Thursday, May 19, 2011

First Pesto

Up to now I've strived not to repeat myself here on You Gonna Finish That? (at least not flagrantly), but I'm just so excited about my first pesto of the season, that I had to share it with you in photos.
Toast pignoli (pine nuts) in a dry skillet until lightly browned. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Peal some garlic cloves - how many depends on if you're a real foodie or not - grate lots of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, and thoroughly wash fresh basil leaves and either pat dry with paper towels or give a dizzying turn in the old salad spinner.
Combine all ingredients plus a modest shake of salt in a food processor and pulse to a fine chop. Next, slowly drizzle good extra virgin olive oil through the feed tube of your running machine to make a sauce. Add enough oil to make a thick, runny paste. Not too dry, not too wet.
Next bring a pot of slightly salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to the instructions on the package. I found fresh orecchiette (little ears) at my favorite Italian market, they take about half the cooking time of dried pasta. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Off the heat, stir in enough pesto just to coat the pasta. Serve right away with more grated cheese and a cheeky Italian red.
Pesto is easy to make, gentle readers. I really must encourage you to start making and freezing your own. There's an indescribably superior flavor over that which comes from a jar. It's gotta be 'cause it's fresh. The bite and heat of the garlic, the saltiness of the cheese, the sweetness and texture of the pignoli, and finally, the bright herbal kick from the basil. They all add up to something special. And I really do think family and friends appreciate the home-made touch. It tastes better, and shows you care.
True story: I bought a big bunch of fresh basil last Saturday as a garnish for my Ragù alla Bolognese thinking I would use the bulk of it for pesto later in the week. Imagine my disgust at discovering there wasn't a pine nut to be found in the house, usually a staple around here. I couldn't account for the lapse, but slammed cupboard doors over and over looking for something that just wasn't to be found. I think I cursed God that night.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

So Much More Than Baloney

Depiction of a 14th C. fight (1369?) between the militias of the Guelf and Ghibelline factions in the Italian commune of Bologna, from the Croniche of Giovanni Sercambi of Lucca
Bologna-Stemma coat of armsBologna Football Club logo
So, I was out in San Francisco over the long Easter break and got to dine at one of the City's more popular eateries. People say it's impossible to get a reservation, but nobody told me that before I called a few days before my arrival in town. I got a table for four at 10:30 that magically turned into a 6:30 seating within just a few hours of my booking. nopa thoroughly embraces the "local food" ethos. Everything is seasonally fresh, so the menu is continuously changing. It's is in its fifth year and its popularity has yet to wane. I soon found out why.
Good blogger that I am, I had neither camera nor notebook with me that night, so recalling what we ate is proving problematic. I do remember a fire-grilled calamari appetizer that couldn't have been more perfect. Not under-cooked, not rubbery, the chef must have stood over the grill with a stopwatch, that's how tender it was.
There was an amazingly moist rotisserie chicken; a sweet, succulent grilled pork chop with the faintest blush of color - more like steak than pork - and at a Ten Hour Bolognese pasta on the menu that ricocheted round and round my brain pan. I just had to try it. I haven't tasted anything that flavorful, complex and satisfying in a long time.
Ragù alla Bolognese - adapted from the Italian Academy of Cuisine*
  • ¼ lb pancetta, cubed
  • 2 carrots, peeled and minced
  • 2 stalks celery, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground veal
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • ½ bottle dry red wine
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Salt & pepper taste
Render the pancetta in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. (I cheat by starting things off with a couple of fat dollops of reserved bacon fat to get everything going in the pot.) Add the soffritto (mirepoix if you prefer) and sauté over low heat until thoroughly soft (20-25 minutes or more). Stir as necessary. Add the ground meat and allow to gently come up to a simmering point, stirring constantly until it sputters.
Stir in the tomato paste and cook through, until the mixture begins to take on a little color.
Add the wine and leave to simmer for at least 2 hours (I had time to kill, so went for four). You can add a bit of beef stock once the sauce is reduced by half, and continue reducing and adding stock for the duration.
While stirring, drizzle the milk into the sauce to incorporate, and season with salt and pepper. For added richness, a recommended option is to add a "a panna di cottura di un litro di latte intero". This is whole milk reduced in a saucepan to at least half its volume. I served my ragù over fat pappardelle egg noodles, but any long pasta will do. The secret is in the sauce after all. Oh, and don't forget the fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. No cheese in a green container is ever gonna bring honor to your efforts in the kitchen with a sauce like this.
Well, I ended up with one killer Bolognese. Maybe not the 10-hour indulgence that comes out of nopa's kitchen, but damn it was good. Totally rich and fulfilling. I confess, yet again, to licking my plate clean afterwards. (I had the sauce over spaghetti the next night, and dipped toasted French bread into warmed-up leftovers a third.)
You can do this sauce in as little as two hours, but even still it's a time consuming affair. I do this because of a wicked stubborn streak running down my spine. If you decide to give it a whirl, do it for the love!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
*The classic Italian Bolognese includes neither garlic nor herbs.