Get the Balance Right

Dinner:  February 1, 2010

Juggling the duties of my new position and old position is still a major challenge, but I’m trying hard not to get overwhelmed. I really do find comfort in the kitchen, and while my time and energy have been limited, it is important to me that I still make time to cook for us at least a few nights a week. I’ve given up on getting creative for the time being, instead choosing to turn out some old favorites, uncomplicated meals I can put together almost without thinking about them – like Monday’s onion soup. Onion soup was the very first thing I taught myself to cook, more years ago than I care to admit, and I still get a little thrill every time I dip my spoon through a layer of molten cheese into the rich broth beneath.

Dinner:  February 2, 2010

Tuesday night’s dinner was even easier, thanks to the full day I spent cooking on Sunday. I had cooked up another pot of my new favorite lamb ragu, setting half of it aside to reheat last night, and stashing the rest in the freezer for another time. When I got home from work, I put the ragu in a pan with a glug of red wine, got a pot of water boiling, and caught up with Mike over a cocktail while the sauce simmered. I really love this sauce, and while I’ll never give up the pleasures of a long-simmered beef and pork Bolognese, I think this simple lamb ragu is going to be my go-to meat sauce for pasta. It’s all about options, and balance, right?

Lamb Ragu, Take Two

½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1-2 T olive oil
Kosher salt
1 T double-concentrated tomato paste
1 lb. ground lamb
1-2 fresh bay leaves (or one small dried)
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
½ cup dry red wine
1 28 oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, with their juice
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar

Place the celery, carrot, onion, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them until they’re very finely chopped. Heat the oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan until shimmering, then add the ground up veggies and a big pinch of salt. Stir the veggies through to coat them with oil, and cook for a few minutes until they’re softened. Clear a spot in the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste, allowing it to toast for a few minutes before stirring it through.

Add the ground lamb, breaking it up with your spoon and stirring until the softened veggies are mixed through. Cook until the lamb has lost its raw, red color, then add the bay leaves, thyme, marjoram, and wine. Bring to just to a boil, then add the tomatoes and their juice, breaking the tomatoes up with your spoon. Add another big pinch of salt, then bring to a boil once again. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the sauce, partially covered, until the sauce is thick and reduced, about an hour or so.

Stir in the Sherry vinegar right at the end, taste and adjust the salt if needed, then serve right away or cool and store in the fridge or freezer.

Note: This makes about 4-5 cups, or enough to sauce 2 lbs. of hot cooked pasta. To reheat, add a couple of cups of the sauce to a hot pan with a half cup or so of wine or water, then cook over medium heat until it cooks down and gets a little caramelized. If you’re going to toss it with pasta, let the sauce get really dry, and then add some of the starchy water to the pan along with the al dente pasta; leave it a little more moist if you’re going to serve it another way (like, for example, over soft polenta).

10 thoughts on “Get the Balance Right

  1. Jenn, be kind to yourself! During times of duress (like now?), there is nothing wrong with excellent take-out, or a good brie/baguette/grapes, or even frozen ravioli w/ a dollop of pesto from the freezer. Light candles, cloth napkins and a relaxed dinner w/ your husband, and the food can take a second seat. Chill out – life is short!

  2. I’ve been into ragus myself lately – maybe my favorite was a duck ragu where I simmered the whole duck pieces (sans most of the fat) until it fell off the bones, then went from there to make the sauce. Can’t beat it!

  3. jen, i struggle every day with the same thing and i’ve always been so impressed by your ability to do it all – come home late, make intricate dinners, photograph them beautifully and then write about them – in such a short amount of time. but, i think it is so normal to slow down with each life change and create new expectations for yourself, adjusting as you need to. and, for me, if that meant making onion soup weekly, i’d be very happy – yours looks delicious.

  4. Balance is so, so important in figuring out priorities–and I think you’ve struck an impressive balance of forgoing creativity during the week (for now, at least) for simple meals that still allow you the pleasure of creation. Both of these look absolutely scrumptious.

  5. Jennifer Hess says:

    Elycooks – Thanks, and you are absolutely right 🙂

    Cooking with Michele – Oh how I love duck, and that ragu sounds fabulous. I would love to have a good local source around here.

    brooke – Thank you. I’m a wee bit type-A ;D

    elizabeth – Thank you 🙂

    Allie – You know what’s funny, for all the years I’ve made onion soup, I have yet to actually write down a recipe for it! I should get on that…

    City Girl DC – Thank you!

  6. OMG, I totally forgot about onion soup. Love it. I also have a recipe for Swiss onion soup that is a little thicker base. Thanks for the inspiration, Elizabeth

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