The Daily Dish: Sausages in the Skillet with Grapes

sausages
Salsicca all’Uva

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Serves 6

Ingredients
¼ cup extra- virgin olive oil
8 plump garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 ½ pounds sweet Italian sausages, preferably without fennel seeds (8 or more sausages, depending on size)
½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
1 ¼ pounds seedless green grapes, picked from the stem and washed (about 3 cups)

Directions
Pour the olive oil into the skillet, toss in the garlic cloves, and set it over low heat. When the garlic is sizzling, lay in all the sausages in one layer, and cover the pan. Cook the sausages slowly, turning and moving them around the skillet occasionally; after 10 minutes or so, sprinkle the peperoncino in between the sausages. Continue low and slow cooking for 25 to 30 minutes in all, until the sausages are cooked through and nicely browned all over. Remove the pan from the burner, tilt it, and carefully spoon out excess fat.

Set the skillet back over low heat, and scatter in the grapes. Stir and tumble them in the pan bottom, moistening them with meat juices. Cover, and cook for 10 minutes or so, until the grapes begin to soften, wrinkle, and release their own juices. Remove the cover, turn the heat to high, and boil the pan juices to concentrate them to a syrupy consistency, stirring and turning the sausages and grapes frequently to glaze them.

To serve family-style: arrange the sausages on a warm platter, topped with the grapes and pan juices. Or serve them right from the pan (cut in half, if large), spooning grapes and thickened juices over each portion.

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lidia bastianichLidia Matticchio Bastianich was born in Pola, Istria, on the northeastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. She is a cookbook author, restaurateur, and TV chef extraordinaire. Watch Lidia’s Italy Saturdays at 1:30pm on WGBH 2 or Sundays at 4pm on WGBH 44.

Every Foodie loves a garden

Zucchini flower growing at Long Hill Farm in Beverly.

Gardening season is upon us — and as we so often realize this time of year, gardeners and food lovers are close kin. Whether you’re a fan of The Victory Garden’s What’s Growing This Weekend with Paul Epsom or Food Trip with Todd English, you know that every Foodie loves a garden.

Last night, Barbara Emerson, brought home this concept when she spoke about “Edible Landscapes” at the public library in Manchester-by-the-Sea, giving her audience a wealth of gardening inspiration. Emerson, a gardening consultant and master gardener, is founder of Have Green Thumb in Manchester-by-the-Sea.

While I’m not (yet) a gardener, what I learned from Emerson was liberating. For example:

  • Vegetables don’t have to grow in rows. You don’t even need a plot of land. Emerson has grown vegetables in every kind of container — including cloth bags. All that’s really required is a small spot of sun and decent soil.
  • Interplanting is mixing ornamental plants and vegetables. Imagine violets or nasturtiums interplanted with cucumbers or lettuce. (Your dinner salad is practically done!) Putting a lot of plants in one place leaves less open soil, which means less weeding and less work.
  • Plant according to the time you have available, and according to the vegetables you enjoy eating.
  • PMO – Pretty Much Organic – is okay. Really.
  • Roses are edible. Put the leaves in salads, use rose water in cooking, make rose hip tea. Nasturtiums – also edible – have a peppery flavor.
  • New trends in gardening: Pink blueberries (a recent phenomenon, available locally from Corliss Bros Nursery in Ipswich), cloth garden bags made from landscape fabric that let you garden without a plot of land (check them out at SmartPots.com), and self-watering containers (high-end versions available from Lechuza).
  • Make it easy and realistic for yourself. Place vegetables or herbs close to the kitchen, within easy reach. If they’re too far away when you’re cooking, you simply aren’t going to grab them.

A trend survey conducted by the Garden Writers of America indicated that the number of home vegetable gardeners was up 37% last year, and it’s expected to boom again this year. With Emerson’s advice on gardening — practical, fun, liberating, and realistic — I can envision it booming in my own backyard.

Cathy Huyghe writes for the WGBH Daily Dish blog. Read new WGBH Daily Dish posts every weekday, where you can explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Healthy Habits Kitchen: A different kind of take-out

Peek inside the refrigerator at Healthy Habits Kitchen in Wellesley.

It isn’t just the cooking that makes healthy eating untenable. It’s also the shopping, organizing, and clean up that needs to happen in addition to the cooking.

Those are exactly the things that Susan Schochet and her staff at Healthy Habits Kitchen do (exceptionally well, I might add). Healthy Habits Kitchen in Wellesley offers meal assembly and preparation services for individuals and families, which removes the stumbling blocks from regular healthy eating.

“Meal assembly” works like this. You schedule a time to come to the Kitchen. You choose which meals you want to prepare. When you arrive — as I did last week, along with my two children — your station is set, your ingredients are portioned, and you’re ready to fly into the preparation of healthy, quick meals.

The process goes super-fast. The ingredients are at your fingertips and the recipe is right in front of you, printed out and standing in a plastic clipboard. And you aren’t expected to clean up. And –bonus — the average price per person for a meal at Healthy Habits Kitchen is less than $4.

Susan Schochet holds an assembled meal kit that her customers take home and store until they're ready to cook the meal.

There were unexpected bonuses from my trip to Healthy Habits Kitchen, both during the assembly and during preparation at home. First, the kids loved being at the Kitchen. It’s a neat, organized space, their roles were clear, and Schochet clearly has a lot of experience dealing with young people.

Leo takes a break from meal assembly to lick a spoon of honey.

A second bonus is the peace of mind when you know you won’t be home to cook for your family. Anyone at home is empowered to put a healthy meal on the table. All of the ingredients are there, plus clear instructions for cooking the meal, all stickered to the Ziploc bag holding the kit.

The third bonus was a certain sense of confidence. You start to think, “It really isn’t so hard to cook good, healthy food.” You can imagine getting the hang of it. And maybe, little by little, you start taking steps to replicate the process for yourself. That would be the healthy habit-forming part of a Healthy Habits Kitchen experience. And it’s a consequence Schochet, with her passion for sharing healthy cooking, wouldn’t mind one bit.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Music, dancing, and loukaniko: Greek Independence Day in Boston Common

In honor of the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire (and Greek pride in general), the Greek Independence Day festival took over Boston Common on Sunday. The festival gave a hint of the wonderful culture — and food — one might experience on a visit, as with WGBH’s upcoming LearningTour.

Dancers in costume, with ethnic music in the background, help set the stage at yesterday’s Greek Independence Day celebration in the Boston Common.

Guests and participants take breaks to enjoy the weather, the crowd, and the food.

Food kiosks, even those selling products not exactly Greek by origin, fly the flag nonetheless.

Fried dough toasts in oil before being powdered with sugar.

No Greek festival is complete without gyros.

A gyro kiosk worker prepares slices of meat for cooking.

Shish kebabs and loukaniko were for sale as well. One guest described loukaniko as “like kielbasa but spicier, with orange rind in it.”

Shish kebabs for a crowd.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Tips for getting adventure and value from your wine

Samples of brewed tea illustrated the quality of tannins to members of the Boston Wine Meetup group at The Wine Bottega.

Kerri Platt, owner of The Wine Bottega wine shop in the North End, has her internal lie detector tuned to high.

All. The. Time.

Which means that when a wine rep comes into the shop hoping to sell Platt on some wines, most will quickly fail her sniff test. That’s because Platt stocks her shelves with wines from vineyards she has either visited herself or that she and her staff have gone to great lengths to find that meet her qualifications:

Small producers. Organically farmed. Biodynamically produced.

All popular catch phrases these days — lots of shops claim to support such practices — but Platt is serious about it and she can tell, easily, when sales reps are just paying it lip service.

That’s why you’ll find wines on The Wine Bottega’s shelves that you literally will not find anywhere else in Boston or all of Massachusetts: they take the time, and make the effort, to source wines that meet the small-producer, organically-farmed standards through and through.

That makes The Wine Bottega the perfect destination when you’re hunting for, say, a bottle of wine for someone who already knows a lot about it. You are bound to find something unique.

You are also very likely to find unique bargains. At a blind tasting Platt conducted for members of the Boston Wine Meetup group on Wednesday night, she poured five wines and four of them cost less than $15 even though they tasted, at least to me, like they were worth well over $25.

As Platt spoke to the group about the wines we were tasting, she also relayed tips that she and her staff have picked up recently. It was, in essence, a small treasure trove of helpfulness for those of us looking for adventure and value in our wine choices.

And who wouldn’t want that? Here are a few of the gems she shared:

  1. Keep an eye out for pinot noir from Provence. Not a typical grape from not a typical place but, if the wine Platt chose to pour on Wednesday night was any indication, we’re in for some things good.
  2. Look for Barbera on a wine list, as it tends to be a lovely, exceptional wine at a great value.
  3. It’s okay to ask for your red wine to be chilled for a bit before it’s served, especially if the bottle has been stored behind a restaurant’s bar and especially if the bottle in question is meant to serve as a nice early-summer red.
  4. The reason you add milk to your tea is the same reason a fatty steak goes so well with a tannic red wine: the fat (from the milk and the steak) balances out the tannins (in the tea and the wine). That’s why it works.
  5. Platt and her staff like to play with expectations, like light-colored tannic reds and reds that show pretty fruit and earthiness but then switch it up with a hefty dose of tannins. Anyone in the shop can point you directly to some examples on their shelves.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Dish of the Week at Trident Cafe

Fruit cobbler, served warm, with vanilla ice cream, nice and cool, at Trident Booksellers & Cafe on Newbury Street.

These days, in this weather, very few things taste bad.

Partly it’s because we’re editing what we eat, choosing things that are lighter, more refreshing, spring-i-er. It’s fish tacos over Roquefort burgers. Iced tea rather than hot chocolate. Leafy vegetables before root ones. Whatever most jives with our surroundings of sunny, warm days and light-jacket weather.

Partly it’s because we’re shedding the Boston-winter survival tactic of tucking in and tucking under. Off with the layers of clothing. Off, too, with multi-course dinners and mucho-complex taste combinations.

These days we’re liking our food fresh, uncomplicated, and maybe just a little bit sweet.

Perhaps that why ours was just one of at least three tables yesterday within 25 minutes to sit down and ask our servers immediately for the dessert menu. This was at Trident Booksellers & Cafe on Newbury Street at about five o’clock in the afternoon.

The fresh fruit cobbler with vanilla ice cream seemed to be the most popular choice, and it appeared over and over again, at our table and several others. The cobbler had just been pulled from a reheat in the oven, the pastry crust crackly and sprinkled with sugar and the fruit inside steamy and warm. I poured spoonfuls of sauce from inside the cobbler onto the ice cream, wilting it and bringing both components to a happy medium temperature.

The ice cream was cool, like the mornings and the evenings these days. And the cobbler was warm, like our sunny days. That combo makes this our Dish of the Week.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Lunch (and an excellent one) at Masa in the South End

Just one of the dessert options with Masa's $7.95 three-course lunch special.

As a change of pace from my standard weekday routine as part of WGBH’s Membership team, last week I paid a visit to Masa, chef-owner Philip Aviles’ South End restaurant. The restaurant’s interior (unlike the dreary Boston weather we slogged through) is warm and inviting; the walls are embellished with wrought-iron tracery featuring chocolate tile centers and mirrors, connoting a feeling of airiness. Tucked in the corners are terracotta jugs filled with daffodils, giving the room a touch of spring.

It was a working lunch, but I indulged and ordered a margarita, with just the right amount of bite. The meal itself overflowed with Southwestern flavors, representative of a menu that offers refreshing twists on traditional Latin favorites.

I started with a bowl of butternut squash chowder topped with crispy lardons, smoked Gouda, chile poblano, and tortilla strips. Then on to the achiote-marinated fish tacos dressed with the relatively mild earthy spiciness of chipotle tartar sauce and the crunch of pickled onions.  But the corn tortillas were the surprise. It was the first time I had eaten freshly made tortillas, and this was the perfect venue – masa means tortilla dough in Spanish — though I’ll never be able to enjoy those hard shells in quite the same way.

I ended the savory portion of lunch with a salad of field greens with prickly pear passion fruit vinaigrette, Spanish cabrales, jicama, and chile walnuts, a mix packed with amazing flavors and textures.

I ended with Masa’s signature chocolate tamale, and our server suggested the key lime pie for complementary flavors. Both desserts had layers of complex richness, co-existing without competing — the perfect ending to my midday feast.

Masa brings an inventive style to Mexican cuisine. Chef Aviles’ inspired menu is chock full of authentic Mexican and Spanish ingredients and prepares them in earthy and elegant ways.

Germaine Frechette is the guest author for today’s Foodie Blog and part of the WGBH Membership team. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, where we explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.