Chile Rubbed Skirt Steak

Well, it’s officially Autumn.  The Pumpkin Spice Apocalypse is upon us.  So I figured I had better get this posted up so you any of who you are feeling nostalgic for summer can whip it up before we’re hip-deep in multicolored tree parts.  Not that you can’t make tacos year round – I totally do, anyway.  It’s just that tacos seem like summer fare to me.  They’re so fresh and light, and you eat them with your hands while the juice runs down your chin.  It’s not just me right?  You guys do that too?

Well you definitely should.  I had this put together in less than an hour – and you could use any leftover meat you had if you wanted to streamline this even more.  I used skirt steak because it’s cheap but it has really good flavor.  And if it can be a little tough, well, it’s tacos, and you’re gonna slice it (against the grain!) pretty thinly anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.  The rub I used was perfect for this – it was pleasantly spicy and very flavorful without totally overwhelming the beef.  I think that rubs, marinades, etc should be flavorful enough to compliment whatever meat you’re using while still allowing you to tell what you’re eating.  This one was spot on, and I’ll definitely be using it again.

I like to use soft tortillas as my base, and I use a pretty simple mix of toppings.  A little cheese, mixed greens, sour cream, cilantro, sliced radishes, and a little red sauce (hot sauce, taco sauce – your choice).  Oh, and squeeze a lime over top – the acid is a nice addition.   Yes, I realize this is the  American form of tacos, and not at all authentic, but I’m OK with that.  After all, this is America, and I happen to like it.

I have a really great Fig Focaccia to share with you in a day or two, but in the meantime: Farewell Summer!  Happy Autumn!

 

Chile-Rubbed Skirt Steak (for tacos)

Serves 8

 

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

2 tablespoons mild chile powder

2 tablespoons light-brown sugar

2 teaspoons smoked or sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder or very finely ground coffee beans

1 1/2 pounds skirt steak

On a work surface, crush garlic cloves using the flat side of a large knife; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place the flat side of the knife blade on top of the garlic and salt; press firmly, pulling knife toward you. Repeat until a paste forms; transfer to a small bowl. Add chile powder, brown sugar, paprika, cumin, pepper, espresso, and remaining tablespoon salt; stir to combine.

Rub mixture all over skirt steak, and place in a large freezer bag to marinate for 30 minutes.

Preheat grill pan* over high heat, or use an outdoor grill. Place steak on grill, and cook for 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve thinly sliced steak in warmed tortillas; top with salsa, cilantro, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, and lime wedges, if desired.

 

*I used a cast iron griddle and it worked perfectly.

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Manicotti

Manicotti is my husband’s favorite dish.  And that’s saying something for someone who is mostly indifferent to what he eats.  In fact, he judges every italian restaurant we visit based on the quality of their manicotti.  I’ve rarely seen him order anything else if it is on the menu, and I know I have a captive audience if I make it at home.  This recipe happens to be pretty good, and I will definitely be making it again with just a few changes.  You can see I didn’t use the authentic manicotti pasta – the long thin tubes that are typical.  Not that I have anything against them, they’re just really hard to fill.  I used the jumbo shells because I can just spoon the filling into them instead of having to try to pipe it into the tubes without splitting them open.  Also, the recipe I used (from Saveur.com) called for a whole teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg, which we found to be a little much.  Actually, it was almost overpowering when we first tasted it a few minutes out of the oven, but I found that when I ate the leftovers the next day it had settled down into something a little more palatable, but I would still decrease the amount the 1/2 – 3/4 tsp next time.

While the dish as a whole was a success, the real star of the show was the tomato sauce.  Again, I got my recipe from Saveur, but what made it so awesome was the tomatoes.  I had canned some of my crop from last summer, and if I can help it I will never buy generic ones again.  It was like opening up a can of summer when I popped the lid.  This was by far the best marinara sauce I have ever made, and while it was fairly simple, with just a few key seasonings, the tomatoes really shone through.  They were so fresh and bright, the most vibrant flavor I’ve had since we had fresh produce last year.   Actually, my “uninterested in food” husband remarked that the sauce had a “rustic” taste – which made my day since that was exactly what I was going for.  The sauce cooks up in less than half an hour, and would be easily adaptable to almost anything that called for marinara – it would be perfect over a simple bowl of spaghetti, for example, or in a lasagna, or even on pizza.  Do what you will with it, but definitely make it soon.  With the freshest tomatoes you can find.

Angelo’s Marinara Sauce 

Makes about 3 cups

1  28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes – I used a quart jar of canned tomatoes from my pantry
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1⁄2 small onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano
1⁄4 tsp. dried thyme
1 tbsp. finely chopped
curly or flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground
black pepper, to taste

Put tomatoes and their liquid into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes along with the oregano and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly and its flavors come together, about 20 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper.

 

Baked Manicotti

4 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 cups Angelo’s Marinara Sauce
1  8-oz. box dried manicotti shells (about 14)
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups whole-milk ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan
7 tbsp. chopped curly or flat-leaf parsley
1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten

Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with 1 tbsp. butter and spread 1⁄2 cup of the marinara sauce across the bottom of the pan. Set aside. Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the manicotti and cook until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain manicotti and rinse under cold water; set aside.

Heat oven to 450°. Heat remaining butter in a 12″ skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer garlic to a medium bowl along with the ricotta, 1⁄2 cup parmesan, 5 tbsp. chopped parsley, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and eggs and stir to combine.

Spoon some of the filling into both openings of each manicotti shell. (Alternatively, transfer the ricotta mixture to a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag, snip off a bottom corner of the bag, and pipe filling into pasta.) Repeat with remaining manicotti shells. Transfer stuffed manicotti to prepared baking dish, making 2 rows. Spread the remaining marinara sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining parsley. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

SERVES 6