Pappardelle with Braised Ragu

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I’m learning things today. That’s one of the best things about writing this blog – because I want to actually have something to say in my post, I frequently dig deeper into the history or other technical details of recipes where I might not have otherwise. Take today’s recipe… I knew I wanted to make homemade pasta for dinner and change it up from the usual Homemade Pasta Carbonara. (We may or may not be a little bit addicted to the carbonara recipe – Selim looked at me like I had an extra head when I said I was thinking about making pasta with a different type of sauce.) Then I remembered the time I learned that all meatsauces weren’t created equally – I was at dinner with friends at a restaurant in our old home of Charlottesville, VA, when someone (my cousin Emily I think) ordered the bolognese. I’d never ordered anything similar off a menu because I always thought… 💭 Meat sauce? I can just buy a jar of that off a shelf 🤷 And then I tasted her dish – it was amazing, delicious, and nothing like meatsauce in a jar!

I wanted to recreate that experience tonight. But what recipe to follow? What technically is bolognese and how is it different from ragu? I feel like I see those words on menus used interchangeably. Well, I finally put some effort into learning the details. I now know that a ragu is an umbrella term for meat-based Italian sauces, under which bolognese falls. (Technically, a bolognese sauce is ragù alla bolognese.) A ragu is different from what I was thinking of as “meatsauce” in that the meat is truly the focus, not tomatoes or tomato sauce. It is thicker and less liquidy. And it turns out, while under this umbrella, bolognese sauce is incredibly specific – it has actually been registered in exact detail. The Italian Academy of Cuisine registered it in 1982. The recipe must include the following ingredients to be an official bolognese: beef, pancetta, onion, celery, carrot, tomato sauce, whole milk, dry wine (red or white), and salt & pepper. We aren’t going to stick to that particular formulation, so the sauce for tonight’s dinner is a ragu!

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Pappardelle with Braised Ragu

(Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit magazine)
Ingredients: 
Ragu:
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Check out these gorgeous heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 10oz ground pork sausage
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 small tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • Salt & pepper
  • Parmesan cheese
Pasta:
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp olive oil
Instructions: 
  1. In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add both types of meat, removing the sausage from casings if needed. Season liberally with pepper and a pinch of salt. Cook until browned and then remove to the side, retaining a coating of fat in the dutch oven.
  3. To this, add the diced onions and carrots. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until well softened.
  4. Now add the minced garlic, tomato paste, and thyme. Stir frequently, cooking for 3 minutes.
  5. Pulse the tomatoes in a food processor. [Yielding ~2 cups]
  6. Return the meat to the dutch oven. Stir in the wine and tomatoes. Increase heat slightly to a vigorous simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced by half and thickened.
  7. Lastly, add the beef broth and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and cover. Check to ensure there’s a light simmer. Braise for at least two hours, checking and stirring occasionally.
  8. Meanwhile, prepare the pasta dough. On a clean, dry counter-top, mix together the flour and salt and form it into a volcano (a mound with a crater scooped out in the middle). Crack the eggs into that center well/crater.
  9. Using a fork, slowly mix the egg into the flour. Try to keep the eggs within the crater, pulling in more and more flour. (If you fail, don’t worry, life will go on.) Once the egg is mixed into the flour enough that it’s not trying to run away anymore, switch to use your hands. Fold together until well combined. [You may need an extra dusting of flour if the dough is wet and sticky, or to wet your hands if it’s a bit dry.]
  10. Continue kneading the dough, stretching and folding, for at least 5 and up to 10 minutes. By this point, the dough should be smoother and elastic, so that you can form into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours.
  11. Once the dough has set, roll out and divide into quarters. Using the pasta roller attachment on the stand mixer, flatten out (to #5 if using KitchenAid’s model). Let the flattened dough rest on a floured surface.
  12. Using a sharp knife, slice into 1 inch wide noodles. Cover with parchment paper if still waiting on the sauce.
  13. Remove the lid from the dutch oven and increase heat to return liquid to a fast simmer. As the last bit of liquid is being soaked up, turn off the heat and stir in 2oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  14. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente – it will only take a minute or two with the fresh pasta.
  15. Top pasta with sauce and additional Parmesan cheese!
Serves 4-6.
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Cacio e Pepe

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Number 10 on our Culinary Bucket List states, “Figure out how the Italians’ make pasta cacio e pepe a million times better than we can. Also, master that twirling the pasta at the table trick.” If you’ve ever been to Rome, you know what I’m talking about. Literally ever Roman restaurant we set foot in served some type of cacio e pepe. It draws in tourists’ attention for its theatrical table-side preparation, but turns out it’s also delicious! Not lying, I think my cousin Scottie ate cacio e pepe for almost every meal when we were in Rome after the first time she tried it.

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All of us in St. Peter’s Square! From L to R: Selim, family friend Henry, Ally, Ally’s brother Jeffrey, and cousins Scottie, Jayme, & Luke

How is it that good though? ‘Cacio e pepe’ literally means pepper and cheese. It’s that simple – pasta + pepper + cheese. But somehow, when we came home and tried to recreate it, it never turned out the same. It was mind-boggling – how are we screwing up something that seems so simple?? The cheese would get all clumpy, and we wouldn’t really get a “sauce” per se.

Well, apparently we’re not the only ones. I found this article from Serious Eats that addressed our dilemma, from the point of view of someone who knows way more about cooking and testing recipes that we do. Thank goodness for smart people! Read it and learn like we did. We followed all of the tips and tricks in the article and were rewarded with a much better result. While it’s still not as good as what we had in Italy, and we still don’t know how to do the twirl the pasta at the table trick, it’s good enough to share!

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Cacio e Pepe

(Recipe adapted from this Serious Eats article & recipe)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 1/3 cup AP flour (plus slightly more for dusting your counter, hands, etc)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 40 turns fresh ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2-3 tbsp pasta water
Instructions: 
  1. Start by making the pasta dough. On a clean, dry counter-top, mix together the flour and salt and form it into a volcano (a mound with a crater scooped out in the middle). Crack two eggs into that center well/crater.
  2. Using a fork, slowly mix the egg into the flour. Try to keep the eggs within the crater, pulling in more and more flour. (If you fail, don’t worry, life will go on.) Once the egg is mixed into the flour enough that it’s not trying to run away anymore, switch to use your hands. Fold together until well combined. [You made need an extra dusting of flour if the dough is wet and sticky, or to wet your hands if it’s a bit dry.]
  3. Continue kneading the dough, stretching and folding, for at least 5 and up to 10 minutes. By this point, the dough should be smoother and elastic, so that you can form into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours.
  4. Once the dough has set, roll out and divide into quarters. Using the pasta roller attachment on the stand mixer, flatten out (to #4 if using KitchenAid’s model). Let the flattened dough rest on a floured surface. Then cut into spaghetti noodles using that attachment. [Follow your particular pasta roller/cutter’s instructions for doing these things.] Tip: keep your hands and the surface of the dough lightly floured during this process.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil with a dash of salt. Use less water than you typically would – just enough to cover the pasta.
  6. Add fresh pasta and cook until al dente. This only takes a few minutes with fresh pasta – it will take more like 6-7 minutes with store-bought pasta.
  7. In a second pan, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil and the first 20 turns of black pepper over medium-low heat.
  8. Add 2-3 tbsp of starchy pasta water and the melted butter to the pan. Stir to combine with the olive oil.
  9. Using tongs, lift noodles out of their pot and place into the pan as well.
  10. Slowly add the cheese and the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil. Stir vigorously while adding the cheese so it doesn’t get clumped up.
  11. Add more pasta water as needed to ensure all noodles get coated with the sauce.
  12. Top with 20 more turns of black pepper and salt if you think it needs.
Makes 2 large individual servings, or 4 non-fat-American-sized servings.

Bay Scallop Risotto

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Dinner tonight was basically fate. The universe aligned and all of that. I, unlike every other human being I’ve ever met, greatly prefer bay scallops to their larger, more popular big brother, the sea scallop. Neither are cheap, and we really just don’t think about buying them a lot on our grad student budget. But just the other day, I was reading these articles about how Rappahannock River Oyster is trying to reestablish the bay oyster population my beloved Chesapeake Bay, prompting me to think about those sweet, delicious little guys. And then when we were in the grocery store earlier, there were ridiculously marked down [read: probably about to go bad] bay scallops just begging to be bought! Which brings us back to our fated dinner 🙂

Back before Selim & I started dating, we were coworkers and friends. Have you ever tried to make the shift from co-worker/friend to more than that? It’s hard! The entire time you’re going back and forth between, “I mean, I definitely think we like each other…” and “OMG if I’m wrong, I’m going to have to quit my job…” Luckily, we successfully made the transition! I made this dinner for Selim the first night that I was fairly sure we were having a “date” instead of a night of friends hanging out and having dinner. I was clearly trying to impress him, and this was the fanciest dish I could think of that also didn’t give away that I was trying to be fancy. (Related note, I’m glad I’m past that stage in our relationship… over-analyzing things is tiring!) I don’t necessarily think my risotto sealed the deal for me, but it’s a special dish in my head no matter what.

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Bay Scallop Risotto

(The recipe originates with Michael Symon, but I personally first found it at Stirring the Pot. My recipe is adapted from what I found there.)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 strips of bacon
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4+ cups chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 lb bay scallops
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

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Instructions: 
  1. Slice the bacon into small lardons. Place in a large pan over medium heat, top with 2 turns of pepper, and cook for just 1-2 minutes, until the bacon begins to release its fat.
  2. Now add the diced onions. Cover the pan and sweat for 3 minutes. Remove lid, add the minced garlic, and cook for another 3 minutes.
  3. Pour the arborio rice in with the bacon, onions, and garlic. Toast for just 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t burn.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the stock. You can either keep the stock in a small pot on low on an adjacent burner or microwave it.
  5. Now add the wine. Lower heat of the burner to just under medium. Cook stirring almost continuously*, until all of the wine has been absorbed by the rice.
  6. Add the bay leaf.
  7. Now add the warm stock, one ladle-full at a time. Continue stirring until all is absorbed. Repeat this pattern until the rice is softened, but still slightly al dente. [This will take at least 30-45 minutes.]
  8. Toss the scallops into the pan, along with a double ladle-full of stock. Cover and cook for 3 minutes.
  9. Stir, add another double ladle-full of stock, recover, and cook another 3 minutes.
  10. Turn heat down to low. Remove the bay leaf. Add the butter, cheese, and another 3 turns of black pepper. Stir a few more times until the butter and cheese are well-incorporated.
  11. Serve with a bit more cheese on top, plus additional salt and/or pepper to taste.
*You may have heard or read that to make a good risotto, you have to stir without taking a second of a break, until you have a perfect risotto or your arm falls off. I’ve found that toning it down a bit works just fine. This is what I do: put a ladle-full of stock in the pan, stir for 20ish seconds, turn around and wash a dish, or shred some cheese, or throw some trash away, or something else that takes <45 seconds (I never leave the kitchen), turn back around, stir until its ready for the next ladle of stock. Nonna may disagree with my technique, but it’s worked for me thus far.
Serves 4. 

Homemade Pasta Carbonara

carbonara3In 2015, we went on a trip to Italy & Turkey. After eating our way through Rome, we became mildly obsessed with fresh pasta. So we got the pasta attachments for our stand mixer and have been trying to master making pasta from scratch ever since. The first time we attempted homemade pasta, we decided to make carbonara to go with it. It was so good that I honestly don’t think we’ve made pasta without carbonara since. But this dinner is exactly why we made this blog! We’ve done things slightly different each time, with obviously slightly different results. And we can never remember what alterations improved (or didn’t improve…) the final dish!  Hopefully this will remedy the situation.

Generally when we make this, Ally is responsible for the pasta, and Selim is responsible for the carbonara itself. For the pasta, we make the dough fresh and by hand, and then use rolling and cutting attachments for our stand mixer to create the pasta. If you don’t own said attachments (go get them!), you can roll and cut the pasta by hand. I have no knowledge or ability to do such a thing, but allegedly it can be done ;).

Cheese: Try using other styles of cheese.  Any hard cheese will work well here.  Obviously, traditional carbonara has only Italian cheese (Parmesan and/or Pecorino), but this version isn’t 100% authentic by any means. Some of our favorites for carbonara include: aged mahon, manchego, and asiago.  In the future, we’d like to try a hard Swiss or sharp cheddar.  Play around with the cheeses to find out which combos you like best!

This meal begs for wine to accompany it. Tonight we drank Stone Mountain Vineyard’s 2011 Merlot.

Homemade Pasta Carbonara

(Our recipe is adapted & combined from several sources: The Cook’s Book, 400 Sauces, & KitchenAid’s insert that accompanied our pasta attachments.)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 eggs, divided
  • 6 strips of bacon or pancetta
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced/pressed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (try turffle oil for a different flavor)
  • 8oz hard Italian cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino), shredded
  • Fresh ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Start by making the pasta dough. On a clean, dry counter-top, mix together the flour and salt and form it into a volcano (a mound with a crater scooped out in the middle). Crack two eggs into that center well/crater.
  2. Using a fork, slowly mix the egg into the flour. Try to keep the eggs within the crater, pulling in more and more flour. (If you fail, don’t worry, life will go on.) Once the egg is mixed into the flour enough that it’s not trying to run away anymore, switch to use your hands. Fold together until well combined. [You made need an extra dusting of flour if the dough is wet and sticky, or to wet your hands if it’s a bit dry.]
  3. Continue kneading the dough, stretching and folding, for at least 5 and up to 10 minutes. By this point, the dough should be smoother and elastic, so that you can form into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours. pasta2
  4. Once the dough has set, roll out and divide into quarters. Using the pasta roller attachment on the stand mixer, flatten out (#5 if using KitchenAid’s model). Let the flattened dough rest on a floured surface. Then cut into your desired type of noodles using that attachment. [Follow your particular pasta roller/cutter’s instructions for doing these things.] Tip: keep your hands and the surface of the dough lightly floured during this process.
  5. If you have two people, the other person can start preparing the carbonara while one is working on the pasta. If not, finish working with the pasta and set aside on a floured surface and begin to work on the carbonara.
  6. Slice the bacon into lardons. In a deep sauté pan, or a sauteuse pan (I just learned the name of this!), cook the bacon over medium-high heat. Top with five turns of a pepper grinder. Once the bacon has released much of its fat and is becoming crispy, add the onions to the pan. Cook for ~5 minutes and then add the garlic to the pan. Continue cooking another ~2 minutes and then turn the burner off, leaving the pan on the burner.
  7. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the fresh pasta to the boiling water. Cook for only  two minutes!! Strain.
  8. Add the pasta once strained to the pan of bacon, onion, and garlic. Stir a few times to mix.
  9. In a large bowl, whisk the remaining four eggs vigorously with the olive oil. Then add 7oz of the cheese, continuing to whisk together. Top with another five turns of the pepper mill.
  10. Stir the cheese/egg mixture into the pot of noodles. Toss to thoroughly coat the noodles. Serve immediately, topped with the remaining cheese and another bit of pepper if desired.

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Makes 2 very large individual servings, or 4 non-fat-American-sized servings.