Ragu Bolognese Redux

rigatoni bolognese

We’ve had a cold and busy weekend, and I’ve got a long day of cooking ahead of me today, so it was nice last night to just pull something out of the freezer and get a good meal on the table in no time. This is the rest of my last batch of Ragu Bolognese, which I thawed and reheated gently while waiting for my pasta water to boil. I cooked a pound of rigatoni and finished it in the sauce, tossed a salad, and we were good to go. It really is worth it to make big batches of things like this sauce and to save them for future use.

Bucatini All’Amatriciana

bucatini all'amatriciana

Yesterday’s damp and rainy weather kept me from spending time in the garden as I had planned, so instead I decided to clean out and reorganize the freezer. I have a bad habit of cramming stuff in there and just letting it go until the door barely stays closed, and also of forgetting what we’ve got in there in the first place, so as I went through, I took inventory.

inventory

It’s fun to find little gems lurking in the deepest recesses of the freezer. When I discovered that I had one bag of basic tomato sauce left over from my final batch of last summer I knew immediately that I wanted to do something with it, so I pulled that out along with a package of pancetta (pretty much a freezer staple in our home) and decided to make Bucatini All’Amatriciana.

basic tomato sauce

I basically used Mario Batali’s recipe for the version served at Babbo, though I had to substitute two large shallots for the red onion. It’s a great dish, a little sweet, a little spicy, with a rich porky flavor that’s really satisfying – what a way to transform odds and ends and pantry staples into something delicious.

Malacari Rosso Conero 2004

Wine Pairing: The lovely and charming Dan at Uva Wines recommended the 2004 Villa Malacari Rosso Conero, a Montepulciano with deep, rich fruit and spice notes. As always, he picked us a winner.

Tomato Risotto with Basil and Fresh Mozzarella

tomato basil mozz risotto

Risotto is probably one of my favorite fallback dishes. It’s easy to prepare, comes together quickly and can be dressed up or down in a multitude of ways. I love playing with flavorings and add-ins for it as the seasons change – I’m anxious for Spring’s first peas and favas to show up at the Greenmarket so I can make one favorite version.

mozzarella di bufala

I had a package of fresh Mozzarella di Bufala that I had purchased for a dish we didn’t end up making, and as I tried to think of a way to use it (other than just eating the whole thing straight, which is quite easy to do), I remembered an episode of Lidia’s Family Table I saw recently where Lidia focused on risotto. The version she made in that episode was enriched with a basic tomato-basil sauce, and little chunks of fresh mozzarella were stirred in at the end so that you’d get little gooey pockets of cheese with each bite. I had, unfortunately, deleted the episode from the DVR already, so I had to go from memory, but what I ended up with was pretty darn tasty.

Tomato Risotto with Basil and Fresh Mozzarella

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
1 cup tomato-basil pasta sauce (I had some homemade sauce on hand, but you can always use a good-quality jarred sauce)
1 pint chicken stock
3-4 cups water
12 large basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, plus additional whole leaves for garnish
Fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes (about 1 cup)
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano

Melt butter into olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add shallot and a pinch of salt and cook a few minutes until softened. Add the rice and stir well to coat with the butter/olive oil mixture. Allow to cook a few minutes more until the rice begins to become translucent. Add wine and stir, allowing to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in tomato-basil sauce and half of the chicken stock and again allow to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Continue adding the remaining liquid (stock and water) a cup or so at a time, stirring often, and allowing the liquid to cook into the risotto as described above. You may need more or less liquid than I have listed above, but what you want is for the risotto to be creamy and the texture of the grains of rice to be al dente. Taste often as the rice cooks so you can monitor the texture of the rice, and also adjust for salt.

Once the risotto is creamy and al dente, turn off the heat and gently fold in the basil chiffonade. Add a bit of freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano and stir that in, then fold in the mozzarella cubes a little bit at a time immediately before serving. Spoon into shallow bowls and garnish with whole basil leaves.

Linguine with Clams and Tomatoes

linguine with clams and tomatoes

Pasta with shellfish is one of my favorite combinations, but I was never really a fan of the clam sauces that are served in many restaurants – chewy chopped clams in either a marinara or alfredo sauce, scooped on top of a pile of soggy noodles. This light, fresh version is neither a white sauce nor a red sauce, but it combines some of the best elements of both. It has quite a bit of heat from the chiles, so feel free to adjust the amount to your taste.

linguine with clams mise

This is a simple meal that comes together extremely quickly. Get a big pot of water boiling to cook your pasta, prep your sauce ingredients while you wait, and the hard part is done – the actual cooking takes just minutes.

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
18 littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 cup white wine (I used a Venetian Pinot Bianco which we also drank with the dish)
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped basil or mint
1/2 lb. linguine or spaghetti

Cook the pasta in an abundant amount of salted water, according to package directions.

While the pasta cooks, sauté garlic in olive oil until fragrant. Add the cherry tomatoes with a pinch of salt and cook until softened. Add the chile flakes, clams, wine and half of the herbs, cover the pan and allow the clams to steam open, gently shaking the pan a few times while they cook. Discard any clams that do not open. When the pasta is just short of al dente, add it directly to the pan that the clams and sauce are cooking in and toss through to coat. Allow the pasta to continue cooking in the sauce for just a few minutes, then plate and sprinkle the remaining fresh herbs on top.

Caponata-Style Escarole and Cod

caponata style escarole and cod

It was a beautiful day yesterday, but I wasn’t able to get out of the office to enjoy it, so when I got home, Mike mixed us up a round of Aviations and we took them out front to the stoop to take advantage of the evening’s waning warmth.

I had some local wild cod filets and a bunch of escarole that I wanted to cook up for dinner, so I did a quick search on foodandwine.com and found a recipe for Caponata-Style Escarole and Cod. It sounded quick, easy and tasty, so while I generally don’t cook from recipes, I thought I’d give this a go.

I have cooked a lot of fish fillets (cod included), and I think I can say I’m pretty good at it, but in this instance the cod began to break up about as soon as it hit the oil, and by the time I flipped the fillets and cooked them through, we were left with this:

broken cod

Not pretty, and not a good sign of things to come.

Despite the fact that the fish had pretty much disintegrated, I had high hopes for the sauce. We love olives, capers, anchovies and tomatoes, and we love escarole and all manner of bitter greens – the combination sounded awesome. However, in the finished dish, we thought that the bitter and salty flavors were almost overwhelming. They definitely overpowered the fish, and it just didn’t taste balanced to us. I pulled out the cooked olives and added some uncooked whole olives hoping that their fruitiness might help, but it didn’t. The dish wasn’t inedible, but it was disappointing.

As Mike said, this has a lot of potential, but it needs some work. I do think that I’ll attempt the dish again, tweaking it to maybe add a bit of heat or acidity, and maybe try it with a different fish that will hold up better to the cooking. Not a bad dish, but I hope I can turn out a better version next time around.

Penne with Lamb Ragu

penne lamb ragu

The lovely folks from 3-Corner Field Farm will be away from the Greenmarket until June after this Saturday, so we made sure to stock up on lamb when we were there last weekend. We got a big package of ground lamb, part of which we’ve frozen, and the rest of which I made into a super tasty lamb ragu last night.

As much as I love a classic Ragu Bolognese, I think this sauce might be my new favorite meat sauce for pastas. The lamb had a hint of sweetness, and was rich without being too heavy. Mike gobbled down two helpings of this and has more for lunch today; I polished off my portion quickly, and couldn’t help but sneak spoonfuls of the remaining sauce while I washed the dishes. This stuff might be addictive.

Lamb Ragu

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 lb. ground lamb
1 cup white wine
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes with their juice (I used San Marzanos)
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used a mixture of flat-leaf parsley, thyme and rosemary)
Kosher salt to taste

Add olive oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot and warm over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrots and a good pinch of salt, and allow them to cook until softened. Add tomato paste and allow to cook for a minute, and then stir it through the vegetables. Add the lamb and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until it has lost its red color. Add the wine, tomatoes, chile flakes and half of the herbs. Stir well, breaking up the tomatoes, and then allow to simmer uncovered for an hour or so, stirring occasionally. Once the sauce has cooked down to a thick ragu, and much of the liquid evaporated, turn off the heat, taste for salt and adjust if necessary, and stir in the remaining chopped herbs.

_____________________________

I had my pasta water boiling away for most of the time the sauce was cooking so it was ready to go when the sauce was nearly finished. I removed all but about 2-3 cups of sauce from the pot once it was finished and added a ladleful of pasta water to the remaining sauce in the pot. I cooked a 500g bag of imported penne rigate until it was just short of al dente, and I added about half of the cooked pasta to the sauce to allow it to finish cooking.* When the pasta was al dente and coated with the ragu, I spooned it into shallow bowls and finished each with a dollop of ricotta and a little more of the herb mixture I had used in the sauce. The ricotta imparts a nice creaminess to the sauce as it melts into it, but I think grated Pecorino Romano would be great with this as well.

*I often make more pasta than we will need for a dish and freeze what is left over. Since the pasta isn’t quite cooked through, it reheats pretty well, and is a nice thing to have on hand on those days when I’m feeling crummy enough that I can’t make it in to work and want to put together a quick lunch. I generally run the bag of pasta under some water to thaw it a bit then toss it in a sauté pan with some butter or olive oil, halved grape tomatoes, garlic and herbs, and a bit of grated cheese at the end.