Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Braised Short Ribs

My friend Mark Hoff made these short ribs for me during one of my family’s semiannual visits to his home in Providence. My daughter, Abigail, liked them so much she insisted that I learn how to make them. This incredibly rich dish goes especially well with fresh fettuccini, which Abigail likes to make, but a good dried penne will do nicely.

 (serves a crowd)

olive oil
2 oz pancetta, finely diced
5 lb beef short ribs
3 medium onions, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
28-oz can whole or diced tomatoes
12-oz can tomato paste
several sprigs of fresh thyme, to taste
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
beef stock, as necessary (about 4 c)
red wine, as necessary (about 1 bottle)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a Dutch oven filmed with olive oil, render the pancetta over medium-low heat, about 8-10 minutes. After moving the pancetta to the outside of the pan and raising the heat to medium-high, sear the short ribs for 3-4 minutes per side. Do this in as many batches as necessary so that the meat isn’t crowded. Remove the ribs and set them aside.

3. Reduce the flame to medium-low. Add more olive oil, if necessary, and sauté the mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery) until wilted but not browned, about 10-12 minutes.

4. Place the meat on top of the mirepoix. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, salt, and pepper. Then add equal parts beef stock and wine until the level of the liquid approaches but doesn’t completely cover the top of the meat.

5. Braise the ribs uncovered in the oven for at least three and up to five hours, adding liquid as necessary to keep up the level.

• When the ribs are tender, the bones and spent thyme sprigs can be removed easily with tongs.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rosemary Focaccia

The most important ingredient in this recipe is time. There’s not much work involved, but you’ve got to allow several hours for the dough to rise. If you’re tempted to hasten the process, remember that the more time you allow, the better the focaccia will be. After all, you’re not making matzoh here.

2 c warm water
2 Tbs sugar
2 pkg active dry yeast (not rapid-rise)
5 c unbleached flour
2 tsp kosher salt
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, stripped and minced
¾ c good olive oil
1–2 Tbs sea salt

1. Pour the water into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Stir in the sugar and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let the yeast proof for 5 minutes. (It should foam slightly; if it doesn’t, the yeast is dead, and you should start over with fresh yeast.)

2. Add the flour, salt, half of the rosemary, and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Mix very slowly until the dough forms a ball, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium slow and knead for 3 minutes. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead again for another 3 minutes.

3. Oil a mixing bowl large enough to handle twice the volume of the dough, pooling about a tablespoon of oil in the bottom. Transfer the dough to the bowl and roll it in the oil so that the dough ball becomes coated. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the dough doubles in volume, about an hour.

4. Line a rimmed cookie sheet (also known as a jelly roll pan) with parchment paper and oil the paper well using another tablespoon or two of the oil. Transfer the dough from the bowl to the pan and drizzle it generously with more oil, about another 2 tablespoons.

5. Spread your fingers and point them downward as though you were preparing to play a piano. Use the tips of your fingers to dimple the dough, starting in the center and pressing down and slightly outward as you go. Your goal is to spread the dough to the edges of the pan. In all likelihood, the dough will begin to resist before you get there. Stop at this point, cover the dough with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 20 minutes. Then drizzle on more olive oil and dimple again until you reach the pan’s edges. Cover again with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for another 2-3 hours, or at least until the dough’s volume has increased by half.

5. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. Just before baking, remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the dough with the remaining rosemary and the sea salt.

7. Bake in the middle of the oven, rotating the pan front to back after 10 minutes. Begin checking the bread after another 7-8 minutes. It’s done when it turns golden brown. Remove the bread from the pan and let it cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with olive oil for dipping.

• If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can make do with a stainless steel mixing bowl and a large spoon. Just keep dipping the spoon in warm water so that the dough doesn’t stick to it. Letting the dough rest occasionally also helps make the kneading easier.

• Coating the dough well with oil and covering it with plastic wrap prevents a nasty dry crust from forming during the rising.

• If you get a late start, you can keep the first rise (in the bowl) to an hour and the second rise (in the pan) to whatever time remains. But shortcutting the rise will yield a much denser bread.

• You can’t use too much oil when making focaccia because it’s all absorbed during the baking, imparting a wonderful flavor as long as you use a decent oil.

• I specify sea salt for the topping because the crystals are large and thus make a bright splash on your tongue. Using ordinary table salt would simply make the bread taste generally saltier.