Thursday, December 29, 2016

New Year's Day Hoppin' John

Happy (almost) New Year!

Hope you've had a wonderful holiday so far! 

If you've followed the Tour for the last few years, you know that Hoppin' John is our traditional meal on New Year's Day. According to legend, eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day helps to ensure good luck in the coming year (the peas represent coins). I love that idea, but the main reason we make it is that it's delicious! This is a wonderfully hearty stew/soup, jam-packed with spicy andouille sausage (if you cannot find andouille, you could also use a really good kielbasa), smoked ham, and chopped onions, celery, and garlic (the low country trinity). Serve over rice and top with chopped scallions, a splash of Tabasco and cider vinegar. Add thick slices of crusty bread for sopping up the luscious broth, a green salad, and you're all set. If you like collard greens, you could make that as a side dish (collards represent paper money in the legend).

Wishing you all good things for the New Year!

Black-Eyed Peas with Andouille Sausage and Rice
adapted from "Hot Links and Country Flavors" by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly

2 C dried black-eyed peas or 4 C fresh or frozen
1-1/2 LBs andouille sausage or other good quality smoked sausage
1/4 LB chunk of country or smoked ham
6 C chicken stock or water
1 TB bacon grease or olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 TB minced garlic
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1-1/2 t dried
2 bay leaves
1 or 2 dried chili peppers or 1 t red pepper flakes
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t pickling spice
salt to taste
4 C cooked rice
chopped green onions, Tabasco sauce, and cider vinegar for serving

1. If using dried peas, rinse and soak overnight in water to cover by 3 inches. Drain, and place in a 6-8 qt pot with a 1/2 LB piece of the andouille, the ham, and the stock. Heat to boiling, then reduce to a simmer. (If using fresh or frozen peas, boil the stock first, then add peas, the 1/2 LB piece of andouille, and the ham. Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer).

2. Heat the bacon grease or oil in a heavy skillet, add the onion and celery and cook until soft. Add to the peas with the garlic and remaining seasonings. Simmer dried peas for 2 to 2-1/2 hours; fresh or frozen for about 30-45 minutes. In both cases, the peas should be tender and the liquid should begin to thicken.

3. Slice remaining sausage into 1/2 inch rounds. Fry briefly in a nonstick skillet and add to the peas. Remove the whole piece of sausage and the ham and chop roughly; return to the pot. Cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and pepper pods.

4. To serve, ladle pea mixture over rice and sprinkle with green onions, Tabasco, and vinegar to taste.

Yield: 6-8 servings.

Cook's Tour note: we always make this the day before serving to let the flavors meld.


Eat well, stay warm, be happy.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Bella Sicilia: Parte Quinta (part five)

Market Produce


Still so much to tell you about from our glorious trip to Sicily! 

We journeyed to the beautiful town of Modica where we raced through the tiny, winding streets in vintage Fiats (courtesy of the local Fiat club). What a blast that was! My first words at the end of the ride were “let’s go again!” 
After our ride, we visited Antica Dolceria Rizza, a chocolate shop where they still make chocolate the “old fashioned” way, as the Aztecs did. This chocolate has a slightly gritty texture and is not very sweet. Of course, we brought some home with us.

Ortigia
Many people have asked me “what was your favorite part of the trip?” It is very hard to answer that because this was truly an epic journey. But if I had to play favorites, one would be the day we spent in Ortigia, home to an array of architectural wonders, such as the Temple of Apollo and the fountain of Arethusa. Ortigia, is a lovely island situated next to Syracuse, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Syracuse is 2,700 years old and the birthplace of mathematician Archimedes. 
Spaghetti and Clams
Grilled Squid

But let’s focus on what’s really important here: the food! We meandered through Ortigia’s bustling outdoor food market ogling the gorgeous produce, cheese, and seafood. Based on a recommendation from the local guide, we had lunch at a simple seafood restaurant called L’Isoletta, smack in the middle of the market. This is where I had probably the best spaghetti and clams ever! No small claim in my book. We began with gorgeous squid, simply grilled with olive oil, lemon, and fresh herbs. Followed by a delicious fennel, mushroom, arugula salad, and then on to the main event. With fresh spaghetti and chock full of sweet clams, this dish was the essence of the Sicilian sea. House wine, crusty bread to sop up the juice, and my meal was complete.
Teatro Greco

The view from Taormina
If you go to Sicily, you must visit Taormina. Although the main city streets with high-end shops can be crowded, this picturesque hillside village with sweeping sea views, is home to an ancient Greek amphitheater (teatro Greco) that will instantly transport you back thousands of years. Built by the Greeks in the third century BC and then rebuilt and enlarged by the Romans, the theatre is still used today for classical, rock, and operatic productions. Taormina has a thriving arts community and hosts an annual international film festival (headed recently by Richard Gere). On a really clear day, you can see Mt Etna, the still bubbling and very active volcano. 
Mt Etna Landscape
Speaking of Mt Etna (“mountain that burns”), we traversed the switchbacks up the famous mountain to spend some time with the sweet donkeys who will take you for an up close view of the black lava. Guided by the father and son team of Etna Donkey Trekking, Santino and Salvo, have lived on the mountain all of their lives, and will never leave. The people who live here love “the Etna.” No matter that some towns have been completely wiped away by her eruptions, they rebuild. They have a bond with this mountain, forged by hundreds of years of learning her ways.
Salvo and Santino
This was an extraordinary day. To stand on an active volcano and see the lava it spews, and hear Salvo talk about the sustainable tourist model they are building, was another trip highlight. Donkeys have been used here for hundreds of years, first as the only real means of transporting people and goods up and down the mountain. Now, they carefully guide visitors along the paths to witness the ancient forests and geological marvel that is Mt Etna. In addition, they are used as therapy animals due to their docile nature.

Etna is the tallest volcano in the Mediterranean, 11 thousand feet above sea level. The last eruption took place in May, 2016 (just a few months before we visited!). Our guide made us feel (slightly) better about visiting a volcano that had just erupted by telling us that Etna is not that dangerous because it erupts so often. Then Santino slipped in the fact that two days ago there was a “big explosion” of one of the four major craters! Somehow, not feeling better…

Santino is the sixth generation of his family to live here (and he says he will never leave). His grandfather’s will specifically delineated that the property can never be sold to anyone outside the family. 
"mela"
Polpette and sausage

Archimedes Lever
After our donkey ride, Santino welcomed us to his home where his lovely wife had prepared a sumptuous lunch of chickpea soup, tender polpette (veal meatballs), grilled sausage, and “mela,” a kind of apple marmalade. Of course, this was accompanied by homemade wine produced from their 50 acres of vineyards. The building on their property, where they host groups, was built in 1860 to bring grapes for crushing. “Back in the day,” it took ten men to stomp the grapes, using something called an “Archimedes lever.” This huge lever, made out of oak and taking up almost the entire room, ceased being used in the 80s, but it still works and Santino gave us a demonstration.

In the next post, last, but certainly not least, our fabulous lunch at the two Michelin star restaurant, Il Duomo, in Ragusa!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday!

Ciao!