Christmas Eve Bolognese Sauce

For several years in a row, our children came home for Christmas and every Christmas Eve we’d make a batch of home-made pasta.  Of course good pasta needs a good sauce, so here’s my recipe.

I make this is two parts: one is the “Bolognese” part, made with a carrot, a celery stalk and the leanest ground beef you can find, then simmered slowly.  The other part is made from high-quality canned tomatoes, simmered with minced garlic with added basil and olive oil.  If you have a vegan, like we did one year, then this second sauce will work for them.

I combine the two sauces as we like our Bolognese sauce to resemble the one we ate in Bologna in 2012, at the Eataly store (shown above with a tagliatelle noodle).

This recipe serves about 8-10; half it if desired.

Part I–Bolognese Meat Sauce (adapted from Phaidon’s Silver Spoon cookbook)
6 Tablespoons real butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium-sized onions, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 to 1-1/2 pounds of ground steak, or lean hamburger in the 90% lean category
3 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
water
salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a large flat pan, add olive oil.  Add the vegetables and the meat and season with salt and pepper.  Mix well and cook over low heat for a few minutes until the vegetables have softened and the meat begins to brown.  Dilute the tomato paste with a little bit of water, and add to the pan, stirring well to distribute.

Cover and cook over a very low heat for 1-1/2 hours, adding a little water if the sauce appears to be drying out.

Part II–Tomato Sauce
2 cans high-quality Italian Peeled Tomatoes.  I use both of the above, but Cento is preferred.
5-6 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, then minced
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Put the tomatoes with can juice in a pan and add the minced garlic, the sugar and a sprinkling of salt (shown above).  Cover and cook over a very low heat for thirty minutes without stirring.

Using a potato masher, crush the tomatoes, stir and let cook another fifteen minutes.

If you are using only the Tomato Sauce, at the end of cooking, swirl in about 2-3 Tablespoons high quality olive oil and 15 fresh basil leaves, torn.  You can omit this if you are proceeding to step III.

Part III–Combine

Combine the Bolognese Sauce and the Tomato Sauce and use.

I find it best to make this a day ahead to let the flavors blend.

Combined Sauces

Gingerbread Cookies

I was visiting Matthew’s house at Christmastime, when we decided to rustle up a batch of Gingerbread Cookies, for eating and for sharing.  I found this recipe online at the King Arthur Flour website, and they all turned out so well I wanted to put it up here (I own the King Arthur cookbook).  We made a few modifications for ease in preparation, which I’ve incorporated into the recipe below.

Ingredients
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice or cloves
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Instructions
In a large mixing bowl, place the brown sugar, molasses, salt, and spices.  Melt the butter in a microwave, and add to the sugar/molasses mixture.  Beat in the egg.

Whisk the baking powder, soda and flour together, then to the molasses mixture about a quarter at a time.

Place the dough in a gallon-sized quart bag, shape it into a flat disk, zip closed, and refrigerate for 1 hour or longer. The dough may be sticky and hard to roll if not thoroughly chilled, so make sure it’s cold before continuing.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Get out several baking sheets; line with parchment parchment paper.

Once the dough has chilled, take one-half of the dough out of the refrigerator.  I always use a floured pastry cloth and a stockinette on the rolling pin, but if you don’t have this, work on a well-floured surface, and roll the dough 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick; the thinner you roll the dough, the crispier the cookies will be.

Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter, cutting them as close to one another as possible to minimize waste.  Roll scraps into a ball, and re-roll and cut out again.

Transfer the cookies to prepared cookie sheets. Bake the cookies just until they’re slightly brown around the edges 8 to 10 minutes, or until they feel firm. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for several minutes, or until they’re set. Transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Cook’s Note: We doubled this with no troubles at all, but worked with only 1/4 of the dough at a time, keeping the rest refrigerated.

Rosemary Foccacia

This came via Gourmet Magazine in March of 2002, but I’ve changed up a few things.  While it does appear to take a long time, make it while you are doing laundry, or cleaning up around the house, and dash back in when necessary to put it in the pan.  My advice: less flour, rather than more.  Whenever I make it with the full 5, it’s dull and too stiff.  When I use about 4-1/2 cups, it’s about right.

Active time: 15 min Start to finish: 3 1/2 hr

1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast, or 2-1/4 teaspoons regular dry yeast (not the bread machine kind)
4 to 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (depending on how much you like salt)

Special equipment: a standing electric mixer with paddle attachment and dough hook

Stir together 1 2/3 cups lukewarm (105 to 115°F) water and yeast in bowl of mixer and let stand until creamy (see photos below), about 5 minutes. Add 4 to 5 cups flour, 1/4 cup oil, and 2-1/2 teaspoons table salt, and beat with paddle attachment at medium speed until a dough forms. Replace paddle with dough hook and knead dough at high speed until soft, smooth, and sticky, 3 to 4 minutes.

(OPT: if you don’t have a dough hook and a mixer) Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead in 1 to 2 tablespoons more flour. Knead dough 1 minute (it will still be slightly sticky).

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and turn dough to coat with oil. Let rise, covered with plastic wrap, at warm room temperature, until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Press dough evenly into a generously oiled 15- by 10- by 1-inch baking pan. Let dough rise, covered completely with a kitchen towel, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Stir together rosemary and remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Make shallow indentations all over dough with your fingertips, then brush with rosemary oil, letting it pool in indentations. Sprinkle sea salt evenly over focaccia and bake in middle of oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes.  Immediately invert a rack over pan and flip focaccia onto rack, then turn right side up (see Cook’s Note below). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cook’s Note: If grains of coarse sea salt are very large, you may want to crush them slightly before sprinkling over focaccia.

Second Cook’s Note: I just loosen the focaccia in the pan with a spatula, then drag it over to the rack.

Yeast, all proofed and creamy-like.

The dough is a little raggy with the added flour.

Switching over to the dough hook, to knead it.  If you have a mixer with a dough hook, no need to knead the dough on a floured surface.

After second rise in the baker’s half sheet (cookie pan with sides), push indentations with your fingers to allow oil to pool up on surface.  I also used a tool to add designs.

Brushed with rosemary oil, salt and ready for baking.

Yummy!  Drag it over to the rack, cut into squares, and serve.

Orange-Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti

I had to make a batch of cookies to take to a holiday event, and decided to revamp my traditional biscotti recipe, adding pistachios, orange zest and dried cranberries (Craisins) to the recipe.  The original, Anise-Almost Biscotti, are great biscotti, but I omitted the almonds and the anise and added the above treats.  They were a hit.

Preparation: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line1 baking sheet with parchment paper.

Ingredients
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
zest from two medium oranges (about 1 Tablespoon)
1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries (Craisins)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pistachios (unsalted, unroasted preferred, but it’s okay if you don’t have them that way.  I buy mine at Trader Joe’s).

In mixer, mix sugar, melted butter, 3 eggs, vanilla extract, and orange rind. In another bowl, sift (or stir together) flour, baking powder and salt.  Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir on low speed, scraping when needed until well blended.  Add dried cranberries and pistachios.

 

Glop half of the dough onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Dough is kind of gooey–so I used my spatula to shape each dough half into 13 1/2-inch-long, 2 1/2-inch-wide log. Mine got a little wide, so the final biscotti were a little flat. Remember that, when you shape them. Space the logs 2-3 inches apart.  (What you see here is a doubled batch.)

Bake logs until golden brown (logs will spread), about 35 minutes (a little longer than the usual biscotti). They should be firm to the touch. Don’t turn off the oven! 

(traditional biscotti shown here)

Cool logs completely on sheet on rack, about 20 minutes.  I dragged mine over onto a baking rack by using the edge of the parchment paper, and tilting the cookie sheet a little bit.

Transfer logs to work surface; discard parchment paper. Using serrated knife, cut logs on diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Stand them on edge, as shown in the first photo.  If you do it this way, you don’t have to turn them over, and you can get it all on one baking sheet.  Bake 15-20 minutes.  You want to make sure there are no doughy spots, and they are good and crunchy.

Transfer to rack and cool. These can be prepared 1 week ahead of your Big Party. Store in airtight container at room temperature.  These have a melt in your mouth crispness that are typical of homemade biscotti, but unlike store-bought, they won’t break your jaw.

One-pot Spaghetti

I had just read about this recipe in the New York Times that morning, and at noon, out of the blue, three relatives called to say they were coming by at lunchtime…from Utah…but don’t go to any trouble.  We had just returned from a trip abroad, no food was in the house, the jet-lag was flaring badly, but here was this gift of a recipe, and with a few modifications I had it ready to go in no time.  Make it.  It’s delicious and quick.

Ingredients:
1 pound angel hair spaghetti
3-4 pints cherry tomatoes, separated (cut about half of the tomatoes in half, and leave the rest whole–save about 1/2 cup of the halved tomatoes to sprinkle on top for garnish at the end.  Truth: I forgot to cut them before I threw them in with the spaghetti and they were fine.)
zest of two lemons
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 bunch kale or spinach (wash, cut out the stems and discard, and chop the rest)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Parmesan or other hard grated cheese, for serving  (we use Pecorino-Romano)

Measure out 1 quart of water, and bring to a boil.

In a separate pan, large in enough to hold the dry spaghetti laying flat (I cheated and broke off 2 inches off the ends), place the dry spaghetti, most of the tomatoes, lemon zest, oil and salt.

Add the boiling water to the pan with the spaghetti.  Cover the pan and bring to a boil.  Remove the lid and simmer for about six minutes. Occasionally use tongs to lift and separate the spaghetti so it doesn’t stick.

Add kale (or spinach) and continue cooking until liquid has been reduced to a sauce, the pasta is cooked through, and the kale is tender (but not overdone).

Correct seasonings, top with cheese and remaining 1/2 cup sliced tomatoes.  Serve.

Cooks’ Notes: Some have suggested adding a pinch of hot pepper flakes to the simmering concoction for a bit of a kick.

Cheezy (Funeral) Potatoes, my version

Everybody has this recipe and has made it for millenia, but I made my first batch of these this year, and wanted to put the recipe on this blog for future reference.  I joke that instead of crushed cornflakes on top, we should put crushed statins, but then maybe you have to be of a certain age to get the reference.  Let’s just say, I’ll try not to make these unless I’m going to share them.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Saute ¾ cup diced onion in 3 Tablespoons of real butter, until the onion is transluscent.
Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, and then cook for another minute or two, but don’t let the vegetables brown.

In a large bowl, place:
1 (30 ounce) bag of frozen, shredded has brown potatoes — if frozen (mine were), poke at it with a sturdy spoon to break it up a little
1 (10.5 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup–fish out the big pieces of chicken meat
1 cup LITE sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1-1/2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

Add onion mixture to the above and stir well until mixed.  Keep stirring, keep stirring.

Melt 3 Tablespoons real butter, and add to 1½ cup crushed cornflake crumbs, about one-half of a small box.  Stir to mix.

Place potato mixture into a 9 x 13″ pan, pressing firmly into place.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheddar cheese over the surface, then spread the conflake crumbs over the top of that.

Bake for 90 minutes or until cooked throughout and bubbly.

Here’s a couple of photos of what was going on:

Mixing up the potato ingredients

Layers of topping: cheese, then cornflakes