Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tunisian Vegetable Stew

Until I Googled it a few minutes ago, I had no idea where the country of Tunisia was (turns out it was, and still is, in northern Africa - I was thinking Asia somewhere), and I know pretty much nothing about the country's cuisine. What I do know is that I have a recipe called Tunisian Vegetable Stew, and it's delicious. Whenever I'm in the mood for something that tastes different than pretty much everything else I cook, something that is loaded with interesting flavors and textures, this stew fits the bill. I got this recipe, along with a few others, from my friend John, and I must admit I was skeptical the first time I read it. Cabbage, chick peas, tomatoes, cinnamon, cayenne, currants, lemon, feta, sounded like the most outlandish combination to me, but does it ever work.

Among the many qualities of this particular dish, I really appreciate it for both its healthfulness and its ease of preparation. Start to finish it takes only about 30 to 40 minutes, making it perfect for a weeknight meal. Leftovers reheat beautifully for a wonderful lunch, just remember to bring along some extra feta and almonds. Easy, healthy, and delicious, what more do you need?

Start by heating the olive oil in a large saucepan (at least 3 quart) and cooking the onion until softened, about 5 minutes. You then toss in the cabbage, sprinkle it with salt, and cook it for another 5 minutes.

Add the green peppers, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, and cayenne. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute. You should smell the cinnamon almost immediately. Stir in the tomatoes, chick peas, and currants. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt. Serve in bowls topped with feta and toasted almonds.


Tunisian Vegetable Stew (adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home)
About 40 minutes - Makes 4 servings
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cups thinly sliced cabbage
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 large green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 2 teaspoons coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne (1/4 teaspoon if you want a little more heat)
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 16 ounce can chick peas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup currants
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup feta cheese
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  1. Spread 1 cup of slivered almonds on an ungreased cookie sheet and toast in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until almonds are fragrant and slightly browned, set aside
  2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat for 4 minutes
  3. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes
  4. Add the cabbage and 1/2 teaspoon salt, cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
  5. Add the green pepper, coriander, turmeric, cinamon, and cayenne, stir to combine and cook for 1 minute
  6. Stir in the tomatoes, chick peas, and currants
  7. Bring the stew to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes until the vegetables are tender
  8. Stir in the lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  9. Ladle stew evenly into 4 bowls and top with 1/4 cup each of feta cheese and toasted almonds

Monday, March 17, 2008

Simmered Brussels Sprouts

Cruciferous vegetables (family Brassicaceae), more commonly referred as the mustard family of vegetables, or the cabbage family, are somewhat polarizing. People seem to either love broccolis, cabbages, cauliflower, and leafy greens such as kale, or completely hate them, finding them bitter and inedible. Interestingly, cruciferous vegetables contain varying amounts of a chemical called phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) that can taste anywhere from bland to extremely bitter and vile depending on the genetics of the person eating. I learned about this when my wife (who is also a biology teacher) had a student teacher who brought in some PTC tasting paper during a genetics lesson (see, sometimes you can actually learn something in school). Basically, if you can't stand the bitter taste of these veggies, it might not be your fault, it's in your genes (unless you're just one of those general anti-eat your vegetables people, of course, that attitude is probably in your genes as well - oh determinism!).

The epitome of cruciferous hate seems to be the much maligned Brussels sprout, which is most often portrayed as the evil little veggie that you must eat if you want your dessert. My mother never made them that much, opting for other green vegetables, mainly broccoli and green beans and I developed such a bad opinion of Brussels sprouts that I don't think I actually tried one until sometime in my twenties. When I did I was pleasantly surprised that I liked them, but still failed to incorporate them into my diet. A few weeks back I wanted a side to go with roasted chicken and for some reason Brussels sprouts popped into my head. As I usually do when I choose to prepare an ingredient that I'm not especially familiar with, I turn to my preferred kitchen reference, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. There was the usual excellent reference info, but only one sprout recipe called "Simmered Brussels Sprouts" which admittedly does not sound very exciting, but is really a very good vegetable side, and an excellent accompaniment to any roasted meat, or something like macaroni and cheese. For those of us that are not appalled at the presence of PTC in our food, cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, aside from being delicious, have a bevy of health benefits.

Start by bringing a pot of water to a boil. Drop in the sprouts and boil gently until they just begin to soften up, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and crush the garlic, mince the parsley, juice the lemon, and measure out the bread crumbs.

Drain the sprouts. You want to finish this dish just before serving, so if you're not ready to eat, hold the sprouts in some cool water, then drain again before finishing the dish. When you're ready, heat some olive oil in a skillet with the garlic.

Add the sprouts along with the bread crumbs , toss to combine, and warm everything through for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsley and lemon juice, season to taste with salt and fresh ground black pepper, and serve immediately.


Simmered Brussels Sprouts (very slightly adapted from How to Cook Everything)
About 20 minutes - Makes 4 servings
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons plain bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it
  2. Add the sprouts and cook until just tender, about 10 minutes
  3. Drain and place them in cool water if you're going to hold them for more than 5 minutes before finishing (you can store them in the fridge like this up to 2 days)
  4. Heat the oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat
  5. When the oil starts to shimmer and you can smell it (about 3 to 4 minutes), add the sprouts and bread crumbs, toss to mix, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes
  6. Add the parsley and lemon juice, toss to coat, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Rustic Bread

I have not purchased a loaf of bread (except for a day old ciabatta to make croutons) in three weeks. It's taken me about 2 months of reading and practice, but I can now produce all the bread I need for a week over the weekend. When I decided I wanted to start baking my own bread, this was my only real goal. Now that I've been baking bread though, I must say it's become quite an addictive hobby, and the desire to turn out better and better loaves seems to haunt me lately on a daily basis. The really amazing thing I've learned so far about baking bread is that the most minute changes in ingredients or techniques can have major effects on the finished loaf. It is because of this fact that almost endless experimentation is possible. I can see myself baking the same recipe 20 times in a row, every time changing some little nuance just to try and get the bread to be all it can be.

My bread baking breaks down into 2 basic categories. First, are what I've been referring to as sandwich breads, of which oatmeal bread would be a good example. These breads are usually enriched, deriving some of their flavors from additions like honey or butter, and are baked in loaf pans. Second, are artisanal breads, of which ciabatta would be a good example. Artisanal bread baking basically refers to the idea that the breads are hand crafted, and elevates bread baking almost to an art form. These breads are usually baked on the floor of a stone oven, or stone tiles in a home oven. They typically feature beautiful crusts, a somewhat open, airy, crumb, and derive their flavor from sugars that are the result of fermentation by yeast and bacteria, and from enzyme action. This process takes time, so artisan loaves can't be made extremely quickly. Most involve some type of starter, a long fermentation period, or a combination of both in order to maximize flavor.

My early attempts at artisanal style baking were focused on ciabatta, with mixed results. I definitely need to keep experimenting (and I will). Last week though I decided to try a recipe I found on The Fresh Loaf website for something called rustic bread. The results were my first loaves that I was truly proud of. They looked beautiful and tasted even better. So of course I have a batch in the oven right now as I write this to see if I could repeat my success or if maybe I just got lucky that first time. I'll let you know how it turns out at the end of the post.

The recipe starts the day before you want to bake the bread with a starter. Mix the bread flour and salt, and stir the yeast into the water.

Add the yeast/water mixture to the flour and stir until all the flour is hydrated. Add a little water if there is still flour on the bottom and sides of the bowl. Cover the starter with plastic wrap and leave it out overnight (up to 16 hours, then refrigerate if you're not ready to continue).

The next day make the main dough by mixing bread flour, whole wheat flour, salt, yeast, and more water until all the ingredients are hydrated.

Dump the starter onto a board and chop it into a bunch of tiny pieces, if it sticks to the board a bit, use your bench scraper, but resist the urge to add extra flour (so far in my limited experience, erring on the slightly wetter side of things makes for better bread).

Add the chopped up starter to the main dough and knead by hand for about 10 minutes or with the dough hook of your mixer for about 5 minutes. Again, this dough is pretty wet (which is referred to in bread baking as "slack dough") and can be hard to knead by hand, but try not to add too much flour.

Put your dough into an oiled bowl and allow it to ferment for 2 1/2 hours. I turn the thermostat in my house up to 70 degrees when I'm fermenting but if it's cooler in your house you might need to let it go a bit longer. According to Peter Reinhart, fermentation time doubles with every 17 degree Fahrenheit decrease (and halves with an equivalent increase). So adjust your fermentation time according to the temperature in your house. After 60 minutes, lightly punch down your dough and flatten it into a large rectangle.

The dough is then folded which helps the gluten to develop. Folding is a great technique for working with slack doughs since they are hard to knead due to their high water content (very sticky). By the end of the second folding, you should be able to feel the development of the dough (it will feel stretchy) and be much easier to handle when its time for shaping.

Cut the dough into two even pieces (I'm still getting the hang of this - I swear I'm always cutting exactly evenly, but it never seems to turn out that way). Shape the pieces (I made batards) and place them on a floured peel or parchment paper on the back of a sheet pan and let them proof for about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. About 45 minutes before baking, preheat the oven (and your baking stone if you have one) to 450 degrees.

The loaves will noticeably swell. Slash them, spritz them with water and put them onto your baking stone. After 30 seconds open the oven and spray the walls, the back of the oven, and the loaves. Be careful not to get any water on the oven glass, as it will shatter (I found this out the hard way and it cost me over $200). You can also put a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to create more steam. I used to preheat the oven with the pan inside and throw the water into the pan to create a burst of steam, but this is how I shattered my oven door, so now I heat the water in the pan on the stove top until just about to boil, then I place the pan into the oven. It doesn't create that burst of steam, but it keeps the oven environment a little more humid during the first few minutes of baking which helps promote good crust development. Rotate the loaves after 15 minutes and continue to bake another 10 minutes. The internal temperature of the bread should be 205 to 210 degrees and the bread should be nicely browned. If the bread is browning too quickly, try turning down the oven temperature. Cool the bread completely on a rack.

Once the bread has cooled, slice and enjoy! This bread is fabulous, with a crisp, chewy crust and a terrific crumb.


So my second batch of rustic bread has long since come out of the oven, cooled, and been eaten (one loaf at least), and I think I can safely say that this recipe is a total winner. The bread was just as delicious as the first time, and baked up beautifully as well. I made 3 smaller loaves instead of 2 larger ones, which would have been fine had I not tried to proof them all on one peel and bake them at the same time. There wasn't quite enough room in my oven to maneuver and the loaves ended up touching each other for the first few minutes of baking until the were set enough that I could open the oven door and separate them with my bench scraper. The end result was pretty much cosmetic only, as some of the crust on the sides of the bread did not properly brown. The loaves also may have been a little higher if I hadn't had to handle them so much on the peel before putting them in the oven (they were a little too close for comfort after proofing and I tried to slide them apart with limited success). I'll make this one again the next 2 weekends just to be sure, but I think this is going to become my first "go to" bread when I need something extra special to put on the table.

Now that I had some great bread, I needed a meal to go with it. I had a few leftover shrimp in the freezer, so I made a modified scampi style dish. Lots of olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper over whole wheat sphaghetti.

When I finished my bowlful there was all this garlicky, peppery oil left in at the bottom. The rustic bread performed admirably.


If you're interested in baking bread, but never have before, it might be best to read through this excellent tutorial before attempting this recipe.

Rustic Bread
(slightly adapted from Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes)
2 days (about 1 hour total hands on time)

For the starter:
  • 16 ounces bread flour
  • 9 1/2 ounces of water, room temperature (~70 degrees)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
For the main dough:
  • 10 ounces bread flour
  • 6 ounces whole wheat flour
  • 12 1/2 ounces water, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • all of the starter
Make the starter the night before you want to bake (or very early in the morning):
  1. Stir the yeast into the water
  2. Mix the flour and the salt
  3. Add the water mixture to the flour mixture and stir until all the flour is hydrated (no loose flour in the bowl). Add a few drops of water to pick up the last bits of flour if necessary
  4. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for 12 to 16 hours (refrigerate after 16 hours if you're not ready to bake
Make the dough, ferment, shape, proof, and bake the bread:
  1. Combine all of the dough ingredients except the starter in a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer) and stir until all the flour is hydrated
  2. Cut the starter into small pieces and add it to the dough
  3. Mix the starter into the dough by kneading. If using a mixer, mix with the dough hook on the suggested speed for 5 minutes (I knead on 2 in my Kitchen Aid). If kneading by hand, knead for about 10 minutes. Try keeping your hands wet so the dough doesn't stick, this will also offset any flour you may add while kneading.
  4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and allow it to ferment for 2 1/2 hours
  5. After 1 hour, empty the dough onto a floured surface, gently spread it into a rectangle and fold it in thirds like a letter then rotate the dough 90 degrees and fold again, place the dough back in the bowl. Repeat this process after 2 hours of fermentation.
  6. After the dough has fermented, divide it into 2 equal pieces, shape them into either boules or batards, and place them on a floured peel or an upside down baking sheet with parchment paper and cover them with a towel.
  7. Allow the loaves to proof for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours
  8. 45 minutes before baking, preheat your oven and stone (if you're using one) to 450 degrees
  9. Slash the loaves, spray them with water, and put them into the oven (either directly onto the stone or bake them on the back of an inverted baking sheet). Use whatever method you prefer for creating steam. I suggest placing an oven-safe pan (like cast iron) with about 1 cup of simmering water on the bottom rack of the oven below your stone.
  10. After 30 seconds, open the oven and spray the oven walls, back of the oven, and the loaves themselves with water. Repeat this 2 more times in 30 second intervals.
  11. Allow the bread to bake for 15 minutes then rotate the loaves.
  12. Bake 10 additional minutes (watch the bread at this point to make sure it's not browning too quickly) and check the temperature of the bread, it should be over 200 degrees, ideally 205 to 210. If the loaves are brown but have not reached an ideal internal temperature, lower your oven temperature and try to continue baking (if you think they're about to burn, then remove them). The total baking time for this bread can be anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes depending on the oven (In my oven the bread is almost done after 20 minutes).
  13. Allow the bread to cool completely on a rack.
  14. If you're going to save bread more than 1 day, wrap it in a double layer of plastic wrap upon cooling and freeze. To use, take bread out of the freezer a few hours before you wish to eat it. Just before eating, place unwrapped bread in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Red, Gold, Black, and Green Chili

I never would have been able to break away from my meat-centric view of dinner if it had not been for some good recipes. When I first started cooking on a regular basis (which not coincidentally, was when I moved out of my parent's house), I had the good fortune of receiving some excellent recipes from my friend John. Many of these recipes introduced me to exotic (at least to me at the time) ingredients like turmeric and bulgur, as well as such cooking concepts as different textures in food and brightening up flavors with acids at the end of cooking. More importantly they broke me out of my narrow cooking frame of reference. Recipes that I would have dismissed out of hand before because I thought they had strange flavor combinations or unfamiliar ingredients I was now ready to accept and try. I was fortunate to have such a good influence during my formative cooking period.

Since that time I've come to know John as a food lover on par with myself (and more so in some respects). Somebody who appreciates well-made food, who really considers ingredients and the effects they have on a finished dish, and who is willing to give almost anything a try. From him I picked up the idea that cooking is much more than simply being able to follow a recipe, that the more command you have over ingredients and techniques, the more likely you are to prepare excellent food to your particular tastes. He also showed me that it is possible to tackle seemingly long or complex preparations at home if you're just willing to try (and that it is often worth the time to do so). John has passed more than a few good recipes my way over the past 7 years, but some of those originals are still staples in my repertoire, and none more so than Red, Gold, Black, and Green Chili.

When it comes to healthy eating, it's tough to beat this chili. It's loaded with vegetables (green peppers, tomatoes, and corn), whole grain (bulgur wheat), and protein (red and black beans), and most importantly, it tastes so good, you won't miss the meat (and neither will your heart). It even looks amazing. This chili is easy enough to make on a weeknight, as it comes together very quickly once the chopping is done and the cooking starts, but why not make it on the weekend so it can sit a few days and get even better? Make it Sunday morning, eat it 2 times for dinner during the week, or take it for lunch. Put leftovers into a tortilla for a quick burrito, or put a little in the middle of an omelet for something different.

I've adapted this recipe slightly over the years to get it just how I like it, and that's the way I'll present it here, but nothing is set in stone (especially spice types and amounts) so feel free to experiment. The recipe begins with mise en place. Peel, seed, and chop everything, measure out your bulgur, spices, and water, rinse and drain the beans, then get the bulgur cooking.

Heat the oil in a large pot and then add the onions, garlic, and spices. The recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, which gives a mild but noticeable heat that builds as you eat. If you like spicy chili, I would increase it to 1/2 teaspoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to soften, about 5 or 6 minutes.

Add the green peppers and cook for 2 minutes then stir in the tomatoes. The original recipe called for a can of chopped tomatoes but I use crushed because I like the chili to be a little more saucy. If you'd prefer less sauce, and more chunks of vegetables, by all means use chopped tomatoes (and if you're making this in the summer, buy some fresh tomatoes and forgo the can altogether).

Stir in the corn and beans, and check the bulgur (which should be cooked but still a bit chewy at this point).

Add the bulgur to the pot, stir and gently heat everything a few minutes to combine all the flavors. Add salt to taste (I usually don't add any, but when I do, I start with 1/2 tsp and go from there).

The chili is good by itself (and healthiest), but it certainly can be dressed up however you like. Cheese, sour cream, chopped fresh jalapenos or onions, or some lime juice would all be good additions. Regardless of what I put on top, I like to serve it with a few tortilla chips.


Red Gold Black and Green Chili (adapted from Moosewood Cooks at Home)
About 40 minutes - Makes about 10 cups (5 dinner size portions)
  • 1/2 cup bulgur
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 cups chopped onions (about 1 1/2 medium onions)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (increase if you want spicy chili, but watch out)
  • 2 green bell peppers, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups frozen cut corn
  • 1 14 ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 14 ounce can of red beans, drained and rinsed (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • salt to taste
  • OPTIONAL - shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, sour cream, sliced limes, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped fresh jalapeno peppers, chopped fresh onions, tortilla chips
  1. Place bulgur and hot water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat
  3. Add the onions, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and cayenne, cook until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes
  4. Add the green peppers and cook for 2 minutes (3 if you want the peppers softer)
  5. Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine
  6. Stir in the corn and beans
  7. Check the bulgur, it should be cooked but still a bit chewy, add it along with its liquid to the chili
  8. Cover and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes
  9. Add salt to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon and go up from there in 1/2 teaspoon increments)
  10. Serve plain, or topped with any combination of cheese, sour cream, lime juice, cilantro, jalapenos, onions, and tortilla chips
*This chili is better made in advance and allowed to sit for at least 1 day before gently reheating and serving*

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Rigatoni Bolognese

My wife went away with some friends for the weekend, and well, I'm sure you know the old saying, "while the cat's away, the mouse will play." Of course, playing for me means cooking, and my wife being away means I can indulge all my meatiest kitchen fantasies. You see, my wife is in some state of quasi-vegetarianism (mainly for taste/texture reasons), and as far as meat goes only likes fish (as long as it's relatively mild tasting, with no skin, cooked well, etc.) and chicken (as long as there's no bones, skin, cartilage, the chicken wasn't a jerk while it was alive, you get the idea). Since I do all the cooking and she does just about everything else, and expertly I might add, it's a bit hard for me to justify cooking a meaty meal that she can't eat after a hard day of doing more things than there can possibly be time to do in a 24 hour day, especially one that takes hours on end for me to prepare, meaning I won't be helping with anything else - so suffice to say, I've never made Bolognese sauce (How's that for a run on sentence?).

I'd been fantasizing about a rich, meaty Bolognese ever since I saw my not-so-secret crush, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, make it on a truly mouth-watering episode of Lidia's Family Table. She then uses her meaty masterpiece to assemble a truly amazing lasagna with homemade spinach noodles. I've seen this episode at least 3 times, and always say at the end of the episode when she plates a humongous piece of lasagna that is oozing not with cheese, but with what appears to be a molten layer of meat, that "I'd pay at least $100 to eat that right now". Yeah, I know, I get a little carried away sometimes.

This weekend provided me the perfect opportunity to indulge myself. I had already planned on making a few loaves of rustic bread which would complement the Bolognese perfectly and I found the recipe from the show I'd seen, all I had to do was get to the store Saturday morning and pick up a few things. I hadn't really considered that it might be difficult to pull off a relatively labor intensive and time consuming recipe, while taking care of a one-year-old girl by myself (which as it happens, is a quite labor intensive and time consuming, but overall very cute, experience). And of course when I woke up Saturday morning, there was 4 inches of snow on my driveway just to make things more interesting. But I was not to be deterred. I was out there clearing the driveway at 5:30 before the baby woke up, and after a changing, a feeding, some grocery-list making, and a story being read, I made it to and home from the grocery store by 9 A.M. The next 7 hours were a flurry of bread baking, sauce babysitting, UConn basketball, and not least of all, baby maintenance (with an assist from my father). But in the end, I had my meat fix, and all the (admittedly minor) hurdles were definitely worth it.

One warning here, while this recipe can be described by many adjectives, quick is not one of them. Get ready to spend about 4 to 5 hours on this one. Lidia's recipe calls for ground beef and pork. I picked up some organic ground beef, but there was no ground pork at the grocery store , and I was informed by the butcher that they would not do any grinding. So I bought some boneless organic pork chops that looked like they had a decent amount of fat, cubed them, and pulsed the cubes in the food processor until they resembled ground pork.

Lidia loves to cook by building flavors, adding ingredients to the pan a few at a time allowing them to caramelize and contribute their own little signature flavors before adding more ingredients. The first layer of her Bolognese recipe is a pestata of pancetta (I used bacon) and garlic. Pestata is an Italian verb that means to crush, grind, or pound. The bacon and garlic cloves are indeed ground into a fine paste in the food processor.

The pork and ground beef get broken up by hand and mixed together, then some dry white wine is added and the meat is mixed again ensuring that all the meat is moistened by the wine.

While the food processor is out, give it a rinse and use it to make quick work of the onion and celery, which need to be minced. Add the olive oil and pestata to a large pot (Lidia recommends a 6-qt capacity dutch oven - I halved the recipe and used a 4-qt which was plenty big) and place it over medium-high heat.

After about 3 minutes, when there is a good amount of fat rendered into the pan, add the onions and saute until they start to wilt, about 3 or 4 minutes.

Add the shredded carrot and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until everything is wilted and golden, about 5 minutes.

At this point comes another one of Lidia's favorites, the "hot spot." Move all the vegetables to the side of the pan so you can see the bottom, this is the hot spot, then add the meat to the hot spot. Since it is in contact with the bottom of the pan, rather than the vegetables, it can get brown and caramelized a bit (as you can see from my pictures, I didn't do this very well). Mix the meat around and make sure it all gets its turn near the bottom of the pan.

The meat releases quite a bit of juice, and the next 30 minutes of cooking are dedicated to simmering that juice right out of the pan. You should also begin heating the milk at this point if you have not already done so. After most of the juice has evaporated, make another hot spot and add the tomato paste.

Add enough milk to just cover the meat, bring to a simmer, then cover the pan. From this point the sauce simmers for the next 3 hours (yep, 3 hours). Stir every 20 minutes, or more frequently, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. Whenever you need to add more milk to bring the liquid level up, do so. The idea here is to continually reduce the liquid concentrating the flavors in the meat more and more. If you run out of milk, Lidia suggests hot water or turkey stock (I used about 1/2 cup of chicken stock instead). The picture on the right shows the sauce after about 1 hour of simmering. I deviated from the recipe here and added about 1 1/4 cup of crushed tomato because I wanted my Bolognese to have just a little more red color and tomato flavor. I think it was a nice addition.

After 3 hours you should have a thick, almost creamy looking, meat sauce. Right before you finish cooking, taste it and add a bit of salt (I added 1 teaspoon) and ground pepper to taste. Serve over pasta. Tagliatelle is the traditional pairing, but I thing any hearty, wide, or ridged pasta will do okay (no angel hair). I obviously went with rigatoni, which is my favorite macaroni shape. Just drain the pasta, add a ladle full of sauce to the empty pot, and stir the drained pasta back in. Serve in bowls with a healthy scoop of Bolognese on top. A little parmigiano reggiano (or whatever grating cheese you like) and you're good to go.

This is really a great sauce. Time consuming yes, but definitely worth it. The meat flavor is intense but not overwhelmingly so, and the sauce is rich, but not so heavy that you start to feel sick after a few bites. I can't even imagine how good a lasagna with this sauce would be. Make sure you have some good bread to mop up any sauce left in the bowl. This isn't a bread post, but the rustic bread that I baked to go with this dinner unbelievably stole the Bolognese's thunder a bit. It was so good, definitely the best I've ever baked, that I didn't even want to wipe sauce all over it, I just wanted to taste the bread. Chewy crust, perfectly tender crumb, a truly great bread (I tossed a picture down below because I'm just so darn proud of this bread). But I digress...I will definitely be making Bolognese again at some point (and until then I have a little stocked away in the freezer to hold me over until the wife's next getaway).


Bolognese Sauce (adapated from Lidia's Family Table)
About 4 1/2 hours - Makes 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of sauce, enough to dress about 2 to 2 1/2 lbs of pasta for 6 to 8 servings depending on size
  • 1 lb ground beef (Ideally 85% lean)
  • 1 lb ground pork (Ideally 85% lean)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 ounces bacon or pancetta
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 large rib celery, minced
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 cups hot milk (the more fat, the richer your sauce will be, don't use skim)
  • About 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, or more to taste if you like nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups crushed tomato
  • 1 cup (or more) hot chicken stock, or hot water
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Put all the meat in a large mixing bowl and crumble/mix with your hands
  2. Pour the wine over the meat and mix until it's evenly moistened
  3. To make the pestata, cut the bacon into one inch pieces and combine in a food processor with the garlic then pulse until you have a fine paste
  4. Add the olive oil and pestata to the pan
  5. Put the pan over medium-high heat and stir to break up the pestata, cook until a good amount of fat has rendered and everything is sizzling and fragrant, about 4 minutes
  6. Stir in the onions and cook until they begin to sweat, about 3 minutes
  7. Stir in the celery and carrot and cook the vegetables until wilted and golden, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes or more
  8. Raise the heat a bit, create a hot spot by clearing some space on the bottom of the pan, and place all the meat in the hot spot
  9. Brown the meat in the hot spot then stir it in with the vegetables
  10. The meat liquid will almost cover the meat, cook at high heat, stirring often, until all the liquid has evaporated, about 30 minutes (lower the heat as the liquid diminishes so as not to burn the meat)
  11. Slowly heat the milk and stock in separate pans
  12. When the meat liquid is gone, create a hot spot and add the tomato paste, cook it in the spot for a minute, then blend it with the meat and cook for 2 minutes
  13. Stir in the crushed tomato and cook for 1 minute
  14. Add the hot milk until it just covers the meat
  15. Stir in the nutmeg
  16. Stir extremely well, making sure to scrape all caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan (this will be the generally rule for stirring from now until the end of the recipe)
  17. Bring to a lively simmer, cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 3 hours
  18. Check the sauce every 20 minutes, give it a good stir, and add milk to cover the meat if necessary (The sauce should be reducing by about a cup between each addition of milk, if this is happening very slowly, increase the heat, if it's happening very quickly, lower the heat)
  19. About 5 minutes before the end of cooking, taste and season with salt and pepper (about 1 teaspoon of salt and 10 to 15 grinds of pepper should do it, add more to taste)
  20. Stir well and serve over pasta of your choice (a wide noodle or hearty, ridged macaroni shape is recommended)
*Note* The amounts given in this recipe have been halved from the original recipe