A mystery is solved, well sort of. For about a month now, I've been trying to track down for a reader the recipe for the red sauce from a long-shuttered Belleville restaurant, Ravioli Charlie's. While I still don't have the recipe, I do have more information. I heard back via email from Jerry Ahrens, president of the St. Henry's Men's Club at St. Henry's Catholic Church in west Belleville. Here's what he wrote: "The reader who reported that Ravioli Charlie gave his sauce recipe to St. Henry's Church is correct. We use the sauce in the spaghetti we serve at our Lenten fish fries. Although we won't disclose the recipe, we do invite everyone to our fish fries which will begin again on the first Friday of Lent in 2014."
With autumn well under way, I started thinking of chiles and Santa Fe and Taos. If I had to pick another state to live in, it would be New Mexico, home to these two communities. Part of my fascination has to do with the food. My taste buds take weeks to stop yearning for posole, Indian fry bread, green chile stew or just a simple handmade flour tortilla.
In Santa Fe is a restaurant that has been open since 1944 in a centuries-old building. The Pink Adobe, called The Pink by those who frequent it, is one of the first places I ate during my inaugural visit in 1990. I left with a copy of the restaurant's cookbook, written by the late owner Rosalea Murphy, who originally hailed from New Orleans.
In New Mexico, green chile stew is legendary. Everybody makes it, everybody eats it, and cooks will tell you there are 100 ways to make it. Typically, pork is used, though chicken thighs hold up well. Sometimes there are potatoes, cumin seeds and tomatillos. Sometimes not.
Many of us think of the green chiles that can be bought in little cans, already roasted and chopped. They are very mild, so many Americans are familiar with them.
This time of year, you'll find ristras, strings of dried red chiles, hanging from porches, doorways and window sills in New Mexico. These chiles start off green and have a pungent but not really hot flavor when used at this stage. When they turn red, they actually are fairly mild.
Fall is the time to harvest and dry Hatch and other large New Mexican chiles. Grocery stores, restaurants and backyard aficionados set up fire pits and grills and roast fresh ones, then peel the skin and discard the seeds. (You can do it under the broiler.) Home cooks freeze the roasted chiles with their skins on for later use.
Drying the chiles is a centuries-old way to preserve their use. Want to order a ristra or purchase some green chiles? Try thechileshop.com, a brick-and-mortar store just off the Square in Santa Fe that also sells online.
Here is the green chile stew recipe from The Pink Adobe in Santa Fe.
Pink Adobe Green Chile Stew
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds boneless pork, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup flour
2 cup peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
2 cups roasted, peeled and chopped fresh green chilies or 2 (7-ounce) cans green chilies, drained and chopped
1 fresh jalapeno chopped, optional
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1. Heat olive oil in 4-quart Dutch oven with cover. Add pork and cook until lightly browned. Add onion and garlic and stir with meat. Add flour and stir 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes, green chiles, jalapeno (if using), salt, pepper and sugar. Mix to incorporate. Add broth. Lower heat. Cover pot and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until meat is tender.
2. Serve with flour tortillas. Serves 6.
NOTES: Fresh green chile peppers, such as New Mexico or Anaheim, should be roasted over an open flame on a barbecue grill or gas burner or under the broiler. Once they are blackened and cooled, don food-safe gloves to rub off the skins, remove the stems and seeds, and coarsely chop the peppers. Six large fresh chile peppers will yield about 1/2 cup chopped.
Frozen green chile peppers are an acceptable substitute for fresh, if you can find them; use commercially canned chile peppers only as a last resort.
Make this side dish when fresh corn is in season; it just isn't the same with frozen or canned corn. The Vidalia onion is grated instead of chopped so it melts into the grits.
Grits with Corn & Vidalia Onion
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 Vidalia onion
2 ears fresh sweet corn
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup stone-ground or course ground grits (try Bob's Red Mill)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives
Grate the entire onion on a box grater. In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook about 2 minutes. Add corn and stir. Add milk, water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil. Whisk in the grits. Reduce heat to low and simmer until creamy and thick, about 30 minutes. Stir in butter, cheese, parsley and chives. Taste and add more salt and freshly ground pepper.
Serve with roasted chicken and green beans. Serves 4-6.
Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.