Showing posts with label pasta sauce. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pasta sauce. Show all posts

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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ragu alla Bolognese


Pay attention because this is important: It only looks like a pasta course you have seen me prepare here a couple hundred times before.

But it isn't. Until a few weeks ago I didn't even know such a thing as this existed. I swear.

What you have here is the official, government-sanctioned recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese, commonly referred to as Bolognese Sauce. The recipe was "notarized and deposited" in the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Bologna on October 17th, 1982, by "solemn decree" of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (the Italian Academy of Cuisine).  

Who knew?

Turns out, not many. My friend Biancamaria is from Bologna and she never heard of any "official" Ragu alla Bolognese recipe. Which is saying something because, as she tells me, "when I was a child every Sunday we had ragu." 

I didn't catch up with Bianca on a recent visit to Bologna (she's living in the English countryside now with Massimo and their daughter Delfina) but on at least four occasions I got to sample authentic Ragu alla Bolognese. And it's nothing like many of the so-called Bolognese sauces you'll come across elsewhere. 

For starters, a lot of "Bolognese" sauces are basically tomato sauces that have meat in them. A real Bolognese is a meat sauce that has only a touch of tomato. The earliest examples of Ragu alla Bolognese didn't include any tomato at all. And forget about using pasta shapes like spaghetti; nobody in Bologna would even think of pairing their ancient ragu with anything but a flat, fresh pasta such as tagliatelle. Just ask for tagliatelle at a restaurant in Bologna and watch what you get. Same thing if you ask only for ragu.

Anyway, and as you no doubt have surmised, I just had to give the "notorized" recipe a shot. I've reprinted it in its entirety below, but here is the link as well. Just a note about the ingredients: My quantities are not exactly those shown in the recipe. I have, however, made the necessary adjustments to follow the recipe as closely as possible.



Start out by finely chopping equal amounts of onion, carrot and celery. Here we've got just under 3 ounces of each.



Finely dice around 1/2 lb. of pancetta and then brown in a Dutch oven that's large enough to accommodate all the recipe's ingredients.



Add the onion, carrot and celery to the browned pancetta and saute until the vegetables are nicely softened.



Okay, about the meat. The recipe calls for ground skirt steak, but skirt wasn't available and so I went with tender hanger steak instead. Rather than grind the meat I decided to very finely dice it, as I have seen both approaches taken. This is one pound of beef.



Once the vegetables have softened add the beef and allow it to brown.



Then add 1/2 cup of wine (I went with white but red is also approved) and, here's the tricky part, a small amount of tomato. The recipe calls for either tomato sauce or highly concentrated tomato paste. I made a small quantity of very simple tomato sauce and added around a cup here. I also added a little homemade beef stock, as this is also mentioned in the recipe.



At this point things are supposed to simmer for two hours, at a low flame. But don't expect to make yourself scarce for these couple hours. Because little by little you'll need to stir in very small amounts of whole milk, at fairly regular intervals, until you've gone through one full cup.



Speaking of milk, an "optional but advisable" addition to the sanctioned recipe is panna di cottura. Basically that means whole milk that has been slowly simmered to half its original volume. That's around 1 1/3 quarts of milk you see in the pot there. While the sauce was slowly simmering so was the milk, until it was halved. 


After two hours of simmering (and only a slight addition of salt and pepper to taste) this is what the ragu looked like. But we aren't finished yet.



The next step is to slowly stir in the panna di cottura (the reduced whole milk). Since this step was "advisable" I decided to throw caution to the wind and use up all the milk.



I know, this looks awfully cream sauce-like, doesn't it. I was nervous too.



But it turns out I didn't need to be. This was a damned fine ragu that I'll be working on until it tastes like I'm back in Bologna. 

If that doesn't work, there's always Alitalia.

The Official Ragu alla Bolognese
Reprinted from Accademia Italiana della Cucina. 

Ingredients

300 gr. beef cartella (thin skirt)
150 gr. pancetta, dried
50 gr. carrot
50 gr. celery stalk
50 gr. onion
5 spoons tomato sauce or 20 gr. triple tomato extract
1 cup whole milk
Half cup white or red wine, dry and not frizzante
Salt and pepper, to taste.


Procedure

The pancetta, cut into little cubes and chopped with a mezzaluna chopping knife, is melted in a saucepan; the vegetables, once again well chopped with the mezzaluna, are then added and everything is left to stew softly. Next the ground beef is added and is left on the stovetop, while being stirred constantly, until it sputters. The wine and the tomato cut with a little broth are added and everything left to simmer for around two hours, adding little by little the milk and adjusting the salt and black pepper. Optional but advisable is the addition of the panna di cottura of a litre of whole milk at the end of the cooking.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Roasted sauce with short ribs


I've been cooking fresh tomato sauce for weeks now and so there's plenty in the freezer to last me (and the usual suspects; you know who you are) through the year. Recipe? Fuhgeddaboudit. I wing it every time, which means that every batch of sauce, 10 or so in all this summer, has been different. The last couple batches have been especially tasty and feature whole bone-in meats, like the pork butt from a couple weeks back and now these beef short ribs.


This sauce uses up the last of my garden's tomatoes, even a few that didn't ripen. I won't bore you with the details of using green tomatoes, or the roasting process in general, as we've covered the topics before. For the background here's the Roasted Green Tomato Sauce recipe and here's another Roasted Tomato Sauce that combines both ripe and green specimens. These chopped-up garden tomatoes filled my largest metal bowl. I'm guessing it's around 8 or 10 pounds' worth of tomatoes.


Again, winging it is highly encouraged around here. To start a sauce don't be afraid to be creative. I've used huge leeks, hunks of diced-up prosciutto ends or pancetta, a piece of speck I'd been neglecting in the fridge, all kinds of things. But four items you gotta have, in whatever amount you like, are carrots, celery, onion and garlic.


This is 2 pounds of beef short ribs (bone-in). Generously coat all sides with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. (As I mentioned earlier, a whole pork butt would get the exact same treatment throughout this process should you decide to go that route instead.)


Pour plenty of olive oil into whatever oven-ready pot you'll be cooking the sauce in (mine is a 13-quart dutch oven), brown the ribs and then remove and set aside.


Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic, along with whatever fresh herbs you like, and saute until they've softened. NOTE: You'll also see that there are several anchovy fillets in here. I always use them because they add a depth to the flavor; plus, I don't need to add as much salt. And no, you can't taste the anchovy in the sauce. Use it, don't use it, makes no difference to me.


Add half a cup to a cup of red or white wine (I often use a dry vermouth) and allow it to reduce.


Then return the ribs to the pot.


Add your tomatoes, mix everything up, cover and put in the oven preheated to 350 degress F.


When the meat is very tender (2 hours ought to do it but poke at the meat with a fork to be sure) remove the ribs and set aside to cool. Raise the oven temperature to 450 degreees F and return the pot to the oven for another 30 minutes or so, or until the sauce's consistency is to your liking. If the sauce is already the consistency you like then don't bother cooking it any longer.


After the ribs have cooled enough to handle, shred off all the meat.


All that's left to do now is add the meat to the sauce and mix thoroughly.


Oh, and boil yourslf some pasta to go with it.

But I'm pretty sure you knew that already.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Beef short rib ragu


The furnace has been running lately. So has the living room fireplace.

It's braising season.

Not a lot of things are better for braising than short ribs. They're terrific served whole, of course, but I was in the mood for a hearty ragu the other evening, and so that's the direction I went in.

Nobody complained.


I started out with 3 pounds of beef short ribs. After liberally seasoning the ribs with kosher salt and black pepper I dredged them in all-purpose flour and then tossed them into a dutch oven with plenty of olive oil.


After the ribs have browned on all sides, remove and set aside.


Add one large chopped carrot, two celery stalks, one medium onion, one leek, four garlic cloves, and some thyme. Saute until the vegetables have softened.


Return the ribs to the dutch oven and add one quart of stock (beef here), 2 cups of red wine, and one can of tomatoes. Let the liquid come to a boil, then cover the pot and place in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F.


After around two hours check that the meat is tender. If it isn't tender continue to cook until it is. Once tender remove from the oven and allow things to cool.


Once cool enough to handle, remove the ribs from the sauce and pick away all the meat from the bones.


All that's left to do now is add the meat back into the sauce, reheat and serve.


As you can see by the picture up top I served the ragu over polenta the first night. The next night I went with cavatelli.

It feels like winter tonight. I only wish there was still some of the stuff left.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Lamb & Pine Nut Bolognese


Shyster Jersey Lawyer Friend's birthday, surely a day of meaning and reflection to her, basically boils down to just one thing to me: I've got to cook the woman some lamb.

This is not a negotiable point. Lamb is my friend's very favorite food. She has told me this on many occasions, most frequently around those times that her birth date draws near.

Demanding as she is, the woman highly values experimentation. And so when the thought occurred to me to meld lamb and pine nuts into a pasta sauce, not once did I concern myself about disappointed her.

Or all of you.


Finely chop three carrots, three celery stalks, one medium red onion, one leek, six garlic cloves and some hot pepper (optional), then saute in olive oil under medium heat until softened.


Add 2 pounds of ground lamb and 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, incorporate and cook until browned.


Add one cup of red wine, increase the heat to high and reduce until the wine has evaporated.


Add one cup of milk. Cook until the milk has evaporated.


Add two 28-ounce cans of tomatoes and 1/2 cup loosely packed chopped fresh mint leaves, turn the heat down to low and allow the sauce to simmer very gently for around two hours. (If the sauce reduces too much or becomes too thick you can always add some more milk or even water.)


When the sauce is done cooking add another handful of chopped fresh mint, stir and simmer for a minute or two.


And then serve with the pasta of your choice.

This sauce, like so many others, tastes even better the next day. And so I made sure to send my friend home not only with a big hunk of birthday cake but also a container of what turned out to be a really nice sauce.

 
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