Add 1 pinch of turmeric.
     Add sea salt and white pepper to taste.
     Step 5:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer and reduce the chowder, till the volume is about 2 1/4 cups
     Step 6:  Remove the bay leaf.
     Ladle the chowder into a shallow soup bowl.
     Garnish with a few toasted French bread croutons.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.
     Optional Garnish:  Crack a large Masala Khakhara Bread into 4 pieces.
     Place the Masala Khakhara pieces in the chowder, so they lean against the rim of the soup bowl.
     The light chicken stock adds a very soothing flavor to this French style chowder.  The Masala Khakhara adds a nice touch to the presentation.