Thursday, August 4, 2011

spaghetti bologneasy

I'm Scotch-Irish and English in my heritage but I'm pretty sure that in my former life I was Italian (Presby minister talking about reincarnation: scandalous!).  I say this because, when I think of comfort food, I dream of a heaping plate of homemade spaghetti with lots of fragrant basil and salty parmesan.  Now, I have my standard can-make-it-in-my-sleep spaghetti sauce, but when I came across this recipe from Ina Garten, I had to deviate a bit and try something new.  And boy was it dee-licious.  

Barefoot Contessa Weeknight Bolognese
2 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to cook pasta                                                    1 pound/500g lean ground sirloin                                                                              1 medium onion
4 tsp minced garlic (I used 2 large cloves)
1 T dried oregano
¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes 
1 ¼ cups dry red wine, divided (Chianti!) 
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 T tomato paste
Kosher salt & black pepper
¾ pound/375 g dried pasta (I used spaghetti of course)
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Let's get comfort-food-cookin', y'all.  We have lots of pictures to guide our way.  
First, don a favorite apron (being as careful to match as I clearly am).

Here's most of what you'll need: pasta, san marzano tomatoes, garlic, onion, chianti & evoo.

Heat the evoo in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.

Add ground sirloin and onions, season with a little s&p and cook using a wooden spoon to crumble up the meat until it's starting to brown, 5-7 minutes.

Add chopped garlic (how Texas-sized are those garlic cloves?!)...

...and 1 T dried oregano and 3/4 t red pepper flakes.  When using dried herbs (like oregano), it's a good idea to rub it between your fingers before adding.  This wakens up the flavors a bit.  Cook for 1 minute.

Now it gets really tasty!  I used Chianti for my sauce because, well, it's Chianti.  I once traveled through Tuscany solo (brave one, I am) and stayed at a little hotel in Siena (in the Chianti region).  They teasingly put a glorious bottle of Chianti in the room, for the super reasonable price of 10 euro.  I couldn't resist and thus had a generous glass and carted the bottle with me the rest of my trip. There's nothin' classier than toting your own bottle of Chianti on the train!  

Anyway, you can get divine, economical Chianti here in the States or elsewhere, but I have a tip for you.  When you see this pink label on the top of the bottle, it means that this wine was approved by the Italian government for export.  Wine can be exported without the dandy little sticker, but the wines approved by the government are generally better quality.  So grab some Chianti with the pretty sticker on top. :)

Add a cup of it to the sirloin mixture and stir it to scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pan (these have the most flavor).

Then add your tomatoes.  Buying crushed tomatoes like the recipe suggests is easiest, but you can just mash up whole ones like I did as well.  San Marzano tomatoes when compared to regular canned tomatoes are like Ghirardelli dark chocolate compared to a plain Hershey bar (taste-wise and culturally, too!).  

Add 2 T tomato paste, 1 T salt and 1/2 t pepper.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for at least 10 minutes.  I simmered mine for 20 to get it a bit thicker.

(This is a good point in the cooking process for the chef to have a glass of that delightful, pungent Chianti.)

Cook your pasta in boiling, salted water (with a splash of evoo so it doesn't stick) until al dente, about 8 minutes.  

While the pasta cooks, add some finishing touches to the sauce: 1/4 c fresh chopped basil...

...1/4 t fresh ground nutmeg, 1/4 cup more of chianti and 1/4 cup heavy cream.  This is very different from my usual recipe, but adds a layer of flavor and creaminess that I loved.

Simmer for as long as it takes the pasta to cook (about 8 minutes).

Put cooked pasta in a large serving bowl and toss with the sauce and 1/2 cup parmesan.  I also added a few large parmesan shards on top and basil because, if you're gonna go to the trouble to cook it, you might as well make it look good!

Enjoy your pasta with yummy ciabatta bread (and that divine wine).  It'll take you right to Italy, I promise.  (Incidentally, this plate was brought back from Italy by my Aunt Karen decades ago!  Pasta tastes better on it.)

Buon appetito!

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