Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Italian Classic: Sausage with Peppers

I've been on an Italian kick of late and why not, it is good cuisine and easy and fun to make. Rain came in so the humidity went down and it is nice and cool outside. A good time to fire up the barbeque and grill some Italian sausages.

Some day I would like to encase my own sausages, grind the pork and fat up and stuff them into hog casings but at this point, I don't mind at all buying local products. Usinger's is known for their German-style sausages and meats but I'm sure their Italian sausages satisfy their Italian friends.

Grilled over indirect heat at about 250-275 degrees for 45-50 minutes, the sausages become nice and plump and very juicy. Carefully consider the heat as you do not want to split the casing. Grilling over the right temp prevents all the flavor from escaping the split sausage.

After about 40 minutes, I added the green and red bell peppers along with some onions. Lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and olive oil, they sizzled immediately as they hit the grill pan.

The sausage and peppers would taste fine without a bun but I couldn't pass up purchasing some local Italian bread from Peter Sciortino's bakery, Milwaukee's finest bakery located on the east side. Those light and fluffy rolls are so perfect.

One huge reason why I love Italian food is from the simplicity of ingredients resulting in satisfying flavors. Sauted/grilled peppers and onions mix well with the slowly-grilled sausages. The Usinger's italians are seasoned beautifully while the Sciortino italian roll nestles the pork and veggies perfectly.

The sausage was so juicy, it was dripping off my fingers. Oh I love that! The only component missing was a glass of Chianti but I have to leave for work soon. Oh well, next time.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Little Ears with Pancetta

In the Italian language, orecchio means ear, and the suffix "etto" means little, hence the nickname, little ears. Orecchiette is shaped like a small cup or disc. It is great for holding thick sauces and ragus. But I utilized this little ear-shaped pasta to host some of my produce I grew from my garden.

I love the simplicity of a Caprese salad which is fresh tomato, mozzarella, and basil touched with olive oil and seasoning. For a salad with only three ingredients, it packs a lot of flavor, the fresher, the better. I've been harvesting basil and tomato from my garden the last few weeks. Those ingredients combined with pasta are truly one of my favorite dishes. Simple, quick, super tasty. So this is my take on Caprese salad. To add more punch to the dish, I added my own home-cured pancetta.

The orecchiette only takes about 10-11 minutes to cook. While boiling the pasta, get a pan nice and hot, add a little drop of olive oil and add the chopped pancetta. I sliced the pancetta into a similar size to the cut-in-half cherry tomatoes. I added the tomatoes to the pan to cook for about a minute in the oil and pancetta fat. The basil was roughly ripped into pieces.

This is my tongue-in-cheek attempt to plate like the chefs on Top Chef or any other competition cooking show. The tiny mozzarella ball sits nicely atop the fried pancetta. I suppose it would make a great amuse bouche for a party.

Orecchiette with pancetta, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and basil.

I must say, this dish was amazing. The cherry tomato burst in my mouth, sweet and a little bitter, but it is that good bitter taste. But when I had a spoonful of tomato with the pancetta, that is when it blew me away. Salty, fatty goodness combined with bursting garden fresh tomato, holy shit! (Sorry for the cuss but it perfectly explains my reaction.)

The fresh basil was a highlight on its own. Picking basil from the garden and cupping them in my hands and taking in a huge whiff of it is why I started a garden in the first place. I love the smell of fresh basil, tastes even better. It is a perfect match with tomato, olive oil, salt, pepper, etc....

The orecchiette was the right pasta to use, the mozzarella, pancetta, and tomatoes sat inside the little cup perfectly. I must say that the only real letdown was the mozzarella balls. I think the smaller the ball, the more void of taste. It looks pretty in a small tight ball but next time I will just get a big chunk of cheese and cut into little pieces.

I know it is only 5 main ingredients but damn, they all work amazing together and for the amount of time needed to make this dish, few are better and more tasty.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Torta Loco!

My work schedule has been very busy of late. All I have been eating is pasta dishes and sandwiches. So on my first day off in some time, I made another sandwich. But this is more tasty and more involved than a PB&J sandwich on the road.

When I am busy working, I don't think about food much. I get home late and don't have time to cook or I am just plain tired. But when I see a day off coming up, I immediately start planning menus and lists. I have had a good Mexican-inspired torta on my mind for days. Lets do it!

Torta in spanish means sandwich. Tortas can be made of anything you want but the usual suspects are meat, beans, tomato, avocado.

Pork Chop Torta

This torta features a seared boneless center-cut pork chop, sliced or pounded thin, about 1/4 inch seasoned with salt and cumin and pan-seared for a few minutes a side.

Thinly-sliced onions, avocados, homegrown tomatoes, salsa, pinto beans, and pepperjack cheese are piled high on top of the pork and sandwiched between a toasted baguette.

This torta was exactly what I was thinking about all week. It is simple to prepare while all the flavors mix beautifully well together. The avocados, salsa, and melted cheese provide a creamy texture backed by the crunchy crisp of the toasted baguette. And of course, the pork makes it worthwhile with the smoky flavor from the cumin.

Achiote Pork Torta

This torta features an achiote-marinated pork shoulders blades. The achiote marinade consists of achiote paste pureed with garlic, white vinegar, freshly-squeezed orange juice, lime juice, cumin, salt, and cilantro. I left the blades to marinade overnight.

The guts of the torta consist of lettuce, thin-sliced onion, homegrown tomatoes, roasted red bell pepper, pepperjack cheese, guacamole, fresh salsa, and a telera bun.

I hollowed out the inside of the roll and arranged the ingredients in this order: pepperjack - pork - lettuce - tomatoes - guacamole - onions - peppers - salsa.

This torta was much better than the pork chop torta. The achiote really gave the pork a smoky and spicy touch. The lettuce added a nice crunch and the salsa, guacamole, melted cheese, and roasted peppers provided that awesome mexican flavor that I love. The telera roll was also a better option for bread. The insides were toasted under the broiler while the outside of the roll retained its pillowy and doughy texture.

The achiote pork torta was easy to prepare. Most of the work comes with prepping the ingredients, cutting veggies and making salsa/guacamole. The only cooking requirement is pan-searing the pork shoulder blades. But man, it is so good! Get the best, most fresh ingredients and make this torta.