Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"I wish I had an Italian Grandmother"

This Le Creuset piece isn't a family heirloom , though it is probably old enough that my Grandmother could have cooked with it. I am sure it has a rich history and it would be great if you could hit a "play" button and the pot could tell the stories of all the wonderful things it had cooked. My mind wanders thinking about all the risotto, ragu, braised osso bucco and the like this pot has seen.
I believe this color is called "Italian Red" and that is about as close as my family comes to having any Italian heritage.
From about 1990-1999 my cooking style was firmly rooted in Italian cooking. I explored American-Italian cooking, Northern Italian, Southern Italian, Regional Cooking (Emila-Romana is a favorite).
I used to lament that I didn't have a more ethnic family with great cooking traditions. My ancestors came from Germany in the late 1800's and made there way to the mid-west- Illinois, Nebraska and finally Kansas. The first and second generation kept their mother tongue alive, but after World War I my grandfather said his parents rarely spoke German in front of the children. The pressure to assimilate and to become "patriotic Americans" snuffed out whatever ethnic roots my family tree had.
Growing up in Idaho in the 1960's I was weaned on bologna sandwiches (with Miracle Whip..yum), crispy shell tacos (it took moving to Los Angeles to find out they came another way), lasagna (with cheddar cheese?) and a host of packaged, processed and frozen delights that I am sure most of the baby boom generation can identify with.
A few years back a woman friend said to me after she heard my lament about the lack of an "ethnic grandmother"; she suggested this: "It is up to you to become your family's ethnic grandmother".
Maybe today with it becoming more the norm for guys to cook it is okay to be the ethnic grandfather. I want my son to understand food and its origin. I want him to understand the seasonality of produce, game, fish and wine. I want him to know why Oregon has spectacular Pinot Noir, but the Cabernet grown in the Willamette Valley is going to taste like a green bell pepper (and not in a good way).

I was making a Ragu the other day and it made me wonder what the roots were. Was it "purebred" Bolognese or Neopolitan sauce or was it like much of us a "mutt" that had parts and pieces from all over Italy or even the world?
As I suspected my recipe would probably fall into the Italian/American category. So to connect with the Italian Grandfather that I never had, here is my recipe:

Il Nonno's Ragu

1 Onion- course dice
5-6 Garlic Cloves-finely dice
Olive Oil
1 Carrot-finely diced
1 Tbsp Dried Basil
1 Tbsp Dried Oregano
2 tsp Fennel Seeds
1 tsp Red Pepper flakes
1/2 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage-casing removed
1/2 lb. Ground Beef
2 Bay Leaves
2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
(2) 28oz. Canned Plum Tomatoes
6oz. Red wine (+8oz. more for the cook)


Put a large pot (like the one shown above) on the burner on medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the Italian sausage. Cook until browned, then remove the sausage from the pan and add the ground beef, cook until browned then add to the sausage mixture.
Add your onion and carrot (the carrot adds some sweetness and cuts the acid of the tomatoes) and turn the heat down to low to sweat the vegetables. At about 15 minutes in add the garlic. After the onions are translucent add the tomato paste and turn up the heat a bit to cook, you want to cook this raw tomato paste a bit. Now add the red wine, the basil, oregano, pepper flakes, fennel seeds and bay leaves plus the tomatoes (crush them before they go in the pot). Finally add your reserved meats and let this sauce simmer on low for at least an hour.
I love to let this go for a couple of hours and sometimes I will even add a pork chop or beef rib (sear the meat first) into the pot and let it cook (braise) until the meat falls off the bone.
This sauce is great for pasta, a pizza sauce base or even for lasagna.


Oh, about the pot, I snagged it (and two companion pieces) at a garage sale for $20 bucks-I almost felt guilty knowing what these sell for new. Lets just say that this pot found a great new home and the food memories it is creating are priceless.


Heather said...

I can't believe the deal you got on that Dutch oven. Lord. That's one of the best colors, too! (I have "lemongrass")

Good sauce recipe, to boot.

Cooking and the City said...

Great bargain on the pot, love the sauce recipe too! :-)