So where was I? Ah yes, I’d gone out to Arlington in the middle of a workday, waited 2 hours in the warm and muggy rain and got shuffled past Ina Garten as she swiftly signed 2 books for me and a friend. Was it worth it? … *eh, I still say it was but I’m working harder and harder each day to say that. But I met her, I have proof and that’s that.
When I got home, I started going through the book looking for something easy to make. I haven’t made a recipe from a cookbook in a long while, choosing to go the internet route far too often. It isn’t that I don’t like cookbooks, but before having some books on my iPad of late, I just don’t have them at the office when I’m thinking of what to grab from the store and cook that night or that weekend. And while a certain Food Network hostess can go on all she likes about a 30-minute meal, I’m sure that’s a lot easier to accomplish when you have a staff that heads out to the store for you, cutting out that 1-2 hour post-work chore. But her recipe for weeknight bolognese seemed like an easy enough shopping trip and I was able to pick up the ingredients while taking a midday break to the store to get ingredients for mulled cider for an office potluck.
weeknight bolognese (serves 4 to 5)
- 2 tbsp “good olive oil” plus extra to cook the pasta
- 1 lb lean ground sirloin
- 4 tsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1⁄4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 1⁄4 cups dry red wine, divided
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 3⁄4 lb dried pasta, such as orecchiette or small shells
- 1⁄4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1⁄4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
- 1⁄4 cup heavy cream
- 1⁄2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box.
While the pasta cooks, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.
Easy enough, right? So simple that I figured it would be easy to grab everything at the store, drop it off at home and get back to the office in no time. I wrote a quick list of ingredients, even took a picture of the page in the book with my iPhone. I even found the oreccheitte pasta at the store, which I took great pleasure in over-pronouncing as if I were yet another Food Network hostess fond of deep v-neck shirts. I strode through the store with the confidence of someone that’s got his act together. I had my list, my cart full of groceries and I was all set.
Fast forward to the next evening and everything was proceeding apace. I didn’t do a mise en place due to the low number of ingredients and my carried-over confidence. I had the meat browning in the pan, added the spices and when it came time to add the tomatoes, I tossed in the can of tomatoes, looked at the recipe and reached for the tomato paste… which I had completely neglected to buy.
Not one to panic, I turned down the heat and went to the internet for that Google search that almost every home cook has had to use at one time or another: Substitutions. Tomato paste isn’t one of those things that’s easy to substitute, but after reading all the suggestions I settled on reducing/thickening a bit of ketchup in a small saucepan. A small setback with a rather elaborate–some might say unnecessary–fix, but I pressed on.
Crisis averted, the rest of the recipe was simple. It’s just heat, add and stir. Compared to a usual bolognese ragu that includes at least beef, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste and broth this was nothing major and very easy to turn out in under an hour. As Ina would say, “How easy is that?” And I was clearly so into the relaxed and easy vibe of this recipe that I wasn’t paying attention when I opened the box of pasta. There was something on TV and I was talking and before I knew it, all of my “little ears” were flying all over the kitchen and onto the floor.
Cue the kitchen freakout.
No, seriously, hysterical laughter, screams of “You have GOT to be kidding me”, frantic searches of the cabinets for a suitable replacement pasta… all to no result. While my friend was able to clean up the floor for me, I headed out to CVS thinking that I’d just have to settle for spaghetti and cope. It happened to be an unseasonably warm day for late October so I could walk outside and across the street in my Ina-inspired black button down shirt, some shorts and my chucks. I wasn’t hopeful, but I spied some familiar blue boxes–no, not Kraft–above the words “New Item” and managed to snag some Barilla penne pasta!
Crisis averted once more, peace of mind regained, pasta tossed with sauce and then cheese and a glass of red wine thrown for good measure. And then another glass just because.
How Easy Is That? is a good cookbook with emphasis on the easy. Not every recipe will feel simple to the average cook, but there’s nothing in here that anyone wouldn’t be able to make with a bit of preparation and a little bit of patience… hopefully at least a bit more than I had last week.