For this edition of Tribune Cooks, I almost made cronuts - the red-hot pastry of the moment that barely has a chance to cool on NYC bakery shelves before lines of patient dessert hounds snatch them up. This croissant/donut hybrid sounds delicious, can be customized with any number of ingredients, and is not entirely difficult to make on your own. And while this will be my only option since I will never pay $40 for a half dozen, I balked on the basis of my deep fryer just having been cleaned spotless. Maybe next time.
I have as of late become a bolognese sauce junkie. If I am out to eat and it's on the menu, I get it and add it to the inventory. Different places have different sauces - meatier, sweeter, thicker, bolder. They're all an experiment in deliciousness.
Like the cronut, bolognese can be custom-made. Beef can be swapped for pork, pancetta for bacon, wine for tomato juice. Thick or thin, meaty or saucy, you can have it your way - just as long as you let it simmer slow and low.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Sarah Sepanek
Bolognese sauce is worth the time and energy involved and uses ingredients that are usually on hand.
Since I already had almost all of the stuff to make sauce, there was no stopping me.
Most of the ingredients for the sauce is stuff you already have - garlic, onion, salt, pepper. In addition to the can of plum tomatoes, I added a few fresh ones from the tomato plants behind my house. Everyone has tomatoes in the summer, and this is a great way to use them.
Also, instead of buying separate ground beef and pork, I?instead got a meatloaf mix - pork and beef already mixed together.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1/4 cup minced bacon or pancetta
1/2 pound ground pork (or use all beef)
1/2 pound ground beef
1 (28- or 35-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, drained (reserve the juice if using instead of wine)
3/4 cup dry red wine or juice from tomatoes
1 cup beef or chicken stock
1 sprig thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup cream, half-and-half, or milk
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet or saucepan. Adjust heat to medium-low and, a minute later, add onion, carrot, garlic and bacon or pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
Add ground meat and cook, stirring and breaking up any clumps, until all traces of red are gone, about 5 minutes. Add wine or tomato juice, turn up heat a bit, and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Crush the tomatoes and add them to the pot; stir, then add stock and sprig of thyme. Turn heat to low and cook at a slow simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up tomatoes and any clumps of meat that remain. After an hour or so, add salt and pepper. Cook for at least another hour, until much of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce is very thick.
Remove the thyme stem (leaves should have fallen off). Add cream, half-and-half or milk and cook for another 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally; taste and add more salt and / or pepper as needed.
Simmer three hours if possible. Check progress frequently, and add small amounts of water toward the end, if needed.
Fresh Egg Pasta
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon olive oil
Pour flour into a mound on a countertop or large cutting board. Make a wide dent in the center of the mound. Pour the eggs and olive oil into the hole and begin stirring with one hand, gradually incorporating some of the flour from the inside of the hole. Use other hand to support the wall of flour surrounding the eggs.
When the dough forms a ball and becomes too firm to stir, about 1 minute, sweep the remaining flour to the side. Lightly flour your hands and begin kneading, turning dough as you knead. Continue kneading, gradually incorporating some of the remaining flour until the ball feels moist and slightly sticky, about 3 minutes. Add only enough flour to create a firm ball of dough, or it may become too dry. Dough can also be mixed in a stand mixer with bread hooks.
Lightly dust your hands with flour. Resume kneading the dough until it is smooth and elastic, moist yet not sticky, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add more flour if necessary. The more the dough is kneaded, the lighter the pasta will be, so do not skimp on kneading. Work quickly so that the dough does not dry out. When done, wrap dough in plastic wrap and let sit 30 minutes.
Roll dough out to about 3/4 inch or desired thickness, and cut into 10-inch strips using a pizza cutter or using a pasta roller.
Boil water in large saucepan with 1 tablespoon of salt. Drop desired amount of pasta in boiling water, and cook fresh pasta 5 to 6 minutes until al dente.
Leftover pasta can be frozen for up to a month. It can also be dried by leaving pasta strips on baking sheets. Cover each sheet with lightweight cloth kitchen towels. Do not cover with plastic or foil or they will turn moldy. Leave the strips at room temperature for several days until pieces are completely dry and snap when broken. Store in plastic bags until ready to use.
While cooking, I remembered the advice from "Goodfellas": Don't let the sauce stick. It got a little brown in some parts, so I had to remember to stir regularly.
The sauce was fragrant during the whole cooking process. I let it go about three hours, adding the cream a half hour before taking it off the heat.
I had planned on making some fresh egg pasta cut to pappardelle size, but that didn't turn out so hot - the less said about that, the better. So I used good ol' Gia Russa linguine, but the egg pasta recipe is included at right.
This sauce is definitely worth the labor intensity of making fresh pasta to accompany it. Bolognese isn't complicated but requires a lot of waiting, yet it pays off. The sauce is sweet, hearty, and you can taste each ingredient. The fresh thyme really makes a difference.
Make a batch for Sunday supper, and feel free to make extra to freeze. With fresh pasta and some crusty bread, it doesn't disappoint.