Spaghetti Bolognese

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This post came about in a funny way. My virtual food blogger sister-friend Linda Duffin, of the impressive blog Mrs. Portly’s Kitchen and I were commenting back and forth one day discussing the cooking of our mothers.

Linda wrote, “And don’t get me started on her spag bol.” Now, Linda is British, and I’ve spent many months-worth of time in the UK, or whatever it’s called now, and I have always tried local specialties in the various countries, whether Cullen Skink, Bedfordshire Clanger or, my favorite – Spotted Dick. But I’d never heard of Spag Bol.

Linda, probably thinking I’m an unsophisticated daftie, explained that spag bol was simply short for Spaghetti Bolognese. Of course.

Which then got me thinking that I’ve never made spaghetti bolognese in all of my years cooking. The cookbook I immediately grabbed, was Giuliani Buglialli’s Buglialli on Pasta, published in 1988.

Buglialli is so strictly Italian, and he’s so familiar with Italy’s regional cooking, that I knew he would be the proper resource. When I call him strict, I’m not kidding. He practically yells at you from the pages of his cookbooks if you dare grab a chunk of Parmesan.

“One should not indiscriminately sprinkle Parmigiano over everything if all dishes are not to melt into an unappealing sameness.”


On his research in studying and documenting authentic Italian recipes: “Arriving at an authentic version of a recipe with a long tradition requires work. The dish as prepared at one regional restaurant or by one family from an area is not necessarily an authentic version of that region’s preparation. It is important to compare many different sources, printed and oral, especially the oldest available ones. But let us not forget that even some Italian grandmothers are poor cooks.”

I find him really entertaining, and I love his passion. And there it was, in the cookbook, Tagliatelle al Ragu alla Bolognese.

“The famous Bolognese ragu is one of several meat sauces and the most popular. Its distinctive features are the sautéing of the meat together with the aromatic chopped vegetables, the omission of garlic, the combination of snipped, chopped, or ground beef and pork, the use of white rather than red wine, and the use of heavy cream.”

Furthermore: “I should like to remind once again that pasta with meat sauce is not automatically alla bolognese. Only those pastas specifically using a Bolognese meat sauce are such; the many employing such sauces from other regions would never be considered alla bolognese.”

I looked online for any recent information on Buglialli, and did find his website, called Buglialli Foods of Italy, and under his cooking courses, held at his farmhouse in Tuscany, none are listed beyond 2015. If he is still alive, it’s estimated that Buglialli is approximately 80 years old. Seems like his date of birth was always kept a secret.

Ragu Alla Bolognese
printable recipe below

1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
1 medium-sized carrot, scraped
1 large stalk celery
3 ounces pancetta, cut into cubes
6 ounces lean boneless beef, in cubes
6 ounces boneless pork, in cubes
4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ripe, fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup lukewarm beef broth
3/4 cup heavy cream

Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery.

Coarsely grind the pancetta, beef, and pork all together in a meat grinder. (I used my food processor.)

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy, flameproof casserole over medium heat. When the oil mixture is warm, add the chopped vegetables and ground meats, and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

Pass the tomatoes through a food mill, using the disc wth smallest holes, into a glass bowl.

Add the wine to the casserole and let it evaporate for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.


Then add the broth. Cover the casserole and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

Add the cream, mix very well, lower the heat, and reduce for 20 minutes; for the last 5 minutes, remove the lid.


Remove the sauce from the heat and let rest until cool, about 1 hour.

Tagliatelle Al Ragu Alla Bolognese, from Bologna

Cook the pasta according to package directions, although Buglialli suggests fresh tagliatelle. (I used pappardelle.)

Place 4 tablespoons of sweet butter in serving bowl; add a little boiling water to melt the butter.

When ready, drain the pasta, transfer to the serving bowl, and mix well with the melted butter.

Pour the sauce all over, mix and serve immediately.

Pass freshly grated Parmigiano cheese at the table.

This ragu is fabulous. If you close your eyes, it’s like you’re eating blended lasagna!

My only regret is not making a quadruple batch of this lucious sauce.

 

Beef Cheeks

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So what are beef cheeks?

You know how some people say that if you don’t want to know the answer to a question.. don’t ask?

Well, beef cheeks are just that – cheeks from cows’ heads. Or would that be faces?

Surprisingly, the other day at the grocery store, I came across beef cheeks, and I’d never cooked them before. I’ve had them at restaurants – I think most often as an hors d’oeuvre. So it was time to try them out as a main course.

They’re a very tough piece of meat, so braising was the only way to go. So here’s what I did.

Wine-Braised Beef Cheeks

Beef cheeks, about 3 pounds
1 bottle of good red wine – you’ll be using it in the braising liquid
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely sliced
A few bay leaves
Sprig of rosemary
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons paprika paste
Salt, to taste

Place the cheeks in a large, non-reactive bowl. add the wine, onion, rosemary, and garlic. Then cover everything with the bottle of wine. Refrigerate overnight, for at least 12 hours.

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The next day, remove the cheeks and lay them on paper towels to dry. Pour the marinade through a sieve and set it aside; discard the onion and other goodies.
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Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Cut up the cheeks into workable pieces, then season them on both sides with salt and pepper. Brown the cheeks, about 2 minutes on both sides, without crowding them.
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Set the browned cheeks on a plate, and continue with the remaining pieces. Then lower the heat to medium and add the onion, celery, and carrot. Saute the vegetables for 5 minutes.

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Stir in the garlic and saute for just a minute. Then add the remaining marinade, and the beef broth. Reduce the mixture by about half.

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When the liquid has reduced, stir in the tomato paste and the paprika paste.

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Return the cheeks to the pot, including any liquid that might have accumulated on the plate, and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer the cheeks for about 2 1/2 hours. Turn the pieces over about halfway through the cooking time – especially if they’re not completely submerged in the liquid.

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Remove the lid from the pot, and let everything cool down. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the cheeks and slice them thinly. You can strain the liquid in the pot to remove the aromatics, but I left them as is. Place the cheek slices in the liquid and heat slowly until heated through. Taste the liquid and add salt, if necessary.

I served the cheek slices on top of cheesy polenta, topped with some of the braising liquid. Alternatively, you could also strain the braising liquid and make more of a gravy with it, but I preferred a more rustic presentation.
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If you need a recipe for making polenta, which are also grits (they’re both cornmeal), there’s a recipe here and one here.

The combination was really fantastic. And I enjoyed beef cheeks as a main course. They’re almost like beef tongue, but much softer. They were also very inexpensive.

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Spiced Cauliflower Soup

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Sometimes I end up with too many vegetables in my refrigerator. And when that happens, I make soup.

Case in point? I happened to have a lovely head of cauliflower that I didn’t want to go to waste, so I cooked it and made it into a creamy soup. Cauliflower has a lovely flavor that is so good on its own. But I couldn’t stop there with just a creamy cauliflower soup. I wanted it spicy.

So I reached for my handy dandy ancho chile paste. Every so often I make a large batch of it and store it in jars in the freezer. That way I always have some to use in recipes, like this soup. Immediately the soup became something altogether different – flavored with layers of chile peppers and lovely Southwestern spices. Fabulous. And so easy.

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This is what I did, and you can do it, too!

Spicy Cream of Cauliflower Soup

1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed, broken into florets
1 leek, cleaned, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 onion, coarsely chopped
Broth of choice, I used chicken broth
1 can evaporated milk, or any non-dairy substitute
3 tablespoons ancho chile paste, or to taste
2 teaspoon ground cumin

Place the cauliflower, leek, celery, and onion in a large stockpot, and cover with water or broth. I use chicken broth powder to make my chicken broth, so I opted to add the powder at the point when I blended the soup. If you use commercial chicken broth, that works just the same.
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Bring everything to a boil, cover the pot, and then simmer until the cauliflower is fully cooked, about 20-30 minutes.
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Place the cooked vegetables in a blender jar, and only add a little of the liquid. You can always add more later if you need to thin the soup.
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Add the evaporated milk. Depending on the size of your blender jar, you might have to blend this soup in two batches, so use about half of the vegetables and half of the evaporated milk for each batch. At this point I also added my chicken broth powder.
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Blend until smooth. Add the ancho chile paste and cumin powder, blend, and taste. You might want salt. If you do, start with just 1 /2 teaspoon. If you make the soup too salty, there’s no turning back!

I needed to add a little more ancho chile paste when I added the cumin, which is why you see more of it. It totaled aobut 3 tablespoons but if you’re unsure of how much to use, start out with just 1 tablespoon. Of course, it also depends how much soup you’re making. Just taste taste taste! It’s your soup, so make it according to your taste!
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Serve the soup hot. I added just a little grated Parmesan for fun.
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Some queso blanco or just plain goat cheese would also be fabulous with this soup.
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Sure, it’s easy to make a cream of cauliflower soup. But go a little crazy for a change! Add some ancho chile paste and spice things up. When I tasted the soup I realized I’d made the chile paste with some chipotle peppers as well as ancho chile peppers. They really added something to this soup.

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