Tag Archives: beef

Date Night at Home

On Saturday night, we spent the evening in the kitchen setting beef drippings, butter, olive oil, crushed peppercorns, and brandy on fire. The flames were bright blue and flying right up over my head! Isn’t that kind of perfect for date night at home?

Staying in rather than going out might seem boring until you consider a few things. We didn’t need to make a reservation. Or search for parking. There was no need to find a babysitter. Or find something clean and reasonably stylish to wear. (This is sometimes a problem for me. Sigh.) There was no menu ennui. (Spare me yet another kale salad!) No meaningless chatter with a fawning waiter. At dinner, we could savor that last drop of wine since we were already home and didn’t have to drive anywhere. (It would have been criminal to cork even a tablespoon of that Williams and Selyem!) We could’ve eaten dinner in our pajamas! (We actually didn’t do this.) Best of all, we could cook whatever we wanted. And set it on fire!(As you might’ve guessed, for me, this is the fun part.)

I’m not a fan of steakhouses. Portions are ridiculously large, I loathe getting nickel and dimed on the sides, and they’re too rich anyway. I find the rituals of a steakhouse old fashioned and boring. To me, brandy, cigars and Frank Sinatra are for posers. However, there are times when I crave a perfectly seared and seasoned steak, charred almost to the point of being burnt yet still with a deeply rosy interior. I try to make lighter sides, still alluding to the steakhouse classics. The brandied pan sauce on the steak enriches the mashed potatoes. Sauteed mushrooms need nothing but a little shallot, butter and black pepper. The chard, edgy then sweet with garlic, chilies, and (fig) balsamic turns creamed spinach on its nose.

We always nibble on some very fancy cheese while we cook, something local or French. Something stinky. I know of a very good ginger-y cocktail (if you ask me I will send you the recipe!) that would be wonderful with cheese, but if you do get a really great bottle of wine, a cocktail is too much. If you drink mineral water while you cook, you won’t fall asleep right after dinner, which would be a shame on date night.

Somewhat traditional and very celebratory, this menu has played Valentine’s Day dinner often, sometimes birthday dinner.  Yes there is work involved, but it’s simple – no crazy mincing necessary. I barely batted my eyelashes at Martin and I got him to wash and trim the chard, a job I hate. It should have been me, as date night at home was my idea.

Date Night Dinner

  • Steak au Poivre with cream
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Sauteed Mushrooms – black trumpet are delicious and need no trimming
  • Wilted Swiss Chard with Balsamic ( I was given a bottle of Fig Balsamic by a dear friend and I am deeply grateful!)

I couldn’t take a picture of the food because you can’t let a hot meal cool on its carefully warmed plates and start snapping pictures in the middle of dinner on date night.  I had to settle for a photograph of a table set in anticipation and the empty wine bottle.

First, read through the whole recipe, then assemble all these ingredients as written, plus 3 sauté pans and a 3 quart saucepan. One person should do the steak and mushrooms; the other, the potatoes and chard. There should be 15 minutes of prepping the ingredients and under 20 to do the cooking.

Pepper Steak

  • (2) six ounce beef tenderloins, let them come to room temperature for an hour before starting
  • 1 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns, roughly cracked in a mortar and pestle
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2/3 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Mashed Potatoes

  • 3 medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut in half, and set into the 3 quart saucepan, completely covered in cold water
  • 1/2 cup milk + 4 tbsp butter in a Pyrex measuring cup or small saucepan
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauteed Mushrooms

  • 1/2 lb black trumpet mushrooms
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wilted Chard

  • 1 bunch swiss chard, stalks removed, cut into 1″ strips
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed and minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • balsamic vinegar to finish (if you happen to have any fig balsamic, now would be a good time to break it out)

The poshest bottle of Pinot Noir you can get your hands on – poured into glasses so it opens up in time for dinner.

  1. Set the table. Light the candles. The plates will be hot so you may need to protect the table with a thick mat or trivet.
  2. Start by setting the saucepan of potatoes on high heat to boil. When they reach a boil, set the heat to medium and allow them to simmer. They should be done about 20minutes after they reach a boil.
  3. Press the crushed peppercorns into the steak firmly, top and bottom, with the heel of your palm. Sprinkle each side with a pinch of sea salt. Set aside.
  4. Carefully examine the mushrooms, looking for debris. We found a rather large dark piece of wood in ours! Trumpet mushrooms are difficult to wipe clean, so we quickly rinsed them in a colander and dried them with towels.
  5. Heat the oven to 200. Put two dinner plates on the rack to warm.
  6. You’ll be cooking the mushrooms and the beef simultaneously.
  7. Set two heavy saute pans over medium high heat for 3 or 4 minutes. Use the larger one for the mushrooms – they need a lot of space or they won’t crisp properly.
  8. In the mushroom pan, melt the butter until it stops foaming.
  9. In the steak pan, melt the butter with the olive oil, until the butter has stopped foaming.
  10. Add the mushrooms to their sauté pan and stir to coat with butter. Stir every minute or 2. Initially, they will weep a lot of liquid.
  11. While the mushrooms are cooking, add the steak to the other sauté pan. Set a timer for 3 minutes. The steaks should really sizzle, if they aren’t your pan isn’t hot enough. It’s a fine line between seared and burnt, so you want to pay close attention. It’s deeply satisfying to get it just right. After 3 minutes, carefully flip the meat, and set the timer for 3 more minutes. You want to get a good sear in that amount of time, no longer, to keep the interior pink.
  12. While the steaks are searing, the mushroom will have lost a lot of liquid, let it bubble away until it is gone, then raise the heat a little and add the shallots. Now that the liquid is gone, the mushrooms can brown and become deeply flavorful. When they start looking crisp, taste one and add sea salt and black pepper. They may be done before the steaks. It doesn’t matter. Put the sauté pan on the back burner while the steaks catch up.
  13. Now that the steaks are seared, you need to cook each side for 3 more minutes on medium heat. This will produce a deep pink (not red!) interior. After a total of 12 minutes, remove the steak from the sauté pan and carefully, without dripping all over the edges of the plate, move them to the warming plates in the oven.
  14. While you are finishing the steak and mushrooms, your partner should work on the chard and mashed potatoes.
  15. In the microwave in a pyrex measuring cup or in a small saucepan on the stove, heat the butter and milk until the butter has melted.
  16. Check the potatoes with a fork; they should be just falling apart. Drain in the colander and return to the saucepan. Add the hot milk and butter and mash with a potato masher or a wire whisk until smooth. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Put the saucepan lid on a place on a back burner until dinner is done, which will be very soon.
  17. The chard and the pan sauce will be completed at the same time.
  18. In a clean sauté pan, heat the 2 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes. Just as the garlic turns golden, add the chard and toss as it settles down, wilting. Toss for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and season with sea salt and black pepper.
  19. As your partner finishes the chard, heat the brandy in the steak sauté pan with all the browned bits, any fallen-off peppercorns and pan juices. When the brandy is bubbling, light a long match, stand away from the pan, and light it. If you have never done this before, the flames can leap rather high – almost 2 feet in my case. It’s kind of exciting. Anyway after several seconds the flames will die down some – you can just blow them out very easily. With a wooden spoon scrape up all the brown pieces on the bottom of the pan. When all is bubbling nicely, add the cream. Let it simmer over medium-high heat until thickened, about 3 minutes.
  20. Remove the plates from the oven with mitts – they’ll be hot. Mashed potatoes are first, cozied up near the steak. Ladle some of the pan sauce over them. Don’t make a lake of it! You don’t want a messy looking plate. Put the mushrooms alongside the steak and the chard by the potatoes. Splash just a little balsamic over the chard. Inhale. Exhale. Sit down to dinner.
Oh. My. God. There are 20 steps!
Don’t let that deter you! This is really fun – I promise!

(I wonder if I am the only person who thinks that setting things on fire in the kitchen constitutes a romantic evening?…Martin seems to like it!)


Surf and Turf. My way.

Surf n’ turf makes me think of Outback Steakhouse or Olive Garden – not that I’ve ever been to either place; I can only surmise. As much as I like steak and shrimp, I have to ask: isn’t it kind of over the top having them both at once? And yet, it was Sunday and we had a too small steak in the freezer and coming back from a soccer game, we just happened to pass Mutual Fish where they always have something I want. Right in front in a big plastic tub of ice chips were a heap of rosy pink shrimp. Surf and Turf? I  guess so.

Sometimes Sunday is a good day to make a huge elaborate meal like spaghetti bolognese – the 4 hour long Marcella Hazan version – or a Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, like the one Judy Rogers makes at Zuni Cafe.  Today was a napping Sunday – a day where the weather threatens to rain but it never quite does and it’s too warmly muggy outside. I fought it all afternoon and then at about 4:30 I just wanted to go to sleep and I did.  Waking up on the couch bleary eyed and sleepy at 5:15, I dreaded pulling dinner together.

I was fortunate though in two ways: 1. I had that small thick steak and a pound of large shrimp waiting in the refrigerator. Also a bag of arugula – that was key. 2. I fell asleep perusing Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. When I woke up at 5:15 I began flipping through hoping for easy and wonderful and I found something right away – lucky me. Although it’s hardly surprising. Somehow Ms. Hazan always perks me up. I get curious. I want to do the right thing. I hope she would approve. I want to get to work. Not too much work in this case. We were eating by 6:15.

Here is what I found:

Grilled Shrimp Skewers & La Fiorentina.

Shrimp and steak? It could be predictable and pedestrian. Here – I don’t think so. I haven’t ever seen shrimp prepared with breadcrumbs on the grill. The breadcrumbs became wonderfully crisp and the large shrimp were moist, flavorful and tender. The recipe is so straightforward, and because the shrimp were large they took no time to clean. I do have to admit the Fiorentina was just for inspiration. My humble steak was no Chianina T-bone. The truth is, salt, pepper and olive oil are all a good piece of beef really needs. For this menu, aside from the shrimp and the steak, all of the other ingredients you might reasonably have on hand. It’s the method that kicks it. That is what I love about Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. There aren’t any culinary acrobatics. Although the meal was composed of simple ingredients using simple techniques – I made something we all loved  – there wasn’t a scrap left!

Sunday Menu

  • Grilled Shrimp Skewers
  • Grilled Beef
  • Arugula with olive oil and lemon – as a bed for the beef and shrimp
  • Grilled Asparagus
  • Red Quinoa with Sea Salt, olive oil and garlic (If you didn’t have quinoa, a rustic loaf of bread would be perfect. If I had had one in the house – that would have been my first choice. Less messy too.)

Grilled Shrimp Skewers

  • 1 lb large shrimp – about 15-18
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup dried bread crumbs (I make these when I have a few heels of soft sandwich bread and dry them out on a sheet pan in a 200 F oven for about 1/2 an hour)
  • 1 small clove of garlic chopped very fine
  • 1 heaping tsp parsley, chopped fine
  • Salt and pepper – freshly ground
  • A lemon sliced in eighths for squeezing
  • 5-6 short skewers – soaked in water
  1. Remove the shells from the shrimp and slice down their backs to remove the dark line. Leave their tails on – they look pretty.
  2. Rinse the shrimp in cold water in a colander and dry thoroughly with a towel.
  3. Place shrimp in a medium sized bowl. Pour the olive oil over the  shrimp – just to coat.  Don’t go overboard. You don’t have to use all of it.
  4. Sprinkle on the bread crumbs, evenly but lightly all over. Toss with a spoon. You may not need all of the bread crumbs depending on the size of your shrimp. Don’t make them look breaded with a gloppy coating. Sprinkle with a light hand.
  5. Add the garlic, parsley, salt and pepper and toss until evenly distributed.  Let them sit on the counter now for at least 20 minutes – you could leave them there for up to two hours.
  6. Set the grill to direct medium (or heat the broiler in your oven) 15 minutes before you want to cook the shrimp.
  7. Thread the shrimp on the skewers in even curls, piercing each shrimp twice, as seen in the photo below:
  8. Cook the shrimp on the grill for a few minutes per side – until they feel firm.  In the oven set them close to the heat. 1 1/2 or 2 minutes per side.
  9. Serve hot. The small squirt of lemon made this dish just right.

Steak in the Style of La Fiorentina

Somebody somewhere in Tuscany would certainly want to have words with me after this Fiorentina travesty. I know Tuscans take this steak preparation very seriously and would hate me throwing around “La Fiorentina” on some random cut of meat.  Also the idea that I would serve something so rare, luxurious, and symbolic of Tuscan cooking with…shrimp!?!?!  You’ll just have to bear with me. Anyway, even if I wanted a Chianina T-bone, they’re few and far between even in Tuscany. Today I went with a steak that Martin picked up, which the butcher at Whole Foods called “chateaubriand”.

I am not nearly as knowledgeable as I would like to be about these matters, but even I know that Chateaubriand refers to a preparation of beef, not a cut. Whatever it was, it was not a T-bone – maybe it was a sirloin. It was fine.  Since I can’t tell you what exactly the cut was that I grilled tonight,  I will tell you how to make a flank steak in the Fiorentina style. (I have done this before and I know that it tastes wonderful.) To prepare a flank steak Fiorentina-style, grill the meat over very hot coals to get a deeply caramelized exterior and keep it rather bloody inside.  Salt and pepper are the only flavoring before grilling and olive oil dresses the meat afterwards.  I suppose I am committing further heresy as I serve mine on a bed of lightly dressed arugula with olive oil and lemon.  The arugula wilts just enough under the hot grilled beef and is completely delicious – bitter, salty and lemony with the mineraly meat juices further dressing it. The flavors remind me of the first time I had carpaccio.

Grilled Flank Steak in the Fiorentina Style

(with a nod to my good friend Lee, who introduced me to the arugula salad underneath!)

  • 1 – 1 1/4 lbs flank steak, about 1″ thick
  • kosher salt or coarsely ground sea salt
  • coarsely ground black pepper
  • fruity-sharp green olive oil – for dressing afterwards not before
  • 3-4 big handfuls of washed and dried arugula – I get the bag of wild arugula from Trader Joe’s when I am too tired to wash a real bunch.
  • 1 lemon cut in half
  • a very hot grill
  1. Bring the beef to room temperature by unwrapping it and letting it sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Heat the grill on high.
  3. Generously salt and pepper the steak.
  4. Grill for 8-10 minutes flipping once half way through the cooking time.
  5. While the meat is grilling, toss the arugula with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a large serving platter.
  6. The meat is done when it reaches 145 F on a meat thermometer. Allow the beef to rest uncovered for 5 or 10 minutes on a cutting board. Slice thinly and lay over dressed arugula. Squeeze the lemon half over the top.
  7. While the meat is resting grill the shrimp and the asparagus – the asparagus takes 6-8 minutes unless you have pencil-slim ones – which you should start checking after 4 minutes.

If Ms. Hazan were here she would certainly give me a talking to. Oh well.


Taco Night

Mexican Fiesta. To me, it sounds like the theme for a suburban street party. When I go visit my brother Matt and his wife Ariela in California though, he makes what my friend Candice calls Mexican Fiesta for dinner. Hands down this is the most versatile menu there is. Mexican Fiesta can be anything from a simple cheese quesadilla to the works: grilled skirt steak and chicken, pico de gallo, guacamole, black beans and more. What I love to do is sit in the sun at my brother’s house, lazily scooping up fresh guacamole with a pepper jack cheese quesadilla and a cold beer, watching our kids play. And I love it even more when he goes all out with grilled steak, chicken or fish and the beans and condiments and I can build as many different combinations on corn tortillas as I can imagine.

Not only is this kind of  food very fresh and gorgeous to look at, it also has the advantage of scalability. The meal can easily be made for 1 or 2 people or 40 without any real headaches. You can make all of the components from scratch and make everyone you invited feel like they want to move in with you or you can buy most of the parts pre-made at Trader Joe’s and you’ll still have a very satisfying very quick meal. Vegetarians, vegans, meat eaters, dieters and even picky children are all easily accommodated and no matter what, dinner still tastes good. You can’t really go wrong.

Here is the ultimate menu, the one I like to make for celebrating something. If I had the time or if the avocados were always as ripe and delicious as they were yesterday – I would always make it this way.  For a meal that tastes this lavish and feels this festive – it’s hardly any work at all.


  • Grilled Skirt Steak with one of the rubs my brother and his wife make for us for Christmas – medium rare
  • Cumin and Coriander Black Beans
  • My brother Matt’s recipe for guacamole
  • Quick Pickled Onions
  • Grated Pepper Jack
  • Grated Monterey Jack
  • Medium and Hot Salsa – like pico de gallo (I would buy this.  Since I’ve had kids I don’t make salsa)
  • Marie Sharps Habanero Sauce (another tip from Matt)
  • Fresh Cilantro Leaves
  • Limes
  • Warm Corn Tortillas – search out the kind that are made of corn, lime and water – nothing else

I made this menu last night for some very good friends who are taking off this weekend on a sail across the Pacific ocean.  They’ll be at sea almost a month before they see land and fresh food, so I wanted to send them off with the memory of something really fresh, made from scratch.

Making this dinner is such a pleasure. The work really pays off.  I love that when I’m done preparing the food I have all these bowls filled with bright colors. The red flecked green guacamole, the confetti of the pico de gallo, bright pink ribbons of pickled onion with a deep red chile nestled just there, the steaming coriander scented black beans in a bright blue bowl, the wedges of translucent limes in a glass bowl, a plate of ruffled cilantro, slivers of creamy cheese in yellow bowls and (and this is probably not for everyone but I LOVE this part) the ragged slices of red skirt steak,with their deeply browned and smoky exterior on a butcher block cutting board. Finally the toasted warm scent of corn tortillas. The smell of all those things together – sharp and smoky and spicy and citrusy. Yum.

If you are in a hurry though, the guacamole can be gotten from Trader Joe’s refrigerator case (the plain one is better – trust me), you could heat up black beans straight from the can (please rinse them first!), skip the pickled onions, one of the cheeses, the Marie Sharp’s and the cilantro and call it a day.  It would still be a really great meal.  Also if your guests don’t eat meat or if you want to have variety, grilled chicken, fish or shrimp would be wonderful instead of or in addition to the skirt steak. Or just have a big bowl of black beans. The endless possibilities!

Dry Rubbed Skirt Steak

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 lbs skirt steak
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp dry garlic
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • Canola oil spray
  1. Mix all dry ingredients together in a small bowl and rub all over skirt steak.
  2. Let sit at room temperature for 1/2 an hour.
  3. Spray all over the skirt steak lightly with canola oil. Grill over high heat for a TOTAL of 5 minutes – turning half way through.
  4. Allow meat to rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes before slicing thinly across the grain.  If you like your meat quite bloody you could grill it for 3 minutes total. I no longer like mine that rare.

“Matt’s Awesome Guacamole” (with Matt’s excellent and illuminating directions)

Serves 4

Guacamole is three things: Avos, lime and salt. Lime and salt are pretty consistent but a good avo, either Haas or Fuerte , is hard to find, and is truly at the core of good guac. You can have a great recipe and bad avos and the guac’s bad. Or you can have a lousy recipe, and great avos and the guac’s great. So first and foremost, get some good avos.  Buen provecho!

  • 2 avocados
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • shake of cayenne
  • 1/2 medium sized tomato, diced
  • 1/2 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • splash of hot sauce (preferably Marie Sharp’s)
  • One small handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped

You will benefit from a knife, a spoon and a fork in the making of guacamole. Knife to slice and chop. Spoon to remove the avo from the peel. (Don’t pre-dice, take out whole halves from the skin if possible) Fork to mix ingredients.  Throw all the ingredients into a bowl, and mix. Leave it smooth, but with some nice buttery slabs of avo too. Serve with a bowl of tortilla chips, a quesadilla or as a topping on a taco.

Cumin and Coriander Black Beans

Serves 4

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely diced
  • pinch of red chile flakes
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cans of black beans drained and rinsed
  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the diced onion and cook until softened, 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, chile flakes, cumin and coriander and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the black beans and stir until warmed thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Quick Pickled Onions

These onions are new. In fact, I found the recipe yesterday and I can’t believe I have lived my whole taco eating life without making them. I didn’t take pictures of the food last night because I wanted to focus on my friends, but believe me when I tell you, these onions are gorgeous and tangy and spicy and ravishing and delicious. And so quick and straight forward to make you have no excuse not to try.

  • 3/4 c. white vinegar (the pickling kind – not fancy white wine vinegar)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 5 allspice berries
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 dried red chile
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced; not insanely thin, as in sliced with a mandolin so you could read the newspaper through them but as thin as possible with a knife (hopefully a sharp 8″ chef’s knife)
  1. In a medium sized non-reactive saucepan mix the vinegar, sugar, allspice, cloves, bay leaf and red chile.
  2. Set the heat to medium high and simmer for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the sliced onion and toss until combined. Then simmer for 30 seconds.
  4. Place in serving dish and chill.

My next project is to learn how to make my own corn tortillas. Obviously these would be for the ultimate version of this menu although from what I have heard they are not too über-chef for a regular old home cook like me!  I’ll let you know.


The Big Bolognese

Sometimes I have an urge to spend a few hours in the kitchen with something big simmering gently on the stove. When I do, I often turn to the Bolognese Meat Sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  As you can see in my copy, p.204-5 is where the book has split into 2 pieces, from overuse.

Although it’s not overuse. Because anyone who tastes this incredible (and time intensive) sauce will kiss the ground you walk on.  So it’s worth it.

What is it about this sauce?  Is it because I spent a semester in Rome as a student? Or the memory of my mom’s big spaghetti night? My grandfather’s garlic bread? I think its a little of all those things.  I really like that this is an “authentic” recipe. The meat is gently simmered in milk before the wine is added and then it all has to evaporate before adding the tomatoes.  Only then can the three hour marathon of true simmering begin.  Gauging the heat carefully so that there are several seconds between the bubbles breaking through the surface of the sauce allows the sauce to reduce slowly and maintains the utter tenderness of the meat. The result is nothing like the typical American recipe, those chewy bits of ground beef and soupy-sauce tomatoes drowning long strands of spaghetti. This Marcella Bolognese is the essence of something. I am not sure exactly what.

As Marcella writes “There is no more perfect union in all gastronomy than the marriage of Bolognese ragu with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle.”  Wow.  It’s hard to mess with that.  But I do – mess with that. Despite the fact that I love the long involved traditional process, I serve this sauce American style. The accompaniments are always the same: a big mixed salad and garlic bread made by slathering a split French batard with melted butter and minced garlic and tossing it, wrapped in foil into the oven.  I wouldn’t serve it with spaghetti though, the way my parents (and everybody else) did in the 70’s.  I like a short tube or trumpet shaped pasta that cradles the sauce. And I don’t use parmesan from a green cylindrical shaker.  A real reggiano parmesan is the only way to go.

And so what if the sauce takes 4 hours. While the sauce bubbled away on the stove, I put the little guy to bed, folded a load of laundry, started a book that I’d gotten for Christmas and fell asleep on the couch with Max, my cat. When I woke up, there was the scent of dinner: very homey and purely delicious. January is way too gloomy in Seattle. Making bolognese all afternoon is the perfect antidote. Initially there is some minor chopping. MINOR. A carrot, some celery, a little yellow onion. Everything else is pour, mash, stir.  No big deal.  And the simmering part is easy. You don’t have to stand there. If your kids don’t think you walk on water for making this incredible meal, that’s ok. You just open a nice Montepulciano,  pour yourself a glass and revel in a job well done.

Saturday Menu

(I won’t lie to you, this menu takes minimum of 4 hours start to finish.  However – there are 3 hours of downtime!)

  • Cavatappi with Bolognese Meat Sauce
  • Green Salad Vinaigrette
  • Garlic Bread
  • Mint Chip Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce.

Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Meat Sauce and a few pointers

  • I always double the recipe so I can freeze half, but I am reproducing it here in the proportion for 1 – 1 1/4 pounds of pasta.  This makes very slightly more than the original recipe.  Still, you might find that this makes less sauce than you are used to eating with pasta.  In Italy they think of sauce as something more akin to a condiment.  When you serve, put a tablespoon of butter on the hot pasta before adding the sauce.  Dust each plate with freshly grated Parmesan.  It makes all the difference – you won’t miss the pasta taking a overly deep bath in sauce.
  • Use an enamel pot, such as Le Creuset or Lodge for even heat and slow, slow simmer.   I use a wide, fairly shallow one.
  • Add salt as soon as you add the meat to extract the most flavor.
  • This is NOT the time for a lean cut of meat.  Ground chuck is what you want.
  • Cook, uncovered, at a bare simmer for at least three hours.  I mean one bubble, wait several seconds, another bubble, and so on.
  • For speed I would do all chopping in the food processor – pulsing  – so as not to overdo it

This makes 2 heaping cups of sauce.  Marcella says for 1 1/2 pounds of pasta.  I usually make a generous pound.

  • 1 tbsp mild olive oil
  • 3 tbsp butter plus 1 for tossing with the pasta
  • 1/2 cup onion (I use 1/2 of one 3″ in diameter)
  • 2/3 cup celery (I use 2-3 stalks)
  • 2/3 cup carrots ( I use 1 large)
  • 1 pound of ground chuck (if you like, use 1/3 pork; I do.)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 28 ounce can whole Italian plum tomatoes, drained of juice then chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds dry pasta (or if you are ambitious – homemade fresh tagliatelle)
  • Freshly grated parmesan at the table.
  1. Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot and turn on the heat to medium.  Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent – I do 8-10 minutes.  Then add chopped carrot and celery.  Cook for two more minutes, stirring to coat them with the oil and butter.
  2. Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper.  Crumble the meat with a wooden spoon, stir well and cook until no longer red.
  3. Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring until it has bubbled away completely.  There will be clear liquid left.  Add about an 1/8th teaspoon grated nutmeg.
  4. Add the wine, and simmer again until evaporated.
  5. Add the tomatoes and stir until thoroughly coated.  When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn down the heat to a very slow simmer – barely bubbling.  Cook this way for at least three hours.  You might have to add a little water to prevent sticking.  At the end there will be no liquid left, the fat will separate from the sauce.  Add salt to taste.
  6. Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding a tbsp of butter and serve with Parmesan.

Garlic Bread

Start 1/2 hour before you eat.

Preheat oven to 200F

  • 1 baguette or batard, cut into three pieces and split lengthwise
  • 2-3 fat cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 pound butter

Melt the butter and add the garlic and stir.  Paint onto the inside of the bread with a pastry brush. Wrap tightly in foil and pop in the oven until dinner time.

Green Salad Method

Start this just after you put the bread in the oven.

I am not going to give a recipe for this – but this is what I do:

I like 3 tbsp of spicy green olive oil and 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp of red wine vinegar, a generous pinch of salt and pepper tossing each ingredient separately and in that order on to freshly washed and torn lettuce, seeded and sliced cucumber, sliced red pepper, halved cherry tomatoes and grated carrots.  Some people might think this sounds like an institutional salad but if everything is very fresh and crunchy it is a good counterpoint to the melting richness of the sauce and pasta.