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Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Pastas

As delirious as we were from lack of sleep with the whole time change thing upon our arrival in Switzerland, we still managed to pull a dinner party together for our hosts, Kitty and Champ, and other company--and a darned good party at that, which featured Baby's excellent, impromptu ragu!

Here's what we served:

Salted Radishes with a Side of Butter

Warm Asparagus Wrapped with Frizzled Speck, Topped with Two Fried Eggs

Tomato Flan

Baby's Ragu with Saffron Pappardelle

Serves 6

Olive oil
2 lbs. quartered marrow bones (ask your butcher)
1 large chopped onion
1 large finely diced carrot
2 cloves minced garlic
2 lbs. coarsely ground veal, beef, pork mixture
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 Tb Balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Salt, black pepper to taste
2 Tbs dried oregano
Chiffonade of basil and flat parsley (rolled and sliced thin on the bias)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Make the demi-glace reduction:
Sautee marrow bones with olive oil in a heavy bottom skillet, making sure all sides are cooked until dark brown (roughly 20 minutes). Add enough water until bones are just barely covered and simmer for one hour, adding water to keep bones covered. Discard bones and reduce liquid to 2 Tbs (another 20 minutes). Set aside to cool.

In a large Dutch oven, sautee onions and carrots in a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent and yellow. Add garlic and sautee for another minute. Brown the ground meat in the mixture. Spoon out excess fat with a large kitchen spoon. Incorporate the crushed tomatoes into the meat mixture. Simmer gently for about 45 minutes, allowing the liquid to reduce, so that the meat shimmers with a light coating of the sauce instead of swimming in it. Add Balsamic vinegar and remaining spices to enliven the flavor, allowing 5 minutes time for it all to blend together.

The Grand Finish:
Add demi-glace reduction to your ragu, turn off heat. Stir in cheese and cream. Cover and let sit 10 minutes.

To Serve:
Place your drained (but not rinsed) pasta in a large bowl and spoon ragu on top of it. Using clean hands, dig in and toss together. Garnish with a pinch more cheese and parsley and present with a sturdy red wine.

For dessert we found a creamy brie that we drizzled with black truffle honey and ginger cookies.

Orata...or not a

Another weekend, when Champ suggested fish for dinner, I thought of the Mediterranean, which isn't all that far from Switzerland and as they do at dell'anima in New York, I proposed to make orata "in CARTOCCIO" with sumptuous cerignola and black olives, lemon, thyme, and fingerling potatoes in parchment paper. Cut to the Migro market, where they were pretty much out of all fish by the latter part of the afternoon, and the incredibly expensive Globus Food Hall where the orata was going to cost the equivalent of 100 U.S. dollars to feed the few of us.

We let go of the fish and the parchment when I remembered a recipe from years ago in a Saveur magazine where potatoes and green beans were tangled up with pasta (much cheaper than the fish we'd considered) and basil-lemon pesto, apparently a Ligurian tradition. Potatoes and pasta together is certainly a fine example of carb loading but the sprightly pesto lifts it all up and crunchy green beans make it a natural for a summer dish. Adding the olives, wedges of lemon and thyme truly enhanced our dish without fish! Make sure to reserve a half-cup or so of the pasta water to bind it all together.

So there we were, back at the Migro, with any number of homemade pastas before us. Tagliatelle seemed to be the right kind of noodle, somewhat broad and assertive, yet not obnoxious; it worked with the potatoes, as I thought it might--with a simple bunch of leafy greens tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, we had another memorable meal.

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