Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ragu Bolognese

This is one of Nick's absolute favorite dishes.  I should have written about it before now.  It is the ultimate in comfort food and a recipe I have made so often I know it in my sleep.  Particularly because I am a stickler for how it is done.  It isn't difficult or complicated but when one step or ingredient is amiss I can taste it.  

I have had some lively discussions with fellow enthusiasts of this dish as to its contents.  Some use tomato, some don't.  There have been those known to use red wine (although I prefer dry white so as not to overpower the other flavors).  Some use just beef and others use beef, veal and pork in thirds.  My brother does a great version using that variety of meat, pancetta and minus the tomato.  I always like the fresh contrast of tomato and parsley against the richness of the meat.  These ingredients are flexible but it is the liquid reductions that are important in tenderizing the meat and infusing it with flavor.  First milk, then wine and, if you like, tomato.  It is those reductions that define the difference between a meat sauce and a ragu.

This recipe will make a decent amount so you should know that it freezes well, is awesome over polenta as well as pasta and will make your lasagna unforgettable.

Ragu Bolognese
  • diced pancetta
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 to 3 carrots finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, ends trimmed and chopped
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 cup San Marzano tomato puree (or about half a 16 oz can)
  • freshly ground nutmeg to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt (kosher or sea) to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese to taste
In a heavy bottomed sauce pot or dutch oven, saute` pancetta in olive oil just enough to give it color and to render some of the fat and release the flavor.  Add your chopped aromatics, onions, celery and carrots.  Saute` until soft and the onions are translucent.  Add your ground meat and cook until no longer pink, breaking it up into smaller and smaller chunks while it is cooking.  Add milk and let simmer until the milk is absorbed into the meat, about 15 minutes.  Add freshly ground nutmeg to taste.  Add wine and let simmer until it is absorbed into the meat, also about 15 minutes.  Add your tomato puree and let simmer for a minimum of 30 minutes but up to an  hour stirring occasionally.  Add parsley, salt and pepper before serving.  Serve over pasta or polenta with grated cheese. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dinner on the Fly: Tarragon Quinoa Salad

I have returned to the Blogosphere.  I hadn't meant to be gone so long.  Balance is hard and I have pushed aside some of the activities in my life I really want to be doing.  When the pace of life quickens I feel like I start cooking one tired recipe after another.  Or maybe the recipes weren't tired but I was.

Yet happy accidents happen and often out of necessity.  If balancing work, relationships, exercise and life goals is tough then cooking a meal that is healthy, quick and delicious is the same kind of juggling act.  Especially in the moments when you are standing with your arms resting on the open doors of your cabinets and looking up into the shelves for inspiration.

Wasn't I talking about happy accidents?  This was definitely one.  I am always looking for a good use for tarragon.  So I went searching through my pantry to see what I could find.  Quinoa has a naturally nutty aroma which is the perfect compliment to the anise-like flavor of tarragon.  This is a delightful side dish that would be perfect next to steamed fish or your favorite chicken dish.  It holds its own in flavor so if you tossed in chopped chicken it would make a great lunch.

Tarragon Quinoa Salad

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • one small onion chopped
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water or broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • sea salt to taste
In a 4 quart saucepan, heat olive oil over medium low heat. Add onion and saute` until soft and translucent.  Add quinoa to the pot and toss until coated with olive oil and onions are mixed in.  Pour in your water or broth.  Simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender.  Just before taking the quinoa off the heat add raisins and tarragon.  The heat will plump the raisins and make the tarragon fragrant.  Toss with vinegar, sea salt and pecans before serving.