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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Turkey Goes With....What?

Our annual, national day of culinary angst quickly approaches. Yep, I’m talking about Thanksgiving. 

Why the angst? Besides fretting over a very large bird that we only cook once a year (and which is nothing more than a glorified chicken), we have to contend with what wines to serve, not to mention what to do with Aunt Rita’s three-bean salad or Granny’s congealed salad.

Pairing wine with Thanksgiving dinner is tricky because of the different and, quite frankly, antagonistic flavors: savory turkey and gravy set against cranberry sauce and sweet potato casserole. The classic default setting is: white meat equals white wine. And while this holds true up to a point, don’t forget that the turkey will likely have gravy and cranberry sauce with it— again, sweet and savory. 

This will sound very un-American, but I usually eschew American wines at Thanksgiving and instead go with Old World wines (or at least New World wines that are produced in an Old World style). American wines, especially Napa pinots and Cabs tend to be fruit bombs that, in my opinion, don’t pair well with food. Time to think outside the box there, Pilgrim!

So what does “Old World” style mean exactly. Wines from France, Spain, or Italy tend to be more “austere.” Well, what the heck does that mean you ask? It means they are generally lower in alcohol, have more tannins, and more acidity. The lower alcohol means your palate doesn’t get tired before the end of the meal and the higher tannins and acidity means that the wine is more likely to enhance the flavor of the food.

And what are my favorite wines for Thanksgiving? I wouldn’t say that I have favorite individual wines, as much as I have favorite wine regions for Thanksgiving dinner. Let’s start with the obvious: whites and then move on to reds.

Chablis

This wine may be one of the most misunderstood wines in America because in the 70s , winemakers slapped the name on a whole host of cloyingly sweet wines that bore no resemblance to the real thing. True Chablis is wine made in the northern-most region of Burgundy and consists solely of the chardonnay grape. But don’t think that because it is made from the chardonnay grape, that you could save a few bucks and instead buy some Chardonnay from California. Chablis is aged in stainless steel or neutral wood, so it lacks that oaky, butter bomb taste you sometimes get from California chards. (Though more and more winemakers in California are going with stainless steel—Liocco being one of my favorites.) Aging Chablis in stainless steel or neutral oak gives it a crisp, fresh acidity that goes well with food. Domaine William Fèvre produces some of the best Chablis  wines in terms of quality and value  

Sancerre

Sancerre is a region on the eastern edge of the Loire Valley. This is Sauvignon Blanc country. Wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape are crisp, bright, herbal, and when done right, “zingy.” It is no wonder that the root for the word “sauvignon” is “sauvage,” which means “wild” in French. Sancerres from Domaine Laporte are always a good choice. And if you really want to geek out and get a great wine from a sub-region of the Loire valley, then go with a wine from Cheverny. The wines from this region are really good and reasonably priced. They are usually 60-80% Sauvignon Blanc, but will have 20-40% Aligote  or Chardonnay grapes My favorite is Domaine du Salvard, which is not too hard to find.

Beaujolais

When I tell folks to get a Beaujolais for Thanksgiving, I usually get this look like “I thought that guy had decent taste?” I can understand why they think that because when it comes to Beaujolais, most people think of that over-hyped plonk called Beaujolais Nouveau that comes out once a year. Beaujolais is so much more than that. Though Beaujolais is technically part of Burgundy (south), it should really be seen as its own region. The primary grape is Gamay, which is best described as having bright, cherry-fruit flavors with low tannins. 

French law defines three categories of Beaujolais: Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and Beaujolais Cru. The fist category is the basic stuff, wine that can be made from grapes located anywhere in the Beaujolais region. The second is more site-specific and a notch better in quality (theoretically) and comes from thirty-nine villages in the hilly midsection of the region. The best is considered to be Beaujolais Cru. Unlike other wine regions in France, “cru” does’t refer to a particular vineyard but rather ten specific villages. They are: St.-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Réginé, and Côte de Brouilly. 

In terms of Thanksgiving wines, your best Beaujolais are from Fleurie or Côte de Brouilly, with those from Brouilly being some of my favorites. I would go with Château Thivin or Château de Corcelles.

And what about Pnot Noir for Thanksgiving? Yes, it is a perennial favorite and one of mine too. And here’s where I deviate from Francophile tendencies. Wines from Burgundy are probably a tad expensive for Thanksgiving. As I mentioned earlier, Napa Pinot Noirs are too heavy. In my opinion, the best California Pinots are from the Central Coast, and one of my favorites is Kali-Hart. If you go to Oregon for pinot, which is never a bad idea, I like the Four Graces or The Eyrie Vineyards


So, there you have it. The Insouciant Chef’s guide to wines for Thanksgiving. But you can also take everything I’ve said and flush it because wine is like art. Drink what you like and like what you drink. But if all else fails, go with Champagne. Champagne goes with everything!

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Simple Question

My favorite blog—other than mine of course!—is Manger (http://mimithorisson.com) by Mimi Thorisson.  If you have not read her blog, you should. She writes well, the photography is stunning, and her recipes are amazing. Of course, I’m biased because she’s French, lives in France, and cooks French food.  It's no secret to my friends and family that I’m an unabashed Francophile, which in America makes me something of an odd duck/canard. My friends and family also know that I love French food. And who couldn’t, what with all that butter, garlic, onions, and cream?

Thorisson recently published a cookbook titled, appropriately, My French Kitchen. I’m really envious because maybe one day, just maybe, I, too, could publish a cookbook. Better yet, maybe I could write that book whilst living in the French countryside!

In the most recent post on her blog, Thorisson expressed her obvious pride in publishing her first book. But she also wrote something else that really got my attention—a question that many have asked her: “What is French food?”  Thorisson answers that, for most people who are not French, “French food is the fancy dress you have in your closet for the annual ball, it’s the tuxedo you take out once or twice a year. It’s a complicated dish best served in a place with three Michelin stars.” As Thorisson points out, this is truly not the case.

But what does make French food French? For the most part, it’s really quite simple. France has always been the most agrarian of European countries. To this day, the family farm holds an almost mythic place in France’s sense of self, even more so than in America. Not surprisingly, French food is tied closely to the land and rooted in seasonal ingredients and tradition. For example, nothing is simpler, and has made more of my friends smile, than a humble potato leek soup. Long before there was La Varenne or Escoffier, there was an unknown French peasant making a stew with whatever ingredients were available, most often potatoes and leeks. 

Thorrison’s question also triggered another, related query: “what is American food?” Sadly, the question left me stumped. Mention the name of many other counties, and one instantly has some notion of their cuisine. (Even the English, with their perhaps undeserved reputation for bland food, at least have fish-and-chips.) When non-Americans think of American food, do burgers, fries, and pizza instantly leap to mind? Oh Lord, I hope not! 

America is a young county and unlike France, Italy, and certainly China or India, has not had the time to develop a unique cuisine. We are also a nation of immigrants, so our cuisine is a hodgepodge. Of course, some of our more traditional foodways, like Thanksgiving dinner, tend toward our Anglophilic roots. But, then again, there is pizza which is really more American than Italian at this point. 


But if I were to say what may become “American cuisine,” it would have to be some variation of Southern cuisine, with a hefty dose of Latino spice. Think fried chicken with habanero sauce! And don’t forget the Asian influence in American food. Sriracha is now one of the most popular condiments in America. If I had to say what loosely defines American food, it would be meat-centric; it would be somewhat spicy compared to most European cuisines; and it would contain a lot of vegetables from the New World like corn and tomatoes. But most importantly, it would be inventive and never static. And that’s what really makes American food “American!” -- the fact that it cannot be defined or categorized. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Something Worth Crying About


“An honest laborious Country-man, with good Bread, Salt and a little Parsley, will make a contented Meal with a roasted Onion.”

—John Evelyn (17th Century English diarist)


©2014 Chris Terrell
One of the best uses for onions:
French onion soup
I have a large basket in my kitchen where I keep produce and bread. This basket invariably contains one or two onions, a few garlic cloves or shallots, and perhaps occasionally some leeks. And while the fridge and panty may be a bit low on provisions, these few items are enough to make a contented meal indeed. 

Onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks are all part of the allium genus and have been on our plates and in our bowls for a long time. The onion originated in northern Asia and Palestine and has been cultivated for more than five thousand years.

Onions range in flavor from sweet to pungent, but in either form they enhance the flavor of almost any dish. The same is no less true about garlic. Without it, Italian and French food would not be the same. Shallots’ sweetness and subtle flavor gives food an onion flavor without the harshness of an onion. Thus, they can be served raw and diced in a mustard vinaigrette. But . . .  leeks? Where to begin! With their full and rich flavor, they stand on their own as a dish, such as the iconic French dish, poireaux vinaigrette (more on that below).

Unless you’ve been using your microwave to eat Hot Pockets your entire life and have never even owned another piece of kitchen equipment, then you have probably experienced burning tears when cutting an onion or even a shallot. What’s that all about? It’s basic chemistry. 

When you cut an onion, you break millions of tiny cells, which causes an enzyme to freely mix with sulfenic acids to produce some crazy thing called propanethiol S-oxide, a volatile sulfuric gas that wafts up into your eyes. (Yes, I know this sounds like some kind of 1950s horror movie!) The gas then reacts with the water in your tears and forms sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid burns, stimulating your eyes to release more tears to wash the irritant away. Thankfully, cooking onions inactivates the enzyme. Otherwise, we wouldn’t eat them! 

Unless you want to wear safety goggles, there’s not much you can do to prevent the tears. I have actually tried swimming googles but then couldn’t see what I was doing. I decided that I would gladly trade a few tears for a few stitches on my index finger! I’ve also read that running a fan or cutting the onions under running water works. Again, sharp knife, wet slippery onions—not a good plan. And here’s the strangest one of all: take a match, light it, then blow it out, and then hold said smoldering match between your teeth as you cut the onion. This one doesn’t  work either—I’ve tried it too!  But all those tears are worth the price—a culinary road to Canossa if you will—whose reward is the sweet smell of onions slowly caramelizing into a rich golden brown on the stove.

Here are two of my favorite recipes involving the genus allium, one from Julia Child and her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and one from David Lebovitz’s, My French Kitchen. Bon appetite and feel free to cry!

Julia Child’s Onion Soup

The onions for an onion soup need a long, slow cooking in butter and oil, then a long, slow simmering in stock for them to develop the deep, rich flavor which characterizes a perfect brew. You should therefore count on 2 1/2 hours at least from start to finish. Though the preliminary cooking in butter requires some watching, the actual simmering can proceed almost unattended.

For 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs. or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions
3 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon oil
A heavy-bottomed, 4 quart covered saucepan
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar (helps the onions to brown)
2 quarts of boiling brown stock, canned beef bouillon, or 1 quart of boiling water and 1 quart of stock or bouillon
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
3 tablespoon cognac [In my opinion, optional]
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread [You can also use stale, day-old French bread]
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese [I always use Gruyere!]
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in the covered saucepan for 15 mins.

Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.

Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.

Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine, and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes or more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning. Set aside uncovered until ready to serve. Then reheat to the simmer.

Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Pour into a soup tureen or soup cups over the rounds of and pass the cheese separately. [Now this is where I part ways with Ms. Child, I slice the Gruyere and heap it on top of the individual soup bowls and place under the broiler until melted and browned.]

David Lebovitz’s Poireaux Vinaigrette À La Moutarde et Aux Lardons
(Leeks with mustard-bacon vinaigrette)

Traditionally the leeks were cooked in a big pot of boiling water. However, it’s better to steam them, which prevents them from getting waterlogged. Smaller leeks, which appear in the springtime…are preferable for this dish because they’re quite tender, although larger leeks are just fine, too. Just make sure that you clean the leeks very well…, and cook them until they’re completely soft all the way through.

[According to Mr. Leibovitz, it is imperative that, if you are serving these to any Parisian friends you may have, the leeks be arranged tête a queue (head to tail).]

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

Bacon Vinaigrette 

2 cups (200g) thick-cut smoked bacon cut into lardons 
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tablspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
3 tablespoons neutral-tasting vegetable oil [I prefer Canola.]
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

5 large or 10 small leeks, well cleaned
2 hard-cooked eggs 

Preparation

To make the vinaigrette, cook the bacon over medium heat in a skillet until nearly crisp. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain. When cool, chop the bacon into pieces about the size of tine peas.

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and salt. Whisk in the oils, 1 tablespoon at a time (the sauce may emulsify, which is fine), then stir in 1 tablespoon of the parsley and two-thirds of the bacon. Set aside.

To prepare the leeks, fill a large pot fitted with a steamer with a couple of inches of water. Bring it to a boil over high heat and add the leeks. Cook the leeks until tender; when you poke them with a sharp paring knife, it should meet no resistance at the root ends. (Smaller leeks willtake about 15 minutes, and larger ones will take about 30 minutes.)

Remove the leeks and let drain and cool on a plate lined with paper towels. Cut the leeks in half crosswise, and arrange on a serving platter, alternating them head to tail.

Peel and dice the hard-cooked eggs and scatter them over the leeks. Pour the vinaigrette over the leeks and toss them and the pieces of egg in the dressing so they’re thoroughly coated, then  scatter over the remaining bacon pieces and parsley.











Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Meals on Wheels

Recently, I watched the movie Chef, and while I don’t expect this movie to win and Academy Award, much less be nominated, it was nonetheless a pleasant diversion. The movie stars Jon Favreau, who plays Carl Caspar, a once-hailed chef. After a scathing review by a renowned critic and blogger, Caspar discovers that he’s not cooking what he wants to cook. Rather, he is forced to sling the tired old staples that the uncreative owner (played by Dustin Hoffman), thinks people really want. This tension between the comfortable and the new is a never-ending battle in the culinary world that will never be won: 

Riva: Look, if you bought Stones tickets and Jagger didn't play Satisfaction, how would you feel? Would you be happy?

Carl Casper: No.

Riva: No! You'd burn the place to the f___king ground.

Carl's solution is to buy a food truck so he can make the food that's his passion. In this case, Cuban sandwiches.

This  movie got me thinking about my latest pipe dream (the previous one being a Bourdain-esque culinary-travel TV show): gourmet hot dog food truck! Like the Cubanos Carl makes in Chef, hot dogs are the ultimate street food. (And next to pizza, my favorite.)

The genius of the food truck is its accessibility, both for the owner and the patron. A food truck costs about $250,000 to get up and running. And while this is not exactly chump change, it is certainly a lot less than a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Food trucks can also be found in places where good food is usually hard to find. 

Of course, food trucks are having their Über moment—opposition from established restaurants who obviously have more political clout and don’t like the competition. This leads to—you guessed—ridiculous, anti-consumer, anti-competitive regulation. Yet, despite all these hurdles, there seems to be a new food truck rolling out every week. 

So, what would the menu be for my gourmet hot dog food truck? Here’s my first run at it:

Fat Louie


All beef dog with caramelized onions, melted gruyere cheese and sauce of mayo, Dijon mustard and diced cornichons, all served on a baguette

Big Sur

Turkey sausage, diced avocado, tomatoes, and cilantro

Hemingway

Pork sausage with Manchego and smoked Spanish paprika aioli

Spicy Kahuna


Pork dog with roasted pineapple and jalapeño salsa 


Carolina

Pork dog with slaw and Carolina style BBQ sauce

Patagonia

Beef dog with chimichurri sauce and diced red onion

The Big Easy

Pork dog with olive salad and remoulade sauce 

The Bandito

Beef dog with chipotle ketchup and banana peppers.

The next step is to test these recipes to find out if they taste as good as they sound on paper. I did that with two of them this past weekend: the Fat Louie and the Spicy Kahuna. The most important thing I learned is that one should wash one’s hands THOROUGHLY after cutting jalapeño peppers and before placing said hands anywhere near one’s eyes! Thank God for Benadryl! The other lesson I learned is that caramelizing onions is not easy to do while trying to watching a ridiculously close Alabama-Arkansas football game. 

But, at the end of the day, these two dogs turned out pretty good.


Maybe, just maybe, I’ve got a future in the food truck business! And if one of my readers out there happens to have a spare $250,000 laying around and thinks a gourmet hot dog food truck sounds like a good investment, then give me a call!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Making the Cut

Recently, I had dinner at an upscale steak house in Scottsdale, Arizona, and their menu had a interesting addition. On the back was a chart showing all the various cuts of beef. Talk about knowing where your food comes from! If I were some kind of über-foodie-bureaucrat, I would require that all steak houses include such a chart on their menus. I would do this for several reasons. First, if you are going to be a serious consumer of steak, you need to know how the flavor and texture profiles of steak are influenced by how it's cut. Second, if you are going to be serious about cooking steak, then you need to know which cuts work best with the cooking technique involved—e.g. braising, roasting, or grilling. 

In order to understand steak, you first need to know the “primal” cuts. This is not a reference to our stone-age ancestors or what you may see in the supermarket labeled as “prime cut.” Rather, primal cuts are the large, portions of meat cut during the initial butchering. In other words, think of “primal cuts” (e.g.,  chuck, flank, or short loin) as states and the steaks that come these primal cuts (e.g., pot roast, skirt steak, or Porterhouse) as cities. 

Not all cuts of beef are the same, and this has a lot to do with biology. Don’t forget that you are consuming something that was once alive—it moved around, or at least it should have. Because an animal's legs and neck muscles do the most work in terms of walking and eating, they are the strongest and, consequently, the toughest. And the farthest one gets from the “horn” and “hoof,” the more tender the meat gets. This is where how one cooks beef starts to make sense.

Less tender cuts of meat—e.g, brisket, chuck pot roast, rump roast, or flank steak—produce the best results when cooked slowly, either braising or roasting. Personally, I think braising is an underrated way to cook meat.

The more tender cuts—e.g., sirloin, filet, rib eye—are better cooked quickly, either on the grill, pan fried or pan roasted. Of these, everyone considers the filet (a/k/a “Filet Mignon”) to be the creme-de-la-creme of steaks because of its tenderness and melt-in-your-mouth quality. But at the end of the day, the filet doesn’t pack a lot of flavor. This is why it should be marinated (more on that later) or served with a sauce, such as Béarnaise. But if you want real “steak” flavor, you can’t go wrong with the New York strip. (It was the steak my Dad got for grilling every Saturday night.) All you need is a hot grill or cast iron skillet, some salt and pepper, maybe some butter if you are using the skillet, and you’re done. The steak’s flavor does the rest. No need for a fancy sauce.

But why is it called “New York Strip”? In 1837, Delmonico's Restaurant, which proclaimed itself “America’s first fine dining restaurant,” had as one of its signature dishes, a cut from the short loin, called—you guessed it—a Delmonico steak. Because the Delmonico steak became associated with the City from whence it came, it has been referred to as a New York strip ever since.

A few paragraphs back, I talked about filets and how they need a marinade or sauce to really make it work. The best marinade for a filet is, in my humble opinion, Dale’s Steak Seasoning. Dale’s was the “house” steak sauce for an old restaurant in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, called Dale’s Cellar Restaurant, so named because it was located in the cellar of a multi-story apartment building. It was also air-conditioned, something prominently advertised, and something that was no small amenity in 1949! This marinade works with any kind of meat, but steak especially. I take a nice fillet, put it in a Ziploc bag with some Dale’s and let it marinade for at least 30 minutes; throw it on a hot grill; and instant nirvana!


Just goes to show you: you don’t need a fancy steakhouse to enjoy a good steak!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sunday, 11:30AM

One of my favorite meals is brunch. I like it because of its idiosyncratic rituals and traditions.


Brunch is best served on a Sunday with a good, strong Bloody Mary. Why Sunday and why a Bloody Mary? Do you really have to ask? Brunch, done right, is the antidote for the late-night poker game with the guys; the dinner party that lingered a little too long; or the plain ol’ “painting-the-town-red” kind of night.

The Bloody Mary is the perfect drink for brunch. It’s just boozy enough, but not too over the top. After all, you are likely drinking before noon, or at least you should be. (I like to start brunch around 11:30, so I can watch the horrified faces of the after-church crowd walk past my table—me, with the unkempt hair and the guts of the Sunday New York Times insouciantly piled on my table next to my second Bloody Mary—“obviously, I’ve been here a while folks!”)   Also, the Bloody Mary is  not completely unhealthy. After all, tomatoes are full of things called lycopene and antioxidants, which I’ve been told are good for you. And don’t forget about that celery stalk! Some good roughage there!

So where did the Bloody Mary come from? Like most great drinks, its provenance is shrouded in mystery and controversy. As the old saying goes, success has many fathers, and so does the Bloody Mary. One version has it invented in the 1930s by a bartender named Henry Zbikiewicz at New York's 21 Club. Another version claims that the comedian George Jessel, who frequented the 21 Club, invented it. A third version, and the one I will go with, is that Fernand Petiot, the bartender at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in New York, invented it in 1934. I’ve been to the King Cole Bar, and they do a great Bloody Mary, though it will cost you a pretty penny.

Here’s the recipe Mr. Petiot gave to New Yorker magazine in July 1964: 

I cover the bottom of the shaker with four large dashes of salt, two dashes of black pepper, two dashes of cayenne pepper, and a layer of Worcestershire sauce; I then add a dash of lemon juice and some cracked ice, put in two ounces of vodka and two ounces of thick tomato juice, shake, strain, and pour. 

Of course, brunch is more than just booze served before noon. As the name implies, brunch presents a culinary conundrum. Sweet or savory? Eggs or waffles? French toast or grits? This is why, for me, brunch has a golden hour. Too early and all you want is typical breakfast food, but too late and you want more in the way of lunch food. Recently, I had a great brunch that was the perfect combination of the two: chicken and waffles. Now, if you’ve never tried this kind of soul food, then you have seriously missed out. Chicken and waffles is a sublime combination of sweet and savory. Of course, one can never go wrong with the classic Eggs Benedict. And if you are asking yourself where that dish came from, then you guessed it: who knows! This origin of Eggs Benedict, like the Bloody Mary, is surrounded by controversy. Suffice it to say, it apparently originated in New York City.

So, we have our Bloody Mary and our chicken and waffles or Eggs Benedict. What’s left? Companionship! Brunch is equally enjoyable alone, immersed in your newspaper of choice (mine—New York Times); with just one other person (who may have his or her Sunday paper of choice different from yours—New York Post perhaps); or with a large, boisterous group of friends or family. Either way, you can’t go wrong: a belly full of food and booze and the fading embers of the weekend.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pasta Part 2

Lately, I’ve been training for a marathon to be held in late October. At this point in my training, the weekly long runs are getting longer and longer (today’s was 22 miles). That means a lot of what runners call “carb loading”—storing glycogen to fuel your body. And what’s the most popular—and tasty—method of carb loading? Pasta!

So, I decided to make what I call spaghetti bolognese. Bolognese sauce, which is known in Italian as ragù alla bolognese, is a meat-based sauce from Bologna, Italy. And like many old, traditional dishes, no two recipes are alike. (The first published recipe for ragù wasn't until 1891.)

In Bologna, ragù is served on a bed of tagliatelle pasta. Elsewhere, especially the United States, bolognese contains minced meat and tomatoes dominate much more than the original. (“Traditional” ragù contains no tomatoes, except for some tomato paste. ) Perhaps, in order to avoid all these technicalities, Americans whether of Italian extraction or not, simply call it “spaghetti with meat sauce” and call it a night. 


My recipe is slightly different from the “traditional” ragù and is more of a meld between what we call in the United States “spaghetti sauce” and what a nonna in Bologna would call ragù. I’ll start with the official version first.

On October 17, 1982, the Bolognese chapter of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, "after having carried out long and laborious investigations and conducted studies and research,” decreed the following recipe to be the official one for classic ragù alla bolognese. 

Official Bolognese Sauce

Ingredients

1  5-oz. piece pancetta, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3/4 lb. ground skirt steak
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. Homemade Tomato Paste
1 1/2 cups milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. heavy cream
Homemade Tagliatelle (You can cheat and buy the stuff at the local Piggly Wiggly.)


Preparation

1. Put the pancetta into a heavy-bottomed medium pot (preferably terra-cotta) over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until its fat has rendered, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the celery, carrots, and onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

3. Add the skirt steak and cook, stirring occasionally, until broken up and lightly browned and beginning to sizzle, about 5 minutes. Add the wine to the pot; cook until evaporated, about 4 minutes. In a small bowl, stir together the tomato paste and 2 tbsp. water; add to the pot and stir well to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally and adding some of the milk, little by little, until all the milk is added and the sauce is very thick, about 1 1⁄2 hours.

4. Season the ragù with salt and pepper and stir in the cream. Toss with farfalle, fresh tagliatelle, or the pasta of your choice. Serve with grated parmigiano-reggiano.

The Insouciant Chef’s Bolognese Sauce

Ingredients

2 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes
1 package of Johnsonville mild Italian sausage (5 links) with the casings removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup of good olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup red wine
2 garlic cloves minced
Oregano to taste
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2  teaspoons ground fennel
3-4 basil leaves finely chopped
Preparation
In a large, heavy pot (preferably a Dutch oven), sauté the onion, green bell pepper, and carrots with salt and pepper on medium high heat until soft; add garlic and sauté for about a minute or until fragrant; reduce the temperature to low, cover, and sweat the vegetables for about 10-15 minutes. 
Add red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, tomatoes (hand crushed and with liquid) and bring to a good simmer. Incorporate the oregano, red pepper, fennel, and basel.
In a separate sauté pan, brown the sausage and incorporate into the sauce; reduce to a low simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste periodically and add salt, pepper, etc., to suit your tastes.


Try them both out and see which one you like better, or make your own!