Experimental Pasta Sauce #37

So Lolly and I were out and about this afternoon doing a little semi-holiday-related shopping (after spending yesterday intently avoiding all things Black Friday) when, not unexpectedly, the conversation turned to what to do about dinner. Immediately my mind went to that iconic scene from The Jungle Book, with the two vultures sitting on the tree branch asking each other back and forth: “What do you wanna do?” “I dunno, what do you wanna do?” “I dunno, what do you wanna do?” “I dunno …”  Et cetera ad infinitum.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Lolly told me straightaway that she wanted a pasta dish with a rich meaty sauce.  This is no small thing, mind you.  Lolly is a rabid anti-pastite.  She despises all things carb.  To hear her tell it, GMO wheat is a deep, dark government plot whose end goal is to turn us all into couch potatoes while causing all of our brains to melt out of our ears.  Okay, maybe that’s a teeny tiny exaggeration – but she is a personal trainer who tends to be more than a little picky about what she eats, and carbs in any form frequently draw sidelong glares from her.

Well, all that stuff aside, I decided to shoot for something in the neighborhood of a Bolognese sauce, but without the 3-4 hour cook time normally associated with that classic Italian ragu.  What I came up with, totally on the fly, off the top of my head, and by the seat of my pants – plus whatever other idiomatic expressions you can think of to depict a complete lack of planning – was the following heavy duty meat sauce, served over pappardelle.  You will need a food mill and food processor for this preparation.

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I made enough for 6-8 servings. Here’s what went into it:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, small dice
  • 1 rib celery, small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans (15 oz.) fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 tsp. dried basil leaves
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • 4 oz. cubed pancetta
  • 1 can (2 oz.) anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 4 oz. full-bodied red wine
  • Grated parmesan and chopped basil for garnish

A couple quick notes on ingredients: for the ground beef I would suggest either an 85/15 ground round or a 90/10 ground sirloin, preferably angus if you can get it.  Ground chuck will have too much fat for this dish.  For the wine I would recommend something bold like a zinfandel or maybe a generous splash of the cabernet that I was drinking as I prepared this recipe.  Lastly, make sure you’re using good quality anchovies.  I used Cento brand for this dish, which are delicious enough to eat straight out of the can (I did munch a few of them that way while cooking) but Bellino is another personal fave.

Now, on to our cooking:  Heat the olive oil un a large skillet over medium flame, and sweat the onion, carrot and celery until tender.  Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds.   Next add the tomatoes, broth, dried herbs, cayenne, salt and pepper, stir well and allow this mixture to cook for about 20 minutes to blend the flavors.  Pass the cooked sauce through a food mill using the coarsest blade you have, return it to the skillet, then stir in the tomato paste to thicken it.  Here’s what your sauce should look like after you finish milling it.  The carrots tend to be a little stubborn about going through, but persistence will pay off with a chunkier, richer sauce.  Continue to simmer your sauce on low heat.

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While your sauce is cooking, in a separate skillet, brown your ground beef until well cooked. Drain it thoroughly and set it aside. In the same skillet, cook the pancetta until the fat is rendered and it begins to brown. Drain it on paper towels, but reserve about 2 tbsp. of the melted fat.  Transfer the cooked beef and pancetta to a food processor, and pulse until the mixture is finely and evenly ground. Add the ground meat to your tomato sauce, along with the chopped anchovies, the reserved pancetta fat, and the red wine. Continue to cook for another 30 minutes or so, using that time to prep your pasta. This would work great with spaghetti or linguine but I just happened to have some pappardelle on hand, and that proved to be a fine choice as well.

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When it’s all done, plate it up with some fresh grated parmesan and chopped basil, some more of that rich, delicious cabernet, and you’re off to the proverbial races. We enjoyed this dish immensely, notwithstanding that I just pulled it out of my …. well, you know. In any event, I’m going to call this experiment a success. Give it a try and let me know what you think. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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