Family Reunion Pasta with Bolognese Sauce

FamilyRenionPhoto
Pasta with Bolognese sauce is a classic Italian meal that is simple to prepare – it just needs plenty of time for the sauce to simmer slowly.  I recommend selecting music that inspires you as you cook it then settle into a good movie as it simmers . . . . . Did I say, slowly? This is apparently the key to a good Bolognese sauce as I discovered in my Italian Classics by Cooks Illustrated.  This recipe is fail proof and yummy, and as they explain in their prologue for Bolognese sauce, it’s “about the meat, with the tomatoes in a supporting role.”  Tomatoes have played a starring role in an earlier blog entry, so this story is about the beef.

Grass fed ground beef and pork

Grass fed ground beef and pork

Since the meat is the focus of this dish, we used local, grass fed beef as the foundation. There are important differences in taste and nutrition when you compare grass fed beef to the much more common grain fed (or corn fed) beef that most Americans eat from cows raised on enormous industrial cattle lots. Carbon foot print issues aside, grass fed beef has far superior flavor and texture, and it is healthier because it is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E and is lower in fat and calories than grain fed beef.

Not many ranchers have the ability or support to raise organic, grass fed beef in California.  An exceptional ranch near us in the spectacular Point Reyes Peninsula is run by the Lunny family – third and fourth generation farmers who have found a way to raise grass fed, organic beef on their historic farm.  While our budget doesn’t allow us to enjoy the treat of their beef often, we plan special meals with them in mind. I interviewed Kevin Lunny, the grandson of the farm’s patriarch, Joseph Lunny, for a museum exhibition on family run farms, Growing the Future. As I listened to his story, my esteem for farmers and ranchers grew ten-fold.  I learned that farmers are not just hard workers, they are problem solvers, looking for solutions to the many challenges of farming such as land stewardship, soil erosion, and energy use. Knowing the people that grow my food has changed the way I think, cook, eat, and vote. Take a few hours for food and fun and visit a local farmers’ market if you haven’t already, and get to know the people who grow our food.

The following Bolognese sauce recipe is simply fabulous, and is straight from Italian Classics. The Berkelly influence comes from the organic ingredients we chose to use from our local food producers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Just add music

Just add music

Ingredients
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (We used Straus Family organic sweet cream butter)
2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons minced carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
¾ pound ground beef chuck, ¼ pound ground veal, and ¼ pound ground pork
(We chose to use mostly ground, grass fed beef and some ground pork which makes the sauce sweeter. We didn’t use ground veal.)
1 cup whole milk (Straus Family milk has a full, rich flavor. Cream makes the sauce too heavy).
1 cup dry white wine (We used a terrific white wine from the wine making region of Rueda in Spain – a Verdejo by V-solo – on sale that week at Whole Foods).
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juice (We used Berkley’s roasted tomatoes instead since we had them on hand from our weekly CSA, Tolay Valley Farms.)
Sea Salt to taste
1 pound dried pasta (we used fusilli because it is kid friendly)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy bottomed Dutch oven or pot then add and sauté the onions, carrots and celery until softened (not browned).  Add the ground meats and ½ teaspoon salt and continually crumble the meat with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Only cook until the meat is cooked, but has not yet browned.

Reduced after 2 hours

Reduced after 2 hours

2.  Add the milk and bring to a simmer; continue simmering until the milk evaporates and the clear milk fat remains (about 10 to 15 minutes). Add the wine and bring to a simmer, continuing to simmer until the alcohol evaporates (another 10 to 15 minutes).  Add the tomatoes with their juice and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to a low simmer so that there is just the occasional bubble or two at the surface at one time. Simmer on this low setting until most of the liquid has evaporated (so, no simmering with the lid on), about 3 hours (four hours if you double the recipe, which we did.) Add salt to taste (we added at least another teaspoon of sea salt to our doubled recipe). You can make this sauce in advance and refrigerate or freeze it. We made it two days ahead for the family reunion.

3. Make pasta according to the package directions, leaving a little bit of cooking water on the pasta which helps distribute the thick meat sauce.) Serve in individual bowls with sauce ladled on top and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

To start out the evening, my sister, Kris, served beautiful Bruschetta (actually pronounced brus’ketta), and we rounded our meal by creating a salad bar with organic veggies and cheesy garlic bread.
FamilyAtTheTableB&W

The best part about the evening was seeing my family members eating with delight; laughing as they shared a delicious meal made with love.

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Transitioning to Fall: Vegetable Soup

The key to great soup of any kind is really good stock. You can use a vegetable or chicken stock from the grocery store to make this soup, but if you are inclined and have the time to simmer your own, it will make all of the difference. I like to use chicken stock because the flavor is richer and balances the vegetable flavors.

Chicken Stock Ingredients

2 medium or one large yellow onion
1 red onion
2 heads of garlic
3 stalks celery
3 large carrots
2 roast chicken carcasses
Salt

Cut onions into quarters, leaving the skin on; Cut garlic heads in half; wash and coarsely chop carrots and celery into large pieces. Place vegetables into large stockpot, place two roasted chicken carcasses on top, and add water until it covers the ingredients. Bring to full boil, lower to simmer with lid on for 1 ½ hours. Let cool a little, then strain stock into another stock/soup pot, bring to boil, then lower to a simmer to reduce the stock liquid about 1 inch. Add salt to taste (i.e. 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons).

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup Ingredients

12 to 16 cups chicken stock depending on how much soup you want to make. I make extra and freeze it for a busy winter week. (See above recipe or use your favorite store bought)

3 carrots – medium to large
3 medium red potatoes
3 turnips (peel outer skin if winter turnips – it’s bitter)
1 medium star squash
1 medium to large zucchini
1 to 2 small crookneck yellow squash
Bunch of washed spinach with stems removed
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons (to taste) Dried Basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fall Vegetable Soup

Fall Vegetable Soup

Wash and dice carrots, turnips and potatoes in large bite sized chunks and set aside in a bowl. Wash and dice the rest of the vegetables and set aside. In soup pot, bring stock to low boil and lower to simmer. Carefully add carrots, turnips and potatoes with large spoon (so you don’t get splashed with hot stock) and raise heat to bring back to a simmer, then lower to hold at a simmer for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the rest of the veggies and the dried herbs and simmer 5 more minutes. Test/taste the vegetables which should be al dente, like pasta – not too soft. Serve with grated parmesan cheese and good local bread.  I made one of my favorite fall/winter recipes for cornbread from the Joy of Cookings recipe for Buttermilk Cornbread. An easy addition to this soup is to add cooked pasta (don’t cook the pasta in the soup), which makes it a hearty main dish.

Pizza Night in Petaluma

We planned our Friday night meal around our four teenagers. For those of you with teens you know that things can change in the blink of an eye. Of the four we managed to corral one.

Grateful for Mark!

Grateful for Mark!

Kelly’s 17 year old, Mark was gracious enough to hang with the “parents” on Pizza Night, and the rest seemingly had better offers. We were very grateful for Mark; he’s quite the entertainer and had us all in stitches as we cooked. Laughter is definitely the most important ingredient in all of our cooking. Everything is better with laughter. I’ve been known to say the same thing about butter, bacon and Kelly.

The Secret is in The Sauce

The Secret is in The Sauce

Tomato Sauce

I’ve (Berkley) been making the same sauce for the last couple of years. I don’t do anything unusual or extraordinary in making my tomato sauce but I always get great reviews. The secret to the sauce, as I once heard Alice Waters say, is in the tomatoes. I remember she liked the Shady Lady. I like the Heirloom. We got some beautiful Heirloom’s from Tolay Valley Farms in our weekly CSA pickup down at Ernie’s Tin Bar and added some organic Shady Ladies. I preheated the oven to 350 and cored eight tomatoes then tossed them in a mixture of olive oil and sea salt before placing them on a baking sheet. I threw them in the oven for 45 minutes and meanwhile diced half of an enormous sweet yellow onion along with five cloves of garlic. Once the maters were out and had cooled a bit I took the skins off half of them with my fingers. To make the sauce, I heated some olive oil in a sauce pan, added a dash of salt and a few quick turns with the pepper grinder then tossed in the garlic and onions. I sautéed until the onions softened then tossed in the tomatoes whole. I mashed the tomatoes with a potato masher (a trick that just came to me Friday) and mixed it all together.

Testing The Sauce

Testing The Sauce

I simmered the sauce for 30 minutes, stirring frequently, adding only salt and pepper to taste. I’ve frozen and canned this before.  It’s a great staple to have around the house – on pasta after a busy day or on toast for bruschetta to feed the unannounced but always welcome guest.

The Cheese

Searching for new employment in today’s changing economy has caused me (Kelly) to search within myself. Sometimes, this is a painful process.  Actually, it is a “yucky” process, but nevertheless it is necessary. To counteract the yuckiness, I find myself needing comfort food, and pizza is one of my favorite comfort foods. I like to bake, so I made the pizza dough while Berkley made his amazing sauce. This week’s story, however, is about the cheese because it is the cheese that makes pizza a comfort food.

We discovered a delicious, local source for cheese in Petaluma. We were introduced to the fabulous cheeses from the Spring Hill Cheese Company through a good friend, Ellen Beeler, who made pizza to remember one night. On Western Avenue (next to their creamery), patrons can enjoy cheese tasting in Spring Hill’s store. We’ve become big fans of their organic, absolutely yummy garlic curd, firehouse Cheddar and pesto Jack cheeses.

Although Spring Hill Cheese Company was started in 1998, it follows a long tradition of dairying in the area. Spring Hill’s ranch raises a herd of 400 Jersey cows because they produce milk with high butter fat. Jersey cows were among the early breeds raised by dairymen and women in the late 1800’s when immigrant families from Italy, Portugal, and other countries made Marin and Sonoma counties active in butter and cheese making. The lush grasses along the coast stay greener longer due to the cool ocean breezes and fog, providing a natural resource that has been perfect for dairy cows for over 150 years. Other breeds, like the black and white Holsteins, later replaced the Jerseys in the dairy industry because they produce more milk. Jersey cows produce less milk, but it is the richness that owner Larry Peter needs to produce Spring Hill’s wide variety of cheeses.

The Pizza Dough

Cormeal Crust with yogurt, YUMM!

Cormeal Crust with yogurt, YUMM!

Berkley researched pizza dough recipes online for me and came up with one I really like because it bakes into a light, crunchy cornmeal crust. The key to our pizza is the cheese; the key to this pizza dough  is the yogurt. Although I was a little intimidated at first, the pizza dough was easy to make. I doubled the recipe so that we could make two 16 inch pizzas, mixing organic whole wheat flour (1 1/2 C) and white flour (1 C), with cornmeal (1 C), baking soda (1 tsp), baking powder (2 tsp), salt (1 tsp), and dry basil (1 tsp) in a large bowl. Then in a separate bowl I stirred together Straus Family whole milk plain yogurt (1 1/2 C) and olive oil (4 T). Gently combining, I poured the yogurt mixture into the flour mix and stirred until it came together. The dough only needs to be kneaded (pun intended) for a minute or two – I just placed the mound of dough onto a piece of well floured parchment paper and used the heel of my hand (also floured) to work the dough into a ball, sprinkling a little flour as I worked it so that the dough would no longer stick to my hand. I wrapped the dough ball in the parchment paper and let it “rest” in the refrigerator for a bit. Rolling it out was easy. I cut the ball of dough in two with a knife, pressed each half of the dough with my fingers to start, and used a rolling pin to properly finish rolling each crust to 1/4″ thick. To transfer the dough to a baking sheet I lightly folded it in half to make it easier, then unfolded it onto the baking sheets.  To complete the crust, I made a 1/2″ folded edge, pressing with my fingers. We partly baked the pizza crust for 10 minutes at 400.

The Toppings

Mark putting on some finishing touches

Mark putting on some finishing touches

For the toppings, Berkley sliced green bell pepper and Italian sausage (Aidell’s) and Mark thinly sliced mushrooms and grated mounds of cheese. We chose three kinds of Spring Hill cheese for our pizzas:  Fresh Curds (crumbled on top, these become creamy when melted), Garlic Cheddar and Pesto Jack. Berkley spread his roasted tomato sauce over both pizza crusts. Mark topped his pizza with all of the above ingredients, and I made mine with the same, minus the bell pepper and plus oregano sprinkled around. These took about 20 minutes in the oven at 400.

Beets, Cucumbers n' Greens

Beets, Cucumbers n' Greens

While the pizzas baked, I put together a simple salad of diced roasted beets, red lettuce, and sliced cucumber with a creamy blue cheese dressing.

The Comfort

This pizza both crumbled and melted in our mouths as we ate outside on the patio.  We laughed some more as we heard about life through the eyes of a teenager. The pizza was just as comforting for breakfast the following morning and for lunch two days later on a hike.

Berkelly's Pizza fresh from the oven.

Berkelly's Pizza fresh from the oven.