Cooking Salsa Alla Bolognese (Bolognese Sauce)

After spending all that time making my own tomato pulp, I put that pulp to good use by making some Salsa A Pomodoro and Salsa Alla Bolognese from Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking (pages 4 and 10 respectively). Since I’ve already written about making the Pomodoro sauce (your basic red sauce), I’m going to skip another post on that one, though this time around I froze it all. I did use the Bolognese sauce that day though and actually just thawed out the rest last night for a quick and easy Sunday night dinner. The Bolognese is pretty similar, but it’s a bit heartier and includes some mixed veal, beef and pork which I got in a meatball/meatloaf mix from my local grocery story.

The recipe features carrots, onions, celery, garlic, re-hydrated mushrooms, prosciutto, red wine, parsley, marjoram, salt, pepper, nutmeg, flour, my homemade beef stock and the aforementioned tomato pulp. It’s actually a surprisingly easy recipe that doesn’t involve a ton of work, though you do need over an hour to let it cook and then simmer.

The end result was a great combination of meat and red wine all formed together with the vegetables and spices making for the kind of sauce that felt primal when I ate it. I got the feeling while eating that sauce that it was the kind of thing people have eaten for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. That’s a pretty cool feeling, especially when you made most of the ingredients yourself.

Making Polpa Al Pomodoro (Tomato Pulp)

A couple weeks back, while on the way home from a weekend trip to New Paltz, we stopped by a great farm stand and I walked away with a box full of tomatoes for $10 with a mind set towards making some homemade red sauce based on the recipes in Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking. The first step for all that is making what’s called Polpa Al Pomodoro (page 4), so I got to work on that. Even though I made a much smaller version of this and wrote about it here on the site, I figured it was worth a post writing about doing so on a much larger scale.

I tried to set myself up well which meant putting the box of tomatoes next to the stove where a pot of water was boiling. Across from that I had a cutting board where I would get the skin off, halve them and then squeeze the insides out into the sink. I then put the squeezed tomato halves into two large glass containers. Once I got all that done, I moved the halved tomatoes back over to the cutting board and chopped them up before putting some of the chopped tomatoes into a strainer before storing them in those same glass containers.

With so many tomatoes this took a couple hours. At the suggestion of my wife, I scored the bottom of the tomatoes (cutting an X in the skin) which made getting the skin off so much easier. I’d put as many tomatoes in the boiling water as I could fit — only for about 10-15 seconds — but I still got backed up and had to go from that to peeling and halving and then back again. I’m sure there’s a better way to do all this, but I wasn’t sure if it’d still be easy to get the skin off if the tomatoes cooled down too much.

Anyway, this system worked for me in our limited space and I got a pretty good yield. I was able to make two different sauces (posts coming soon) and even freeze some of the basic pulp for later, so I’d say that was a success!

Cooking Gnocchi

Hope everyone had an enjoyable Memorial Weekend. I helped plan for, cook for and throw a birthday party for our one-year-old, took a bit of relaxing time and then helped friends dig mud out of their pool after some flooding last year. I could probably use a three day weekend for my three day weekend, but what are you gonna do?

I would have thought making gnocchi would have been as complicated as my weekend, but it was actually relatively simple (sorry for the clunky transition, it’s been a looooong week followed by a longer weekend). Anyway, a week or two back I was flipping through my copy of Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking and came across his recipe for Gnocchi (page 70). I’ll be honest, I’ve been skipping this book in my rotation lately because so much of it involves making sauces and not only is that time consuming, but winter’ s not a good time to make tomato sauce. It turns out, gnocchi only calls for seven ingredients: potatoes, butter, Parmesan cheese, two egg yolks, flour, salt and boiling water. If you have those things and some kind of sauce, you’re good to go.

You start off by boiling three quarts of aqua and then dropping five or so medium potatoes in there for 30 minutes. While those were bubbling, I decided to whip up a basic pesto sauce without pine nuts (those things are way too expensive). I basically just tossed some basil, garlic, Parm and olive oil in our smaller food processor and was good to go. I also placed six table spoons of butter in a pan on the stove near the boiling water pot, but didn’t not put heat under it. I didn’t want to burn the butter, but figured this would be a good way to melt it without having to worry and I turned out to be right!

Once the potatoes are done in the water, you pull them out and mash them in a pan that’s on the fire to help get rid of excess water. I personally didn’t bother peeling the potatoes at any point, figuring the skin has good nutrients we could use. Once everything was good and mashed, I threw the potatoes in a mixing bowl for my wife’s KitcheAide, used the dough hook and added in the egg yolks and flour. I probably could have done that by hand, but if you’ve got a good tool, use it.

Left with a nice dough ball, I got out my dough cutter which I usually just use to scrape up chopped veggies. I quartered the dough and froze half of it and worked with the other two quarters. I rolled them out on the counter and chopped them into little nuggets with the cutter. There was something in the recipe about rolling the nuggets down a fork to get that ribbed look we all know and love, but I wasn’t quite understanding it until I found the following video on YouTube, which clarified things for me.

So, once I had my nuggets of gnocchi properly forked, it was time to get them in another pot of boiling water. Much like pierogies, you drop these potato concoctions into the boiling water and they’re ready when they float to the top. I must admit, it’s a little hard to tell when something is actually on the top under it’s own powers and not the roiling boil, but I think I got the hang of it. Once they were done, I combined the gnocchi in a bowl with the melted butter and some grated Parmesan.

I thought the gnocchi turned out really good, but the mistake I made was using the amount of butter and cheese for the full recipe when I had actually only made half of the gnocchi. I didn’t realize this until well after I ate a plateful in pesto sauce and came away with the kind of stomach ache that comes from eating overly rich food. That’s when I remembered I essentially doubled the butter. Wah, wah.

This will definitely be a recipe I come back to down the line. As I mentioned over in one of my photo diary posts on The Monkee Diaries, I tried thawing out the frozen dough and making them again but they turned out really watery and gross. Adding in more flour didn’t seem to do anything and the whole thing wound up being a bust. I think what I might do next time is actually make all the gnocchi and then freeze half. Would that work?

Cooking Salsa A Pomodoro (Pomodoro Sauce)

Sorry about the delays in posting recently. As my main source of income is writing about comic books and toys, I was down in the city for the New York Comic Con Thursday through Sunday, coming back only to sleep. Since the most interesting thing I ate was a burrito from a place in grand central station, I didn’t come away with much in the way of material for Monkeying Around The Kitchen. However, a few days before the convention, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now: making one of Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking sauce recipes from scratch. After swinging by a farm stand last week, I had a mix of red and yellow tomatoes and got cooking!

This old fashioned recipe called for four pounds of tomatoes to start off with. I discovered that that basically evened out to eight tomatoes, though I threw a few more in to use them up (I had about twice that number). I started off by boiling a big pot of water and dunking the tomatoes in there for a dozen seconds or so. Basically, the boiling splits the skin, which you need to take off for the sauce. This was hot work and a crying baby didn’t help matters, but I finished quick enough, got her back to sleep and went back to work.

Once the tomatoes were peeled, I quartered the tomatoes, squeezed out the seeds, juice and water, tossed them in a pair of colanders, salted and let dry out. I let them sit for the recommended 20 minutes, sometimes moving them around and squeezing a bit more to get some of the water out. I don’t know the science or intent behind all this, but I went with it. Anyone know?

Anyway, while those dried I chopped up prosciutto and onions (I was surprised that this recipe didn’t call for garlic). I had also measured out and set aside the thyme, bay leaf and flour called for. The onions, prosciutto, thyme and bay leaf went into a Dutch over with olive oil and I browned the onions. After those cooked, I stirred in some flour. At some point in the process, I went back and chopped the tomatoes bits up into even smaller chunks, put them in a strainer and let drain even more. After the flour was stirred in, the tomatoes went in and I cooked again with pepper and sugar. That cooked for 30 minutes.

As that cooked, I added some more water back to my stock pot, tossed in some salt and got the water boiling for pasta. I had gotten a veggie-infused short, ridgy pasta that wound up being a good choice because it really grabbed the sauce. After the 30 minute cook, I stirred in a tablespoon of butter, waited for the sauce to cook down and then poured into the Cuisinart. The sauce was kind of chunk and looked pretty orange, which reminded me of pumpkin, but tasted really fresh and good with nice salty and buttery notes.

It wasn’t even really that much work. I feel like this is the kind thing that takes less and less time the more and more you do it. I’ll hopefully be able to get my hands on some more tomatoes before the weather really turns. I’d like to get some of this, and maybe a few other recipes from the book, made and stored for those cold winter months.

Cook Book Nook: Northern Italian Cooking By Francesco Ghedini (1973)

I just realized that I’ve been talking about Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking like it’s Julia Child’s The French Chef (full disclosure, I had to look up Julia Child’s most famous cook book). I should probably explain. A week or so back I wrote about heading to nearby New Paltz and checking out Water Street Market. That post revolved around the glorious sandwich I had at The Cheese Plate, but that wasn’t the only food-related experience I had there. While walking through the aptly named Antiques Barn, I remembered something my mom said: old cook books are always worth checking out. Okay, that’s not an exact quote, but you get the idea. She’s got a whole bookshelf of cook books in the basement of my childhood home from local club ones to Betty Crocker. So, I decided to keep my eyes peeled for a book that would strike my fancy.

Most were pretty boring, but I did stumble upon Northern Italian Cooking by a guy named Frencesco Ghedini. Actually, as the intro explains, the book was actually put together after Ghedini committed suicide in the wake of his wife’s death by Elizabeth Backman. Neither Ghedini nor Backman even have Wikipedia pages, so I don’t really know much about either of them. However the idea of an old school cook book focusing on Italian food by a guy from Italy appealed to me, as did the book’s $5 price tag.

I guess I have a bias towards an older cook book like this, especially because the front is filled with recipes for various kinds of sauces, sauces you make by hand and freeze to use in other recipes throughout the volume. Sure, I could just run out and buy the canned stuff and I probably will do that again in the future, but I have this desire to get in the trenches with my food. I want to make as much from scratch as I can (within reason). I’m hoping to get a basket of tomatoes one of these weekends and spend a few hours working in the kitchen. It’ll be a lot of work, but that doesn’t scare me off. I like the repetition of a project like that and look forward to finally having a break to tackle that project. Of course, I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

Cooking Maiale Ubriaco & Applesauce

My first foray into Francesco Ghedini’s Northern Italian Cooking was a success! As I mentioned the other day when discussing this week’s menu, I went with a recipe that didn’t involve any tomato sauces because I want to actually make those from scratch and haven’t had the time yet (maybe this weekend). So, I decided on Maiale Ubriaco (“drunken pig”) which is a pork chop dish with red wine sauce. I’m not sure what the deal with typing out someone else’s recipes, so I’ll just give you the basics. You cover both sides of some pork chops with salt and pepper, then brown both sides in a pan of olive oil, cover and cook on low for 30 minutes, flipping occasionally. Then remove the meat and most of the oil, cook some garlic and parsley, then pour in some red wine (I got a $10 bottle of Pinot Noir) to make a sauce. Once it’s reduced, serve the sauce on top of the chops. Blammo. The only thing I goofed up was combining the garlic and parsley with the wine ahead of time. You’re supposed to cook the garlic first before adding the wine, so I scooped as much as I could out, but there was still a lot on the bottom. Still tasted good though.

When I wrote up the post about the menu, I asked about a possible side to go with the pork chops and my mom suggested apple sauce. I remembered this as I was walking into the grocery store, so I looked up a quick recipe that I can’t even find, but it basically involved peeling, coring and chopping up four apples and boiling them in water, cinnamon and white sugar, then smashing them up. I went with Fuji apples because I like them, but the end result was a little too sweet. My wife suggested going with Macintosh next time. I tasted it as I went, but I’m not very good with sweet flavors and don’t have a lot of applesauce experience, so I wasn’t sure what I was doing. Maybe they’ll taste a little better after sitting over night?

Overall, I really dug this recipe. The sauce reduced a lot, but packed quite a punch and it just looked really cool on the plate. How can you not like purple colored food? I also liked how simple the recipe was. Both involved covering pots and cooking for somewhat extended periods of time which allowed me to chop things up and make sure my daughter was doing well. What more can you ask for?

This Week’s (Intended) Menu: French, Italian & Poultry, Oh My!

I was feeling ambitious when I started working on this week’s menu plan. I’m not only attempting my first crack at French cooking thanks to an unexpected gift of Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook from my mom, but also the first recipe of many out of Northern Italian Cooking by Franceso Ghedini and a pair of other recipes I hope to whip up pretty quickly. Both of the cookbooks rely heavily on big vats of sauce and stock that should be made ahead of time and while I do want to get to those experiences, I went with ones that didn’t require either. I’m also a little limited because our oven isn’t working, so I can only work with the top five burners. For what it’s worth, I don’t think about which meals will be eaten on which day, but here’s what I’m hoping to cook this week. Hopefully our darling daughter will not only allow us to run to the store, but also not freak out in the evening too much so I can actually cook. Fingers crossed.

Boeuf a la Ficelle (Les Halles Cook Book by Anthony Bourdain, Page 122) Bourdain translates the name of this dish as “beef on a string” but says you don’t really need a string anymore. Basically, you toss carrots, turnips, leeks and onion in a pot of water, boil and then cook the beef in there. Take the beef out, make a sauce and serve on a plate. I like the simplicity of this recipe and that it already includes a vegetable. Here’s hoping this will be a good introduction to French cooking.

Maiale Ubriaco (Norther Italian Cooking by Francesco Ghedini, Page 135) Again, I liked this recipe because it isn’t super complicated and doesn’t involve the red sauces that pack the front of this cook book. I’m really excited about getting to those recipes, but just don’t have the time yet. This Tuscan dish is explained as “braised pork chops with wine sauce” and involves cooking the chops in a skillet for a while, removing and then making the sauce. The only problem is that I’ll have to make another stop to pick up the dry red wine.

Pasta with Pesto Cream Sauce (The Pioneer Woman by Ree Drummond, link) I’ve never cooked any of Ree Drummond’s recipes. In fact, I hadn’t heard of her before last week when I started seeing ads for her new Food Network show. I checked out her website and was blown away by her photos. Man, some of these food bloggers know how to snap pics! Anyway, I was looking around at her recipes and this one stuck out because I’ve got a lot of basil growing in my mini herb garden. I’m no stranger to pesto, so this one should be tasty and not too difficult (hopefully).

Grilled Chicken with Arugala (Food Network by Tyler Florence, link) This is the only recipe this week that I’ve cooked before. It turned out well last time and I’m hoping for a repeat performance. I’m a fan of pretty much anything with olives, so I’m guessing it will be!

There you have it. Considering it’s Monday evening and I haven’t made it to the store yet thanks to a generally cranky baby (notice, I didn’t say “colicy”) I might wind up dropping a thing or two from the menu. By the way, I’m always looking for interesting vegetable side recipes, so if anyone has any good ideas for what should go along with the pork chops above, let me know!