Post-Partum Freezer Meals Series: Homemade Burgers and Meatballs

meatballs_final

The last post I wrote was my daughter’s birth story and it got me thinking about all the things I did to prepare for her birth. So I decided to start a series on easy Postpartum Meals for the blog. These posts will also be of interest to those who are friends or family of a pregnant woman that would benefit greatly from having meals brought to her family in those first two weeks post-birth. Or for people who just want to nutritious and healthy freezable meals.

In this day and age many new moms and dads are isolated or living far from family and friends. One of the best things I did for myself in late pregnancy was spending a week getting various healthy, nutrient packed meals in the freezer for us, so when the baby came we were all set with good things to eat.

All in all, I was able to freeze a month’s worth of breakfasts, and about a month’s worth of lunches or dinners.  We are still eating from this bounty supplemented with some quick and easy fresh meals as well and now that Alba is over a month old, we are also going out for meals sometimes also.

I have read a lot about preparing for the arrival of your baby and most articles would suggest gathering local take-out menus so that during those first few weeks postpartum where you don’t really have the time or energy for cooking, you can let someone else cook for you.

This is good in theory, but the reality is that what you eat those first few weeks is the first nutrition you will be feeding your baby, if you are breastfeeding. So for me I wanted to be sure that what she was getting was super nutrient dense.  You won’t get that from take-out.

I am going to start the series out with two super easy ideas, pre-made burgers and meatballs. I will also link you to my Pinterest board with other Postpartum meal ideas that gave me inspiration when I came up with my own menu. In the posts to come I will share a variety of soups, stews, breads, muffins, etc.

caramelized-onion_burger_ready-to-eat
Burgers:

Who doesn’t love a nice juicy burger? Especially at a time when your body could use more iron? Burgers are the perfect fix! Making burgers for the freezer is easy! I use 100% grass-fed beef as the base and then I like to add smoked salt and a little barbecue sauce to the meat, mix it with my hands and create the patties. The trick to this is then putting the patties on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet in a single layer and popping it in the freezer until frozen. This way you can package your burgers into 2 serving bundles without the patties sticking together. I used 3 lbs. of ground beef and got 12 patties.

spaghetti-and-meatballs_preparing-meatballs

 

Meatballs:

I made meatballs in the same way. I flavored one batch with Italian seasonings: salt, oregano, basil and thyme and the other with Middle Eastern spices: salt, cumin, coriander, paprika and sumac. I formed the meatballs and then cooked them on cookie sheets in the oven at 350 F for about 15 minutes. After they cooled I put them in a single later on cookie sheets and popped them in the freezer, then bagged them in 2 person serving sizes for the freezer. With the Italian version we had rice pasta with meatballs and with the Middle Eastern meatballs we made Middle East Inspired Meatballs.

Here is my pinterest board with other freezable meals to get your mind and taste buds going.

 

Our Yearly Ritual and Making Pap-pap’s Italian Sausage with Pastured Pork!

I apologize for my extended absence these past few months. It was not an intentional blog break and I am not sure that it is over yet, either. But today I felt inspired to share with you an activity that has become a favorite family tradition for us over the past few years. This activity really kicks of the holiday season for us. It is food focused and a time for celebration with good friends.

It all started 3 years ago when we met a pair of young farmers at our local farmers market. They were growing food on a small diversified farm and had some options for meat shares. We liked the idea of buying a whole animal and then stocking our freezer with healthy meat. This is when I met Cole Ward, The Gourmet Butcher. He was doing a workshop on breaking down lambs and so Roberto and I decided to take the course using the lamb we bought from the farmers.

I have talked about Cole in the past, but I don’t think enough can ever be said about him. Over the years he has become a great teacher to Roberto and I, but those he has taught probably number in the hundreds. He has an immense wealth of knowledge being in the business of butchering for over 50 years. He has such a passion for his art and for teaching others the little known skills of breaking animals down into primal and gourmet or retail cuts. He believes in small local farms and farmers that raise animals who get plenty of sunshine, and exercise and are fed without antibiotics, GMOs and hormones.

At that first workshop with Cole, Roberto and I first met our very dear friends Corey and Kurt. We hit it off immediately – foodies can pick each other out of a crowd! Since that day 3 years ago, we have been cooking and eating delicious food with these guys and having a great time. We all care deeply about where our food comes from, and supporting local farmers and we love to cook, have fun in the kitchen and do foodie projects together.

So for the past two years we have bought a whole pig with them and have brought Cole back each time to help us break it down. After several hours breaking down the pig, we all sit down to an amazing lunch prepared with some of our fresh pork, drink some wine and share stories. Then the next day we get together again and spend the day making various kinds of sausage. Each year we experiment with different kinds so that in 10 years or so we’ll know exactly which ones to make! We grind the meat and fat, mix in giant quantities of spices (that usually cause sneezing fits), drink wine and just laugh together. Sometimes there is even dancing to German Oompah music! Or hog casing jump rope.

This year though we made the best Breakfast Sausage yet and made for the second year in a row the same Italian Sausage (my grandfather’s recipe) and Smoked Kielbasa recipe. Those I will share with you today, in a lazy sort of manner. But I just want to say, I love this yearly ritual. It is a great time to catch up with friends, be thankful not only for the friendships but sharing this task together. We talk about food and work together on something that truly has meaning. It is a way to support local farmers who are raising animals humanely and healthy. It supports your local economy and rewards people who are doing things the right way. It harkens back to the days when butchering an animal for food was a communal thing, something to be celebrated and respected. It is something I recommend to anyone that eats meat to try at least once. Maybe you’ll end up loving it as much as we do and will make it a yearly tradition of your own.

If you are interested in learning how to butcher an animal, Cole is the best in the business. If you can’t make it to a live workshop he has an amazing DVD series that goes through all the steps for various animals: beef, pork and lamb. Then he and his friend the amazing Chef Courtney Contos create delicious recipes with those cuts. He also has a blog  and a facebook page  both of which are full of lots of wisdom, tips and recipes.

These are the books we use to make sausages:

Home Sausage Making: How-To Techniques for Making and Enjoying 125 Sausages at Home

Mastering the Craft of Making Sausage

RECIPES:

Pap Pap’s Italian Sausage

Ingredients for each pound of pork/fat mixture. For sausage your meat should contain 30% fat:

1 level tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 TBL fennel seed
pinch of cayenne pepper

METHOD: Knead well until thoroughly mixed. Sausage can be eaten right away but tastes better if it sits in the fridge for 24 hours for flavors to marry. Store in fridge or separate into smaller packages and freeze.

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Best Breakfast Sausage

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Smoked Kielbasa

 

Practical Paleo: Duck with Cherry Sauce

 

One month ago, today, I started eating Paleo. I guess I should really say, Primal, but I’ll get to that later. My reasons to try the Paleo way of eating (I will never say diet!) are many-fold and something I had wanted to try for a while now. But let’s just say that I was recently diagnosed with a thyroid problem which caused me to put on some pounds in a very short period of time. During that time, I received a review copy of Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle from the publisher. A few months ago I had done a review of Eat Like a Dinosaur: Recipe & Guidebook for Gluten-free Kids by The Paleo Parents, and I got on the publisher’s list. That turned out to be very fortunate for me, because in Practical Paleo, Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC, a nutrition consultant, and blogger at Balanced Bites, gives 30-day meal plans for many health issues, including but not limited to Thyroid, MS, digestive health, blood sugar regulation, heart health and cancer recovery.

It felt like fate that this book basically fell into my lap right when I got my diagnosis. So I decided to try it. I thought it would be a challenge. I remember back when I was doing the 4-Hour Body Slow Carb program, it was a struggle. Often I did not feel satisfied after meals and I was craving sugar a lot. I figured with Paleo, and cutting out beans, it would be worse. But I really wanted to try it and see what the fuss is all about. Paleo is touted as being so healthy and life changing by those who love it, and hated with such fervor by those who don’t. I never let other people’s opinions sway me, instead I figure out the truth for myself. Granted, before I started the plan, I ate many Paleo meals throughout the week. Plus I have been used to eating whole foods, since I follow Weston A. Price Foundation Guidelines.

I found a lot of things that surprised me about eating Paleo. For one, I was satisfied after every single meal. I found the dishes easy to cook and actually taking less time in the kitchen to make than I normally would. Plus the food is delicious and varied (like you don’t eat the same dinner twice for a whole month!). But the most surprising thing about it is that I found myself eating WAY MORE vegetables than I used to, and I am already a big veggie lover. But each day I was surprised to discover how many different varieties of vegetables I had on my plates of food. Shopping for food was focused on produce. Granted, we do have a lot of meat in our freezer, but still, I was pleasantly shocked by the amounts of fruit and veggies I was eating. Paleo is not all about bacon people, in fact we normally have bacon only once a week (on Pancake Sunday). Another surprise was that although I didn’t eat any sugar other than fruit for 3 weeks, I found I didn’t crave it. Until my sauerkraut fermenting away started making the room smell like brownies…but I have found some really delicious Paleo brownie recipes!

After 2 weeks, I went back to the doctor, and I had lost 3 pounds (don’t know what I weigh now, as I have to go back to the doctor to find out. We have no scale in the house). I feel less tired and run down and it feels like I am starting to develop a store of energy reserves. Something I haven’t felt in a long while. I feel more alert. I am never ever bloated after meals. I really didn’t think by limiting all grains and beans, I was going to feel all that different. But I do.

One thing I have not done is cut out dairy products, which is why I mentioned earlier that I should probably say I am Primal as opposed to Paleo. I have tried several times cutting dairy out of my diet and to no effect. It just wasn’t the magic bullet for me. Plus, dairy is absolutely part of my ancestral diet, and isn’t that what Paleo is all about? Although through this Paleo experiment, I don’t eat as much cheese as I used to, and I am only eating sheep and goat milk products on a daily basis. I drink kefir every day, use raw goat milk and often have a little raw goat milk cheese…And on Fridays, as is tradition at our house, we still have gluten-free pizza night, with real local mozzarella (cow), which is a nice treat and hasn’t seemed to bother me at all.

Even Roberto has been enjoying this way of eating, which is a huge shocker! He stopped eating bread and pasta for a little over a week and now he finds he doesn’t crave it anymore. He might have a slice or two of local sourdough bread every other day or so, but he used to eat near half a loaf every day! So this has been really good for all of us.

I have even found on the occasions that we go out to eat; I don’t even really want the grains, I am not tempted by them on the menu. So I always order Paleo dishes, even my sushi rolls (I order without the rice). I have found that this has really cut down on cross-contamination (with gluten) issues. So I never come home with swollen fingers or toes. Another really nice perk.

If you are brand new to Paleo or even cooking and eating a whole foods diet, this book is very helpful. There is a whole section on stocking a Paleo pantry, why everything we have been taught about good nutrition is wrong, a guide to fats and oils, how to eat Paleo at restaurants and parties or on the road, there is also a very detailed FAQ. All sections are super useful and easy to understand for non-scientific minds like mine.

So what about the food? I know that is the most important part. I have already said it is delicious. But here are some of my favorites so far: Spaghetti Squash Bolognese, Sweet Potato Pancakes, Zucchini Pancakes, Lemony Lamb Dolmas, Pumpkin Pancakes ( we have these every Sunday), Chinese 5-Spice Lettuce Cups, Braised Short Ribs with Candied Carrots, and this delicious recipe for Duck with Cherry Sauce. So if you have been thinking about trying the Paleo way of eating, I highly recommend Practical Paleo. Even if you don’t want to go Paleo, but just like good, nourishing easy to prepare, family friendly meals, I highly recommend it! Who knows, maybe you’ll find you love being Paleo, too!

I don’t know how long I will eat this way. I haven’t really gotten to that yet. For now, I am just going to enjoy all the recipes in the book and worry about the other stuff later.

Duck with Cherry Sauce (from Practical Paleo)

INGREDIENTS:

2 duck legs (I have also used duck breast for this recipe, in fact that is what is pictured)
¼ tsp each of dried rosemary and dried sage
½ tsp sea salt
¾ cup frozen or fresh cherries or ½ cup dried cherries that have been reconstituted in warm water for an hour (I used dried cherries, but I think it might be better with frozen or fresh)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary

METHOD: Preheat oven to 320 F. Season the duck generously with the spices. Place duck in an oven safe skillet or roasting pan and put in the oven. Roast for about 60-80 minutes until the skin is brown and crispy and the internal temperature of the duck reaches 165 F.

While the duck cooks simmer the cherries with the rosemary sprig in a small sauce pan over medium heat until the shape of the fruit begins to break down. Once the cherries have a soft consistency with liquid around them, remove the rosemary sprig and mash the fruit with a fork, or blend for a smoother texture. Set sauce aside.

Top the roasted duck with the cherry sauce to serve. A lot of fat from the duck will remain. Strain the fat and save it in the fridge for cooking later. It is ideal for roasting potatoes or other root veggies. Serves 2.

Pork Belly with Onion-Apple Marmalade

 

We have been getting flurries off and on all morning and I just finished an essay on why it is ethical to eat meat for a contest sponsored by The New York Times. I will likely be sharing that essay on the blog in a few weeks after they have chosen the winning essay(s). If you believe eating meat is ethical, you should weigh in as well. You can read some of my thoughts on this topic, here, on my homesteading blog Got Goats?

So in light of that and this cold weather we are having, I thought posting a comforting and warming recipe for pork belly would be good. This pork belly comes from another local producer, as we used the pork belly from our pig share this fall to make bacon!

I adore caramelized onions; I think they make everything taste better, however I decided to make them even better by adding apples, maple sugar and spices to them to make it more of a marmalade. The result was absolutely mouth-watering. Of course the pork belly itself is sweet and tender, melting in your mouth but covered in the spicy and aromatic spice blend and then smothered in the onion marmalade it was lip smacking good. A perfect transitional from winter to spring recipe.

This recipe is very easy, most of the labor in the caramelizing of the onions and making the marmalade, everything else is pretty hands off – just let your oven do the work.

INGREDIENTS:
1 pork belly

Pork Belly Rub:
2 TBS maple sugar
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin and hot paprika
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 ground all spice berry
Pinch of ground star anise
Pinch of ground nutmeg

For the Marmalade:
2 TBS olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small apple, sliced
Salt
¼ cup water
¼ cup maple sugar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar

METHOD:
Rub the pork belly with all the spices and let it marinate overnight or at least for 4 hours.

When you are ready to cook the pork belly, preheat the oven to 350 F. When the oven is preheated, place the pork belly in an oven safe roasting pan, Dutch oven or oven vessel with a lid. I used my tagine. Cook for about 45 minutes with the lid on. Then remove the lid and cook for another 30 minutes until nice and browned.

While the pork belly is cooking work on caramelizing the onions: place the olive oil, onions, apple and garlic in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Stir often and allow the onions to sweat by adding some salt. Turn the heat down to low and add about ½ of the water. Put a lid on the skillet and let simmer over low heat for about 30-40 minutes. Stir periodically and add more water if it starts to dry out. You want to be sure that your onions don’t brown, but get soft and gooey. Once they are looking good, add the maple sugar and apple cider vinegar. Stir until well incorporated and the sugar has melted. Then remove from the heat and serve on top of the pork belly. We served this with roasted potatoes and a nice green salad. Serves 4.

Scotch Eggs for Spring Equinox (Ostara)

 

The Spring Equinox is tomorrow and there is no better symbol of this day than the egg. Long held across many cultures as the utmost symbol of fertility, birth and new beginnings the egg, humble yet a perfect food should be featured on your menus tomorrow. If you happen to have chickens this is a good day to thank them for all the hard work they have done keeping you well fed with nutrient dense fuel – as the days have been getting longer since the Winter Solstice, our chickens have been producing more and more of nature’s perfect food.

Ēostre is the name of an Anglo Saxon Goddess of the Dawn who was celebrated during the month of April and so her name has been given to the festival of Easter. This connection with the Spring Equinox and Ēostre is why the Christian celebration of Easter includes decorating colorful eggs, egg hunts and the like.

Scotch eggs are a beautiful culinary tribute to the equinox. A hard-boiled egg, covered in a shell of sausage, cracked open and devoured- now there is a great way to celebrate! We made our Scotch eggs using eggs from our own hens and homemade sausage we made from our pigshare this fall.

While we are talking about history, the origin of Scotch eggs is not known. The earliest printed recipe is from 1809, although the London department store Fortnum and Mason claims they invented in in the mid 1700’s. What we know for sure is that Scotch eggs are a popular picnic food in the UK. They are usually served cold, although in the US and other places they are served in gastropubs hot and usually with some kind of accompanying sauce.

Scotch eggs are simple to make (see the step by step instructions with photos below in the recipe). Just boil some eggs and mold a nice layer of sausage around them. I coated mine in a little bit of cornmeal, and then browned them in a hot skillet with olive oil. Then I transferred them to a hot oven to cook evenly for about 10 minutes. They are a delicious breakfast or a nice snack, definitely perfect for a spring equinox picnic.

INGREDIENTS:

4 eggs
1 tsp salt
Glug of vinegar
¾ lbs sausage
½ cup cornmeal or 1/2 cup almond meal to make it paleo
Olive oil

METHOD:

Boil the eggs. To make perfect boiled eggs, place eggs in a pot of cold water (use enough water to cover the eggs), to the water add a tsp of sea salt and a glug of vinegar. Put a lid on the pot and put on a burner over high heat. Once the water begins to boil, turn the heat off and set a timer for 12 minutes. Immediately remove the eggs from the water and run them under cold water or place them in a bowl of cold water. After about 5 minutes they will be cool enough to touch. At this point peel the eggs and set them aside.

Preheat your oven to 400 F and start heating up a cast iron skillet over low heat. Next take ¼ of the sausage and make a flat pancake out of it and place one egg in the center and carefully wrap the egg entirely in the sausage, then roll the whole thing in corn or almond meal. Do the same procedure using the rest of the eggs, sausage and corn or almond meal.

Add some olive oil to the cast iron skillet – enough to cover the bottom about ¼ of an inch. Place the Scotch eggs in the skillet and brown on all sides. Then place in the oven on a cookie sheet and cook for about 10 minutes. Can be served immediately, or cooled and refrigerated for picnic food!

Veal and White Bean Stew with Buckwheat Spätzle

 

(Veal and White Bean Stew with Buckwheat Spätzle)

Normally, when I cook I just take stock of what I have around to concoct something and rarely use recipes. But like any foodie I have a ton of cookbooks. Cookbooks for me are a bit like inspiration, it gives me general ideas, but I find I usually need to augment the recipes – either to make them gluten-free or to our tastes.

That is the story of this buckwheat spätzle, a dish I made some time back in the height of winter. One of my favorite cookbooks is Black Forest Cuisine by Walter Staib the executive chef at the historic and famed City Tavern in Philadelphia. I have always liked German cuisine, but never made it at home. With this cookbook that all changed. The recipes range from simple home cooked meals, to comforting gastropub fare and fancier hotel restaurant fare with more international influences. I got this cookbook as a way to explore another ancestral cuisine, although my ancestors hail from Bavaria, there is a lot of crossover, including spätzle which is considered a classic Bavarian dish.

(Buckwheat Spätzle – in Italian we would call my spätzle, Spätzle-one, or giant spätzle )

The flavors of the Black Forest are homey and delicious, the ingredients, simple and flavorful.  The chef in the introduction talks a lot about traditional German fare, about abundant family gardens, food preservation skills and my favorite story of all – that it is common for German families to take a walk through the woods on the weekend to get to a specific restaurant, pub or café serving some specialty – maybe a confection or cake or perhaps a home-style hearty meal to enjoy. I just love the idea of that. We did something similar in Italy, taking the Via Francigena to San Gimignano and enjoying a lovely meal of gnocchi with truffle sauce and stewed wild boar. One of the best meals of my life. Food tastes so amazing when it is well deserved.

It was this romantic thought that inspired this meal. I imagined myself taking an invigorating walk through the black forest, coming out of the forest, with a scent of something savory cooking in the air and following my nose to a cozy warm gastropub to enjoy a hearty meal.

The veal and white bean stew is entirely of my creation. The buckwheat spätzle is based on the original spätzle recipe in the cookbook.  We had originally made the spätzle to accompany a recipe for kielbasa and lentils from the same cookbook, being its traditional accompaniment.

(Kielbasa and lentils with buckwheat Spätzle )

We used some homemade kielbasa and it was good, but not nearly as outstanding as this combination!

Veal and White Bean Stew:

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of cannellini beans, cooked (I use dry beans, soaked overnight in warm water and a TBS of apple cider vinegar and then cooked until tender)

1 lb of veal stew meat browned in 1 TBS butter

2 onions, caramelized (cooked down with red wine vinegar and a little water to prevent burning)

2 cups beef stock – homemade is preferable

1 cup of water

Bay leaf

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 TBS tomato paste

2 carrots, chopped

2 cups green cabbage, shredded

Season with salt, pepper and thyme

METHOD: The day before, cook the beans, or you can use canned. You might also want to caramelize the onions, brown the veal and make the spätzle. The day of cooking place all the ingredients in a crock pot, except for the spätzle . Cook on the high setting until it comes to a boil (about 2-3 hours). Then add the spätzle and cook on low for another 5-6 hours until everything is heated through. You could put the spätzle in at the start and just cook on low for 10-12 hours, but it might become a little more mushy.

(Making Spätzle  using the “cutting board method”)

Buckwheat Spätzle

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of buckwheat flour

4 large eggs

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg

1 cup cold water

METHOD:  Combine the flour, eggs, salt and nutmeg in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (I don’t have an electric mixer and make the dough using my hands). Mix on medium until combined and slowly pour in the water until the batter is smooth, mix for five minutes more until the dough is elastic.

Bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Scrape dough into a potato ricer or colander with large holes and press dough into boiling water. Alternately, place dough on a cutting board and scrape dough into the boiling water. Cook until they are tender but still firm, stirring occasionally, about 3-4 minutes, they will rise to the surface when done. Lift the spätzle out of the water with a large slotted spoon, shake off the water and place in a bowl, mix with some butter or olive oil to prevent sticking together. Spätzle is also very good, reheated by sautéing in butter until golden.

*Note, I used the cutting board method, and as this was my first time making spätzle, they were a bit bigger than what is traditional, but I think they were the perfect size for my slow cooked stew, if they had been smaller, I would not have allowed them to cook with the stew, but stirred them in at the end before serving.

Sardinian Purcavru in Agru Durci

Purcavru in Agru Durci garnished with mirto

I told you all I was going to be making things interesting on here with different recipes from a variety of different world cuisines!

With the first in this series, I am giving a nod to my husband’s Sardinian roots. Sardinia is a small island off the coast of Italy in the vicinity of Rome. I was lucky enough to go there this past year when Roberto and I went with our moms on the “roots tour” of Italy. Roberto was born in Sardinia to Sardinian parents, but grew up in Rome. On our visit there last fall, we spent time with the extended family. It was lovely.

Sardinia is an interesting place, I immediately loved it because it has a rich culture both with herding animals (sheep and goats) but is also the place in Europe which has the greatest amount of megalithic structures, making this farm girl and history buff very happy!

These megalithic structures, round tower-fortresses called nuraghi, which ancient villages were built around are over 35,000 years old and there are over 8,000 of them on Sardinia, an island that is about the size and shape as Vermont. So that is a lot of pre-history going on there! If you aren’t into history, Sardinia is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, La Costa Smeralda- The Emerald Coast. There are also beautiful mountains (yes they get snow!) and lunar looking rock formations. There is an area towards the middle of the island that is called Valle Della Luna – The Valley of the Moon and looks just like Rohan from the Lord of the Rings movies. Fascinating landscape!

But the thing I loved about it most is that it is home to some of the oldest trees in Europe. We were able to visit 2 of these old olives, the oldest being 5,000 years old and the second oldest being around 3,000 – and still producing olives!!! For me, a nature worshiper it was akin to meeting Gandhi. The most amazing thing about Italy in general is that you can grow so much food! Nearly everyone that has even a small plot of land has fruit trees, some grapes to make homemade wine, nut and olive trees, veggie gardens, etc. I saw tons of pomegranate and fig trees. There is just so much abundance there!

Sardinia actually has its own language, Sardu, of which there are several dialects. Sardu has been influenced by Catalan, Spanish and indigenous Nuragic elements with some roots from Phoenician and Etruscan. So instead of the more familiar Italian “a” and “o” word endings, Sardinian words end with “u” and “s”, like our last name, Campus. This is because Sardinian is much like Latin. You can see this in the name of this dish Purcavru Agru Durci, which in Italian would be Cinghiale Agrodolce.

So what about the food? Well because of its location, Sardinian cuisine has been able to capture tastes from various Mediterranean influences: Catalan, Corsican, Spanish, Italian. The diet is rich in meats, like lamb, goat and pork, fresh vegetables, wonderful cheeses, fresh veggies and of course copious amounts of olive oil and rich red wine, famed for its high level of antioxidants- Cannonou. On the coast, where we didn’t spend much time, there is also a lot of fish and seafood consumed. And, like the rest of Italy the population consumes large amounts of pasta and bread. In fact as a gluten-intolerant, I had a hard time in Italy in general staying away from wheat as it is in almost everything from bread and pasta, to a thickener in sauces and a coating on vegetables and meats. I asked the question on facebook the other day after reading an article about how wheat is killing the world, how people like Italians, and especially Sardinians, known the world over as healthy and one of the longest living peoples could be in such a good state of health (the island has the world’s highest documented percentage of people who have passed the century threshold.) if wheat is the only factor. It was an interesting discussion, but none of us were able to really make sense of that!

But I digress. One thing which is very unique to Sardinian cuisine is the use of Mirto, or Myrtle. The plant is symbolic of love and immortality, and in Sardinia it is an essential plant. The berries (which look a bit like small blueberries, although there is a white version as well )are used to make a delicious aperitif, called “mirto”, which uses both varieties of berries separately, creating a red and white version and the leaves. Sardinians also use the leaves in cooking, similar in manner to bay leaves or other herbaceous plants. I was able to get some to bring home with me, and this is one of the ingredients that really makes this dish. The taste is very hard to place for me, but is most similar to a bay leaf.

I wasn’t able to get wild boar for this dish, but we did use meat from the half pig we bought this year (and butchered ourselves) from a local farmer.

Purcavru in Agru Durci (from Cooking in Sardinia)

INGREDIENTS:

4-5 TBS olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp myrtle leaves (substitute bay leaf)
1 ½ lbs boneless boar or pork meat, cut into bite sized pieces
1 tsp sugar
1 TBS red wine vinegar
1 TBS tomato Paste
Salt to taste

METHOD:
Sauté onion in a pan (I used cast iron) with 4-5 TBS of olive oil. Add about a tsp of chopped myrtle leaves. Add the meat and a pinch of salt and brown over medium heat. Blend sugar and vinegar, stir and pour over the meat. Then dilute tomato paste in a cup of warm water, add to the pan, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 45 mins. You will have to add more water intermittently so the stew doesn’t dry out. During the last five minutes, uncover pan to reduce the sauce.

Cooking from the Pantry: Chicken with Artichokes, Garbanzos and Tomatoes

I have a few food goals this year; one is to start creating meals solely from the pantry and freezer. We are fortunate to be well stocked in those areas – for the past two years we have been buying whole or half animals for meat and also started raising a batch of meat chickens every summer and I do a lot of canning, preserving and freezing (as well as storing root vegetables) from our summer garden.

But I am like every other foodie, I love going food shopping and I found that every few weeks, when we would go, I would come home with enough stuff to basically feed us without dipping into the reserves too much. I was cooking the meat, using some core products from the pantry but kind of turning a blind eye to the preserves and such. I guess that is the folly of this modern world, where even those of us who are hyper-aware about where our food comes from, who take extra time and effort to grow food and preserve it and who cares deeply about sustainability still can be dazzled by all the fresh fruits and vegetables at the markets. Humans can be so silly sometimes…

I decided that this pattern of mine had to end.  So I started by pretending that my house was the market, and I started shopping here and realize that we have so much bounty! I also started going through all my many shelves of cookbooks and marking recipes that I would like to try. Then I took the next step, and actually make a document, listing and categorizing the recipes. Then once a week, we look at the list and pick out several things to try – maybe 3 dinners, some breakfast and lunch ideas, a dessert or two, several sides or salads, that kind of thing. Then I put the meals on a dry-erase board and that is our menu board for the week, leaving some days open for spontaneity and of course pizza night (every Friday).

This is a creation I came up with on my own, but I think in the coming months you will see that I am drawing inspiration from many cookbooks of various genres. I am excited about this project as it is keeping me creative and entertained in the kitchen, exploring some new cuisines I haven’t spent much time with lately and learning some new techniques.

This dish is very simple and extremely flavorful. The best part is that everything I needed was at home. The chicken is one we raised and the other items came from the pantry or freezer. Since we live in a rural area, we have found that shopping in bulk (through Amazon Prime, mostly) saves us a lot of time, money and gas, so we stock up on interesting things, like artichoke hearts. I hope you enjoy this recipe, good enough for Sunday night dinner, without much effort.

INGREDIENTS:

1 TBS lard (When I am browning meat I like to use lard, so I can get it nice and hot without smoking – and lard from healthy animals can be a healthy part of your diet in moderation – no Crisco! That is not real lard).

4 whole chicken legs

Salt, thyme and basil to taste

1 tsp red wine vinegar

1 can of artichoke hearts (we use Native Harvest – their cans are BPA free)

½ a leek, sliced thin

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 jar or can of chick peas (I use dry beans, soak them, partially cook them and then freeze them in canning jars for easy use, but you can use canned if you like)

1 can of diced tomatoes (a small can – I know Eden Organics has BPA free cans available)

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

 METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat a cast iron tagine, cast iron skillet or dutch oven on low for about 5 minutes (this makes it hot but prevents burning) and add the lard. Rub the chicken legs with the herbs and spices. Brown chicken on all sides and drizzle with red wine vinegar. Add the artichoke hearts, leeks, garlic, chick peas, tomatoes and bay leaf, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place the lid on and let slow cook for 2 hours. Serve with bread and butter.