Monday, January 9, 2012

Baby in the Kitchen

On the day we made pasta Bolognese there were babies in the kitchen. M. had returned with her new baby in tow. When M. first started working in the kitchen she was about 5 months pregnant. It didn't stop her from being one of the most devoted, good-natured, hard working women in the kitchen. She was a pleasure to work with (the Justin Beiber incident not withstanding). Four months later she went on maternity leave. I missed her. We had become fast friends while working together. And while, yes, telephones, email and Facebook are all wonderful methods of communication, there's nothing quite like actual face-to-face shared experiences. So I was quite delighted when she showed up in the kitchen that Bolognese day, entirely by surprise. It was just like old times, well, except for the baby. We took turns holding the little munchkin face while M helped us cook and serve. We chatted and ate cake until said cutie got restless and cranky and needed to go home. It was a wonderful day in the kitchen.

Coincidentally, and in keeping with the theme of the day, Bolognese day was the day, L, our new dishwasher/general handyman, was called out of the kitchen in a rush because his nine-months pregnant wife was having contractions. It was a false alarm (she gave birth to a healthy baby girl a few weeks later) but it just added to the feeling that that particular day was a day of babies. Now, I can't make Bolognese without thinking of babies and of M and how delightful it was to have her and her little boy back in the kitchen. Not a bad association to have, if I don't say so myself.

The Bolognese we make in the kitchen is not really a Bolognese sauce. Mostly its just meat and tomato paste and a few onions.  It's nice to call it Bolognese though, and its nice to serve it. You really can't go wrong with meat and tomato paste and onions. You really can't go wrong with the following recipe for Weeknight Ragu from Food52 either. The good thing about this recipe (beyond the fact that its super and easy and delicious) is that unlike other ragus (ahem, Ms. Hazan) it doesn't call for ten million hours of cooking. I mean  you could cook it for ten million hours, and it would probably be pretty awesome, but you don't need to. You have a half an hour? Good. Two hours? Even better. Three hours? Sublime. Weeknight Ragu, ladies, gentlemen and babies, it's good stuff.

Weeknight Ragu
Adapted, very slightly from Merril's Weeknight Ragu on Food52

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/2 lb ground beef
salt and pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and smashed
2/3 cup dry red wine
2-28 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 handful of fresh herbs (I usually use thyme, because that's what I have on my windowsill right now. You can use rosemary, sage, whatever)
1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When it is quite hot (almost smoking), add the meat. Add a good amount of salt and pepper and brown the meat, stirring often. Take a swig of wine, you know, just to make sure it's good.

2. When the meat is brown, lower the heat to medium and add the onion. Cook, stirring often until translucent. Add the garlic. Cook one minute, until you can smell the garlic. Pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the delicious brown bits with a wooden spoon.

3. When the wine has reduced by half, add the tomatoes and their juice, squeezing them between your fingers to break them up. Toss in the herbs and the red pepper, if using. Bring the sauce to a boil, lower the heat so that it comes down to a simmer and cover partially. Simmer for at least a half an hour, though longer- up to three hours- is best. (If it begins to look dry you can stir in some water). Finish the bottle of wine while you're waiting.

4. Serve over pasta, polenta, rice, potatoes, anything and everything.

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