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Sunday, July 21

Gapers Block

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I've been inspired by Italian cooking lately. The simplicity of cooking techniques, the focus on a few simple ingredients. Rich flavors created by simmered sauces. Long on time, intense on flavor, but contrasted by having fewer than eight ingredients in each dish.

But none of the things I've been interested in making this week are dishes that you'll find Mario Batalli whipping up, nor are they dishes you'll find in any "family style" Italian restaurant in the city. Not because they're not tasty, but because they're solely inspired by the core tenets of Italian cooking and not typical Italian dishes.

You won't find traditional tomato and pasta dishes below. What you will find are dishes that contain just a few ingredients you may find in many Italian dishes that are cooked so you can tell what each ingredient is in the final dish. They all start with fresh ingredients, they all involve some slow-cooking over low heat, and they all taste amazing.

Anne Holub, editor of Transmission, asked me if I could come up with a breakfast dish or two that is gluten- and sugar-free and rich in protein. She mentioned she was tired of eating eggs. But I thought maybe I could convince her of a different method for cooking eggs that wouldn't take longer to make than it would take someone to get dressed and make coffee.

And the prevalence of rapini at the local grocery store inspired me to find a way to turn it into a stuffing for chicken breast. I think it would also work great in a stuffed pork chop.

And I'm starting to see some great fall vegetables arriving on grocery store shelves. While looking for butternut squash (stay tuned till next week) I came across a pile of tasty looking parsnips. They look like white carrots, but they're sweeter and have a smoother texture. They're terrific, under-used, and are the magic ingredient in Jewish Chicken Soup. But they're also great baked and are tasty with fresh mature peas.

Baked Mushrooms and Egg
16 ounces of white button mushrooms sliced very thinly
4 tablespoons of olive oil (may require less oil)
1 cup of vegetable broth
1 teaspoon of salt
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 roma tomatoes (or 1 tablespoon of tomato paste)
1 egg per serving

Place a skillet over medium high heat. Add one third of the sliced mushrooms and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cover the bottom of the skillet evenly and let the mushrooms cook undisturbed for 3 minutes. Then stir the mushrooms, trying to flip as many over as possible and spread them out across the bottom of the skillet. Let them cook for another 3 minutes undisturbed before stirring. Stir them every minute or so until the mushrooms have cooked through completely and are starting to brown. Scoop out the mushrooms and place them in a bowl temporarily. If the mushrooms soaked up the oil, add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and repeat with the next two batches of mushrooms. Once the last batch is cooked through pour the vegetable broth into the skillet and scrape at the bottom of the skillet to stir up as much of the stuck-on bits as possible. Return the mushrooms to the skillet and add the salt and minced garlic. Reduce the heat to low. Remove the stem from the tomato and cut into four lengthwise strips before adding to the skillet. Let this cook on low for 20-30 minutes. Stir a few times to prevent things from sticking. Once the skin of the tomatoes has separated from the meat, remove it from the skillet and discard. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes into as many pieces as possible. Remove the lid and let the contents of the pan reduce by about half. Once you've got a thick soupy mixture, you're ready to either refrigerate the mixture for baking during mornings, or you can broil the egg on top immediately.

Fill a 4 ounce ramekin about halfway with the mushroom mixture. Crack an egg on top of the mushrooms and place it in the center of your oven about 4 inches from the flame and let it cook for 2-5 minutes. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the top, or sprinkle some parmesan cheese across the top of the egg and cook for another 30 seconds. I suggest letting it cook until the white of the egg is cooked but the yolk is raw so that when you break the yolk it coats the mushrooms.

If you're taking cold mushrooms out of the refrigerator, fill the ramekin halfway with the mushrooms and place it in the center of your oven when you set it to preheat. Once it reaches temperature, let it cook for about 5-10 minutes (depending on how many you're making). Once the mushrooms seem warm enough, crack an egg over the mixture and return it to the oven to broil for 2-5 minutes, depending on how well done you like your eggs.

If eating this with baked eggs isn't your thing, you can toss this onto some cooked pasta or spoon it over a chicken breast or slice of pork tenderloin before baking.
Makes 4-6 servings.

Chicken Breast Stuffed With Rapini and Black Olives
2 chicken breasts
black pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 ounces of fresh rapini (also called broccoli rabe)
1/2 of a small onion, minced
1 clove of garlic
4 ounces of black olives (preferably olive cured)
2 tablespoons of shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Place each chicken breast between two layers of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Pound on the breasts with a sturdy glass bottom, the side of a can of food, or a rolling pin or mallet until the breast is about 3/8 of an inch thick. Sprinkle them lightly with pepper. Run the rapini under cold water and shake it dry. Trim the stems by a couple of inches, then chop it into 1-inch pieces. Place a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, the chopped rapini and the onion. Sautée while stirring frequently until the stems are very soft and the leaves are wilted. Add a clove of minced garlic and stir constantly for another two minutes. Remove the rapini from the skillet and place on a cutting board. Use a knife to mince the rapini until it is chopped fine. If necessary, remove the pits from the olives and mince the olives into small pieces. Combine the rapini, olives and parmesan cheese. Place half of each mixture near the widest end of the chicken breasts. Beginning at the wide edge, roll the breasts toward the other end. Either tie cooking twine around the breasts to hold them together, or use toothpicks to keep the breasts from unrolling. Place in the center of a small baking dish and cook for 45 minutes. Serve with a salad and garlic mashed potatoes. Or serve with the next recipe of parsnips and peas.
Makes 2 servings.

Braised Parsnips and Peas
8 ounces of parsnips
1/4 teaspoon of fennel seed
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic, cut in half lengthwise
8 ounces of fresh peas
1/2 cup of white wine
1/2 cup of vegetable broth

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Peel the parsnips and slice them into thin quarter-inch thick slices cut on an angle. Place an oven-proof skillet or pan with a lid over medium high heat. Add the fennel seed and shake the skillet constantly for about 3-5 minutes, or until you can smell the seeds toasting. Add the olive oil and the garlic and lower the heat to medium. Stir to combine for a minute to infuse some of the garlic flavor into the oil. Remove the garlic and discard. Add the chopped parsnips and the peas. Remove from the heat and stir in the wine. Cover and place in your oven for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and stir. If there is still a thin coat of liquid in the bottom of the pan, add just half of the vegetable broth. If the vegetables seem dry, add the full half cup. Return to the center of the oven and let it cook for another 15 minutes. Return from the oven, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and serve immediately. This would actually go great with the previous chicken breast recipe.
Makes 2-4 servings.

These Italian-inspired dishes certainly aren't like anything you're likely to find in any Italian restaurant here or in Italy. But they use just a few traditional Italian ingredients that you may not be likely to pick up during your average trip through the grocery store. But if white carrots and leafy broccoli bits aren't your thing, hopefully the mushroom dish inspires you instead. And I'll keep my eyes open for butternut squash. I've got a few ideas that I'm thinking will be quite tasty.

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Michelle / October 9, 2007 9:15 AM

Polenta topped with a stew like sauce would be good too. And it's gluten free depending on the sauce added.

Jennifer / October 17, 2007 8:55 AM

a breakfast dish or two that is gluten- and sugar-free and rich in protein

Redfox has a wonderful savory lentil breakfast recipe on her Hungry Tiger weblog.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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