Culinary Chronicles by Chef Steven Winka

While the impacts of COVID-19 are continuing to break down the fabric of our society and create new norms, one thing remains stronger than ever - the need for comforting food that nourishes the soul. In this post I’d like to take the time to outline a few recipes that will not only provide comfort during the craziness, but are also approachable from an ingredient standpoint. During times like these, it’s extremely important to rely on a few key pantry items to carry out your meals. Whether they’re budget friendly or multi-purpose, the majority of these recipes serve to highlight ingredients that are easily accessible right now.

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I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the need to support our local small businesses as much as is safely possible right now. These businesses are the absolute backbone of our communities and are navigating uncharted territory right now. As restaurants and bars close all over the United States, there are countless business that are doing their best to stay open, pivoting their focus to takeout and delivery. These businesses aren’t doing so for selfish reasons. Whether they’re trying to support members of their staff who live paycheck to paycheck, or simply doing their part to provide food to those in their communities who really need it right now, these businesses are truly the embodiment of humanity.

The food industry always steps in to provide much needed relief during tough times, but now the tables have turned and we need to do our part to support them. Whether it’s ordering your chicken/steak from a local butcher shop or buying bread from a local bakery, any seemingly small purchase can make a huge impact if we all do our part to chip in.

CACIO E PEPE

Cacio e Pepe is a tried and true classic. It is probably one of the simpler pasta recipes, but once you master it you’ll have a hard time staying away from it. My favorite part about cacio e pepe is how it highlights the importance of reserving starchy pasta water to make a great sauce. This technique can provide a nice restaurant quality touch to the simplest of home cooked pasta dishes. The recipe only has three main ingredients: pasta, cracked black pepper and butter. Note: Don’t skip the step of toasting the black pepper - it really changes the complexion of the overall dish!

BOLOGNESE

Bolognese is another classic, yet extremely hearty Italian sauce. All of the essential ingredients for this recipe should be readily available or already in your pantry or fridge. If you can’t find pancetta, or don’t feel comfortable braving the grocery store, you can always use bacon in its place. After all, the pancetta’s main purpose is to provide some fat for sweating the vegetables and adding some depth to the finished sauce. Also, if you don’t have white wine on hand you can absolutely replace that with just about any red wine (preferably something slightly lighter like a cabernet or pinot). Serve this sauce alongside any pasta you have laying around, Iong or short. I think it works best with a short noodle that can capture some of the sauce (like rigatoni), but a large flat noodle would work just as well.

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PUTTANESCA

This recipe is one that steps a little further outside of the box, with the addition of some less common ingredients (namely the anchovy and capers). Although I certainly love me some anchovies, I understand that it’s one of those hit or miss ingredients that you either love or hate. If you don’t have or don’t enjoy anchovies, you can by all means omit them from the recipe. In order to get some of that umami that is a staple in a classic puttanesca, I would suggest incorporating about a tablespoon or so of Worcestershire sauce in its place.

CASSOULET WITH CHICKEN

Cassoulet is one of my favorite all-around winter dishes. Although this classic French dish is normally focused around duck confit as the main protein component, in an effort to keep this as approachable as possible, this recipe uses chicken in its place. If you feel up to the task or can find duck at your local grocery stores relatively easily, I certainly suggest going that route. At its very essence, cassoulet is a bean stew studded with various types of meat. The traditional version usually has duck confit, Toulouse sausage and some form of pork stew meat (pork belly, shoulder, etc.). As far as the beans go, you could use just about any type of bean you have lying around, but I would steer clear of the smaller varieties as the extended cook time may yield a mushy mess. All you need to serve alongside this dish is a nice crispy loaf of bread and you’re good to go.

RED BEANS AND RICE

This classic Southern/Creole dish, similar to the cassoulet, is essentially a bean stew packed with flavor from veggies and smoked meat. Traditionally you’d find Andouille sausage in most red beans and rice recipes, but if you can’t find that at your local store, you can easily replace that with any kind of smoked sausage (I’m partial to kielbasa). This recipe is great because it doesn’t take much prep time and you can make a big batch of it and throw some in the freezer for another meal down the road.

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CHICKEN POT PIE

Chicken pot pie is one of my favorite dishes to make during the Fall and Winter. I love the versatility of this dish, as you can go in so many different directions with the flavor profile. This recipe is for a classic pot pie, but you can add any extra vegetables you like. I usually like to add some mushrooms and potatoes to my pot pies (the potatoes help to thicken the sauce as well). You can also use thighs in place of the chicken breast, as they tend to be a little more forgiving and less dry. As far as the pie crust goes, if you’re up to the task of making your own pie crust by all means go for it! If you don’t trust you crust making skills or are looking for a quicker fix, you can always use store bought pie crust (no judgement here!). Get creative with this one.

SOURDOUGH BREAD

Another cool thing to experiment with while staying home amid the coronavirus is your bread baking skills. The first and most important part of making a great sourdough is the use of a “starter.” Although this is a little more involved than the recipes above, it’s certainly an achievable task for any home cook. If you’re looking to get into bread baking, I promise, having a starter will make a huge difference. Essentially you’ll be replacing the need for any yeast that you’d normally find in a sourdough recipe. Getting the starter going takes some work and you have to make sure you stay on top of daily feedings. However, once the starter is active, you can transfer it to the refrigerator to extend the time between feedings. Once you have your starter at a point where it’s alive and bubbly, try your hand at making a sourdough loaf. After all, there are few smells better than that of fresh baked bread (especially on a cold, rainy Spring day)!

All in all, I hope everyone stays safe during these unprecedented times and continues to do their part in stopping the spread of Covid-19!

We're committed to providing helpful content during these tough times in the weeks to come. Check back on In-Sight for regular updates. Until then, happy home cooking!

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