I think that one of the most closely guarded secrets of so-called foodies is that we harbor a yearning for some of the classic meals we enjoyed as kids. For folks of a certain age, it might be called the best of "The Mad Men Cookbook," and for younger folks it's a matter or retro cooking. But as Chef Jerry Pellegrino will agree, some of our mom's favorites are still ours. The trick however is to approach these dishes from scratch, and not rely on cans of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup.
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First, let's look at stuffed cabbage rolls. As Jerry says, "buy a cabbage, feed an army." This dish only require a few of those big green leaves and some simple ingredients. Ground beef or lamb, rice, tomato sauce and seasonings make up the stuffing. The trick is to boil the entire cabbage, then remove individual leaves which will be soft and pliable. Toss in some filling, roll it up and tuck it in, and simmer the rolls in a pot of sauerkraut and tomato juice.
One of our favorite comfort foods is tuna noodle casserole. We always did use canned soup for the sauce, but you can actually approach this dish from scratch.
Buy a piece of tuna and grill it to your desired doneness. Whip up some pasta dough and roll out pappardelle shaped noodles. For the sauce, make a quick béchamel out of butter, flour, cream, parmesan cheese and a touch of nutmeg. Mix it all together, toss in some green peas and sprinkle on a bread crumb topping, and you've got it.
Stuffed bell peppers area hearty delight. If you made the stuffed cabbage roll, you can use the same stuffing for this dish. Cut the red bell peppers in half, remove the stem and seeds, and spoon in your stuffing mixture. Sprinkle some grated cheese on top and bake in a 350° oven for about 40 minutes.
Salisbury steak, occasionally AKA "mystery meat" is actually a very satisfying dish. This is essentially gussied up hamburger, and if you are working with good ground beef, it can be delicious. Season your ground beef according to your preferences, then make large long, flat patties out of it. You will fry the patties first, then set them aside. Using the same pan, you will make up a sauce of sliced onions, mushrooms, tomato paste, beef broth and a little red wine, all bound up with flour. Put the patties over a bed of egg noodles, and smother with the sauce. It is going to taste a whole lot better than you remember it.