I was rearranging my pantry shelf, and it’s a rare thing to find things in tins, but I came across a large container of preserved prunes. And I decided it was time to use them again. This is a quick and easy sauce to make and it keeps well in a glass-covered container in the fridge for several days.
Remove the prunes using a strainer or a slotted spoon and put the liquid into a saucepan. Measure the liquid and add half as much granulated sugar and a cup of Offley Ruby Port.
Bring it to a gentle simmer and reduce by a third. Stir well with a wooden spoon to incorporate the sugar. Mash the moisture-filled prunes or pulse coarsely. Add a pinch of salt.
Stir the mashed prunes into the reduced sauce pot, on simmer. Squeeze the juice of a fresh sweet orange into the pot and add orange segments from another whole orange, cut from between the membranes.
You could add the zest of a fresh orange or mince a few rinds from your candied citrus sugar jar to finish the sauce, just when ready to serve.
Alternate: You might consider adding a large dollop of sour cream to the port sauce; if you do, do not reheat. The sauce will separate. Just gently fold in the sour cream at the last minute and serve.
Remove the cooked oxtails from their cooking pot (see below), using a spider spoon, and cover with the port prune sauce on a serving platter. Gourmet at its best.
This sauce can also be used over top of pan-fried pork loin medallions (you can substitute veal medallions) or over centre-cut grilled thick pork chops. It’s a wonderful accompaniment to roasted whole unstuffed rock Cornish hens that have been roasted with my kumquat marmalade spread over the birds in the last few minutes of roasting. Or, use this prune port sauce with pan-fried duck breast, served medium rare, or over my turkey roll recipe at this link.
Paired with a citrus panna cotta or citrus zabaglione, made with minced rind from your pantry citrus sugar jar, you could even serve dessert in a matching puddle of your main course port prune sauce (save a bit before you add the oxtails). You might top a martini glass of the pudding with a dollop of Port Chantilly Crème (the kind used as filling for my Bird’s Nest Pavlova recipe). Or, top an espresso with a tiny spoon of the ruby port cream.
Suggested pairing: Offley Ruby Port. Let it breathe. Serve at a cool room temperature from a narrow neck decanter or directly from its bottle, chilled just a bit.
Another idea: Drizzle the prune port sauce on my grilled goat cheese spinach sandwich recipe you can find here. Scroll down to comments for Grilled Goat Cheese Spinach Sandwich Special (and so much more …)
Or, enjoy the sauce on an open face grilled brown bread slice, topped with thinly sliced roasted turkey and crispy bacon. Very yummy, either way. Note: if you have found a place to buy English bloomer bread that is very popular in U.K., it grills wonderfully. It’s also perfect to serve with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon at breakfast.
In a heavy, coated, cast-iron pot, sauté oxtails in hot butter until brown. Add salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and a sprig of dry, fresh thyme. When cooked, add a little chopped parsley.
Add the following to the pot, then cover: Sweat a large Spanish onion, chopped medium fine; three celery sticks, chopped small but coarse; three carrots, large, cut in pennies on the diagonal.
Add one quart (four cups) of homemade chicken stock and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down. Simmer two hours. During the last half hour of cooking, add a quarter cup of Asbach brandy. Reduce. Sauce will thicken slightly.
You can serve the oxtails dish at this stage. Or, you can remove the oxtails so they don’t continue cooking (don’t overcook the meat) and add half and half cream. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat (don’t cover the pot) and reduce just slightly.
Serve over whipped, mashed potatoes, wide egg noodles or Basmati rice. Also good with crepes. Fill the crepes with the oxtails and serve the crepes in a reduced puddle of the natural sauce or the cream sauce, with the veggies on the plate pushed to the side.
If you have never eaten oxtails, you are missing out on a wonderful dish; but bear in mind, this is exceptionally rich and will be a great surprise for guests, too.
A different approach: Using either method, right at the end, add a tin of whole tomatoes and liquid; break up the tomatoes just a little.
Then, if you would rather have oxtail tomato soup, add another quart of homemade chicken stock. Bring to a boil, turn down heat and serve. When ready to serve, top each individual serving with a few shavings of frozen Asbach butter from your always at-the-ready freezer supply. Do not stir. Just let the compound butter melt.
More amazing oxtails: Hungarian oxtail goulash
Prepare as above: Let the meat fall off the bones; pull apart the meat using two forks. Reduce the sauce a little on low heat.
Check seasoning. Adjust salt, pepper and add a heaping tablespoon of Hungarian sweet paprika (not the smoky version, unless that is your personal preference). Gently fold in, just before serving, a large scoop of firm full fat sour cream. Do not reheat after adding the sour cream. Keep the cooking pan hot, covered until serving.
Serve the Hungarian oxtail goulash in a large family-style presentation in a large deep platter, along with a bed of my homemade sauerkraut. This works well as a side dish with plain breaded Wiener schnitzel or breaded chicken cutlets or pork cutlets and a generous serving of homemade egg noodles or spaetzle.
A word about food storage spaces
If you live near a grocery store or market, go in off-hours when checkout lines are less likely to be busy. And go more often. Most people never have enough refrigerator space no matter how big the fridge is, and kitchen cabinet space is often at a premium.
The luxury of having a separate pantry is just that. Unless you have one set, dedicated cabinet for food storage items, it’s better to shop frequently. It’s never a long walk to the basement and a worthwhile investment to put dedicated shelving in place for things best kept in a cool dark place.
Many Italian-built homes have a cantina. It’s not a real cantina unless it has an open air-exchange hole (as a listing rep be careful how you identify that space; you could find yourself paying to modify it). But nonetheless it is a cold room. But be careful about condensation accumulating. Keep an eye open for mould. That is never acceptable.
Back in the pre-war days, and even sometimes after, one could find dedicated giant storage bins in house basements, under a removable basement window, allowing those who grew their own potatoes and root vegetables a means of putting a slide in place and loading wagon-loads of veggies onto slides that delivered the homegrown wonders right to the storage bins, where they provided family food all through the off-seasons. Bins were made from bug-free woods, never from shipping skids that might carry uninvited guests in transit.
Some people who didn’t have open-slat wooden basement bins used open hemp sacks for storage. The coal or wood-fired furnace was often in the basement, so that kept any dampness at bay. In Canada, many basement areas had earthen floors.
Although the European immigrants brought their wonderful recipes from overseas with them, some foodstuffs really are international. Made with a local twist. Here is a good example.
Stale bread Austrian-style dumplings
This is another wartime and post-wartime dish. Today we are still in a war – against food pricing and waste.
Bread is bread wherever you go or wherever you live. For these wonderful bread dumplings, you can use almost any bread. It just so happens the dumplings are still a staple in Northern Italy and Austria. And a particular favourite, too, among travellers to the region.
Don’t waste those easily dried out baguettes or rolls that become rock hard, almost impossible to bring back to life: French, Italian or Portuguese. Put the dried-out bread in a large plastic bag, lay a clean lightweight tea towel over it, and using your meat pounder hammer, smash the dried bread into large pieces.
Place the bread chunks into a large glass bowl. Just barely cover with half and half cream. The bread will expand as it absorbs the liquid. Let the bread sit for a few hours. You don’t want the bread soggy. Just moist.
Regular readers might notice I rarely use milk in my recipes. I don’t drink milk and haven’t since I was preschool when I was forced to drink milk that was “off”. I could never bring myself to drink it again, although very occasionally I would succumb to a hot chocolate or a milkshake. To me, ever after, milk tastes like whatever the cow had eaten, so I simply avoided it completely. Milk is full of natural sugars. Cream is not. Fat, yes. Sugar, no.
Now for these dumplings some people use flour as a binder. For an exception, perhaps use almonds or hazelnuts that have been ground to a powder flour-like texture. For six cups of soaked moistened bread, use about three-quarters cup of ground nuts (or flour). Whisk a large fresh egg and mix into the moistened bread. Sprinkle with minced fresh parsley and fresh lemon thyme. Grate a little fresh nutmeg into the mix and a little salt and pepper.
Now for the special touch: add a half cup of my special minced spinach mix from your fridge or thawed overnight freezer storage. But use spinach to which you have added chopped crispy bacon (not store-bought bacon bits).
To see my spinach special recipe scroll down to the sandwich comments here.
The dumplings need to be a generous size, about the size of a cup. Roll scoops of the bread mixture in your dry floured hands to form a ball shape. Dredge in seasoned flour. Cover on a tray with a clean tea towel.
Gently poach the bread dumplings in a large uncovered pot of simmering homemade chicken broth, perhaps for six minutes. Using a spider spoon, gently move the dumplings around in the broth. Do not overcook them.
Pull the dumplings apart into two pieces using two forks and sprinkle with Parmesan and serve alongside my Tiroler mushroom and cheese-filled Wiener schnitzel and spaetzle with a side of my special red cabbage or homemade sauerkraut. The dumplings are also a wonderful side with my sacrilegious Shiraz veal or with my delicious oxtail goulash.
This is a hungry-man meal for sure.
Any leftover dumplings can be sliced about a half-inch thick the next day and reheated quickly in sizzling butter and served with sugared carrots and blanched sweet peas or minty mushy peas.
Alternate: Mince white button mushrooms and minced onion, equal parts. Just sauté once over lightly in sizzling butter, cool slightly and add a little to the moist bread mix. With or without the spinach mix.
Another alternate: Coarsely chop cooked lobster claw meat and mix into the bread dumpling mix. You can keep on hand a flash frozen tin of lobster for this purpose (thaw and squeeze out the liquid; freeze the liquid and save for another recipe) or buy ready-cooked lobster claw packages. Add a little minced fresh tarragon. Poach the dumplings in chicken stock or homemade fish stock.
When ready to serve, spritz with homemade lobster oil or melt a lobster compound butter puck from your stored log and pour over each melt-in-your-mouth seafood dumpling.
Serve the large dumplings as a side, with a tiny drizzle of Petite Maison white truffle Dijon, with a generous bowl of thick Canadian seafood chowder or lobster bisque.
Plums up! Or figgy dumplings.
Prepare the bread dumplings using cognac marinated plums or black mission figs, finely chopped (squeeze out excess liquid) and drizzle each dumpling with a little Chantilly Cream and offer a starter as a unique large amuse bouche.
There’s nothing difficult about preparing your meals in a gourmet fashion as a home cook. As my readers know, nothing goes to waste in my kitchen. And busy Realtors have to eat, so cooking at home actually saves time because you have an opportunity to multi-task. It’s simply a matter of being organized – mis en place. Just like at the office.
© “From Lady Ralston’s Kitchen: A Canadian Contessa Cooks” Turning everyday meal making into a Gourmet Experience