Monday, January 4, 2010

Resolution 1: Cook Italian

First a quick Thank You to everyone who left such lovely comments to the wedding photos. We were extremely touched at the outpouring of well wishes. You guys rock! Okay, on with the blog.

As 2009 drew to a close, food publications rushed to predict what food trends were over and what trends would dominate the new year. With these predictions they posted tantalizing pictures of the new "it" foods. (New York magazine, I'm looking in your direction) The new food trend driving me the most crazy? Italian. I love Italian food, the sauces, the shellfish and the pastas. With the exception of a crazy decent Spaghetti and Meatballs, (which admittedly included jarred sauce) I have almost no Italian cooking skills. My repertoire has focused mostly around American and French dishes--heavy on the roast, light on the pastas. In fact, most of my pasta came out of boxes that had been chilling in my cabinet since the last time it was on sale, not exactly "authentic cuisine." Unless, of course, you were raised in the Barilla or San Georgio family.

If Italian is to be the new trend, which will inevitably create a windfall of articles and the aforementioned photos, I was going to either go bankrupt dining around at restaurants I can't afford (SD26 those tempting bastards) or I can buckle down and learn some cuisine from a boot shaped country. A good New Year's goal, no?

I decided to start with a basic Ragu, a nice meaty dish for these cold winter nights, and one served with pasta so there's no need to bother with side dishes. As I was going to the "authentic" thing, I bought the fresh, refrigerated, "must be used in a day or two" pasta. I have my eye on the Kitchen Aid pasta maker attachment, so look for that in the future, but for this meal I was focusing solely on the Ragu. After much research, I went with a Ragu made with sausage and veal stew chunks, since this did not need to be simmered quite as many hours as a Ragu made with a tougher meat. I had seen one recipe for ragu with lamb shanks that looked very tasty, but this needed to be simmered for over three hours. I don't have that kind of time; those DVDs of Gilmore Girls aren't going to watch themselves. Therefore when I got to the store and lamb sausage with garlic was on sale for far cheaper then the standard sweet pork sausage, I decided to go with it, and just trim back a bit of the garlic that was called for in the original recipe. I also went with a recipe that called for dried porcini mushrooms, as I had them on hand and they always lend an earthy feel to meat dishes. They even find their way into my pot roast.

The end result was heavy, juicy, and meaty, exactly what I wanted to eat as a freezing cold rain poured down New Year's Eve. It also has that delightful side benefit of calling for 1/2 a cup of red wine, which means once the meal is ready you have already selected the wine to pair it with. Tell your guests not to worry if more then 1/2 a cup is missing from the bottle. It's all part of the cooking process.

Pasta with Veal, Sausage, and Porcini Ragu
Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 cup water
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
8 ounces lamb sausages, casings removed
8 ounces veal stew meat, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 cups chicken broth (low sodium)
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 pound fresh fettuccine
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 1 cup water and mushrooms to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Let stand 15 minutes. Strain soaking liquid through paper-towel-lined sieve into bowl. Coarsely chop mushrooms. Set liquid and mushrooms aside. Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, parsley and garlic.

Sauté until vegetables are tender but not brown, about 5 minutes. Push vegetables to side of skillet. Add sausage and cook until brown, breaking up with back of fork, about 4 minutes. Add veal and sauté until brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine. Increase heat to high and boil until wine is almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup chicken broth; boil 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add reserved mushroom liquid. Simmer until liquid is almost absorbed, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to processor. Using about 4 on/off turns, process just until coarsely chopped. Return mixture to skillet. Mix in tomatoes with juices, bay leaves, sage, and porcini mushrooms. Reduce heat to low.

Simmer uncovered until sauce thickens, breaking up tomatoes with back of spoon, adding remaining chicken broth 1/2 cup at a time and stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper. (Ragù can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.)

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Add sauce to pasta pot and rewarm over medium heat. Add pasta and toss to combine. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with cheese.

And there you have it! A bit labor intensive, but it made for a very warming meal. Of course, it doesn't quite go with my other New Year's resolution (or at least post holiday weight resolution) to learn a few less fattening dishes, but I decided to not work on that until after the holiday weekend. It's better for the psyche. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go bake a cake. Timing is everything.


pTsaldari said...

I resolve all my problems with pasta. I shall try this and let you know how it comes out. Looks delic.

Thank you for sharing:
Just reposted: Would love your comments.

Claudia said...

I've made this recipe - I love ragus! Even wrote a childre;'s play incorporating ragus! Grand resolution - you can keep that one! And it looks like its working - mouth-watering.

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