Love at First Sight

I’m sorry if I’m about to repeat myself here, but I’m going to tell you a little bit about how Chris and I met. I swear I’ve done it already (more than just little snippets), but I’m in no mood to read through every last post to double check. So there.

I’m thinking I used to have a section about it on the “About” page, and when I just went to update it a little (yeah, finally!) I realized it wasn’t there anymore. So maybe some of you don’t know the story.

Anyway, away we go.

I applied for a study abroad trip in Italy in the winter of 2000 after a pretty shitty year (see link #1 above). I got “picked” to go (although I’m sure it wasn’t that hard…), so after pinching myself a few times, asking my parents over and over for money (because I didn’t believe them the first time they said they’d pay for it), and getting all my shit together (vacation from the soap store, finding a place for my cat to live, etc), I was finally set. There were only a couple of “orientation meetings” to attend, and then I’d be on my way to Florence.

Chris would tell you that we met at one of those orientation sessions. He’d also tell you that I was a royal bitch to him when he tried to make small talk from the row behind me; apparently I was annoyed that he didn’t know we’d be 6 hours ahead of North Carolina time and snapped at him, but I swear I don’t remember it. I mean seriously, when do I ever snap at people? And of course, he’d tell you that he noticed all the cornbread I’d eaten, and that he may have fallen in love with me at first sight. Again, I remember none of this.

Chris would also tell you that he found out pretty quickly that I had a super-serious boyfriend at home and that his heart was crushed. There was one drunken night (of many, because it was Italy for cryin’ out loud! that means cheap-ass wine!) that many of us distinctly remember a phrase slurred from Chris’ lips: “My girlfriend! She has a boyfriend!”. Ah, the memories.

Anyways, even though it wasn’t necessarily love at first sight, Chris and I definitely hung out together quite a bit in Italy and in a matter or months (or weeks…) upon returning from said country, we were pretty much walking to each other’s houses every day after class. Three years later we were moving to Chicago together, and two years after that we got hitched. Five years after that, here we are in California. How time flies.

It just so happened that an Italian cooking class was offered as part of our study abroad curriculum. I’d initially enrolled in some nerdy educational something-or-other class, but once I realized the cooking class was offered, I quickly jumped ship and opted for the more ‘leisurely’ course. I may or may not have known that Chris was already taking the cooking class, too ;). As a result, we got to spend even more time together, and while I barely remember what we cooked, I do remember one little detail.

There was rabbit.

Okay, two details. The rabbit was really tasty. I have no idea how we prepared it, but maybe it was something like this? Ragù is Italian-derived, after all.

Either way, it’s a ragù you should certainly make, even if you do have to drive around to all your city’s butcher shops to find a rabbit. Rabbit is lean, totally flavor-filled, and a meat you’ll fall in love with the second you taste the result. It may not be love at first sight, but that doesn’t ever truly happen anyway, does it?

Rabbit Ragù with Soppressata
Adapted from Food & Wine, September 2009; serves 4-6 

time commitment: 2 1/2 hours (more like 1 hour active)

printable version

ingredients
2 3/4 pounds plum tomatoes (or 3 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes)
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole 2-3 lb rabbit*
salt & pepper
1 onion, medium dice
2 stalks of celery, medium dice
2 carrots, medium dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c hefty red wine (I used a 2004 Syrah)
4 c low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 c red wine vinegar
1 T finely chopped rosemary
4 oz soppressata, finely diced
3/4 lb tagliatelle
1/4 c Parmigiano-Regianno cheese, grated
1 T chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

*Rabbit is pretty difficult to locate since the demand is relatively low in most places. For those in San Francisco, I found mine at Bi-Rite, but Drewes Bros usually carries a few frozen rabbits and I know the meat shop at the Ferry Bldg carries it. Many butcher shops can order one for you at your request. D’artagnan is an online meat market and they sell it too for reasonable prices. If you buy it locally, you can probably have the butcher butcher it for you.

instructions
Butcher your rabbit if the market didn’t do it for you. I cut mine into 8 pieces, sorta following these instructions.

If using fresh tomatoes, you’ll get the best results if you peel your tomatoes. You can leave them peeled and loaded with seeds if you want, though, to save time. If you’re using canned tomatoes, you can obviously skip this step. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil and fill a bowl with ice water. Score the bottom of each tomato with a shallow X. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Transfer the tomatoes to the ice water bath to cool. Peel the tomatoes and cut them in half crosswise. Scoop the seeds and pulp into a strainer set over a bowl. Press the pulp and juice through the strainer and discard the seeds. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them to the strained pulp and juice.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven. Season the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper. Add them to the Dutch oven and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until lightly browned all over, about 6 minutes. Transfer the rabbit to a plate.

Toss the onions, celery, and carrots into the Dutch oven and cook over moderate-high heat for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and cook another minute or two. Add red wine and bring to boil to deglaze (removed browned bits).

Once most of the wine has evaporated, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes, red wine vinegar, rosemary and the browned rabbit and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover partially and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rabbit is tender, about 1 hour and 10 minutes. Transfer the rabbit to a plate. Boil the sauce until thickened, about 20 minutes.

Pull the rabbit meat from the bones and shred it. Return the rabbit meat to the Dutch oven, add the diced soppressata and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta well and divide among shallow bowls. Spoon the rabbit ragù over the pasta, top with cheese and parsley, and serve hot.

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Ragù: It’s in there

I’m sure many of you are trying your damnedest to not turn on a single heat source, right? Facebook and Twitter are loaded with complaints about the hot weather in most parts of the country. In fact, my pops told me today that he almost breaks out in a sweat on the way to the mailbox (he was exaggerating, but only slightly).

But I have to be truthful – the only time I sweat in this city is during a jog, a painful bike ride, or walking up a huge hill or two; there is certainly no heat-induced sweating going on. I’m sorry, really, because I just can’t relate to most of you right about now. But I do remember it – I’ve always lived in humid areas, until now, remember?

In fact, Chris is in Austin right now on a business trip, and I’m sure he’s sweating through his t-shirt, and the fact that he’s bald won’t help the sweat rolling off of his head, either. And to be frank, I do miss that sometimes; I mean, it is August, right? Why did I wear a hoodie yesterday and wish I had on gloves when I got to the top of Turtle Hill? One word: microclimate.

My point here, is please forgive me for what I’m doing right about now which is one – making you wish you lived here and two – making you angry that I’m about to ask you to simmer a ragù for 2 hours. Trust me – you’ll want to crank up the A/C for this (or if you’re in San Francisco, you can open a window and take off your hoodie).

I made this dish a couple of months ago; I remember buying all the ingredients, and then putting them together in the fridge the Friday morning before heading out to work, Dutch oven waiting on the countertop. I came home, grabbed the heap of meats and produce, and happily chopped carrots, celery, and onions into tiny cubes. I cracked open a nice bottle of Malbec, pouring the obligatory amount into the pot, stirring and waiting, knowing that something absolutely scrumptious was simmering away.

I remember putting together a cheese plate to tide us over, since dinner was happening at 9:00 that night. Some things are worth the wait – this was one of them. And even today, I remember eating slowly, trying to make dinner last longer than usual. While this is definitely a pasta dish with what might appear to be a regular ol’ meat sauce, it is easily more than that. And it’s far more than the quick throw-together pasta meals from the jars in Safeway. In short – there’s stuff in it – good stuff, and you should make some of it, like yesterday, hot weather or not.

Classic Ragù Bolognese
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2011; serves 6

time commitment: 3 hours (half active)

printable version

ingredients
2 T evoo
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled, finely chopped
6 oz ground beef (85% lean)
6 oz ground veal
3 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, finely chopped
1/2 c dry red wine
3 c beef stock, divided
4 T tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 c milk
1 pound of tagliatelle
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (for serving)

instructions
Heat oil in a large heavy pot (preferably a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots. Sauté until soft, 8-10 minutes. Add beef, veal, and prosciutto; sauté, breaking up with the back of a spoon, until browned, about 15 minutes. Add wine; boil 1 minute, stirring often and scraping up browned bits. Add 2 1/2 cups stock and tomato paste; stir to blend. Reduce heat to very low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring milk to a simmer in a small saucepan; gradually add to sauce. Cover sauce with lid slightly ajar and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until milk is absorbed, about 45 minutes, adding more stock by 1/4-cupfuls to thin if needed. (if you wish, you can make this in advance and rewarm it over the stove the night you plan to serve it.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 1 minute before al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water. Transfer ragù to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pasta and toss to coat. Stir in some of the reserved pasta water by tablespoonfuls if sauce seems dry. Divide pasta among warm plates. Serve with grated cheese.