february 17. new york times sunday magazine. the way we eat. ragu’s are featured in an article called, ‘slow food’, and i am all about making a ragu, especially after my lunch at a voce. their lamb bolognese is a thing of perfection, so i was on one of my missions – to attempt to make one of a similar kind, meaning ‘as good’. i had bought what was called for – a few very basic ingredients – some vegetables for the mirepoix, the meat, tomato paste, rosemary and thyme. and then the next morning we had some snow – in essence, a perfect day to cook up some slow food. if there had been a rub, it would’ve been this.
my house gets cleaned on tuesdays – and this was wednesday. it is the day i am least likely to cook anything because i like to bask in the cleanliness of my countertops and floors, my stovetop and my sink… i like to revel in the orderliness and calm of my wonderously spotless kitchen. i like to invite friends over for dinner on monday. monday is by far the best day to hit my kitchen hard. so because it was wednesday, i vowed to keep it in all its pristine glory. i got out the vegetables and roughly chopped the carrots, onion, garlic and celery, carefully transfering them to the food processor, carefully throwing away the scraps, including any little bit of celery leaf that had hit the floor. after making my chunky mirepoix paste i added this to some olive oil waiting in a hot pan and while that browned for awhile, i washed the food processor bowl, blade and cover and then i put it back together. i was actually getting some smug satisfaction out of all this.
after the liquid was absorbed from the vegetables and there was a sufficient amount of browning happening, i carefully added the lamb and then tossed the butcher paper. my house was starting to smell really good and it looked like a food network set. spotless. perfect. amazing. who knew you could even do this? after at least 30 minutes of browning, in went the tomato paste – the cans immediately going into the trash, the bottle of wine now emptied into the meat following right behind them. the rosemary was chopped and the stems were quickly discarded.
this was all too good to be true. i even tied the thyme into a bundle with butcher string… yep. i know. too much. but i did it. and it was sooooo adorable.
but then here’s what happened. after it was all said and done – after the low 3+ hour simmer and the numerous additions of water – not to mention the copious amounts of care and attention… when i tasted the ragu, i thought it was too tomato-caramely sweet. and it bothered me on a deep and meaningful level.
this was not what i had in mind. but i was done with it for the day, so i put the ragu into containers, let it cool down, and then i popped ‘em in the fridge and i let it go…
until the next day. when i ran to the store. rebought all the ingredients – except the tomato paste – and did it all over again, unwilling to accept a ragu that mario would not.
but today i was in a time crunch and and since it was now thursday, the kitchen proceeded to get hammered. totally. hammered. but there i was… browning, forming a crud and scraping it off the bottom. browning, forming another crud and scraping it off the bottom. it’s the way you get the big flavor. crud. you gotta embrace the crud. and then i mixed the two together. and i had it. a very tuscan lamb ragu. this is anne burrell’s recipe, the chef at ‘centro vinoteca‘ in nyc. it is done the same way that bill buford describes in his book ‘heat‘, the very technique he was taught while an apprentice at ‘babbo‘.
anne, bill and mario all did their time cooking in tuscany – watching very closely – and this is how it’s done. it is all about the browning and the scraping of the crud. and then – browning and scraping off the crud some more. and then the long, slow simmer.
and this right here, this is the classic brown food of tuscany.
adapted from anne burrell at centro vinoteca
1 large onion
chopped 2 carrots
chopped 3 celery stalks
chopped 4 cloves garlic
chopped Extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds ground lamb leg or shoulder
1 cup tomato paste
3 cups hearty red wine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
Freshly ground black pepper
Pici, bucatini or pappardelle, cooked al dente
1. Using a food processor, puree the onion, carrots, celery and garlic to a coarse paste.
2. Coat a large pan generously with olive oil and set over medium heat. Add the purred vegetables, season with salt and cook until all the water has evaporated and the vegetables begin to brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir frequently and be patient. (This is where the big flavors develop.)
3. Add the lamb, season generously with salt and cook until it is browned, about 25 to 30 minutes. (Brown food tastes good; don’t rush this step.)
4. Add the tomato paste and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in the red wine, rosemary and bay leaves. Cook at a lively simmer until the wine has reduced by half. Add the thyme bundle and enough water to cover the lamb by about 1 inch. Simmer for 3 to 4 hours, stirring and tasting frequently and adding more water as it evaporates. Skim the fat off the surface. Remove the bay leaves and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss with al dente pasta and serve with grated Parmesan.
i’d halve the tomato paste for sure. and for my pasta, i used a pretty sizable rigati and i also opted for a dollop of ricotta as opposed to the grated parmigiano that anne’s recipe calls for. ‘a voce’ serves theirs with fresh sheeps milk ricotta. and i used polly-o. because i live in nashville.
no really, i know.
so just leave it alone, ok?
i can so read your minds…