Saturday, May 26, 2012

BOLOGNESE SAUCE or RAGU alla BOLOGNESE


Well, I finally came up with the definitive recipe for Bolognese sauce.  Definitive for my taste buds that is.  It could be that your sauce recipe is superior to mine. If it is, can I borrow it?  In all honesty, it took me a few tries and a few years to perfect it, and I am proud of the results.  I think I like it because I've started using more than one kind of ground meat in it, and because the sauce isn't made up solely from tomatoes.  One other thing:  most Bolognese sauce recipes call for the addition of milk or cream at the end of cooking.  I finally had the nerve to leave the dairy stuff out.  So right now I'm loving my version of Bolognese sauce, and since I can't eat too much pasta due to dieting restrictions, I eat it plain, or I top a slice of high protein bread with it.  Then I watch my family devour their sauce with pasta, and I write down on my diary how unfair that is.  Even my dogs eat sauce over pasta.  They love it, and they love me for giving it to them.  Oh, well. What's my point?  My point is that this sauce tastes really good.  So good you don't even need pasta with it.
Bolognese sauce (or ragu alla Bolognese), is a classic Italian meat sauce that originated in the city of Bologna, the capital of the Emilia–Romagna region in Northern Italy.  Bologna is an Italian university town, with a long and impressive history of art, music and culture.  An important part of the local food industry is the production of cured meats such as prosciutto and salami.  The classic version of sauce Bolognese contains prosciutto. By classic version I mean the standardized recipe for "ragu alla Bolognese," which was created to preserve the culinary heritage of Italy.  That recipe has been deposited with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce.  My recipe for Bolognese sauce is deposited in a drawer in my kitchen.  Which of the two recipes do you think is more important?  














Just being a little artistic with this picture here...

Anyway, my recipe varies from the standard in that there is no prosciutto in it, just to cut down on the amount of fat.  Another thing I changed, is the addition of milk or cream at the end of cooking.  I have added one or the other many times, and I can’t understand (or taste) how the addition of milk improves a tomato-meat sauce.  So as I already mentioned, I finally decided to leave the milk out.  After all, the original recipe was created about 150 years ago, and tastes do change.  Chicken livers?  Out.  Cinnamon and nutmeg? Out. I think cinnamon overpowers tomato sauce.  I include bay leaves in my recipe.  They add an herbal, sweet flavor which is somewhat reminiscent of the sweetness of cinnamon.  I like the end result.  The meat takes precedence over the tomatoes.  The ingredients cook for close to two hours, so the flavors meld well. The end result is a dense, silky, multi-dimensional sauce. If there are any leftovers, they can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and frozen for up to 1 month.

Ingredients:
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (perhaps you will need just a little more)
  • 1 large red onion, chopped well (the red onion is sweet and strong flavored, plus it looks really pretty combined with all those vegetables. Use any onions you have, though.  This time around I used a red, a yellow and a fairly old shallot.  It was "empty the onion drawer" time)
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped well, and go ahead and use the celery leaves, too
  • 3 carrots, chopped well
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 or maybe 2 bay leaves (if you use 2, you will definitely know there are bay leaves in the sauce)
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 3/4 of a pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 can tomato sauce, 8 ounces
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 or 2 rinds of Parmesan cheese
  • 8 plum tomatoes, skins and seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 cup beef broth
For the pasta:
  • 1 pound pasta such as fettuccine
  • well chopped parsley
  • a little olive oil
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • black pepper
Directions:
  • In a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, sauté the onions, carrots and celery in 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil until the vegetables are soft.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes.
  • Turn up the heat a little.  Make a well in the center of the pot by pushing the vegetables all the way to the sides.  Add a little olive oil in the center, let it heat up and then add some of the ground meat into the well you created.  Break up the meat with a wooden spoon and cook, stirring to mix with the vegetables.  Keep stirring and adding the ground meat, and cook until the meat is no longer really pink.  Season with salt and pepper and mix again.  Cook until the meat is browned well, about another 5 minutes. 


After the meat has browned the herbs and spices go in.

  • Add the red pepper flakes, the oregano and thyme, and cook for about another minute.
  • Add the tomato paste and mix.
  • Add the wine and deglaze by scraping up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pot.  Cook until the alcohol in the wine has evaporated. 

These are plum tomatoes that I peeled and seeded the day before.  I refrigerated  them in a plastic container with basil leaves, garlic and a little olive oil.  The were ready for the cooking pot!

  • Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, one cup of beef broth, the Parmesan rinds and the bay leaf. 
Bay leaves, Parmesan rinds and beef broth give this sauce a unique flavor!                      Most of the cheese will melt, but there will be one or two tiny, semi-solid pieces that are a nice surprise to get on your plate and a special treat to eat.  The cheese I use is Locatelli pecorino Romano, but I always refer to it as "Parmesan."
  • Mix, turn the heat down to simmer, cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally so that the sauce does not stick to the bottom of the pan. 
About half way through...

  • Cook for about 1 ½ hours, until the sauce is thickened and flavorful. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
  Finished cooking, chunky and aromatic!

Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain and place on a serving platter.  Season with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, a little olive oil, black pepper and some finely chopped parsley.  Spoon some of the sauce on top and mix.  Then serve the sauce and some grated Parmesan cheese on the side and let everyone serve themselves, taking pasta, sauce and cheese according to their taste. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

SAINT GEORGE GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH, MEDIA, PENNSYLVANIA: Spring food festival 2012

This weekend was very busy for me.  On May 4, 5, and 6 we were having a Greek food festival at Saint George Greek Orthodox Church, in Media, Pennsylvania. 
So I spent three days making souvlaki and gyro sandwiches.  To sell.  To all the dear, lovely people who came to visit the church and experience the tastes, sights and sounds of Greece.  I was part of the team that ran the sandwich shop.  There were several other teams made up of our hard working church members.  There were two pastry teams: one sold cookies, and baklava, and melomakarona and galaktoboureko.  The other pastry team sold loukoumades, Greek coffee and café frappé (a Greek iced coffee that is a must have during the summer, and was invented about 50 years ago in my very own home town of Thessaloniki). 
Then there was the large team that cooked and sold such traditional fair as fassolakia, pastitsio, moussaka, spanakopita, Greek salad, and so many other dishes.  There were tables set up on the lawn and inside the church hall, and boy, were they full!  I wanted to take pictures of everything so that I could document it here, but I was so busy that I got very few chances to play wandering photographer.  Next time I will photograph everything, I promise. We are having another festival in early October, and this one is going to be the big one!  You could say that last weekend we had a practice run for what is about to come.  Even though there is quite a bit of work involved, I can't wait!!! I love the festivals, and the friends one runs into there. I love the team spirit that is present and propels every one to keep working. Team work is fun, and it ensures things are well done so that the festival is a success.  You could say that the festival made me very, very happy!
The girls are wearing Pontian costumes.  Pontian music and dance retain elements of Ancient Greek and Byzantine traditions.

We had several dancing troupes perform.  These troupes are made up of Greek youth, and they are separated into different age categories.  I got to take pictures of the youngest troupe, which had a feisty five year old young lady as one of its members. Her name is Gabriella, and she was a joy to watch, but she moved so fast that it was difficult to get a close up picture of her.
"Dancing with the Greek Stars!"

These are the loukoumades, fried fluffy dough balls that are dipped in honey, and have cinnamon and walnuts sprinkled on top.  Irresistible!!!

These were loukoumades.  Somebody polished them off.  

As I said, I was part of "team gyros-souvlaki," and this was my domain:
That's pita bread, hot off the grill.  It constitutes the base of the sandwich. Everything is built on top of the pita, so it needs to be doughy and substantial so that it can hold everything.  This pita fit the bill.  
Here's the gyros freshly grilled and waiting to be sold.  I wish I had a few pieces left over...
Souvlaki... and more souvlaki...  looking delectable and smelling very, very, very good!
So here's what happens:

Take a peace of pita bread and spread some tzatziki sauce on it.  The sauce is made up of yogurt and cucumbers.  There are some herbs and spices in there also.
Arrange a few tomatoes on top of the sauce...
Then go ahead and decorate with some onions.

Gyros. There you are, you lovely thing!  Now fold the sandwich and wrap.  Hurry, because the customer is waiting.
How long will the gyros sandwich stay wrapped do you think?  Not too long, I imagine.
Someone wants souvlaki.  Here we go:  pita and tzatziki,
"Extra tomatoes, please," says the customer.
"No onions, I don't like onions" adds the customer.
No onions it is.  The souvlaki is really delicious: Pork tenderloin cubes are marinated in olive oil and lemon juice, and seasoned with oregano, salt, pepper and garlic. That's the basic marinade for souvlaki.  However, I don't know what specifically the festival's souvlaki chef adds to his concoction.  I think he prepares the mixture at night when no one is around to copy his recipe.
My customer asked for extra sauce on top.  Now that's a great sandwich!
Maria, Maria and Maria.  All right, it's Maria, Maria and Helen (the latter in green).  Some or the ladies from team souvlaki.  The lovely Mrs. Maria in the center is our chairman.  She's the best!  
Here's the souvlaki man tending his grill.
That's the pita guy, going incognito, but diligently tending to his pita bread.
What can I say?  This is Phil, the gyros fellow, a major heart throb as far as the young ladies are concerned.
In Greece, gyros, which means "turn," is typically cooked rotisserie style as seen in the picture above.  In the USA, most of the time gyros is available for grilling as a pre-sliced meat.  It contains a lot of beef, a smaller portion of lamb, and lots of herbs and spices.
Phil, tends the gyros while flashing a winning smile.  He is a member of our elite dancing troupe called the "Pan-Macedonian Dancers."  These dancers practice assiduously and that is evident when they perform.  Their costumes and dances are those of Greek Macedonia.  The Pan-Macedonian Dancers! Wonderful young men and young ladies who are truly the best of the best.  I wasn't able to take pictures of them dancing because I was busy making sandwiches, but I took a picture of a picture of them that is displayed in one of the hallways at church. Clever me. 
My picture of a picture.  I try to post again about the St. George, Media, PA, festivals.  Meanwhile, I wish you Kali Orexi, or Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

ROSEMARY BREAD

Great tasting, fantastic bread!  I fell in love with it.  It's crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle and flavored with rosemary.  Delicious Mediterranean ingredients abound here:  olive oil, rosemary, whole wheat. It's baked with all purpose flour into which whole wheat flour is mixed.  There is olive oil in the dough, and the rosemary flavor is just right:  neither overwhelming, nor subtle. The bread itself is relatively easy and quick to make. It rises quickly, and it bakes in just 30 minutes.  You get two loaves out of the recipe.  One to "just taste," and another to save for later.  Try it, you'll like it. Rosemary bread, based on a recipe from Martha Stewart's website.   
A morsel of rosemary bread topped with a spoonful of hummus I had made. 

This is an enriched bread, a type of bread whose dough contains fat.  In this case, the fat, in the form of 5 tablespoons of olive oil, is a good type of fat. That's because 70% of olive oil is comprised of monounsaturated fats, and evidence shows that monounsaturated fats in the diet reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.  In addition to the health benefits, olive oil makes bread taste better, keep better, and stay softer longer.
Now, check out the recipe, and then bake some for yourself!  Come on, give it a try!
Ingredients:
1½  tablespoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup water, warm to the touch (not boiling)
3/4 cup water 
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl and to oil the top of the loaves
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary, plus 1 tablespoon whole leaves
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
Directions:
  • In a measuring cup stir together the yeast and the warm water.  Add the sugar and 1 tablespoon of flour.  Let stand for about 10 minutes until the mixture starts to bubble and rise.
  • Add 3/4 cup water, the olive oil, salt, chopped rosemary, and yeast mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Start stirring.  It's all right to use the dough hook to mix.  
My lovely rosemary plant lives in a planter on the back patio, just off the kitchen. That's where I grow all my herbs.  
  • Add the all purpose flour and the wheat flour to the bowl.  Mix on low speed until the dough comes together, about one or two minutes. Then raise the speed to medium-high, and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.  Use a rubber spatula to move the dough away from the sides of the bowl and closer to the dough hook.
  • Lightly dust a surface with flour and place the dough on top.  The dough should be soft and really pliable.  Roll it in the flour and shape it into a ball.
  • Grease a large bowl with olive oil and place the dough ball inside it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then cover it with a towel.  Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  • Press down on the dough to release the gas created by the yeast.  Let it rest, covered, for 15 minutes.  Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide it in half.
  • Roll one piece into an 11 inch long loaf. Gently twist the dough to create contours, then tuck the ends underneath. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Press the the rosemary leaves into the loaves.
  • Cover the loaves with plastic wrap, place them in a warm, draft free spot  and let them rise for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400° F. 
The bottom of the rolls is nice and golden.  The rosemary leaves pressed on top didn't fare too well during baking.  I should have pressed down harder.
  • Brush the tops of the loaves with olive oil and dust them with a little flour.       


  • Bake the loaves until golden, about 30 minutes. Let them cool on a wire rack before slicing. 
Such tasty bread...  I can't live without bread, that's for sure!