I found myself with rake in hand, standing over a small fire of garden and vineyard remnants, remembering old friendships and places, when I noticed a few snowflakes scattering around the wind, never landing. That’s it, that’s a sign. I made short work of the fire and then headed straightaway to the kitchen.
My nephew took his first deer on the first day of hunting season in his first year of hunting. The unfairness of it all still makes me smile. But now I had found what I’d been looking for; namely, a recipe to do the venison justice. A venison shoulder can make a great braise or stew, I won’t argue with you. But ground venison is also an excellent meat for chili, tacos, pasta sauce, especially if you like deep, robust flavors.
For this recipe, I simmered a large, diced onion in olive oil, with salt and pepper. I added a diced poblano pepper from the garden (still have a few) and then a large dash of dried oregano and two tablespoons of Penzey’s medium hot chili powder. When the onions were soft I moved them over to the side of the pan and added the ground venison. Venison has little if any fat so it will need a little oil in order to brown. I guess I had about a pound of vension.
I cooked two cups of black beans the night before in a pressure cooker and added them and an equal amount of water to the pot when the venison was done cooking. I also added 1 cup of my crushed roma tomatoes that I put away this summer. An hour later after simmering on low heat the chili was done. Excellent.
The garden is officially over this weekend. The last beets, eggplants, chards and tomatoes were pulled out, and the mess is now being cleaned up. Already looking forward to next year.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have made about 25 quarts of a simple roma tomato sauce. I simply split the romas in half and put them on a rack on a baking sheet. Ten minutes in the oven softens them up and removes some moisture. After milling with the victoria strainer they are ready for the freezer.
Now that the weather has turned, and boy did it ever, we’ll put the romas to use in a variety of family recipes. First up is stuffed cabbage. I suspect you know the basics here. I like to grind my own meat, but that’s not required. In case you’re wondering though, I use pork butt and beef round. The butt has plenty of tasty fat, and the round has good beef flavor and makes a nice stuffing. Along with the ground meat is rice, summer savory or marjoram, garlic and salt and pepper. Test a bit in the toaster over before you start stuffing the cabbage leaves.
The only trick I use is that about a week before I make it I freeze a head of cabbage. Just wrap it in a saran and put it right in the freezer. Then take it out the day before you want to use it because it will take time to thaw. Why do I do this? Because blanching the cabbage leaves is a time consuming mess, and by freezing and thawing it I get the same result – a nice tender cabbage leaf, ready to be stuffed.
I cut the core rib out of the cabbage leaves, and set the stuffed leaves in a large roasting pan. I fill the voids with sauerkraut, and then cover it all with the roma tomato sauce that I season with salt and pepper. I bring it all up to the boil on the stove, and then it’s into the oven at 300, covered, for about an hour and a half. I love this dish with mashed potatoes.
It’s been 60 degrees and raining here in Michigan since Monday, so we actually have the windows closed and we cooked meat in a pan for the first time in months. Turned out very well, and we still have enough good stuff from the garden to round out the meal.
My wife’s family is from Sardegna, and this meal reflects some of her heritage. The rosemary, the pork, the roma tomatoes and the greens are pretty typical fare.
Have you had a really good pork chop lately, juicy and flavorful? Right, me neither. Pork loins are now invariably dry and tasteless, which is why we prefer pork steak. They are from the sirloin cut, with a bit of the hip bone thrown in for added flavor. The cooking is pretty simple. I added some olive oil to a pan, and when hot I added the two pork steaks, salt and peppered of course, and a couple of sprigs of rosemary from the neighbor’s garden (given, not swiped). I browned them for a couple of minutes over medium heat, and before turning I add several sliced garlic cloves to the pan, and a good large handful of mushrooms. After the second side was browned I added 1 and 1/2 cups of my roma tomato sauce and let it simmer for a few minutes.
Meanwhile I made the polenta. If you want something different for a family meal, try polenta with a saucy dish; couldn’t be easier really. 1 Cup of cornmeal soaked with 1 Cup of water. Bring 2 cups of milk to a good simmer and then add the cornmeal and water. Add a Tbsp of salt and keep cooking for about 10 minutes as you stir. The cornmeal will soften. Remove from the stove and add some good grated hard cheeses. Pour into a serving dish. Done, and easier than mashed potatoes.
We served the pork with the green beans, we blanched them in water and then tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and some braised Swiss Chard with garlic.
By the way, the beans come from Burpee’s French Filet seeds. Best I have ever had, and extremely prolific.
Today is labor day, so why not a little labor on behalf of an excellent pie? It’s 60 degrees and raining here in SE Michigan, so no grill for us today. With weather this cool, I don’t mind turning on the oven. Anyways, with all the roma tomatoes that I have to take care of today, might as well put together a pizza.
For the dough, it’s pretty easy. Put 1 and 1/4 lbs of flour into a mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of water and sprinkle a tsp of yeast over the water, mix a little with the flour. On the other side of the bowl, add a tablespoon of salt, kosher is good. After a few minutes add a shot of olive oil and mix thoroughly. Then cover with a damp towel and let it rest until it doubles in size. Knock it down and turn it over a few times with a plastic bowl scraper. Do this two more times, and after the 3rd rise, you remove the dough from the bowl and split it in two. Form into two smooth balls and let it rest.
While your dough is working, start the sauce. Take 4 cups of the roma puree (you can also buy a 20 oz can of romas in heavy juice or puree) and add minced fresh garlic, oregano, hot pepper flakes, salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste. We love garlic so we use 1 large tablespoon, and it will also need at least a large teaspoon of salt. Then whisk in two shots of good olive oil. If you have some of this sauce left over you can use it as a condiment for grilled meats, or to make a quick pasta dish, it’s delicious.
About a half hour before you want to eat, fire your oven to 425 and slip in the pizza stone. We have two that are 14 x 14 inches. We form the dough and make sure that it is well floured because you do not want it to stick as it goes in the oven. We put the formed dough on a wooden peel and then add 1 large cup of the sauce, a little mozzarella, a little Italian grating cheeses, fresh basil leaves chopped – because we have them in the garden – and sliced mushrooms. Cook until brown and bubbly, and think of all the days and works of hands that brought you the good fortune of living in America. Thank you.
Anyone who has ever grown tomatoes knows that in late August and September the tomatoes you have watched patiently all summer come suddenly to fruition. Don’t visit the garden for a day or two and when you make your way back it’s shocking the number of tomatoes that await the picking hand.
So what to do, as my old friend Rakesh used to daily ask? Well, in our home the romas of today are the ultimate fall and winter foods of tomorrow. Today we make fresh roma tomatoe sauce, in a month or so we’ll be making stuffed cabbage, chili, marinara, bolognese and tomato soup.
But first, how do you process a bushel basket of roma tomatoes? A lot of cookbooks tell you to remove the skins by going through the painstaking boiling water dip. We make the process a lot easier, and fresh roma sauce is just fabulous to cook with.
First, cut the clean romas in half lengthwise and place on a rack that fits on a cookie sheet or half sheet tray. Place in a 300 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until the romas are soft enough that you can mill them through a victoria strainer. That’s it. It took less than an hour to make 6 quarts of roma sauce from that bushel.
One of our favorite midday meals when the weather turns hot and the garden starts to deliver the goods is Black Bean Tostados with Fresh Pico de Gallo.
The beans are easy to make. You can start with whole dried black beans and, after soaking overnight in water, put them in your pressure cooker with enough water to just cover. Bring the pressure up and when you hear it whistle at you, slow down the heat to medium and let it hiss for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let it rest.
Alternatively, you can use a can of cooked black beans, as we often do in the summer. We generally make two small cans at at time, since the kids pound right through them.
Either way, once you have your beans ready, cook a diced onion in a little oil, add a small teaspoon of cumin for each can, or so, of beans. Don’t use salt if you are using the canned beans. Add ground black pepper to season.
When the onion gets soft, add in the beans and cook on a low heat, working the beans with a potato masher. They will thicken up shortly. Put the beans aside while you get the Pico ready.
Not sure who Pico was, but he made a heck of condiment. We have a lot of roma tomatoes this time of year, and Pico is now a family favorite. Just dice the tomatoes, add minced hot pepper, like poblano or jalepeno, and as much chopped cilantro as the family will let you get away with. A tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper always finishes it off just right.
Spread the beans on your tostado shell – we buy ours from the local Mexican grocer – and place in a toaster oven or regular oven for a few minutes to heat it through. Serve with the juicy Pico and a tablespoon of sour cream. You’re welcome.