Italian Cooking, Southern Style

Early Show - chef frank stitt - Feb. 26, 2009
Chef Frank Stitt is a fixture of Southern cuisine, with four restaurants in Birmingham, Ala., but he's just out with his second cookbook whose title says it all: "Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef's Love Affair With Italian Food."

The Italian recipes in the book incorporate many Southern ingredients and techniques.

On The Early Show Thursday, Stitt prepared some of his favorite dishes from the book.

Stitt has won praise coast-to-coast, and was awarded "Best Chef of the Southeast" by the James Beard Foundation. He's up for the foundation's 2008 Outstanding Chef Award, and Bon Appetit magazine has dubbed Stitt a "culinary legend."

The main dish Stitt demonstrated Thursday was Braised Short Ribs and Oxtail.

While oxtail may sound exotic, it's actually quite inexpensive and easy to find; it's one of those meats people simply skip over in the grocery store because they're unfamiliar with it, though Stitt points out that many of our grandmothers probably used oxtail frequently in stews and other dishes. He finds that oxtail has lots of beefy flavor, and that it really elevates the richness of the broth when cooked alongside short ribs. Of course if you can't find oxtail, you can simply omit it from the recipe.

The recipe is a fairly traditional braise that includes carrots, onions, garlic and red wine. What really sets it apart is the "gremolata" he sprinkles over top of the dish before serving. The garnish is a mixture of orange and lemon zest, parsley and a hint of garlic. Stitt also garnishes the finished dish with green olives to balance the richness of the meat. You can take that simple combination and use it to freshen up your own beef stews and other rich, red meat dishes.

Stitt cooks the whole mixture in a roasting pan in the oven but, before covering the roasting pan, he places a sheet of parchment paper on top of the meat. He finds that this really helps hold in the moisture while cooking, and makes the dish that much more succulent.


Short Ribs and Oxtail with Gremolata and Green Olives

Serves 4 to 6

Carefully braised short ribs and oxtails are extremely tender, moist, and so beefy tasting. Long, slow cooking makes the meat soft and keeps the flavorful broth clear; too fast, and the braising liquid will become cloudy. The parsley and orange zest gremolata and green olives provide contrast and balance to the creamy richness of the beef and polenta.

Four two-and-a-half-inch-long kosher-cut short ribs (about 4 pounds), trimmed of excess fat
1 1/4 pounds oxtail, in 4 pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch dice
5 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup medium-dry sherry
2 cups dry red wine
About 4 cups Chicken Stock (page 241) or beef stock, heated
3 thyme sprigs
3 parsley stems
1 bay leaf, broken into pieces
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, broken into pieces
and rinsed
Creamy Polenta
1/2 cup green Greek or Sicilian olives, pitted and
coarsely chopped
Parsley and Orange Zest Gremolata (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Bring the meat to room temperature. Have at the ready a roasting pan large enough to hold the short ribs and oxtails snugly in a single layer.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the meat. Add the short ribs to the hot oil, in batches, and brown well all over, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a rack to rest. Add the oxtails to the pan and brown well all over. Transfer to the rack.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrots, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 5 minutes more, until the vegetables are tender and the onion is translucent. Add the sherry, scraping up the browned bits, bring to a boil, and boil until thick and syrupy. Pour in the red wine, bring to a boil, and reduce until it becomes syrupy. Remove from the heat.

Arrange the short ribs and oxtails in the roasting pan. Add the vegetables and their cooking liquid, along with enough warm stock to come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the meat. Add the thyme, parsley stems, bay leaf, and porcini. Cover with a piece of parchment placed directly on the meat, then cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.

Place the roasting pan in the oven and reduce the heat to 310°F. Cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is very tender-check for doneness by transferring an oxtail and short rib to a cutting board: The meat should be falling off the bones. If it isn't, return the meat to the pan, cover with the parchment and foil, and continue cooking until it is tender.
When the meat is done, transfer it to a cutting board and let it rest, uncovered.

Strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a saucepan, pressing on the vegetables with the back of a spoon or spatula to release all the concentrated flavors. Place the saucepan half on and half off a burner and bring to a very gentle simmer over medium to medium-low heat, skimming off the fat that accumulates on the cool side of the pan. Continue simmering and skimming for 20 minutes, until the liquid is slightly reduced and no fat remains.

Transfer the short ribs and oxtails to a pot, add a little of the braising broth, and warm gently over low heat.

Serve the meat on the warm creamy polenta, with more of the braising liquid spooned over. Garnish with the green olives and gremolata.

To Drink: Barolo (Elio Grasso or Luigi Einaudi)

For more recipes, go to Page 2