EDIBLE BASICS, SPRING 2015
PHOTOS BY MICHAEL PIAZZA / STYLED BY CATRINE KELTY

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Piazza-20150302–0347-Edit-Edit

When my husband, Chris, was in college, his best friend Alex invited him home every so often for Sunday Dinner. This was a foreign concept to Chris: sure, his family shared evening meals together, and holiday spreads in the Blackburn house are legendary, but a regular Sunday feast just wasn’t something they did. Alex’s family, on the other hand, Greek Orthodox and first generation immigrants to Troy, New York, took the Sunday Dinner concept quite seriously. Sunday was a day off from work, a day to cook and eat and celebrate traditional foods, and, in the process, fill the fridge with leftovers to eat during the busy week ahead.

The table would be filled with enough food for an army, certainly more than the five diners could ever eat in one sitting. Alex’s dad would man the grill, where multiple chickens, a leg of lamb, and usually a fish of some kind would sizzle with lemon, garlic, and lots of melted butter. His mother, working diligently in the kitchen, produced umpteen sides, making both traditional Greek recipes and American classics. At least four different potato dishes—boiled, mashed, scalloped, or fried—sat alongside dressed salads of cucumbers, olives, tomato, and feta; there was grilled corn, green beans, peas, sometimes asparagus; sweet, fluffy, eggy bread from a local bakery; cheesy baked Greek pastas, orzo salads, and rice. These were epic feasts, any college boy’s dream; it’s no wonder Chris remembers these days, and these dishes, so fondly.

But does anyone have a regular Sunday Dinner anymore, or do we only serve big feasts like this on holidays? As we gear up for Easter and Passover, arriving simultaneously in early April this year, even secular families will prepare a special meal and toast one another over vases of tulips and lilies. I’m sure there was a time when people sat down for a weekly mid-afternoon meal, but it’s fairly distant in my own memory. Nowadays, the rigors of modern life can get in the way of leisure at the table, but, with a little planning, we can change that.

There’s something wonderful and nostalgic about a Sunday Dinner, and it doesn’t have to be hard to make, nor as gloriously plentiful as Alex’s. It’s a meal best served in the dining room if you have one; the table dressed up for the season. The menu can be very simple; a centerpiece roast and some vegetable sides are a good beginning. A hearty lasagna, mushroom stew, or even a platter of roasted root vegetables can make a vegetarian feast worthy of this special setting. Most importantly, though, you should make enough food to ensure there will be leftovers for the upcoming week. Cook a big enough main course while you have the time on Sunday, and you can re-hash it into new dishes all week long.

The following recipes will serve double- and even triple-duty. If you make the pork shoulder roast for Easter dinner and serve only a portion of it, on Monday you can stack sliced pork with Swiss cheese and yellow mustard for griddled Cuban sandwiches. Or finely chop the meat and simmer with onion, white wine, and milk for Bolognese-style ragù over fresh pasta. By Wednesday, green chili-tomatillo tacos may be calling your name, and anything left on Thursday can be shredded, crisped up with hoisin sauce, and perched on top of a steaming ramen noodle soup.

If you make brisket for your Passover Seder, cook an extra big one and use a bit of the leftovers for a delicious beef-and-potato hash topped with eggs the next morning. Another day, sauté diced brisket with rich spices and black beans for a Mexican chili, topped with chopped cilantro and avocado. Or shred leftover beef and stir into its leek-and-carrot gravy; add pureed tomato, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and top with peas to use as the base of a cottage pie, wonderfully bubbly under a cheesy mashed potato crust.

For either holiday, a vegetarian main course of roasted vegetables and dressed grains can be used in innumerable ways in the days following. Add some charred onions and a light broth to the veggies and grains, and you have an easy soup. Or toss with bottled chili sauce, some Mexican spices and a good melting cheese, then fold into corn tortillas smothered with more sauce for enchiladas. Even just reheating the original dish and topping it with poached eggs and a squeeze of Sriracha can make a great weeknight meal.

Whether or not you celebrate a springtime holiday, why not try bringing back the Sunday Dinner once a month? Clear the afternoon, dress up the table a bit, and sit back and relax over a leisurely meal. You’ll reconnect with friends and family, and, in the end, your fridge will be filled with the basis of many weeknight meals to come. It’s a win-win.

SUNDAY DINNER PICNIC SHOULDER PORK ROAST

This is a perfect cut for roasting because it has a lot of marbling to keep the meat tender and moist while cooking; just be sure you get one with a nice cap of fat across the top. This may look like a lot of ingredients, but once you make the herb paste, it’s pretty hands-off while it roasts. Serve with fat asparagus spears, peeled from tip to end, sautéed in butter and scattered with chopped tarragon, and a pile of crispy roasted potatoes.

Serves 6-8 people, with leftovers

1 5-6 pound boneless pork picnic shoulder roast
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoons whole fennel seed
1 small dried red chili, crumbled
5 cloves garlic, minced or grated
zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cane sugar
freshly ground black pepper
3 onions, sliced
½ cup chicken stock
½ cup white wine or vermouth

Preheat the oven to 450° and remove the roast from the refrigerator about an hour before you intend to cook it. Toast the coriander, fennel, and chili until just fragrant, then grind in a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder. Stir in the garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, minced herbs, and olive oil to make a paste.

Rub the pork roast with salt, sugar, and lots of cracked fresh pepper, then tie it up with kitchen twine to make it compact and uniform. Using your hands, spread the herb paste all over the whole roast. Scatter the sliced onions on the bottom of a roasting pan, toss them with salt and pepper, and settle the seasoned pork roast on top. Heat the stock and wine in a saucepan, pour into the bottom of the pan and place in the oven to roast.

After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 375° and remove the pork from the oven. Spoon some of the accumulated juices over the top of the pork, then return it to the oven and continue to roast for approximately another hour. Check the temperature using an instant-read thermometer, and once the pork hits 150°, remove from the oven and let it rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

Snip the twine and discard it. Slice the pork thinly across the grain; serve with generous helpings of the onion gravy spooned on top.

SUNDAY DINNER BRAISED BRISKET WITH LEEK & CARROT GRAVY, MEYER LEMON GREMOLATA & LEMON-HORSERADISH WHIPPED CREAM

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Piazza-20150302–0403-Edit

I adore brisket any time of year, but the traditional braising liquid of red wine, onions, and tomato sauce seemed too heavy for a springtime meal, so I replaced it with white wine and leeks. This lighter sauce pairs well with spring vegetable sides like peas, asparagus, or sautéed spinach, and is especially nice with mashed potato. The added gremolata and horseradish cream make the dish festive, but you can leave them out and still enjoy a delicious supper. The recipe is loosely based on a beer-braised brisket from the excellent Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin, where salsa verde, black lentils and rapini greens are its wintertime accompaniments, all of which would be equally delicious in spring.

Serves 6-8 people, with leftovers (to serve a larger crowd, get a bigger piece of meat but keep the rest of the recipe the same, adding at least another hour to the cooking time.)

For the brisket:
4 pounds beef brisket, fat cap intact
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
granulated garlic
4 onions, sliced lengthwise into ½-inch wedges
12 carrots, mix of orange and yellow, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
4 leeks, cleaned, halved lengthwise, and sliced into ½-inch half moons
3½ cups homemade chicken or beef stock (organic boxed broth is fine, too)
1½ cups dry white wine
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
6 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half lengthwise, any green shoots removed
½ teaspoon organic cane sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
thyme sprigs

Preheat the oven to 350°. About an hour before you plan to cook the brisket, remove it from the fridge and score the fat cap with a sharp knife. Season it heavily all over with lots of kosher salt and cracked pepper, then sprinkle lightly on both sides with a dusting of granulated garlic. Cover loosely with wax paper and let sit at room temperature until ready to cook (you can season up to a day ahead and store in the refrigerator, if you like, but remember to bring the meat out an hour before cooking to bring to room temperature).

Heat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet to smoking hot and add the brisket, fat side down, and sear 6-8 minutes per side or until well-browned. Remove the meat to a platter and add the onions and carrots to the skillet; season with salt and pepper and the thyme leaves and sauté until lightly browned. Scrape the onions and carrots into the bottom of a large roasting pan, big enough to hold the brisket. Repeat with the leeks, letting them soften and brown lightly before adding to the onions and carrots; stir to combine. Warm the stock, wine, and vinegar in the residual heat of the skillet, pour over the vegetables, and place the browned brisket on top.

Sprinkle the meat with the sugar, spread the mustard on top with an offset spatula, and season again with plenty of cracked pepper. Scatter some thyme sprigs around the pan, cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside the roasting pan and cover the pan with a tight layer of aluminum foil. Place in the oven and braise, covered, 2 hours.

After 2 hours has elapsed, remove the foil and parchment (but save them for a later use) and return to the oven for another 2 hours. When the brisket is tender all the way through (test with the tip of a sharp knife), remove from the oven and cover loosely with the reserved parchment and foil to rest, at least 15 minutes.

You can serve the brisket right away, but it’s even better cooked a day or so in advance, sliced once cool, and reheated smothered in the leek and carrot gravy. Serve with a generous sprinkle of gremolata and a dollop of horseradish whipped cream.

For the gremolata:
1 bunch flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely minced
zest of 2 Meyer lemons (or combined zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Combine all three ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle over each serving of brisket at the table.

For the horseradish whipped cream:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons jarred horseradish (or 1 tablespoon if freshly grated)
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest or a combination of orange and lemon
salt, sugar, and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Using an electric mixer, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in the horseradish, lemon juice, lemon zest, and season with salt, a pinch of sugar, and lots of black pepper. Spoon over the sliced brisket at the table, if desired.

SUNDAY DINNER ROASTED ROOTS WITH FARRO AND FETA

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Piazza-20150302–0372-Edit

This is less of a recipe and more of an outline for a pretty delicious vegetarian main course.

Hit your local farmers market and buy the best-looking root vegetables you can find: carrots, radishes, beets, spring-dug parsnips, turnip or rutabaga, winter squash etc. Bring them home, along with a big bunch of herbs, and scrub them clean. Peel what needs to be peeled, cut the roots into manageable chunks, and toss in a big bowl with olive oil, lots of salt and pepper, a pinch of chili flakes, and a few cloves of minced garlic. Add several peeled whole shallots for good measure, spread the vegetables on a roasting pan, and blast them in the oven at 450° for 20-30 minutes or until tender and beginning to darken around the edges.

While the vegetables roast, boil some farro (or brown rice, if you prefer) according to the package directions. Be sure to season the water well with lots of salt.

When the vegetables are done, toss them back in the bowl with a good glug of syrupy, aged balsamic vinegar, more herbs, and another drizzle of olive oil. Toss in the cooked farro, some chopped flat-leaf parsley, and top each serving with a little handful of crumbled feta cheese and some roasted hazelnuts, if you like. Note: adding the cheese and nuts at the table leaves the leftovers more versatile for dressing up later in the week.

Sarah Blackburn is a home cook, recipe developer, vegetable gardener and managing editor of Edible Boston. She can be reached at sarah@edibleboston.com