Recipe Improv with Alexandra Guarnaschelli


Today, we’re playing Recipe Improv with Alexandra Guarnaschelli, executive chef at Butter restaurant. We thought of her this week because her new show, The Cooking Loft, debuts this Saturday at 9:30am on the Food Network. It will be a technique-driven, cooking-class-like show, with an actual chef, which is exactly what the Food Network should be showing more often.

Before moving to Butter in 2003, Guarnaschelli had worked under Larry Forgione, attended the La Varenne Culinary School in Burgundy and been the sous chef at Daniel.

The mystery ingredients: Oxtail, cardamom, heirloom tomatoes

We chose heirloom tomatoes because they’re in season, and also because Guarnaschelli’s first show this Saturday will be all about cooking with fresh tomatoes. This is the kind of dish that straddles summer and fall.

Braised Oxtail with Cardamom and Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes
Serves 4

1 tablespoon ground cumin
15 cardamom pods, pods removed, seeds reserved
4 1/2 pounds oxtail, cut into 11/2-inch rounds
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 green apple, sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
5 shallots, peeled and sliced
3 cloves garlic, split
1 bottle red wine, preferably a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon
4 quarts beef stock, or enough to cover the meat
1 bay leaf
4 pints heirloom cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
zest from 1/2 an orange

Roast the oxtails: Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the cumin and cardamom seeds until just fragrant and reserve. Season the oxtail with salt and pepper and sprinkle liberally with the toasted spices. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm vegetable oil until it smokes lightly. Working in batches if necessary, place the meat in the oil and brown on all sides. Remove meat to a roasting pan, and season again with salt and pepper.

In the pan in which the meat was browned, add the thyme, onion, carrot and apple, and stir to combine, and scrape up any browned bits, maintaining medium heat. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, 3 to 4 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Add celery, shallots and garlic, and cook 3 minutes more. Set aside.

Place the roasting pan containing the oxtails over medium heat, and add the red wine. Reduce the wine until all of the liquid has cooked out and pan is almost dry. Add the beef stock, the sautéed vegetables, and bay leaf. Cover with foil, and cook in the oven, undisturbed, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is tender. Once cooked, remove the pan from the oven. Remove the meat to a cooling rack and strain the vegetables, reserving both the vegetables and the liquid, separately.

Make the sauce: In a saucepan, bring the cooking liquid to a simmer, and reduce until it coats the back of a spoon. If the sauce is not thick enough, you can puree some of the cooked vegetables until smooth and add to the sauce. Set sauce aside, and keep warm. At this point, you can discard the cooked vegetables.

Roast the tomatoes: Toss tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper and powdered sugar, and arrange on a baking sheet. Roast tomatoes in the oven for 10 minutes, or until tender. Remove, sprinkle with orange zest and let cool slightly.

To serve: Gently re-heat the oxtails in the sauce. Arrange the tomatoes on the bottom of a platter and top with oxtails and sauce. Serve.