It's been a schmaltzy, self-involved year. But tell me you've never been there! It happens to all of us: we come to a point where we have to sit ourselves down and establish who, exactly, is the boss of the relationship: our worst selves (surly, sockless in winter, feckless in all other seasons, and undecided to the point of absurdity) or our better selves (focussed, sly, claws unclenched from petty discontents). I cried like a slob more than once in the process (and when I say "slob." I mean the charming, adorable, interesting sort of slob whose face does not get red, and whose tears reflect the color of her eyes and the depth of her soul, under particularly flattering lightl). The point is I made a choice.
I still go sockless at the wrong times, but I'm definitely focussed enough to want to get back to being a writer. And I've settled into the idea that it's okay to spend one's days and afternoons doing something a person loves as much as I--and many people I know and admire--love to cook. And that sharing recipes writing about food can be as noble as writing about City Hall. Or as useful, at least. And more noble, certainly, than passing along gossip about American Idol judges.
Actually, let's just leave the word noble out of it.
I owe some of the return of my zest for life (and the reappearance of a lemon zester into my kitchen) to Food52.com, which is dedicated to home-cooking and will result in a cookbook containing winning recipes from a year's worth of competitions (hence the 52). If you don't know about the site, and you love to cook, you really should log on and see what's going on over there. It was created by two friends who've cooked together for some time (the lovely team of Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs), and once you start to participate you feel like they and all the other cooks are your friends, too. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the competition had something to do with it how much I like the site. Winning (as I did, for my lemony cream cheese pancakes) really will put the git back in your gittyup, no matter how zen-like your resistance to the idea of competition may be.
None of this is to say I didn't cook much over the last 9 months or so. I cooked a lot, and it made me really happy, even when I was being a pill; I think it made the two people closest to me happy, too.
Anyway, here is my Ragu Bolognese, which I perfected during my fallow period and which we have begun serving at Christmas in my family. It will make you cry. But in a good way.
Yield: 7 cups, which serves at least 10 people, or 10 million, I can’t remember. It’s a rich sauce. It freezes very well.
4 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (you can leave this out and substitute more olive oil if you insist; I think it helps browning process)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, scraped and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork (or use all beef/veal)
1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 pound pancetta, minced or ground (or you can use bacon, but less)
2 cups cream, half and half, or milk (or use a combination)
1 (16-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, with the juices
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper
- In a very large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and sauté over medium heat until translucent.
- Add veal, pork, beef, and pancetta to the vegetables, cook over medium high heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. You really want it to brown; stir it often, breaking up clumps of meat.
- Add half the milk/cream and simmer until almost dry, about 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer, breaking up any large pieces, 15 minutes. Add the wine and broth, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 hours.
- After 2 hours, add remaining milk; simmer for another 1/2 hour, or longer, until the flavor has intensified, and the sauce has become somewhat dry. It is not a very “saucy” sauce. It’s a meaty sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve on pappardelle, with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.