Thursday, October 16, 2014

Neil Anderson's Bolognese of August from Adventures in Comfort Food

When I agreed to participate in a blog tour for a book with "comfort food" in the title, a number of things came to mind. Pasta with a tomato sauce was high on the list. So when I saw this recipe for bolognese, I knew I had to try it.

This isn't typically how I make tomato sauce for pasta, but then again, I'm not Italian. When I went to the store for supplies, there was no veal to be found except for some tiny chops that cost more than my mortgage. The butcher said they stopped carrying the ground veal because of quality issues.

There was also a celery shortage, but I averted that disaster by buying celery sticks that were cleverly hidden in the prepped-foods area, along with must-haves like pineapple chunks and asparagus packed with lemon slices.

As for the veal, there was nothing I could do except buy something else. I briefly pondered using ground turkey or chicken, but then decided to use beef. So that's what I used here. If you can find veal, then by all means, use it. But beef worked just fine, if that's holding you back.

The one thing I quibble with here is the serving size. This might feed 3-4 people if they're all teenagers or athletes, but around here a half-pound box of dry pasta is good for 4-6 servings. Then again, we probably don't eat as much as the average person. So take my thoughts with a grain or two of salt.

The intro to the recipe said:
Neil Anderson was the second chef I ever hired. He came into the restaurant one day, turned to the waitress and said, “I want to work here.” We took him on. During Neil’s first summer, I told him we were going to make Bolognese sauce.

“Right," said Neil. "We are making Bolognese, and you are going to go sweat over it." He was not incorrect that heavy, long-cooked meat sauces are not entirely appropriate for the dog days, but I am contrary. Neil is now a professor of languages somewhere, and every summer we make this out of season in his honor.

This is our version of a traditional Bolognese: a meat sauce flavored with a bit of  tomato. It is not the red sauce with meat that sometimes gets called by the same name. Through long cooking, the meats gain a velvety texture and a flavor so addictive that you won’t be able to stop eating it, no matter what the weather.

Look for more bloggers posting more recipes from the book, including: FAB Bowl of Meet, Steak Bomb, Wontons from Space  Deconstructed Nachos,  Woo-Tang Clam, Fish Hash,  Vacation in your Mouth, Jerry Fries, and Steak House.

Did I mention that some of the recipe names are quirky? Why, yes they are.

Neil Anderson’s Bolognese of August
Recipe from Adventures in Comfort Food: Incredible, Delicious and New Recipes
Used with permission. All rights reserved.Serves 3 to 4

1/2 cup/120 ml olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1/8 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 onion, sliced
1 rib celery, chopped coarsely
1/2 cup/60 g carrot, cut into medium dice
4 oz/113 g ground veal
4 oz/113 g ground pork
1 (28 oz/794 g) can tomatoes
2 tbsp/33 g tomato paste
1/2 cup/118 ml heavy cream
1 lb/454 g dried rigatoni pasta, cooked

Place a 4-quart/4 L nonreactive pot over medium-high heat. Heat the olive oil and add the garlic; fry until the cloves are almost golden, 4 minutes. Add the fennel seeds, count to 3, and drop in the onion, celery and carrot. Sweat the vegetables in the olive oil until they are sweet and the garlic is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the veal and pork, breaking up with a spoon to distribute the meat and vegetables as evenly as you can (you’ll mash it later).

When the meat is cooked (it should take 10 to 12 minutes) add the tomatoes, tomato paste and 1/2 cup/118 ml of water. Turn down the heat to low and simmer for at least an hour, preferably 2. Mash with a potato masher to break everything up until it looks like a sauce.

Add the cream. If you’ll be storing the sauce, wait to add the cream until reheating.

For this dish, I prefer boxed rigatoni (not homemade noodles). Add the cooked noodles to the pot of sauce and stir carefully so that you don’t break any noodles.

Distribute onto plates, pour some red wine and eat.

Chef’s Tip: For foolproof seasoning: Remove a small amount of the sauce and add some salt and pepper until it tastes perfect. Using this as a guide, add salt and pepper by small amounts to the pot until it matches the sample.

Recipe by Kerry Altiero and Katherine Gaudet from Adventures in Comfort Food: Incredible, Delicious and New Recipes from a Unique, Small-Town Restaurant. Printed with permission of Page St. Publishing.

I received the book from the publisher for the purpose of this book tour.

A couple notes on this recipe:

This recipe has a lot of oil - there's 1/2 cup at the beginning, along with the fat from the meats you use. If you're bothered by that amount of fat, the easy way to get rid of it is to refrigerate the finished sauce. The fat will rise to the top and harden a bit, so you can remove as much as you like. Leave at least a little - there's flavor in fat. I left it as is, and once the cream and pasta were added, it just sort of disappeared.

I was a little concerned about the whole garlic cloves - I didn't like the idea of someone eating a whole clove with their pasta, so I hunted them down in the finished sauce and made sure they were smashed. If I make this again, I might dice or slice the garlic thinly rather than leaving it whole. Maybe.

The admonishment about not adding the cream if you're going to reheat has to do with the possibility that the cream could curdle. I have the same problem with a tomato soup I make. The solution is to heat the sauce slowly and gently, and never let it boil. If it does boil, you're doomed. The cream is probably going to curdle. It's still edible, but it's not pretty and it the texture is grainy.

So, if you make the sauce ahead, or if you have leftovers, heat gently to warm it, but don't boil it, and you should be fine.