Home Cooking with Mary Ann Esposito: Cranberry and Walnut Shortbread Cookies, Rosemary-Scented Cranberry Sauce and Pistachio-Dusted Pork Chops

This all-American fruit graces the holiday table, but here’s to thinking outside the sauce.Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce? Simply unthinkable. The minute I spot bags of the shiny, pebble-size beauties in the supermarket, I know fall is really here and it is time to think about holiday cooking.Did you know that cranberries are one of three fruits native to North America, along with blueberries and Concord grapes?Native Americans introduced the Pilgrims to this tart, ruby red berry whose name is taken from the English craneberry because the cranberry plant’s flowers tend to bend downward and look like the head of a crane. Curiously, cranes love the berries and can be found eating to their hearts’ content in cranberry bogs where the berries grow.Cranberries need specific growing conditions that include sandy soil and lots of water. The growing season runs from May to October. Wisconsin accounts for more than half of the total U.S. crop, but other primary production areas are found in Massachusetts, Oregon, New Jersey and Washington State.At Thanksgiving, most cooks use cranberries to make the obligatory sauce to accompany the grand turkey, but Native Americans ate them fresh, ground or mashed with cornmeal to make the first cranberry bread! Native Americans also used cranberries as a medicinal aid to help heal wounds, as well as for tea and a dye. The berries were also a staple at sea for mariners to help prevent scurvy.Cranberry sauce was said to have been first served to Union troops by order of General Ulysses S. Grant in 1864. The sauce was commercially made and sold in 1912 by the Cape Cod Cranberry Company. It was marketed as “Ocean Spray Cape Cod Cranberry Sauce.” Later a business merger with other cranberry growers developed and became what we know today as the now-famous Ocean Spray trade name.Nutritionally cranberries are superstars. Good for your heart, they are fat free, cholesterol free, low in sodium and a good source of dietary fiber. Cranberries contain flavonoids and phenolic acids, natural compounds that promote good health.Buy fresh cranberries when they are in season and freeze several bags so you can enjoy them without having to wait until the next holiday season rolls around.Holiday Salad with Cranberry DressingCranberries are available year round, fresh and frozen, so use them in novel ways, like for this tart and sweet salad dressing.Serves 41 head romaine or red curly lettuce, leaves separated, washed, dried and torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup washed and dried arugula leaves1 Bosc pear, thinly sliced1 apple, thinly sliced
½ cup slivered almonds
Shavings Parmesan cheese, for garnishDressing ¼ cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste1. Place the salad greens in a bowl. Add the pear, apple and almonds, and mix to combine.2. In a blender, whirl the cranberries, sugar or honey, vinegar and olive oil together until well combined and emulsified. Strain the dressing through a fine sieve into a bowl.3. Add half the dressing to the greens in the salad bowl and toss to coat the ingredients well. Adjust for salt.4. If the salad needs more dressing, add it; if not, save the remainder for future use.5. Sprinkle the cheese shavings over the salad. Serve.Recipe courtesy of ciaoitalia.comPistachio-Dusted Pork ChopsA tasty, rosemary-infused cranberry sauce accompanies these crisp, pistachio-dusted pork chops. This is a perfect dish for company. Serves 42 large eggs
1/4 cup finely minced fresh rosemary
Salt, to taste
Grinding black pepper, to taste
4 bone-in, loin-cut pork chops
1 cup natural pistachio nuts, ground to a powder
Extra-virgin olive oil1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl with the rosemary, salt and pepper. Dip each chop in the egg mixture, allowing the excess to drain off. Coat each chop in the pistachio dust on both sides and set aside.2. Heat the olive oil in a stovetop-to-oven sauté pan large enough to hold the chops without crowding them.3. Brown the chops quickly on both sides, then bake in the ovenuntil the internal temperature reaches 160ºF. Serve hot.Note: Do not be in a hurry to brown the pork chops; allow them to cook sufficiently on one side before flipping them over. They are ready to turn when the outer edges begin to brown.Recipe courtesy of Ciao Italia Five-Ingredient FavoritesRosemary-Scented Cranberry SauceMakes about 5 cups6 cups fresh cranberries
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 large rosemary sprigs1. Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan, and cook over medium heat until the cranberries burst and the mixture thickens, about 10-12 minutes. Let cool.2. Remove the rosemary sprigs from the sauce and discard. Transfer to an attractive bowl and serve.Recipe courtesy of Celebrations Italian StyleMom’s Dried Cranberry and Walnut Shortbread CookiesDried cranberries have so many uses, from enjoying them on their own as a snack to sprinkling them on your favorite cereal or yogurt. I add them to my mother’s shortbread cookie recipe.Makes about 4 dozen1 cup walnut halves
2¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup dried cranberries1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set one aside. Spread the nuts on the other baking sheet and toast for about 5 minutes; watch that they do not burn. Cool, then coarsely chop and set aside.2. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and salt, and set aside.3. In a stand mixer or with a hand-held mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very smooth. Add the vanilla and beat for 1 minute. Add the cranberries and nuts, and combine on low speed. Slowly blend in the flour and salt.4. Gather up the dough and transfer it to a large sheet of wax paper. Pat the dough into a rectangle roughly 4 inches wide and 18 inches long. Use the wax paper to help you roll the dough into a log shape. Neaten the ends and place the wax-paper-wrapped dough in the freezer for 10 minutes.5. Lower the oven temperature to 325ºF. Remove the wax paper from the log and, using a sharp knife, slice into ¼-inch-thick rounds (or thicker if you prefer). Space the cookies about 1-inch apart on the baking sheets and bake for about 10 minutes. The cookies should not brown but remain pale with just a hint of browning around the edges.6. Cool on wire racks. Then grab a cup of coffee, tea or cold milk, and enjoy this treat from Mom.Note: Shortbread cookies can be made ahead and frozen if well wrapped and sealed in tins, plastic containers or plastic bags.Recipe courtesy of ciaoitalia.com