Saturday, 26 May 2012

EASY PEASY BOLOGNESE SAUCE (RAGU alla BOLOGNESE)

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 a beautiful university town with a long and impressive cultural history. 




A classic Bolognese contains milk or cream and some type of cured meat such as pancetta. I have chosen to omit both these ingredients from my sauce recipe. However, adding a little milk or cream to the pasta, just a bit of it, and mixing in Pecorino Romano cheese, makes up for the absence of dairy in the ragu itself. For my palate that's a better option. 

An interesting fact is that the city of Bologna has created a standardised recipe for "ragu alla Bolognese." That recipe has been deposited for safekeeping with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce. My recipe for Bolognese sauce is deposited in a drawer in my kitchen. Which of the two recipes is more important?  




This easy to make recipe will yield 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 
  • 1 large red onion, chopped (the red onion is sweet and strong flavoured)
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped, and go ahead and use the celery leaves, too
  • 2 carrots, chopped well
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 or two bay leaves 
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • a few rinds of Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 10 plum tomatoes, skins and seeds removed, chopped
For the pasta:
  • 1 pound pasta; fettuccine is a good option because this is a hearty sauce that needs a hearty pasta
  • chopped parsley and basil
  • a little cream
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • black pepper
Directions:
  • Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven and add the onions, carrots and celery.
  • Sauté until the vegetables are soft. Keep stirring and add the garlic. Cook for about a minute.
  • Add the ground beef, a little at a time,  and cook, stirring to mix with the vegetables. Keep stirring and adding the ground meat. Cook until all the meat is no longer pink. 
  • Season with salt and pepper and mix. 
  • Add the red pepper flakes and the oregano cook for about a minute.
  • Add the tomato paste and mix well.
  • Add the tomatoes, cheese rinds, and bay leaf.
  • Mix, turn the heat to a low simmer, cover and cook, occasionally stirring so that the sauce does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Cook for an hour. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. 
  • Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and place on a serving platter. Season with Pecorino Romano cheese, a little cream and some chopped parsley and basil.
  • Spoon some of the sauce on top and mix. 
  • Serve the sauce alongside the pasta.  

Tuesday, 8 May 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, 1 May 2012

Rosemary Bread


Incredibly easy to make, great tasting, a classic bread that's crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle and flavoured with rosemary. Delicious Mediterranean ingredients here: olive oil, rosemary, whole wheat! 

This bread rises quickly and bakes in 30 minutes. It's 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: 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 its health benefits, olive oil makes bread taste better, keep better, and stay softer longer. 

Check out the recipe, and then bake some for yourself. Try it and you'll love it! 
Ingredients:

  • 1½  tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water 
  • 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
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary, plus 2 tablespoons whole rosemary leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bread 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.
  • Into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook add the rest of the water (3/4 cup), the olive oil, the salt, and the chopped rosemary.
  • Add the yeast mixture and begin stirring on the low setting. 
  • Add the bread flour and the wheat flour and continue to mix on low speed until the dough comes together, about one or two minutes. 
  • Raise the speed to medium-high, and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. If needed, 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. 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 rosemary leaves into the loaves, creating a decorative pattern.
  • 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. 
  • Brush the tops of the loaves with olive oil and dust them with a little flour or cornmeal.    
  • Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Let them cool on a wire rack before slicing. 
Based on a recipe by Martha Stewart.