Tuesday, September 25, 2018

How to make Genovese sauce



The origin of this sauce is unclear.

Though its name implies a specialty of the port town Genoa, the capital of the Liguria region, good luck finding it anywhere near the place. Rather, the onion-based ragu can be gotten in the Campania region of Italy, specifically around the province of Naples.

Don't ask me why.

Anyhow, my family's roots just happen to be planted around Naples. And so when the time came to use my newly harvested garden onions to try making this Genovese sauce, I did the sensible thing to seek guidance: I dialed up my Aunt Anna.

"Didn't I just talk to you a day or two ago?" she asked.

Anna and I speak regularly but not this regularly.

"Yeah, but I forgot to ask you about this sauce I'm in the middle of making."

"A what?"

"A sauce. I think you used to make it when we were kids."

After repeating the word sauce four times and spelling it twice, it was clear that my dear aunt and I were getting nowhere together very fast.

"I don't understand what you're saying. Here, tell Frank."

Cousin Frank is Anna's son in-law, what with him being married to her daughter Josephine. The two of them just happened to be having lunch with both Anna and Aunt Rita when I called.

"Your aunt isn't wearing her hearing aid," Frank said by way of introduction. "I honestly don't know how you two manage to talk on the phone at all."

It occurred to me to say that the 300 miles separating my aunt and me doesn't leave us a lot of options, but I was literally in the middle of getting the ragu started for a dinner party later that same day.

Time was of the essence, as this is the kind of ragu that must be cooked for hours or not at all.

"Just ask her if she used to make a pasta sauce that uses a huge amount of onions, and no tomatoes whatsoever," I told my cousin. "It's also got meat in it but the onions are the big thing."

Dutifully Frank relayed my query, though he too had to repeat himself to be understood.

"She's shaking her head 'no'," Frank told me. "And she's about the grab the phone from my hand, so goodbye, say hi to ...."

"You're making a tomato sauce without tomatoes?" Anna cried. "What are you, crazy? Why would you do that?"

"Not tomato sauce, Anna. It's made with onions and meat and it's Napoletana so I figured you might know it. I'm making it right now, in fact."

"You have a recipe?" she asked.

"No, that's why I called you, to see how you might have made it. I'm just kinda winging it here."

"You're singing? I thought you were cooking."

This is about the time I told Anna that I had to go.

"If it turns out good I'll give you the recipe. Give my love to Rita. And put in your freaking hearing aid, would you."

"I love you too" is all I heard before my aunt hung up and was gone.

One day, hopefully many many years from now, I am going to miss these conversations.

Whether they make any sense or not.



Anyhow, these are some of the onions from my garden. I wanted to cook something where they would be a central ingredient, which is how the Genovese ragu came to mind.



Start with a good bit of olive oil and around half a stick of butter.



Once the butter has melted add 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of veal stew meat and brown. Then remove the meat and set aside. (Beef or pork would work fine as well.)



After removing the veal add three finely diced carrots, four diced celery stalks and maybe five chopped garlic cloves (I actually used seven). Sauce until softened.



Then add in the veal.



And then add three pounds of sliced onions.



At this point you've got a choice of adding some kind of stock or white wine. I went with around a quart of freshly made chicken stock.



Now add some salt and pepper to taste, incorporate, and cover the pot. Turn the heat to around medium and simmer for a few hours, checking and stirring periodically. The onions will release a lot of moisture, and over time they will completely break down. It's unlikely that you'll need to add any other liquid at all, but do so if necessary.



This ragu cooked for around four hours. It's on the thick side, as I believe it should be, but decide for yourself how moist you'd like it. As you can see, the long cooking time didn't just break down the onion but the veal, too.



As for which pasta to use, aim towards the hearty, not the delicate. I made these mafalde nice and thick and they worked out fine, but something like a rigatoni or paccheri, or even ziti would be perfect.



It turned out pretty well and so I'm going share the recipe with my aunt.

Hopefully she'll be able to hear me this time.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Pasta with corn, tomato & cheese



My friend Peter is what you might call "an acquired taste."

He is brash, opinionated, often insulting to those who cross his path. I have never met a person with less skill in editing their own words. Which is saying something considering the place I am from.

This is one of the reasons the man is my friend. I never have to wonder where Peter stands on any issue. He is, without apology, who he is. I admire and respect that.

It also doesn't hurt that he can grow vegetables better than anybody that I know. With few exceptions, virtually every seedling that I plant in the spring has its beginning in Peter's greenhouses in the dead of winter. On the property around these greenhouses you'll find fruit trees of all types, as well as a large field where Peter and his wife Claudia grow potatoes, tomatoes and, of particular interest to us here, sweet corn.

A couple weeks back Peter texted saying that the corn in his field was ready to be picked.

"Come over today or tomorrow and take as much as you want," he wrote.

Before I could answer Peter was back with the kind of snarky blather that is more his custom.

"Oh, and grab a few ears for your girlfriend Marc while you're at it."

See what I mean.

Now, Marc is a regular companion of mine, I'll admit, but he certainly is not my girlfriend.

He isn't even a girl. I checked with his wife Beth just yesterday to be sure.

Nonetheless, my mission was to score a couple dozen ears of corn and so the next day my girlfriend and I were trudging through Peter's corn field stocking up.

Which is how this pretty swell concoction of pasta, tomato, corn and ricotta salata came to be.



We start out, as we do with so many good things, sauteeing some garlic (three or four cloves) and a little hot pepper in a good bit of olive oil.



Once the garlic has softened (but not browned) toss in your tomatoes. We've got around three cups' worth of fresh garden tomatoes here.



The basil plants have been growing wild this year. I figured a handful of them wouldn't hurt.



You can skip this step if you like. For some reason, probably because I am incapable of thinking about corn without thinking about butter, I found myself adding half a stick just for the hell of it.



You'll need to give it a taste, of course, but after around 15 or 20 minutes of medium-to-high heat the tomatoes are likely to have turned into a respectable sauce. At which point you can add the corn (around two cups here, blanched and cut from the cob) and lower the heat to a slow simmer.



After the corn has warmed a bit (maybe a minute or two) add a half pound of ricotta salata, cut into small pieces.



Then immediately add your pasta and incorporate.



I blanched and froze a bunch of corn and will try this with canned tomatoes in the dead of winter, when Peter is in his greenhouses getting a jump on spring.
 
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