Our Favorite Ragù alla Bolognese

There are as many recipes for ragu alla Bolognese as there are Italian Nonnas making them. For years, I did an adequate job with this sauce, but I always felt it was lacking a certain je ne sais quois (oops, wrong country). Then I read and reviewed Luisa Weiss’s book My Berlin Kitchen (wrong country again!) and tweaked my technique just enough to say with confidence that I’ve finally mastered this.

This is not Luisa’s recipe (and I’m only being clear about that since lately I’ve wound up with a lot of traffic from people who were searching for that recipe online); I have added garlic and crushed red pepper, as well as subtracted some of the meat. The spirit is the same, but the details are different. I do think it’s important to spring for canned whole San Marzano tomatoes (assuming you don’t have tomatoes plucked fresh from your garden, that is). One thing Luisa did drill in my head, however, is that the ultimate secret ingredient in this sauce is time. If you can start this before 11:00 am, you will have a happy family come dinner time.

Mama Dawn’s Ragu alla Bolognese

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 large onion, minced

1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced

2 large carrots, peeled and minced

1 pound of ground beef/pork blend, or meatloaf meat

1/2 cup red wine

1 28 ounce can peeled San Marzano tomatoes, pureed with juice in food processor

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon salt

In a food processor, finely chop onions, carrots and garlic clove. In a heavy sauce pan, such as the awesome Le Creuset your mom got you for Christmas last year that you love so much it hurts, melt the butter and olive oil. Add chopped carrots, onion and garlic and cook on medium high for about six minutes, until softened. Add the ground meat and cook for about ten minutes, until it is no longer pink and most of the liquid is cooked out. Add wine, and simmer for about five minutes. Add pureed tomatoes, salt, and crushed red pepper. Once bubbling, reduce heat to lowest setting, cover, and go on with your life. Every so often, give it a good stir. Let simmer between five and seven hours. Serve with favorite pasta and a nice glass of chianti.

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Asian Citrus Ginger Sesame Marinade

This is a great little marinade which is so easy to whip up and contains many of my favorite ingredients. I had my heart set on trying this on scallops, but our store did not have them available. Tonight we used it on salmon and swordfish, and it was the perfect compliment to fish on a hot summer night — bright and light, with a tiny touch of zing.

Asian Citrus Ginger Sesame Marinade by Elizabeth Karmel, Fine Cooking July 2012

Ingredients:

1 medium orange, finely grated to yield 1/2 tsp. zest, squeezed to yield 1/3 cup juice
2 medium limes, finely grated to yield 1 tsp. zest, squeezed to yield 1/4 cup juice
2 Tbs. Asian sesame oil
2 Tbs. canola oil
2 Tbs. lower-sodium soy sauce
5 medium cloves garlic, grated on a rasp (I just minced in a press)
2 Tbs. finely grated fresh ginger (from a 2- to 3-inch piece)
1 Tbs. Sriracha or Asian chili garlic sauce
1 Tbs. confectioners’ sugar
Fine sea salt

Combine the orange zest and juice, lime zest and juice, sesame and canola oils, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, Sriracha, confectioners’ sugar, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a medium bowl.

Walnut Arugula Pesto

I was so excited to see this recipe in Fine Cooking last month, and when my friends at The Bitten Word gave it the thumbs up today, I just knew I had to try it sooner than later. I have found myself with some sad looking arugula not long for this world, and this recipe looked like the perfect last hurrah.

There are certain foods throughout my life which fall in and out of favor. Yogurt, for example. I literally won’t touch it for years at a time, and then run back to it with open arms. Pesto is also in that category. I loved it, then I didn’t want to look at it for years, and now it’s back again in my good graces.

I love everything about this pesto. The basil and arugula compliment each other surprisingly well, and the walnuts add such richness and body that I didn’t miss the pine nuts at all. Oh, speaking of pine nuts, here’s an interesting pine nut story:

Several years ago, I found myself with a strange metallic aftertaste in my mouth. It was very strong and didn’t go away no matter what I did. Everything tasted awful for almost a whole week. (A smarter girl would have used this as an opportunity to diet, but I just kept right on eating.) Having earned a PhD from University of Google, my exhaustive research narrowed down the culprit to some pine nuts I had put in my salad (after eliminating my initial diagnosis of cancer and mercury poisoning, of course). Apparently, there is a phenomenon known as “pine mouth,” and it’s a taste disturbance caused from certain pine nuts usually originating from China (read this). I have enjoyed pine nuts for years with never a problem, so this syndrome can strike out of the blue. Interesting, eh? The good news is that pine nuts and I are back together after our four year breakup, but they are not needed for this particular pesto.

Walnut Arugula Pesto by David Bonom, featured in Fine Cooking (June/July 2012)

1/4 cup walnut halves
2 cups loosely packed fresh arugula (2-1/2 oz.)
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil (about 1/2 oz.)
3 Tbs. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 medium clove garlic
5 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the walnuts, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and a shade darker, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly on a plate, about 3 minutes, and then transfer to a food processor. Add the arugula, basil, Parmigiano, and garlic and process until the mixture is very finely chopped, about 1 minute. With the motor running, slowly add 4 Tbs. of the oil until well combined. If you like, add 1 Tbs. water to thin the pesto. Transfer to a bowl and season to taste with salt.

Crème Fraîche: Almost As Easy As Boiling Water

I just love crème fraîche, with its cute little circumflex chapeau above the î that whispers, “I am fancy. Pay lots of money for me!”

Even if you are the kind of person who might want to spend $8.00 for eight ounces of cream, it’s not always easy to find in stores. And even if you find it cheaper online, don’t get too excited — shipping will be at least twenty bucks! Quite a pickle.

I was so surprised to learn that making your own crème fraîche is the easiest thing in the world. With the summer fruit season upon us, a lovely dollop of crème fraîche over fresh fruit or dessert is a simple and elegant touch. I prefer it unsweetened, but you certainly may add some sugar if desired. Crème fraîche also adds richness and panache to everything from sauces to seafood to salad.

Ingredients:

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon plain yogurt or buttermilk

That’s all! Can you believe it?

Place heavy cream in glass container (a measuring cup is fine). Stir in buttermilk or yogurt. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave it alone for 24 hours in a room 70 to 75 degrees. Stir it once or twice. If it’s thick like mayonnaise, voila! You are done. If it’s not thick enough, give it another five or six hours, then stir and refrigerate. Store it covered in the refrigerator and use in ten days or less.

Dawn’s Hot-Cha-Cha Sauce

This year I’ve found myself with an abundance of Scotch Bonnet peppers from my garden. Hot sauce lover that I am, I decided it was time to finally attempt some hot sauce of my own. But first I needed to get over my life-long fear of botulism in order to jar my own homemade hot sauce. A little googling made me feel somewhat confident that I can do this. If not, it was nice knowing ya!

I have a very high tolerance for hot and spicy food (very, very high, perhaps freakishly high), so please heed my warning that this sauce is H O T hot, even for me, and adjust the recipe accordingly. I took all the elements from my favorite bottled sauces and tried to incorporate them into this recipe, and I’m very pleased with the flavor. Well, once I could feel my tongue again, I was pleased with the flavor. I also made this same recipe using jalapenos, and we enjoyed it over fish and rice.

Dawn’s Hot-Cha-Cha Sauce

20 – 30 Habañero or Scotch Bonnet peppers, or hot peppers of your choice

2 cloves garlic, peeled

4 carrots, peeled (note: if you use extra hot peppers, you will NEED all four carrots)

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white vinegar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Wearing gloves, cut any stems off of peppers, and add all ingredients in food processor. Pulse until well combined and fairly smooth. Jar or serve and refrigerate after opening.

Charmoula

Do you have any recipes which you cut out from newspapers or magazines that are so old, so well loved, they are yellowed and food stained and kind of disgusting looking? Behold, this is my recipe for charmoula, a versatile North African sauce that goes well on everything from seafood to vegetables to rice!

Isn’t she a beaut? I can already feel my mother cringing from here.  Sorry, Mom! I will lovingly type it out by my own hand just in case anyone wants a non-disgusting copy of this recipe to print out.

Charmoula

From Mustapha Rouissiya

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon Spanish paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon tomato paste

Combine all the ingredients and whisk together or process in a blender or food processor. Can be made in advance and stored several days in the refrigerator or frozen.

We served this tonight atop grilled salmon, along with brown rice and sesame green beans.

Dawn’s Awesome Sauce

By now I assume most of you are familiar with my ultimate secret ingredient, Sriracha Hot Sauce. I have been adding this to my recipes for many years, and a little goes a long way. It is very popular now, and there are many websites devoted to recipes using Sriracha. It should be available in the ethnic section of most supermarkets throughout the US. Back in the day, we could only get through super-hard-to-find special grocery stores. I am happy to see the world finally caught on to the awesomeness that is Sriracha.

This is my standard sauce I use to spice up everything from sweet potato fries to burgers to seafood.

Dawn’s Awesome Sauce

1/2 cup ketchup

1 Tablespoon real mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon sour cream

A few squirts of Sriracha sauce according to taste, see below

In a medium bowl, combine ketchup, mayo and sour cream until smooth. Add one heart shaped squirt, mix well, and taste. If it’s good, you are done. If not, add just a little more at a time and keep checking. I prefer about two and a half heart shaped portions, but I like things on the hotter side. Say goodbye to boring old ketchup!