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Jan 1, 2008 06:53 AM

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Meats

January 2008 Cookbook of the Month, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert.

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  1. Slow-Roasted Rack of Lamb with Simple Mediterranean Flavors, page 208

    I adore lamb and this book has loads of lamb recipes. I’m really excited about trying as many as possible. I started with this one, for a pre-New Year’s dinner with a friend last weekend.

    I made the recipe as directed, except for the sprinkling of chopped raw onion and parsley as a garnish. As with slow-roasted rib roast, the slow-roasted rack of lamb ensures, as Wolfert says, that it will be rare and juicy and evenly cooked. And she’s right. She suggests 130º for rare and 140º for medium, and I cooked it to 133º. It was just perfect for us.

    You marinate the lamb for 2 or 3 hours in a mixture of parsley, garlic, thyme, and rosemary, then brown the rack in a skillet and let it rest while heating up the oven to 300º. She says that because you’ve let the lamb rest before roasting, it doesn’t need to rest before carving, and that seemed to be true.

    She deglazes the pan with water, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, and olive oil. I think next time I make this I’ll play with the deglazing liquid: wine or stock instead of water, maybe some rosemary, and probably a bit less lemon zest. Although in Wolfert’s defense, I served this with a potato galette and placed the galette on top of the sauce, which wasn’t a very good idea; the galette, and not the lamb, got all the sauce so I wasn’t able to judge the combination of lamb and sauce as intended.

    All in all, though, it was just wonderful, couldn’t have been simpler, and would be elegant for a small dinner party.

    7 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      JoanN, that looks absolutely fabulous. Do you think it can be easily adjusted to serve a larger group?

      1. re: onefineleo

        It would certainly be easy enough to do two racks. The only difficulty, and it would be a minor one, wouId be that you have to hold the rack with tongs to brown the top and ends, but that only takes a total of less than 5 minutes. I served two double chops for each of us. Depending on the rest of the dinner, you could probably serve either one double chop or two single chops per person. If you made two racks, that would serve eight. I don't think it would be any problem at all.

      2. re: JoanN

        About how long do you roast it for in the oven? Was just perusing my freezer and still have a rack in there ...

        1. re: MMRuth

          She says 35 to 45 minutes for a 1-1/2 pound rack and 25 to 30 minutes for a 1-pound rack. Frankly, I was using a probe thermometer and was paying attention only to the meat temperature, not the amount of time.

        2. re: JoanN

          I've had this book for a while, and while that's a recipe that's intrigued me I've never tried it. One look at your picture has convinced me to make this the next time I'm doing a special occasion dinner for my husband and me.

          1. re: Nettie

            OK, I finally got around to trying this on Friday. I don't think I can add much to the previous notes, but I did the sauce as specified in the recipe, and served it with steamed broccoli. I don't think that I would do the sauce with wine, as the copious lemon is already pretty acidic, but stock might be OK. The combination of the lamb with the sauce was pretty amazing--I actually liked the amount of zest in the sauce which really cut the richness of the lamb nicely.

            1. re: Nettie

              Very good to know. It was definitely my mistake in not being able to appreciate the sauce with the lamb. Maybe I won't fiddle with it next time, just serve it the way it was intended to be served. Thanks for the report; I may well rethink my notes.

        3. I've made Pork and Orange - Flavored Beans, p. 178 several times. The first 2 times I used dried Greek gigante beans, with mixed results. Both times the beans were somewhat dry after cooking. The second time the beans had an unpleasant gritty texture.
          I consulted with a few fellow cooks who have used gigante before. They all had the same experience.

          This week we decided to use regular old organic white northern beans. It was a great substitute. The beans were creamy textured, but still kept their shape. We also increased the pork shoulder from 1/4 pound to 1/2 pound. 1/4 pound was good, but it truly only flavors the beans. This time we wanted more meat!

          I couldn't get Greek mavrodaphne wine, but used marsala instead. Other than the bean substitution, more meat, and marsala, we followed the rest of the recipe pretty closely. We could make this once a week. It tastes great reheated the next day and is a perfect winter dinner dish.

          7 Replies
          1. re: zataar

            I have some pork shoulder in the freezer and this sounded interesting, zataar, so I looked it up. My edition of the book calls for 3/4 of a pound of pork, not 1/4. My copy of the book is from the 4th printing. I wonder if your copy is from an earlier printing and perhaps the 1/4 pound was a typo that was corrected for later printings.

            1. re: JoanN

              JoanN, you're absolutely right. I shouldn't post away from home where my notes are! The recipe does indeed call for 3/4 # pork. We used (according to my penciled-in notes!) about 1 1/4 # of pork shoulder. We liked the extra meat. It didn't seem to be too much. I also added slightly more orange juice and pumped up all the other flavors slightly to compensate for the extra protein. I'll post a clearer summary later today.

            2. re: zataar

              this recipe sounds interesting and I actually have a bottle of mavrodaphne stored away I'll never drink as I don't care for it much....

              Can you post a summary or recap of the recipe as I don't have the book?

              1. re: ziggylu

                Ok, I'm home and my notes are in front of me! Here is how I did the Pork and Orange flavored beans:

                I soaked 2 cups dried organic white northern beans overnight. The next day I drained and cooked them with 1 bay leaves, 6 cups of water and 1 smashed clove of garlic. The garlic was my addition. I cooked the beans covered for about 35 minutes until they were tender. The beans were then drained, with 1 cup of cooking liquid reserved.

                While the beans were cooking, I cut about 1 1/4# boned pork shoulder into 4 big chunks, covered the pork with cold water and brought it to a gentle boil. I skimmed it for a few minutes, then drained it and rinsed it in cold water. I then covered it with fresh cold water, added another bay leaf and brought it to a boil again. I reduced the heat to medium and cooked it for about a half hour. note: in the recipe the pork is not drained after skimming. An Asian cook I once worked with did all his pork and chicken that way for a very clean taste. I always loved his braised meat dishes, so I've done it that way for a long time. I'm not sure how necessary it is, but I like the results.

                While the pork and beans were cooking I removed the zest from a large orange in large sections. I blanched them in boiling water 3 times as directed in the recipe, then cut the zest into fine julienne.

                When the meat was done removed it from the liquid and cut it into small cubes, not quite as small as 1/2" but close. I seasoned the pork pretty heavily with sea salt and black pepper. The recipe states to strain the pork broth and reduce it to 1/2 cup over high heat. Because I was using more pork than called for I reduced to to about 3/4 cup.

                To finish assembling the beans I diced one small celery stalk and 1 large onion, the onion yielding about 2 1/4 cups. I sauteed the onions, celery and 1 big tsp. aleppo pepper, with a little sprinkle of salt in about 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil until transluscent, about 5 minutes. Then I added the pork and sauteed it over medium high heat for about 5 minutes more, until just crispy around the edges. The beans were added and stirred in for a minute or so. I then added 1 big tsp. Colemans dry mustard, 1 cup marsala, 3/4 cup fresh orange juice (we used cara cara oranges since they just arrived for the season), the reserved meat broth, 1 tsp. sea salt, 1 cup finely chopped San Marzano tomatoes and the orange zest. I brought it to a boil, reduced the heat and simmered it covered for 30 minutes. The recipe suggests adding some of the reserved bean liquid if necessary. I didn't need to do that when I used northern beans.

                After 30 minutes the beans I seasoned the beans with black pepper and finished them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. Some of the liquid was evaporated, but the beans were very tender and the pork was succulent. If comparing the above with the original recipe you'll notice that I increased a few of the aromatic ingredients to compensate for more meat.

                We love, love this dish!

                1. re: zataar

                  Thanks! This sounds really good and I've been needing a use for the wine. Im' going to try making this on one of my days off next week!

                  1. re: zataar

                    Pork and Orange-Flavored Beans p. 178. We had a forcasted winter blast here in Boston, so I began soaking the beans yesterday in anticipation of being home today. (YAY!) Thanks, Zataar, I had your helpful guidance alongside the recipe, and the result is a skillet full of flavor and wonderful texture. I, too used the northern beans. Not sure why she suggests moving the near finished product from the skillet to a baking pan. I just put the skillet in the oven for the last 40 min and it worked fine. Such a great combination of creamy beans, aromatics, Marsala, orange and tomato. Lovely aromas all day as this dish slow-cooked its way to an absolute make-again. Rustic cooking at its best.

                2. re: zataar

                  I made the Pork & Orange-Flavored Beans and we loved it! DH was initially disappointed at the amount of pork (the beans are the main thing with the pork, like the orange, as a flavoring, though you could up the amounts), but he still loved the flavor.

                  I had some Gigante beans, so I used them, and they were great. They made for a very dramatic presentation, since they're so large. Definitely a keeper recipe.

                3. Ana Sortun's Lamb Keftides

                  We really liked the flavors of this lamb dish, but not the mushy texture of the patties, due to the bread crumbs. I think I'll try these flavorings (beer, mint, pomegranate molasses) braising lamb shanks. The choice of beer is crucial, I think: Anything very hoppy or too dark would overwhelm. I used Dark Horse Amber Ale to good effect.

                  1. I made the Fall Apart Lamb Shanks with Almond-Chocolate Picada, p. 210, tonight (today!)
                    This was time consuming, but virtually all of that time was unattended. You marinate the shanks overnight in a cooked wine (with garlic, lemon, onion, leek.......) Cook it all day the next day (5 hours plus a half an hour). It winds up falling apart, as promised, with a lovely, very flavorful sauce that went terrifically with mashed potatoes. A wonderful winter dish.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: mirage

                      High on my to-try list. Great to hear a report. Especially such a positive one.

                      1. re: mirage

                        I've had this cookbook for a while, and this is my go-to dish for a special romantic meal. The flavors and the texture are unreal.

                        1. re: Megiac

                          Pork Stew with Prunes and Onions p. 175

                          I was worried. First off, Whole Foods had neither the called-for pork shoulder or butt. Since I was determined to make this, I got pork sirloin. You know how that feels (will this work....will it be worth the I setting us all up for a disappointment?)

                          It was fun to make, in the way I like to cook. Lots of steps, smells, changing looks. But in the end, it didn't get the glazed, browned look that I was after, and that was shown in the I thought we might be in for a bad meal.

                          Not so, at all. The sweetness of the prunes were a wonderful foil for the braised onions. The pork pieces became tender and tasty. The carrots, cut in large chunks as directed, provided a nice visual focus. Lots of flava here, everybody. I also made the oven-baked polenta that she suggests. I'd never made polenta before. So nice to have that as a go-to-again starch. Couldn't be easier. Put it together and bake for an hour and a half.

                          It's going to be a great winter!

                          1. re: onefineleo

                            This is now my default polenta recipe--it takes about 3x the time as stovetop polenta, but it's over an hour of completely unattended time so as long as I've planned ahead it's not a big deal.

                            Once an friend of mine brought me some polenta that his Italian mother had made, and it was so much creamier and smoother than the polenta that I made on the stovetop. The polenta that this recipe makes has that same creaminess.

                            1. re: Nettie

                              Oven-Baked Polenta, p. 177

                              Finally got around to this, and it's a keeper! Especially working from home, this is a great method - basically stir to combine and pop in oven for 1-1/2 hours, stirring once. It's going to be perfect for weekday lunches.

                              I greased a Le Creuset pot with some butter and halved the recipe, so mixed 1 cup of coarse-ground polenta (I used Golden Pheasant brand) with 4 cups of water and a little butter and salt. Bake in oven uncovered at 350 for 1 hour and 20 minutes, stir, and 10 minutes more. That's it.

                              Since I like it a little looser (next time I would use more water as she suggests), I stirred in a bit of milk and also some fresh grated parmesan. Delicious. I served with leftover wild boar ragu (Batali recipe), and spread the rest of the polenta in a greased cookie sheet so I can chill, slice up and fry for leftovers.

                              1. re: Rubee

                                OVEN-BAKED POLENTA

                                I also greased a Le Creuset pot (braiser) but a lot of mine stuck around the sides of the pan. Not sure why, as I used the same proportions as Rubee. Thus I ended up with a bit less polenta (and less loose) than I needed for my recipe. So I would also use more water next time.

                                I found a Fine Cooking recipe in which Wolfert says that it is imperative to use a non-stick pan to make polenta in this manner. I didn't think I had a non-stick pan that could withstand this heat in the oven, so I went with the LC (which didn't stick on the bottom, just on the sides, though they were greased too). It just occured to me, though, that I could make this in one of my USA Pan baking pans, as those are very non-stick. I will try that again soon. I really want this to be my go-to polenta recipe, as I hate stirring polenta on the stove top.

                            2. re: onefineleo

                              I have the pork marinating in spiced oil now... I'm excited to try this dish this evening, with the oven-baked polenta too.

                              I'm looking at timing on this, as I prepare to make it:

                              1. Four hours to marinate the pork in spiced oil
                              2. 15 minutes browning the meat (5 mins covered, 10 mins uncovered)
                              4. Deglazing time plus 45 mins slow-cook for pork and veg, so another hour-ish?
                              5. As the pork stews, blanch, peel, and then simmer onions with butter, water, sugar 8 minutes
                              6. Add prunes and onions to stew, and cook another 15 mins.

                              So after marinating the meat, I need to leave at least another hour and 15 mins, hour and a half -- which is also the amount of time prescribed for the oven-baked polenta (p 177) Grrrr-eat! Now we'll see how I fare, in my first-ever culinary project involving pork.

                              1. re: foxy fairy

                                I made this tonight, like others of these recipes, the timings didnt quite work for me, there was too much liquid at the end and my meat was a bit overcooked, but its a delicious dish. I dont know if its our meat or the fact that in each case Ive upped the size of the recipe by half, but for all three of Wolferts meat dishes Ive cooked this monthI wound up with a significant boiling down phase that the recipe doesnt call for.

                                I will be interested to see whether her timings worked for you - the pearl onions, in particular took MUCH longer in my kitchen (I used shallots which is all I had but cant see it mattered)
                                The browning took a bit longer, the 45 min slow cook was about right but then came extracting all the solids and boiling down the sauce - it definitely doesnot have the glazed look of the picture and the instructions seem to suggest much less liquid in the last stages than I had.

                            3. re: Megiac

                              I made the fall apart lamb shanks too and I have to say, it was incredible. I omitted the picada due to time constraints, but I will plan better next time. The sauce was so amazing, I want to make it again and put the sauce aside to use as lamb stock.

                          2. Maghrebi Veal Meatballs with Chickpeas and Spinach.

                            I've had this cookbook for about 4 years and have only ever made the fall-apart lambshanks and the olive oil poached salmon from it, so this cookbook of the month selection is great for me to tackle an unexplored gem on my shelf.

                            On Sunday, I tacked the Maghrebi veal meatballs. The "slow" part of this recipe is that the dried chickpeas are supposed to be soaked overnight. I started soaking the chickpeas at about noon on Sunday, and accounted for the reduced soaking time by simmering them in water for closer to an hour, rather than the 1/2 hour called for in the recipe. They were perfectly tender by the time the dish was completed.

                            While the chickpeas were simmering, I made the meatballs. Whole Foods was out of ground veal when I made it there Sunday, and by that time my favorite independent butcher shop was closed, so a very nice guy behind the counter cut the meat off two pieces of osso bucco and ground that for me. So thanks to him for saving my dinner! The meatballs included 1/2 slices of white bread soaked in water and then squeezed dry (I couldn't get them dry, but did get them much less wet), a spice mixture (I think it is called El Tabil?) that included cayenne, cumin, fennel, caraway, salt and pepper, several tablespoons of paprika, garlic and parsley (and some other ingredients that I am now forgetting). The recipe calls for mixing all of the meatball ingredients in a food processor, forming small meatballs and then putting them in the refrigerator for 20 mintues before cooking. I've never chilled meatballs before cooking, but if that is the reason these held together so much better than previous meatball attempts, I will definitely start doing it more.

                            I then sauteed the meatballs just enough to brown them and removed them from the pan with a slotted spoon. I then set aside the pan and oil for wilting the spinach later. Then, I sauteed onions in a dutch oven, added some tomato paste, and then added the meatballs, the chickpeas, and two cups of the chickpea cooking water. This cooked for thirty minutes, after which time I stirred in the wilted spinach, cooked for another 10 mintues, and finally stirred in chopped parsley, and cooked for another 5 minutes. I found that the sauce needed some help with salt and pepper at the end. Although the meatballs were highly seasoned, only some of that seasoning leaked out into the sauce.

                            The resulting dish was really stunning. The sauce was bright red, contrasted with the brownish meatballs, the yellow chickpeas, and the green spinach, making it very colorful and visually interesting. I served it with simple long-grained rice, and the taste matched the appearance. The meatballs just exploded with flavor and were incredibly tender, yet had held their shape well. I am not normally a big fan of whole chickpeas, but I liked them with the sauce. And the spinach was a tasty complement that I rounded out the dish.

                            I took some pictures of the dish while cooking and when completed, that I will try to post later when I get them off my camera, but in the meantime, I highly recommend this recipe. Putting aside the time to soak the chickpeas, it was on the table about 2 hours after I started, although only about half of that time was active.

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: Megiac

                              Thank you for reporting on this! I've been thinking about making these for a long time, and now I am truly inspired.

                              1. re: Megiac

                                I finally got my pictures off of my camera. The first is off the meatballs shaped, but not yet cooked (you can see how red the paprika made them), and the last two are the finished dish in the pot and on the plate.

                                1. re: Megiac

                                  Did you try to post the pictures here? If so, maybe they were too large. That's happened to mbe a couple of times. Or did you forget to post a link? I'd love to see them.

                                  1. re: JoanN

                                    I did try to post pictures. I think they were too large. I'll try again tonight.

                                2. re: Megiac

                                  OK. Trying one more time with the pictures. First is of the meatballs before cooking, and the second 2 are of the finished dish.

                                  ETA: Yay! It worked.

                                  1. re: Megiac

                                    Well worth waiting for. Looks delicious. Thanks!

                                  2. re: Megiac

                                    Maghrebi Veal Meatballs with Chickpeas and Spinach

                                    I made this for dinner last night. I've made a ton of recipes from this book, which I've had since it came out, but never tried the meatballs before, but Megiac's report and photos inspired me. This recipe is easy and the payoff is big, and I highly recommend it. I altered a little to make it all in one pan (other than the pan to cook the chickpeas in) as follows:

                                    1. I made the meatball mixture and shaped the meatballs early in the day and refrigerated them, covered, until cooking time. I did not use a food processor. I just mixed all of the spices and the garlic together with the water called for in the recipe to form a paste, then added the soaked breadcrumbs, meat and egg and mixed by hand.

                                    2. I browned the meatballs in olive oil in a 5 1/2 quart Le Crueset dutch oven, in two batches, not in a nonstick skillet as Paula suggested. After the second batch, I had some great drippings in that pan, so I deglazed the pan with about 1/3 cup water, reduced it a little, then added chopped escarole (rather than spinach as called for in the recipe) and braised the escarole in the liquid until wilted.

                                    3. After wilting the escarole, I removed it from the dutch oven, reduced the liquid a bit more, added the chopped onions and a little olive oil, and cooked the onions until soft. I then added the tomato paste and cooked it well before proceeding with the recipe.

                                    4. My sweet husband who was helping me while I took a phone call drained the ceci beans without reserving the water, so I used a combination of chicken stock and plain tap water instead of the 2 cups ceci cooking water called for in Paula's recipe.

                                    I didn't have any seasoning issues as Megiac identified, but that may be because I used a combo of chicken stock and water instead of the ceci cooking water. And, this dish is definitely a winner. The spice mix is almost haunting - very difficult to identify any individual spice, but the combination is incredible, and definitely worth making the entire spice mix rather than just using coriander and caraway. I don't generally like whole ceci beans either, but in this dish they were wonderful and tender without being mealy which can often happen. The meatball broth was flavorful, and the escarole was a perfect (perhaps even superior) substitute for spinach.

                                    My husband had his meatballs with a big side of Israeli couscous with butter and parsley, but he felt that the couscous kind of diluted the dish. He ended up eating out of my soup bowl full of meatballs, escarole and chickpeas, which he liked better. I made some bruschetta for myself with just olive oil and salt, and used pieces of the bread to mop up the rest of the sauce.

                                    Highly recommended!

                                    1. re: farmersdaughter

                                      We thought this was a very nice recipe, especially the meatballs. I would estimate that we made a mistake using frozen chopped spinach instead of sauteed fresh spinach because, even with squeezing it added more water to an already watery sauce and muddied up the color contrast.. The meatballs are delicious but the rest of the dish was too liquid and not quite flavory enough till I boiled the juice down (sigh) and seasoned it up a bit with some of the left over tabil.

                                    2. re: Megiac

                                      I loved these meatballs, and the whole preparation with spinach and chickpeas and that vibrantly colored/flavored broth was different and delicious. For my first time ever making meatballs, these were easy. I have not seen other recipes calling for seltzer to soak the bread -- interesting, but I did recently come across a Turkish recipe for marinating meat in seltzer.

                                      Anyway, these were delicious, of course involving several steps for the preparation, but delicious. I actually served mine with buttery Israeli couscous too, but on the side, with the meatballs/chickpeas in a bowl. YUM. The next day we made meatball wraps -- spicy -- from the leftovers. We were fighting over every last meatball. I think this recipe would be great for a crowd.

                                      1. re: Megiac

                                        Maghrebi Veal Meatballs with Spinach and Chickpeas, p. 200

                                        I made this last night for an Easter dinner. I substituted chicken stock for the chickpea cooking water and roughly followed farmersdaughter's changes to make this a one-pot meal. This was excellent and full of flavor. My one complaint was that the spinach seemed a tiny bit slimy. Next time, I might try chopping the spinach ahead of time and wilting it directly into the sauce.