Cucina Valentina

Cucina Valentina

Friday, January 20, 2017

Coq Au Vin Blanc

Don't you love it when something pops into your life unexpectedly like a breath of fresh air, eliciting a rush of excitement and appreciation?

A new grocery store opened up near my house and I feel like I've just made a new best friend.  It's different than any store I've ever been to.  

Founded in Germany, Aldi has been around awhile in the UK, but just debuted in the US.  I was thrilled to find that, much like World Market, Aldi stocks an amazing array of European cheese, chocolates and wine.

It's not large by any means and it is most certainly a "no frills" sort of place, where you bring your own shopping bags and pack groceries yourselfShopping carts cost a refundable quarter - an incentive to bring them back to the store rather than leaving them in the parking lot for an attendant to retrieve, and produce is set out in crates, eliminating the need for personnel to set out displays.

The brands are mostly unrecognizable, but if you're not brand loyal and are unafraid of trying something new, I'm sure you will be pleasantly surprised.  Major manufacturers of the brands we know and love private label to Aldi.  Try the Cracked Black Pepper whole grain woven wheat crackers...

All of these minimalist strategies translate into prices you just can't beat.  Kitchen staples like eggs, milk and bread, are at least half the cost of conventional grocery stores.  The produce is practically wholesale.  I'm talking baseball size avocados for .43 cents each!  

Their meat is was really impressed me.  Not only are the prices startlingly low, but the quality is fantastic.  

Between Aldi's crazy-low price on bone-in chicken thighs and and the recent gift of an eggplant-colored Le Creuset braiser, I was overcome with the desire to tackle (what I consider to be intimidating) - French cuisine.  A one-pot, warm and savory dish, Coq Au Vin.  

And not in the classic French style.  After last week's double batch of Bolognese, I am all tomatoed out, so I decided to create a Coq Au Vin Blanc, substituting Chardonnay for the traditional Burgundy and omitting tomato paste.

Below is the end result, and it was delicious.  I'm excited to share this recipe with you.

The key to getting a nice crust on the chicken is a good sprinkling of flour after the herbs and seasonings, and plenty of HOT butter and oil in the pan. 

Laying flavors is key, so when you start with olive oil infused with natural sage, you are sure to achieve a stellar result.


Coq Au Vin Blanc



6 - 8 bone-in chicken thighs
3 celery stalks
1/2 fennel bulb
3 carrots
1 potato - diced
6 garlic cloves
3 shallots
1 jalapeno (optional)
1/4 lb mushrooms
1 C Chardonnay
1 C chicken broth
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 C peas (optional)
2 T butter
2 T sage olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard 
1/4 C flour
1 t thyme
1 t rosemary
1 t sage
Lawry's seasoned salt


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat butter and oil in a heavy braiser on medium high heat.  Trim fat from thighs and season both sides generously with Lawry's, dried herbs, fresh ground pepper and flour.

Sear thighs until they develop a golden brown crust on both sides.  Deglaze with Chardonnay and cook down a few minutes.  Add rough chopped vegetables and chicken broth.  Cover and transfer to oven for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Return braiser to stove top.  Remove chicken to a plate and cover.  Bring vegetables and sauce to a boil over medium high heat, just a few minutes, until it begins to reduce and thicken.  Stir in cream Dijon mustard and peas, then simmer a few minutes longer.

Serve garnished with chopped parsley.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Traditional Bolognese Sauce

Winter has finally arrived, and here in Southern California, that's cause to celebrate.  It's been raining for days and local news stations are reporting that we are officially no longer in a drought.  Woohoo!  That is truly exciting news.

This past weekend was damp and cold, but we took advantage of a short break between rainstorms to host our annual backyard Christmas tree burn.

It's become a friends and family tradition to get together after the holidays for a big Italian dinner, then share a special bottle of dessert wine around a roaring fire.

On this night the special wine was Wilson Creek's Decadencia, made from century-old "Old Vine" Zinfandel with a touch of natural chocolate that makes it even more delectable.

There is something indescribably endearing about gathering around a bonfire.  Something that touches the deepest recesses of our hearts and strengthens our human bond.

With silvery moonlight falling through bare winter branches and wisps of pine-scented smoke drifting above, the best of memories are made.

This year's burn was a little more colorful than others thanks to Mystical Fire.  Gotta love those Groupon deals!

Thanks to the wintry weather of late, I've spent quite a bit of time indoors lately, and when cooped up on a rainy day, my first thought is always, let's make a pot of sauce.

How many recipes can sit on the stove for hours, perfuming the house with a mouthwatering aroma, and just get better and better the longer it cooks?  This Bolognese is one of my favorite recipes.  It's fantastic on its own over any number of pastas or as an accompaniment to stuffed shells, manicotti, ravioli, lasagna...

I use three different meats in mine because that's how my Grandma Marinesi did it, but you can you use whatever meat you prefer.

In recent years grocery stores have really stepped up their game when it comes to imported foods.  Items I could only find at Italian stores are now regular stock on the International aisle of my local market.  And - in my opinion they are worth seeking out.  Using San Marzano tomatoes does make a difference.

I always start with my usual blend of mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery and garlic, but I have been known to add a little red bell pepper if I have one lying around.  It just adds extra sweetness.

The key to this recipe is to take your time in between steps.  Don't rush it. The longer this simmers on the stove, the richer and silkier it becomes.

Let each liquid cook down and reduce for a good half hour before adding the next ingredient.  Layers of flavor take time to develop.

A garnish of fresh basil is the perfect bright, spicy compliment to the richness of the sauce.

Traditional Bolognese Sauce


1 lb ground veal
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
2 t kosher salt
black pepper
1 t sugar
1/4 t nutmeg
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t dried thyme
1 T oregano
3 carrots
3 celery stalks
1 lb mushrooms
1 onion
10 garlic cloves
2 T basil olive oil
2 T butter
2 C heavy cream or milk
2 C white wine
1 C sherry
1 t tomato paste
2 - 28 oz cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes
2 - 28 oz cans diced San Marzano tomatoes with basil


Heat 2 T basil olive oil in a large pot on medium high.  Add meat, red pepper flakes thyme and a few grinds of black pepper, and brown, breaking into small pieces.  Once meat is almost done, remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon.  Discard fat from pot.

Melt 2 T butter in the same pot with 1 t tomato paste.  Add finely chopped vegetables and saute over medium high heat until soft.  Add meat, oregano, sugar, nutmeg and salt, blending well with a wooden spoon.

Add cream or milk and increase heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat slightly to gently boil for 30 - 40 minutes.

Add wine and sherry.  Again increase heat to a boil, then reduce slightly to a gentle boil for 30 - 40 minutes, cooking down the liquids to intensify the flavors.

Add the canned tomatoes and once again, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and that's it. Let this sauce simmer on the stove all day long - at least 4 - 5 hours, stirring occasionally.  If the sauce ends up thicker than you like, add a splash of chicken broth and simmer again.

This a big batch so be sure to freeze some.

This sauce is fantastic over any pasta, ravioli and even to make lasagna with.

Top with Parmesan, Romano, basil, parsley...

Friday, January 6, 2017

Herb Crusted Prime Rib with Brown Butter Shallot Sauce

A special night calls for a special meal, and no cut of meat seems as celebratory as a beautiful prime rib.

This Christmas Eve was a rarity, as my husband and I had the holiday all to ourselves - and our pooches, of course.  Lola and Woogie, our furry children, are a constant source of entertainment and unconditional love.

Lola and Woogie

Although we were without the usual cacophonous crowd, we definitely did not escape calamity.

To skip back a little, we have actually had a sad few months, as our six year old Lola, an east LA street dog my husband rescued as a pup, suddenly went lame - to the point of not being able to get up.

Lola, the day she was rescued

Months of desperation and testing (and a ridiculous amount of $$$ later) we have a diagnosis.  An autoimmune disease is attacking her joints, and it looks like our sweet girl is going to be on immune-supressive drugs for the rest of her life.  And, as long as it's treatable, that's fine with me.  I am immensely relieved.

The moment she started the meds she was back to her feisty, silly self, with one exception.  Continual licking of her ankle joints necessitated the dreaded cone of shame.

This pretty princess had never before been subjected to such horror.

Initially it was comical.  She'd bonk into a piece of furniture and freeze until we came to save her.  By day two you could see her annoyance growing.  Day three - she'd had enough.  She started using the cone like a battering ram.  When it inevitably caught on something, be it a table, chair or the sliding glass door, she would throw her entire 60 pounds into the obstacle, blasting forward with the determination of a bull in a china shop.

The first serious casualty occurred on Christmas Eve, when she caught the corner of our wine rack and brought the whole thing crashing down onto the wood floor, taking out a plaster stand that holds our wine opener.  Luckily it's a low rack and the bottles are thick.  No wine was lost, and that was a miracle.  Wish I could say the same for my bottle opener...

Well, on to the subject at hand - the food...

I found a magnificent, one bone prime rib, perfect for two, rubbed it with an olive oil-herb paste, wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated for two days.


Searing the rib in a cast iron skillet transforms the herb-garlic paste into a flavorful crust. 

Ian loves that hint of smoke flavor, so he added a little stout-soaked pecan wood to the barbecue while the rib finished cooking.

Once removed from heat, allowing the meat to rest at least 15 minutes ensures a tender, juicy result.

While the rib is resting, turn up the heat to finish the brown butter shallot sauce.

In all seriousness, after the rib rested, Ian cut the bone off, stood it up and sliced it in half.  This is the way it fell.  

 The perfect prime rib for a romantic Christmas Eve dinner for two.

And this special night deserves a special wine.

A 2012 Dark Star Cabernet Sauvignon was the perfect compliment to the prime rib with its deep, bold structure.

Decanted and allowed to breathe for an hour or so before serving smooths out the tannin bite in this in-your-face red to a velvety texture you wont soon forget!

* Notice the crack in this bottle, compliments of miss Lola and the cone of shame.  I was hesitant to open it, but once strained and decanted the wine was fine, the crack miraculously did not effect the integrity of the bottle.

The recipe below is versatile.  Double or even triple both the rub and the sauce ingredients depending on the size of your rib.

Prime Rib Rub

1/4 C Sage Olive Oil
2 T each chopped fresh herbs: rosemary, thyme, parsley
2 T crushed garlic
1 T Lawry's Seasoned Salt
1 T cracked black pepper
1 T Dijon mustard

Mix oil, herbs, garlic, seasonings and mustard together well, smear all over prime rib then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate 24 - 48 hours.

Remove from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature 1 hour prior to searing.

Sear all sides of rib in a smoking hot cast iron skillet, just about 2 - 5 minutes per side until a nice brown crust is achieved.

Transfer to 225 degree barbecue, with or without smoke, and cook until internal temperature reaches 130 degrees.  Let rest 15 - 30 minutes before carving.

Brown Butter Shallot Sauce


4 T salted butter
1 T chopped garlic
1 finely chopped shallot
1 T chopped parsley
1 T Worcestershire Sauce
1 T Sherry
1/4 Beef Broth

Heat butter over medium-low heat until it starts to brown.  Do not let burn!

Add garlic, shallot and parsley and saute until soft.  Add Worcestershire, sherry and broth and let reduce over low heat until you are ready to carve the prime rib.  Slice rib and arrange on platter.  Pour sauce over.

* Sauce recipe adapted from Guy's Big Bite - Food Network

** Cucina Valentina Artisan Olive Oils are now available on this blog (see shopping cart in upper right) or by clicking the Etsy bar on the right - or just click here: Etsy.


Happy Holidays, Friends!