Tuesday, December 06, 2011

On Beyond Ho-Hum Holiday Dinners

If you, like the DF&C and myself, are semi-vegetarians or you are a meat and poultry eater who is weary of the same old-same old holiday dinner staples of ham and turkey, mashed potatoes, yams and cranberry sauce, you might want to consider Bodega Bay Cioppino, Roasted Potatoes With Figs, and Italian Stuffed Zucchini.

These dishes have become great cold-weather favorites of ours and while labor intensive they are relatively easy to prepare, make for great leftovers and can be frozen. I have customized the recipes for these dishes to more closely suit our tastes, and it helps (as well as keeps down costs) that we grow our own herbs.

Cioppino is a fish stew originating in San Francisco, and while considered an Italian dish, it is unknown in the homeland. Cioppino is traditionally made from the catch of the day and typically a combination of dungeness crab, clams, shrimp, scallops, squid and mussels.

My recipe skips the clams and squid, specifies Prince Edward Island mussels, and adds rockfish or a suitable substitute if rockfish is not in season. It is fantastically flavorful and a real tummy warmer.

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white or red onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh or dried basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
2 (28 ounce) cans of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 pound sea scallops
24 PEI mussels
1 1/2 pounds dungeness crab legs
1 pound unpeeled large shrimp
1 pound rockfish

(1.) Pan saute scallops in butter until slightly brown on each side. Set aside.
(2.) Heat olive oil in a very large heavy pot over medium-high heat.
(3.) Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent, stirring frequently.
(4.) Pour in tomatoes and wine, then season with garlic, bay leaf, basil, parsley, salt and pepper.
(5.) Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until liquid is reduced by about half.
(6.) Add scallops, mussels, crab legs, shrimp and scallops to the pot. Cover and cook over medium heat until the mussels open.
(7.) Scoop portions into large bowls and serve with warm sliced Tuscan or generic Italian bread that may dipped in the stew.
Fingering potatoes are the best for this dish but are hard to find, so I substitute them with red (russet) potatoes.
1/2 pound dried black mission figs or other dried figs
1 1/2 cups brewed Yorkshire or other black tea, more if necessary
2 pounds fingerling potatoes uncut or russet potatoes sliced into 1/4 inch disks
4 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
5 sprigs of thyme
1/3 cup of olive oil
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

(1.) Place figs in a bowl, cover with hot black tea and let cool. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours or overnight, depending upon the initial softness of the figs.
(2.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes well and trim any bad parts.
(3.) Drain figs. In a bowl, combine garlic, thyme, figs, potatoes and olive oil. Toss. Place in a baking dish and bake until potatoes are tender enough to pierce with a fork, about 50-55 minutes.
(4.) Remove and season immediately with salt and pepper. Serve.

I've experimented with several stuffed zucchini recipes and settled on this one because of the great combination of herbs, which nicely compliment the other ingredients.
4 medium-sized zucchinis
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup cooked white rice
1/4 cup minced fresh herbs: Basil, Italian oregano, dill and thyme
4 ounces of smoked sun dried tomatoes, sliced thinly
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup diced tomatoes, drained and chopped (optional)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

(1.) Grease the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with butter.
(2.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
(3.) Remove the zucchini ends, carefully slice each zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out all of the seeds and membranes and discard. Set the zucchinis aside.
(4.) Sweat the onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent, stirring frequently and set aside to cool.
(5.) In a large bowl, mix the rice, herbs, tomatoes and feta cheese. Add the lightly beaten egg and mix well.
(6.) Mound the stuffing into the zucchini halves and place them in a baking dish.
(7.) Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place in the center of the oven for 30 minutes.
(8.) Sprinkle the diced tomatoes on top of the mounded zucchini.
(9.) After 30 minutes, remove foil, sprinkle the cheese on top of the zucchini halves and place back in the oven, uncovered, for another 30 minutes.
By the way, preparation time is upwards of 6 hours when you include soaking the figs. The dishes serve 4 to 6 people and are heavy on the garlic, so you might want to consider not going visiting after eating.

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