A Most Unusual Ragù

Getting prepared for Heart Shaped Lasagna!  Starts with the sauce.

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Homemade sauce takes time.  And I’m talking homemade homemade, starting with fresh tomatoes roasted in the oven.

And red bell pepper.

And beets.

And wine.

Did I say wine?  Yes! Did I say beets?  Yes!  Did I say wine?  Yes!  Beets?  Yes! Wine? Yes! Beets? Yes!

A traditional Ragù is a tomato based sauce fortified with red wine, and made with beef or a combination of beef and pork.

This is unusual because it has other vegetables added for both taste and nutrition, and it uses Italian sausage as the meat base.

You can’t tell there are beets in it, not even beet haters can tell.  They function in a few different ways.  They add a rich color to the sauce, and they also add fiber which really helps to guard against that pasta crash you can sometimes get.

There I go again, talking about all the practical things that go into lasagna, which is really a labor of love.

I promise that in the next post, when we put the lasagna together, the writing will be all romantic.  Italia style.

💋

Ragù

3 lbs tomatoes ( I use at least 3 different kinds. A mix of tomatoes makes a better sauce) Cut in half and seeds removed.  Don’t worry about being perfect.

1 red bell pepper, cored and seeds removed, cut into 4 pieces

1 medium beet, peeled and cut into chunks

1 lb Italian sausage out of the casing

1/4 C diced onion

1-3 cloves garlic minced

1 anchovy slice, teeny tiny bones removed.  Just kidding! You don’t need to remove the bones.

1 C red wine

1 t sugar (optional)

olive oil

oregano, thyme

salt

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Drizzle olive oil in a roasting pan, and place the tomatoes, pepper and beets  in the pan.  Salt and add a little more olive oil.  Cook for about 35 – 40 minutes or so, flipping the vegetables.  Pull out the tomatoes when they start breaking down, and put them in a bowl.  You can also use a baking sheet, and it will go faster.

Add about 1 T of olive oil to your dutch oven or whatever pan you long simmer a sauce in.  Add the sausage and cook over medium low heat.  This is going to take longer than you think!  You want it to totally release it’s fat and juices, and start getting brown.  Use a wooden spoon to break it up.  This is around 20 minutes, with a lot of stirring.  Add the onion, garlic, and anchovy.  Cook for a few minutes until onions are translucent.  Add the wine and deglaze the pot, scraping up any brown bits.  Bring up to a bubble, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook the wine down to about 1/2.

Once your vegetables are out of the oven and cool enough to handle, take the skins off the tomatoes and the pepper.  There should be a lot of water left over if you used a roasting pan.  Baking sheet is less water because it evaporates.  Put the vegetables (not the liquid) in a food processor or blender and make the sauce.  *tip – put the beets and peppers in first, with just enough of the tomatoes to make really smooth.  Then add the rest of the tomatoes and make it the texture you want.  Smooth or chunky.  Adding the reserved juices if necessary.

Pour the tomato sauce into the sausage mixture, add the sugar and the herbs. Simmer, stirring occasionally for at least an hour.  I truly believe the sugar helps to give a better color to the sauce and give it a deeper red color.  You can omit it if you want.  Be careful about adding salt.  It might only need a pinch.  It’s better to wait until it’s almost done before adding salt if it needs it.

Let cool down and store for making the lasagna.  It tastes really good as is, but even better the next day.

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Jambalaya

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Must be the season for Jambalaya.  I noticed there was a special on fresh caught Gulf shrimp.  And that’s the first thing that popped into my mind.

Then the woman next to me asked “Do you have any Andouille sausage?”  The guy behind the counter said “You’re the 3rd person in a row, buying shrimp to make Jambalaya.”

There are a lot of variations in this dish as well. But mainly, you are going to use shrimp, sausage, and some kind of meat like chicken or ham, or in this case, smoked turkey.  It’s similar to Gumbo but not exactly the same.  It’s also similar to Etouffee, but not exactly the same either.  If you like one, you’re going to like all of them. If I had to get particular about the history of the dish, I would say that you honestly should cook the rice in the same pot.  I cook it separately because I am almost always taking it over to someone else’s house, and I don’t want it to be mushy by the time they eat it.  Stirring the rice in at the end works just fine.

This is one of my family’s favorite dishes.  And curiously enough, my son likes to eat it with chopsticks.  I have no idea why, I never asked.

Jambalaya 

This is 4 servings

1 28 oz can whole tomatoes (separate the juice, it should be about a cup of liquid)

2 T butter, separated

1/2 pound sliced Andouille sausage

1/2 pound shredded smoked turkey

12 shrimp shelled and deveined

1 C chopped onion

1 C sliced celery

1 C chopped green pepper

1 minced jalapeno

2 cloves garlic

1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano (you can definitely use more if you want)

1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme  (you can use more)

1 t onion powder

1 t garlic powder

1 T smoked paprika

1 t black pepper

1-2 t salt

1 t worcestershire sauce

1 t chicken base

1 C bone or regular chicken broth

1 t clam juice

1 C long grain rice

Hot sauce and sliced green onion for garnish

Melt 1 T butter in a french oven over med low heat.  Add sausage until it starts to get a little brown, then add the turkey, herbs, and spices.  Mix well.  Add the onion, peppers, celery, garlic, and worcestershire sauce.  Once the onions are translucent, add the whole tomatoes and crush them slightly open with your spoon.  Once the liquid from the tomatoes starts to bubble (boil) stir in the chicken base and break the tomatoes apart a little more with your spoon.  You can add hot sauce if you want – I just have it as a side. As the tomatoes cook they will break down even more.  Reduce heat to simmer and cover, stirring once in a while, for about 45 minutes or so.  Like many things, the longer it goes the better it tastes.

Bring tomato sauce/juice, bone broth, and clam juice to a boil.  Add 1 T of the butter, and the rice.  Reduce heat to simmer, and cook covered (no peaking) for about 15 minutes or per package instructions.

After the rice is cooked, add your shrimp to the jambalaya and cook for about 8 minutes or so, or until the shrimp are done.  I bury them in the liquid.

Stir in your rice and serve in a bowl topped with sliced green onion and a side of your favorite hot sauce.

 

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Gluten Free Schweineschnitzel and Red Cabbage

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Guess who gets 2 recipes today?  You do!  That’s who!

This version is gluten free and uses my absolute favorite no flour coating, which is crushed pork rinds.

My non German Grandmother passed down several recipes including one for Wienerschnitzel (breaded veal cutlets) and Schweineschnitzel (breaded pork cutlets).  She used pork if veal was hard to find.  Her recipe uses a simple coating of flour, which is how she learned to make it when the family lived in Germany.

Breaded meat dishes can be found all over the world.  In Italy, a similar dish is called Cotoletta alla Milanese.  This is veal.  They also have a piece that can get really huge.  I thought I had a picture, but can’t find one, so you’ll need to use your imagination.  That dish is called Costoletta all Milanese Orecchio de Elefante.  Which means “bone in cut of meat Milan style Ear of Elephant”.  This is usually made with pork, not veal.

So if you see “cotoletta” on a menu, it usually means a pounded flat piece of meat with no bone.  If they stick the letter S in there “costoletta”, it means there is a a bone on the end of it.  If you see “elefante”, it means the giant piece o’breaded meat with a bone, and usually pork.

Red cabbage is almost always served as a side dish at German Restaurants in the US.  I have not yet been to Germany, so I’m not sure how they do it there!  I do believe it’s called Rotkohl, which means….ready?  German is not such a romantic language… Rot means red.  Kohl means cabbage.  There can be other names for it as well, depending on the area you are in.

Here is another fun fact, because I totally get into this stuff.  There is an area in the NE part of Italy called The Dolomites.  (Dolomiti) And they still speak German there.

Here is a picture of my dog, looking all Rin Tin Tin while we went hiking in the Val di Funes, a valley in the Dolomites.

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Back to cabbage.  The secret to a good red cabbage recipe is to cook it for a long time over low heat.  I can get impatient sometimes, but you really do need to let it go low and slow for at least 2 hours.  When finished, it’s good enough to eat by itself as a meal.

So let’s get started!

German Style Red Cabbage

1/4 cup butter

2 cups diced yellow onion

2 1/2 3 pounds red cabbage, thinly sliced

2 medium tart apples, peeled, cored and diced

1/4 cup currant jam, jelly, or whole fruit spread.

3 – 4 whole cloves

3-4 whole juniper berries

2 bay leaves

1 C vegetable broth

6 T red wine vinegar

3 T raw sugar (big crystals)

2 t salt

In a french oven (dutch oven), melt the butter and add the onion.  Cook for 7-8 minutes over medium heat, stirring often, or until the onions just start to look slightly brown.  Add 1/2 the cabbage, stir, and let it start to cook down.  Keep adding the remaining cabbage.  It cooks down quite a bit, so you should be able to get it all in there.  Let it cook for about 5 minutes once it’s all in there.

Add the rest of the ingredients, stir, and once the liquid hits a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer cover, and cook for at least 2 hours. You can go longer if you can wait that long. Stir occasionally during the process.

Schweineschnitzel (gluten free)

4 boneless pork chops pounded thin, about 1/4 inch

3 T mayonnaise mixed with 3 T German or Dijon mustard

8 oz crushed pork rind crumbs.  This is a weight, NOT a volume.  Just buy what ever pork rinds in a bag that you can find, and make sure you have plenty. I actually found them in downtown Como at the Asian grocery.  (they had all kinds of imports)

Lemon slices

Enough oil (of choice) to be at 1/2 the depth of each chop (traditional is clarified butter)

Put a chop in a freezer type plastic storage bag, then carefully place in front of the wheel of your car.  Do not close bag or it might pop.  Slowly drive over chop.

I made that up.  But there is a part of me that wants to see what would happen…

Put the chop in a freezer type gallon plastic storage bag, and then use the flat side of a meat hammer to flatten.  Rub a very small amount of the mayo/mustard mixture on each chop.  Just enough to help the coating stick, and to flavor the meat. You may not use all the mixture.

Thoroughly coat each chop in the crumbs, pressing them in to make sure it’s nice and thick.  Stick them in the refrigerator for a little while.  It’s better to have it as dry as possible when you cook or the breading will want to come off.

Preheat fry pan to medium.  Add oil, and when it starts to look shimmery and move around, gently lay a chop in the pan.  Cook 2-3 minutes per side, then remove.  Let the oil drain as much as possible, then put on paper towel to get the rest of the oil.  Put in preheated oven at 180 to keep warm as you make the rest of the chops.

Serve with a slice of lemon, potatoes, and the red cabbage.

 

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Spaghetti Squash with Bacon and Kale

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Every January, the internet, magazines, and TV cooking shows are flooded with healthy recipes.  So may I reintroduce you to bacon!  How can bacon be healthy?  You ask.  Well, just do an internet search on “bacon health benefits” and a whole bunch of gems will pop up like

  • Bacon is full of “choline” which increases your intelligence and memory, and guards against Alzheimers
  • Bacon is high in B vitamins which combat stress and help to move nutrients through the body
  • Bacon contains Omega 3’s, the same heart healthy fats found in fish

Since you can find it on the internet, it must be true, right?  Actually it is true, but when it comes to bacon we really just eat it because it tastes good and now we have a reason to do it without guilt.

I’ve also been known to get an ice cream malt or shake for lunch because I need the calcium.  That’s what I say, and I’m sticking with it.

A lot of people going low carb or no carb use spaghetti squash as a pasta substitute.  I don’t think it’s a real great pasta substitute, but I do think it’s fun to eat.  When you pair it with a silky egg yoke sauce and bacon…it’s kinda sorta like a carbonara, one of my favorite pasta dishes.

Here is a picture of the squash being salted to bring out some of the moisture prior to cooking.

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I like this recipe because it has a lot of different tastes going on, so your taste buds keep enjoying it.  A tad sweet like most squash, but that’s tempered by the slight bitterness of the walnuts and the mild heat of the red pepper flakes.

This recipe is for a single squash of about 1-1 1/2 pounds. That’s enough for a main dish for a person, or side dish for 2.  Simply multiply the amounts for each additional squash!

Spaghetti Squash with Bacon and Kale

1 Spaghetti Squash of about 1 1/2 pounds cut in 1/2 across the width, not lengthwise

1 piece bacon

1-2 cups raw baby kale, sliced kale, or mixed Italian greens

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 date seeded and chopped

pinch red pepper flakes (peperoncini)

1/4 cup finely chopped raw walnuts

the yoke of 1 organic egg, beaten well, with just a tiny bit of water added

olive oil, salt, and pepper

wee tiny tiny bit of lemon zest, not too much (optional, but I like the little zing so I think it’s important)

baking pan

Frying pan or skillet large enough to hold everything including the squash

Cut squash in half, remove the pulp and seeds, and liberally salt the flesh. Let sit for at least 15 minutes and then drain out the water and wipe off the remaining water and salt.  It will draw out a lot of water and make the roasting easier!  Very lightly rub the flesh with olive oil.  It doesn’t need a lot.  Roast for 30-45 minutes at 400 F.  The one I had took almost 45 for some reason, but I have a wonky oven.  Once it has cooled down enough, use a fork to pull out the strands and put in a bowl.  Keep the shells if you would like to use them as a serving bowl.

Fry up your bacon, then remove.  I keep it whole to make it easier to drain the fat, then chop the bacon once it’s pulled out.  Reserve 1 tsp of the bacon fat.

Add the kale, garlic, dates, and rep pepper flakes to the pan. (med low heat) Those greens are going to reduce in size very quickly, and the garlic will cook down quickly as well.  Add the squash and mix everything thoroughly so the squash is reheated.  Once the squash is nice and hot, remove everything from the heat.

Quickly pour in the egg mixture and use tongs to stir everything and coat each strand.  You will not get scrambled eggs if you take it off the heat and move quickly.  The heat will cook the yoke and you’ll have a silky sauce.  Stir in the raw walnuts and serve hot.

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