Certain occasions demand comfort food: shaking off a stressful work day, mending a broken heart, or getting through the month of January.
With this winter shaping up to be the coldest in years, ovens will be working overtime pumping out food to make us forget about the finger-numbing weather outside.
So we asked area restaurateurs and chefs what foods warm them up during these bitter days and nights.
A childhood memory
On a recent snowy day, Pease Porridge Hot owner Eileen Zack whipped up a tuna casserole for her customers. "On a cold day, we find that people really do like that -- and macaroni and cheese." Zack makes the casserole with a roux, tuna, cheddar cheese and penne pasta. "Basic stuff, not too fancy. People don't like it if you get too fancy," says Zack, who started the Annapolis catering and restaurant business 18 years ago.
"It definitely harks back to childhood. It's something I've known how to do since I was very little. One of the first things I learned how to make, besides chocolate chip cookies, was creamed tuna on toast."
Pease Porridge Hot's Tuna Casserole
Serves 8 to 10
1 16-ounce package of cooked penne or rotini pasta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk or chicken stock, or combination of both
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 cups tuna
1 10-ounce package of frozen peas
1 / 4 pound mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
1 cup cheddar or provolone cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour and stir over low heat for at least three minutes.
Add liquid and bouillon cube and whisk to incorporate. Turn up heat to medium and bring to a boil. Turn heat back to low and simmer for a few minutes.
In a large bowl, combine tuna, peas, mushrooms, sauce and cooked pasta. Mix well and spread into a 9-inch by 13-inch pan. Top with cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes, until top is nicely browned and crispy.
A taste of summer
When chef Lauren Glover is in the mood for a hearty dish, she turns to a recipe more likely served at a summer picnic than on a frigid January day: barbecue chicken.
"It's a warm, comforting remembrance of summertime," says Glover, chef de cuisine at Hamilton's at the Admiral Fell Inn in Fells Point. She swears by the sauce, which Hamilton's uses with its barbecued shrimp.
Glover specializes in comfort food with style, so she pairs the chicken with Gremolata Potatoes -- mashed potatoes given a twist by adding parsley, lemon peel and garlic. "My grandmother used to always make them with Idaho potatoes. But I got turned onto them at Linwood's [restaurant], where they make them with red bliss potatoes. I'll probably always carry that recipe with me wherever I go."
Serves 2 to 4
1 / 4 cup butter
1 / 4 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup minced onion
4 peeled and minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 cups ketchup
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 / 8 teaspoon thyme
1 / 4 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 / 4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
3 / 4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 whole chicken, cut-up
To make the sauce (about 4 cups), in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and oil. Add onion and saute until it is slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 2 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients, except for chicken. Raise heat and cook at a full boil for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf.
Note: Leftover sauce may be refrigerated for up to one week and reheated when needed.
To make chicken, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Glover says the secret to tender chicken is to first place chicken parts in salted boiling water just until cooked through.
Remove chicken from water and place in a roasting pan. Lightly coat the chicken with the sauce, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove foil and again lightly coat with sauce. Bake for 10 more minutes without the foil.
A peasant treasure
In the winter, Daniela Troia, owner of Towson's Cafe Troia, makes her family batch after batch of an Italian peasant casserole dish called ribollita.
"My family eats a lot of it," says Troia, daughter of restaurateur Gino Troia. "Basically it's minestrone. It's what people do in Italy. They take their day-old minestrone and their day-old bread and bake it. That's what ribollita means, reboiled. It's something that sticks to your bones. Here, they eat chicken soup in the winter. In Italy, they eat ribollita."
The Troia Family's Ribollita
Serves 8 to 10
(Note: two-day preparation time)
1 pound dried cannellini beans
1 large red onion, sliced
2 carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
4 Idaho potatoes, diced
5 zucchini, diced
1 bunch Swiss chard, shredded
1 savoy cabbage, shredded
1 bunch kale, shredded
8 ounces tomato puree
1 loaf of 2-day-old white country bread
1 sprig parsley
Pecorino Toscano cheese
salt and pepper
organic virgin olive oil or regular virgin olive oil
Soak the dried beans overnight. The next day, cover the beans with water and cook over a slow flame for two hours.
In a large pot, gently saute the onion in olive oil. Once browned, add carrots, celery, potatoes and zucchini. Once the vegetables have emanated their juice, cover with hot water and add the Swiss chard, cabbage and kale. Cover the pot and simmer over medium heat for an hour.
Puree half the cooked beans. Add half of the cooked beans whole and half pureed to the vegetables. Let simmer for an additional 30 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add the tomato puree.
Slice the bread and line bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch earthenware casserole dish; alternate layers of bread with the soup. Make sure the bread is well soaked. Cover the dish tightly and leave in refrigerator overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice off the desired quantity and reheat 20 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with Pecorino Tosca-no cheese (not Romano), salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.
Serves 2 to 4
1 pound red bliss potatoes, unpeeled and cut into large dice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons finely minced lemon zest
1/2 tablespoon finely minced garlic
Place potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with cold, salted water and boil until potatoes are fork tender. Drain potatoes and mash by hand in pan. Add butter and stir in cream until smooth. Stir in lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper to taste.
Split pea soup, from scratch
Salads go limp and orders triple for hot plates of turkey or roast beef with gravy and a side of mashed potatoes at the Double T Diners when the temperature dips below freezing.
But co-owner Tom Korologos craves split pea soup. "It's a snow-day soup. ...Back in the old days in Greece, that's what you would eat. Soup in the cold weather, with a glass of wine. It keeps you nice and warm."
Chef Nick Demys makes split pea soup from scratch every Thursday at the Catonsville Double T.
Double T Diner's Split Pea Soup
Serves 6 to 8
4 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, diced
1 celery rib, diced
1/2 cup carrots, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
5 uncooked bacon slices, chopped
4 14-ounce cans of chicken broth
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 teaspoon white pepper
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon pickling spices (optional)
1 16-ounce package of split peas
Melt butter in a large pot. Saute onions, celery, carrot, garlic and bacon. Add chicken broth, bouillon and pepper, bay leaves and spices. Bring to a boil. Add split peas. Simmer for 90 minutes to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until peas have mostly liquefied. Push soup through a sieve into another pot, straining out vegetables, bacon, bay leaves and spices. Serve with croutons.