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Monday, September 2, 2013

THERE'S A CHEF IN MY SOUL: Pasta Bolognese Sauce

THERE'S A CHEF IN MY SOUL: Pasta Bolognese Sauce

Pasta Bolognese Sauce

Italian cuisine is characterized by its extreme simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. Ingredients and dishes vary by region. Many dishes that were once regional, however, have proliferated with variations throughout the country.

My idea of a sauce with ground chuck was basically browning ground beef in a pan with some garlic and onions and adding to a "doctored" jar of sauce or my homemade tomato sauce. Recently, at a great little Italian place in Crafton, Sarofino's someone ordered the special which was a pasta with Bolognese sauce. As great friends we always share each others dishes so we have a chance to try different entree's. After the first bite I was pleasantly surprised. The depth of flavor was amazing. I knew instantly this was not a quick meat sauce. I had to try my hand at is sauce that seemed so complex.

After doing some research I decided to give this recipe a try. It was easy, but takes 4-5 hours. This would be great to begin this lovely sauce on a Sunday morning and have a nice family dinner.

1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
4 cloves garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
Kosher salt
3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
2 cups tomato paste
3 cups hearty red wine
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
1 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
High quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing


In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.

Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE BEEF! Brown food tastes good. Don't rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.

Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don't be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn't matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pot and reserve.

Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining ragu. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano and a generous drizzle of the high quality finishing olive oil. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Italian Baked Tomatoes

For nine or 10 months of the year, grocery store tomatoes are sorry things intended only to provide a bit of color – and not much color at that. But with the peak of summer comes tomatoes that really have flavor. There’s as much art as science in choosing a great tomato. There are a few basics: you don’t want any obvious damage to the skin; you don’t want to feel any particular mushy spots (as opposed to a general softness); you want a tomato that’s heavy for its size. Beyond that, tomatoes are so diverse in color, shape and texture, the main thing to go by is perfume. All tomatoes, whatever the hue, should smell wonderful. To store your wonderful tomatoes do NOT refrigerate. Ever. The flavor and aroma of a tomato will never recover from being refrigerated. On the other hand, store a tomato that is under-ripe at room temperature and it will continue to ripen and improve. There are so many incredible ways to prepare these tasty vegetables, I choose to make some Italian Baked Tomatoes. Ingredients: 4 tomatoes, halved 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 1 oz reduced fat provolone cheese, shredded or Mozzarella 1 tsp chopped fresh basil 1 tsp chopped fresh oregano Salt to taste Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 450° F. Place tomatoes cut-side up on a baking sheet. Top with Parmesan, provolone, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Bake until the tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes