Wednesday, July 3, 2013

In Time

The first time I tried to make Bolognese I nearly broke into tears. I was cooking for six: a few of them I knew well but the others weren't close friends of mine and the whole day at work I was going through ideas of what to cook in my head. By the time I left work I had gone through at least ten ideas in my mind, ruling out each for a different reason: this one would take too long, that one would make the whole apartment smell like fish, another needed so much cooling and assembling, and what if they didn't like sharp cheese? Then I got this lovely image in my head of serving a beautiful fresh pasta with one simple and gorgeous sauce, a bowl of arugula and crusty bread. Everyone would drink lots of red wine and we'd have cheese for dessert and it would be like one of those underexposed rustic Bon Appetit editorial spreads called Rustico Italiano. Two hours later, my whole life covered in flour, I realized I had no wine at home. My Bolognese, which I started making way too late, because I was compulsively changing outfits for a half hour while everything sat in grocery bags on my kitchen table, was runny and not deep red and fragrant and effortlessly brilliant like I had  imagined. to say I was flustered would be an understatement. I turned the burner way down and jumped in my car to go to the liquor store and when I got back I smelled the gas and realized that the wind had blown the flame out; ergo, sauce was soupy and apartment smelled like... gas. I frantically tried to get the gas smell out and i turned up the burner to help my godforsaken sauce along and while I emptied the dishwasher and tried to think of a record to put on, there was another smell: Burnt sauce.
This happened years ago.

Now I know that when sauce starts to burn you turn off the heat and transfer the sauce as swiftly as you can, and whatever you do, you do not stir the pot. Now I also know not to entertain people I don't really like. That night when I smelled the burning meat i quickly stirred, in disbelief, and mixed the black burnt meat into the sauce rendering it completely unsalvageable. I also overcooked my pasta and broke two wine glasses.

I didn't give up on bolognese, though. I tried again and again and I'm not exactly sure at what point over the years this happened, but I can do it now. Here is the thing with repetition: while you repeat that dish, time passes, and as time passes you learn so many things. I now know how to tell good meat from bad, I prefer smaller onions, I know when meat has browned enough, and I know exactly who to share my food with. These days I don't try to stage romantic magazine dinners anymore, but I do make big bowls of pasta and pots of Bolognese that I eat with my favorite person and we soak up the extra sauce with chunks of bread and do the crossword at the dinner table. We even dip right into the pot sometimes. I don't know if you have a Bolognese recipe that you like, I hope you do and I hope it took you many years to get to it, but if you need a little help along the way, here is mine. 

Bolognese Sauce

1 Pound ground beef (my butcher gives me what he calls lean but he winks when he says lean so It's probably medium)
2 smallish medium onions- chopped finely or grated 
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 can best tomatoes (pulverized)
1/3 c tomato paste 
1/3 c red wine
1 c stock
dry basil and oregano
salt and pepper

Brown the meat in a few tablespoons of oil and season with salt, pepper, and herbs. Add onion and cook together until onion is translucent and everything is mixing up. Add tomato paste and cook for another few minutes. In go tomatoes with juice, garlic and wine.

Finally, add a cup of stock and one cup water and simmer covered for one hour. Taste and season as you go. Uncover and cook on low until you like the consistency. Serve to your favorite person, with your favorite pasta and grated parmigiana, and if it's terrible... try again.  


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  2. i loved this story. i love bolognese. it's nice to "hear" from you again!
    my bolognese is similar, but I add milk....and a lot of the time, pork.
    ....and sausages. ;)

    beautiful pictures as well. they are more beautiful then Bon Appetit !

  3. How did I miss this post? I so enjoying coming over to your space, Mina. The story made me laugh. And the only time I've botched up dinner for guests was when I had to cook for people I didn't like. Life's little lessons - cook for people you like, order in for the ones you don't. Hope you're well xx