18 March, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Mixing research and pleasure

When not actually plotting or writing, what do authors do most?  Research.  Beware of an inaccurate fact in your manuscript – your readers will never let you forget it. My mystery features a caterer who lives next door to a white witch, a wonderful herbalist who not only practices magic but also natural medicine. This led me to research the use of herbs in spells, poison, and medicine— and cooking—beginning with the most basic quartet of herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

"Parsley seeds must go to the devil and back nine times before sprouting."
                                     (Folk Saying)
Parsley is a grossly underrated plant. Who hasn't lifted that little tuft of parsley off their veal cutlet and dropped in on the side of their plate? Bad move. Did you know that parsley is a source of antioxidants, folic acid, vitamins K, C, and A?  Not to mention lycopene, alpha carotene beta carotene, and Lutein+Zeaxanthin. Pretty impressive for a little sprig!

In medieval times, parsley was associated with the devil, leading to the belief that only the wicked could successfully grown the herb. It's earliest medicinal uses were to fight kidney stones, bladder infection, and jaundice, as well as a digestive aids. It should not, however, not be used during pregnancy since the oils in parsley can induce miscarriage or preterm labor in high doses. 

Externally, oil of parsley leaves and roots is effective in repelling head lice, while an ointment helps reduce swelling and itching from bug bites. Just pound the leaves into a paste and mix with a little water or tea and apply. A little oatmeal can be added to this mixture for better consistency.

Parsley is a natural breath sweetener.  Eat the leaves right off the plant to combat garlic breath. The Romans did.

Felicity, my white witch, suggests using parsley to counter bad luck. Here's her suggestion:
  • Choose the day and time. The following is most effective when carried out at 12pm on a Tuesday.
  • Fill glasses with water. Have at least one glass for each room of your house. Fill 3/4 full with tap water.  Add a teaspoon of sugar, a sprinkling of cinnamon, and a few sprigs of fresh parsley to each glass.
  • Place one glass with the mixture in each room of your house.
  • In homes with high positive energy, the parsley remains fresh. Wilting occurs quickly in homes with negative energy. In case of wilting remove parsley and replace with fresh sprig.
  • To notice positive change in your luck the glasses must remain in your home for at least a week. The longer you keep them the better your luck will be.
And now for the good stuff!
Beef Roulades with Parsley Pesto (serves 6)
Pesto:
  •   1 cup chopped fresh parsley (do not substitute dried which has little taste)
  •   1/2 cup shelled almonds, walnuts, or pine nuts (about 1 3/4 ounces)
  •   1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
  •   2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  •   1/4 teaspoon salt
  •   1/4 cup olive oil
Roulades:
  •   12 slices beef bottom round, cut for bracciole, each 1/2-inch thick
  •   12 slices imported Italian Prosciutto
  •   12 pieces of Fontina cheese, cut into 1/4 x 1/4 x 2-inch sticks
  •   Salt
  •   freshly ground black pepper
  •   3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  •   2 small onions, chopped
  •   ½ cup dry red wine
  •   1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  •   1 can beef bouillon or consommé
  •   1 Tbsp room temperature butter mashed with 1 Tbsp flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Put the parsley, cheese, garlic, salt and walnuts into a food processor. Pulse to combine. Turn the machine on again and slowly pour in the olive oil, just to combine. Reserve.
Pound each slice of meat to a thickness of about 1/4 inch between two pieces of heavy duty plastic wrap. Arrange one of the pounded meat slices in front of you with one of the short sides closest to you. Spread slice with a thin layer of pesto. Top with a slice of prosciutto and place a piece of Fontina near the top edge. Fold the side borders in to overlap the edges of the stuffing. And roll burrito-style  into a compact roll about 4 inches long. Secure the end flap with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining beef and stuffing, then season the rolls with salt and pepper.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy casserole over medium heat. Stir in the onions and cook until the onion is wilted, about 5 minutes. Add as many of the braciole as will fit in a single layer and cook, turning the braciole as necessary, until golden on all sides, about 7 minutes. If necessary, repeat with any remaining braciole. Adjust the heat under the pan as necessary to prevent the beef from scorching.

As they brown, transfer to a plate. When all rolls are browned, pour in the red wine and boil for 3 minutes, scraping up any brown bits (fond) with a wooden sppon or spatula.  Add in the tomato sauce and return the beef rolls to the casserole, along with any accumulated juices.  Try to fit them into one layer.

Pour in beef broth until it reaches about ¾ of the way up the meat.  Bring to a slow boil, cover and place in preheated oven. Cook until the beef is tender, about 2 ½ to 3 hours..
Remove rolls and cover to keep warm. Place pot on stove over medium high heat until it boils.  Slowly add in the butter/flour mixture stirring constantly.  Cook until thickened.   Remove the toothpicks and serve with sauce.

Tip: Keep parsley fresh by washing, spinning dry and wrapping in papper towels.  Refrigerate in a plastic bag.  The small amount of water remaining on the leaves keep it crisp.  Or place parsley stems in a glass of water (like flowers) and refrigerate.
Next time: Sage.

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