Palmer House Ragu

Palmer Ragu
Matt and I first read about homemade ragu in the book, Heat, by Bill Buford.  The section on ragu was about Mario Batali and his story of his own family’s obsession with their homemade bolognese sauce, or, ragu.  He said every Italian family had one, and each family was so fiercely defensive and prideful about their ragu recipe, that some men even seriously considered a woman as marriage material or not, based on the quality of her version.  Though the section was a bit humorous, I really felt that this was a dish with a history and a soul and an identity.  No two people can make the same ragu, and so each person should work on perfecting their own to their own liking!

Matt and I consulted an online recipe years ago when we made ragu the first few times.  This time, Matt said, “Let’s not consult anything.  We know how it goes; let’s do our own.”  So we did!  It was really fun to create our own concoction and add a little of this and a little of that till we thought it tasted “right.”  A pretty good description in Heat of the proper way to cook a ragu is simple:  “Take a liquid and a solid and cook it till it’s neither.”

So I’ll give you our now-official family ragu recipe.  I encourage you to come up with your own as you go!  Make a huge batch and freeze for later – you won’t be sorry. You can thaw it easily in a skillet with a little beef stock.  This stuff is great saucy or thick.  We like ours super chunky and less liquidy, so we let it verge on the dry side.  Matt made potato gnocchi to go with it, but we’ve done every noodle you can imagine, and my personal favorite is a nice, wide fettuccine noodle.  Garnish with shaved Parmesan and serve with a hearty glass of red and you’ll be so good you won’t know what to do with yourself.

potato gnocchi Palmer Ragu Night

Palmer House Ragu

3 tbs butter or olive oil
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced onion*
1 lb ground beef (85%/15%)
1 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground sausage
1 cup white wine
1 cup whole milk
1-28 oz can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp oregano
a few gratings of whole nutmeg
pasta of your choice

*it’s important to try to make all your vegetables the same size dice so that they all cook and break down at the same rate.  We keep everything at about a 1/4″ dice.

In a large stockpot (I adore my Lodge ceramic dutch oven.  Half the cost of Le Creuset and just as good), over medium heat, add the butter and cook until it starts bubbling.  Then, add in the carrots, celery and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften.  Add in the meats and stir well to incorporate with the vegetables.  Cook until most of the pink is gone, but not all.  Add in the wine and bring to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid is gone.  Do the same with the milk.  After the milk is cooked off, add in the diced tomatoes and stir well to incorporate.  Add about a teaspoon of kosher salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper and let that sucker cook all afternoon.  We let ours bubble away for about 3 hours and as it cooks, I randomly come stir it, ladle off the fat that starts to separate so that the finished result won’t be too greasy.  Really, you can’t  cook this too long.  You can cook it too fast, but if it starts to dry out, simply add some water or beef stock and keep stirring.  When you like the look of it, add in the oregano and nutmeg and season again with salt to taste.  Let it cook another 30 min or so to let the flavors develop.  Serve over freshly boiled pasta (long noodles are the best) with shaves of Parmesan and a few shakes of crushed red pepper.  That’s how we roll, anyway.  Enjoy and mix it up however you like!  The secret is in the long cook time.  It’s amazing what a few ingredients will do together, over time!

Advertisements

The Ultimate Meatball and Taking Food to a Friend

meatball and marinara

We’ve been on the receiving end of food donations twice in our life and both times, we were touched by others’ thoughtfulness, great recipes and the comfort that was passed to us through the dishes they made.  It takes a bit of humbling to bring food to someone who can’t cook for themselves, or simply don’t want to or don’t have the time.  You worry if they’ll like what you made.  You worry if they will critique the preparation or that you brought store-bought cookies instead of homemade.  If I could only convince you that anything you bring is wonderful and welcome, I would.  If they can’t eat it right away or they have duplicates, they can freeze what you brought!  To worry too much about what to bring, or to worry the recipient about what you brought, shifts the focus off the deserving and on to you.  Keep the focus where it belongs, ask if they have any requests or food allergies, and get cooking!  Homemade is always nice, but I will admit, I did not turn away store-bought cookies, chocolate or coffee! 🙂

My wonderful, life-long friend, Summer, had her second baby almost two weeks ago.  A beautiful, darling girl!  I immediately began to think of what I would bring for Summer and Phil to eat.  Summer is my food buddy.  I trust her cooking as much as my own.  Her sense of taste is far beyond most people, almost to a fault.  We used to live together in college, and I think one of our first food-bonding moments was throwing chicken patties off the balcony of our apartment because they were just so disgusting.  They were pre-cooked, breaded chicken patties and they tasted like…gray.  Or sweat.  It wasn’t good.  We both were actually offended.  How could you screw up a breaded piece of chicken, and worse, sell it to poor college students?! In our act of defiance against badly cooked food, we became unofficial food critics in our own right.  We were each other’s taste-testers. A favorite game throughout our friendship is Guess the Ingredient! in which we excitedly wait while the other tastes and see if they guess right.  I love that no matter what time of day, I can text Summer a description of something I made or want to make, and she will react with an appropriate amount of shock, enthusiasm and awe.

We joke that Summer always says her FAVORITE thing in the ENTIRE world is whatever I last cooked for her.  True to the accusation, I asked if she had any requests for what I could bring for them, and she requested the last meal I made for her, which was the BEST meatball recipe I’ve ever run across.  It’s tough to get a meatball right.  They can be too dry or too mealy or rubbery from being over cooked, or simply too greasy.  This recipe is perfect.  And even more perfect, it came to me via fashion designer, Michael Kors in his appearance on Martha Stewart Living.  So they’re both delicious AND fashionable.  Win-win.

The secret ingredient to these meatballs is the water.  Smooshing all these ingredients together, especially with the water, is not for the faint of heart.  My mother would die a thousand deaths before making this recipe.  She has a thing with texture.  However, I like playing with my food, so it’s rather enjoyable for me.  The meat mixture is very delicate, so be gentle as you turn them while cooking.  I usually use two spatulas to help me turn them without smashing them apart.  Getting a good crust on each side is key.  Then, there will still be a slight crust, even after they’ve stewed in the sauce for a while.  Oh, and serving this with spaghetti is up to you. It’s not tradition – the Italians eat their meatballs in a bowl with crusty bread.  But, the recipe makes enough sauce that even after we finish up the meatballs, I have plenty of sauce left to toss with noodles the next day.  Olive absolutely adores these.  She ate two, 3 inch meatballs by herself before slowing down.  They are so soft, you could easily smash it up for a little one.  And they get better the next day!

meatball

Frankie’s Meatballs in Rao’s Marinara Sauce

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 1/2 cloves garlic
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups plain dry bread crumbs
  • 2 cups water, room temperature
  • 1 cup olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, combine beef and pork using your hands. Mince 1/2 clove garlic and add to meat mixture along with the eggs, cheese, and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Continue mixing with your hand until well combined. Add bread crumbs and mix well. Add water, 1 cup at a time, and continue mixing until mixture is quite moist.
  2. Shape mixture into 2 1/2-to-3-inch balls. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Smash remaining clove of garlic with the back of a knife and add to skillet. Cook until lightly browned and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon and discard. Working in batches, add meatballs to skillet. Cook until browned and cooked through, turning, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
  3. Meanwhile, bring marinara sauce to a boil in a large nonreactive saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer and add meatball. Let meatballs cook in sauce about 20 minutes; serve immediately with pasta, if desired.

Rao’s Marinara Sauce
Makes 7 cups

  • Four 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes with basil, preferably San Marzano
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons minced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 leaves fresh basil, torn (optional)
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  1. Remove tomatoes from can and place in a large bowl, reserving juices. Crush tomatoes using your hands; remove and discard the hard core from stem end, and any skin and tough membrane; set aside. (Wear an apron and keep your hand submerged as you crush.  This is messy business, but kind of therapeutic  .)
  2. Place oil in a large, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion, and cook until soft and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until softened, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and reserved juices; season with salt. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 hour.
  3. Stir in basil, if using, oregano, and season with pepper; continue cooking 1 minute more. Remove from heat and serve.

*Recipes taken directly from Martha Stewart Living.  They can not be improved upon.

frankie's meatsauce