Thursday, July 22, 2010

Meat Sauce v1.0

Being of at least 50% Italian decent (100% on my fathers side, ?% on my mothers side) I grew up treated to my Nonna's meat sauce on holidays.  Often imitated but never recreated, to my memory, this was the best meat sauce ever paired with pasta (though my memory of the sauce is fuzzy at best at this point in my life).  Years ago I was given my mothers meat sauce recipe which I believe was adapted from my Nonna's recipe.  Over the subsequent years I've abstracted from that recipe my own meat sauce style.

These days I don't follow a recipe when I make this type of sauce.  That being the case, I inevitably end up making each batch differently.  My basic preparation tact is throwing together good ingredients until the sauce looks and tastes right.  There are a few rules I tend to stick to but I typically ad lib the rest.  This being the case I'm calling this post v1.0.  I'll be posting subsequent sauce adventures as well, not that I ever plan on re-using any of the recipes, but it should make for decent reading and who knows, maybe I'll learn something by going back and reading over them (and I'm sure I can definitely pick up something via any user comments / suggestions).

In making the sauce I realized I didn't have any ground beef sitting about so the meat in the sauce ended up being bacon and sausage (not exactly healthy, but tasty... everybody loves bacon).  This batch started with a caramelized onion (ie, I started by caramelizing an onion).  To that I added four large celery stalks, one large green pepper, and 3 decent sized carrots, all diced.  I call this drop 1.

Drop 2 consisted of diced portabello mushrooms and more EVOO, of greatest import.

With drop 3 we reintroduce the meat.  Looking above I think I forgot to mention that I cooked the meat separately from the rest of the sauce.  Thus I will mention it now.  I cooked both the sausage and bacon in cast iron as I am want to do.  I did not completely cook them through though since they would cook more in the sauce and I did not want them to be a mess.  Everything that goes into the sauce, including the meat, gets a rough chop, and only a rough chop.  This ends up making the result pretty rustic in texture.  A few crushed garlic cloves go into D3 as well.

Drop 4 is all the liquid and spice content.  I went with fresh tomatoes, which is not always the case.  8 roma tomatoes diced to be exact ( seeds and juice included ).  To that I added a little over half a 7oz can of chicken broth, some more EVOO, some bacon grease, and 4oz tomato paste.

As far as spices go, here's a list, it's extensive and ordered by quantity.

  • Basil
  • Salt
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Fennel seed
  • sage
  • pepper
  • 2 bay leaves 
I simmered this down for two hours.  About 30 minutes deep I realized it was too thick and threw in 15oz tomato sauce to add some more liquid content.  One thing to note concerning liquid is that I NEVER add water to my sauce.  My mothers recipe called for water, but as far as I can discern, watter serves no purpose other than watering down the sauce.  Better to add a liquid which brings with it some flavor component.  

30 minutes before the end of cooking, add one good glass of red wine (good red wine, something you're going to drink with the meal, none of this cooking wine nonsense).  This is also an ideal time to start thinking about getting your water on to boil.  

The pasta in and of itself requires some technique.  I cook it slightly below al-dente.  After that I throw the sauce in with it and cook it all together.  This seems to help the pasta soak in the sauce.  I dump some parmigiano reggiano on top of that as well just to add a salt component to the table.

Plating comes paired with green onion and parsley. 

the finished product

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hashbrowns - One and Done

I've seen a variety of recipes for hashbrowns, though there's not a lot of room for variation in the basic recipe as far as I can tell.  You're dealing with potatoes obviously, not much more. Regardless of the recipe however I have yet to be successful in the making of hashbrowns.

Once, I made potato crusted salmon which basically meant I coated the salmon with hashbrowns.  On that particular occasion, said browns turned out as expected.  Since then, whether making straight hashbrowns or making the same salmon recipe again, the hashbrowns have not turned out right.

The general technique I follow is based on recipes I've read online.  I grate a russet potato in a cheese grater.  After that I try to dry the result with towels since there's a lot of liquid in the potato which will cause it to basically steam or boil instead of fry if I don't get rid of it.  Finally I throw it into a pan with some oil and butter to fry it up.

It seems the primary problems arise in the drying process.  Typically this process is a mess.  Pressing paper towels into the grated potatoes in order to soak the liquid out takes at least 5 minutes and I have to deal with the potatoes getting stuck to the towels and visa versa.   Further, if the potatoes are grated too long before cooking, oxidation takes place making the potatoes red and just a mess after cooked.  Even when dried, I just don't get the fluff out of them post cooking that I would expect.

Open to any input on this front