Monday, September 26, 2011

"I Never Forget A Meal" - Classic Bolognese Meat Sauce

Date I made this recipe: September 25, 2011

I Never Forget a Meal by Michael Tucker
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 0-316-85625-8
Recipe: Classic Bolognese Meat Sauce – p. 44-45

One of my favorite TV commercials is one where a couple of animals are watching TV in someone’s house, (Well that’s narrowing it down, isn’t it?) and one of them is using the remote, changing channels, saying something like “Nope, nope, seen it, seen it…” (Try as I might, I could not find this commercial on the internet. Drats.)

That’s about how I felt about all the cookbooks I pulled off the shelf since, oh say, August. “Nope, nope, not quite right, seen it….”

I don’t know why I was so indecisive (except I have a lot on my plate, and I don’t mean my dinner plate), but I must have let The Picnic Cookbook (by Nika Hazelton) sit for weeks before deciding that nothing in the book tripped my trigger. Frost warnings were sounding by the time I put it back on the shelf.

The same held true for the Coastal Living (magazine) Cookbook. So long, summer, maybe next year?

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I pulled two New York cookbooks off the shelf and then just couldn’t make up my mind about what to make. By the time I decided that maybe a cheesecake would be nice, it was 9/15, my bank account was nearly on fumes and, as most of you know, cheese cake ingredients are expensive so there went that.

Also collecting dust was a Mexican cookbook written entirely in Spanish. I can read Spanish but by the time I got around to actually translating one of the recipes, Texas had decided to rejoin Mexico and we’re now back to 49 states. Kidding. Maybe.

So there I was, at my computer, once again staring at my collection waiting for inspiration, and I spied actor/author Michael Tucker’s I Never Forget a Meal.

Ha! I thought. Well I never forget to…um…cook? Clean? Cook and clean?

Needless to say, game on!

First, for those of you who don’t know who Michael Tucker is (and you know who you are), he played the lovable Stuart Markowitz on the TV show, LA Law. LA Law ran from 1986-1994 (was it really that long ago? And yes, I know this dates me), and told the story of an amazing cast of characters working at an LA law firm (thus the title. Isn’t it amazing how that all works?). Michael Tucker, as attorney Stuart Markowitz, was married on TV and in real life to fellow actor Jill Eikenberry who played attorney Ann Kelsey. I loved those two!

But even more loveable than those two were Leland McKenzie (played by actor Richard Dysart) and Douglas Brackman, Jr. (hilariously played by actor Alan Rachins), founding partner and managing partner respectively of McKenzie Brackman law firm.

Every week, the long-winded Douglas Brackman would review the firm’s cases with the rest of the partners, and every time Leland would tell him to “Move along, Douglas.”

Can I tell you how much I love that line? I use it all the time, particularly in business meetings that are going long. Sadly, with the workplace getting younger by the minute, nobody knows what I’m talking about. But I do and am I not the only one who counts?

Okay, so before I move along myself, I must make one other comment and that is about the outfits, particularly the blouses worn by actress Susan Dey, who played attorney Grace Van Owen. All a friend of mine (who love clothes) had to say to me was “I bought a ‘Grace Van Owen’ blouse today” and I knew of what she spoke. One year she even made me a GVO blouse for my birthday (sniffle). Now is that a friend, or what?

So okay, back to Michael (Stuart Markowitz) Tucker, I loved him on the show and I love his books. And I particularly love that he and Jill have a house in Italy (and so he includes a lot of Italian recipes in his books). Or do I? Not long ago, I decided there’s only so much “I have a farm in Africa/villa in Italy/apartment in Paris” that I can stand (and no, I’m not jealous much) so by the third book, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read more. But hooray for us, it took a different path (talking about how he and Jill took care of Jill’s mom—and hat’s off to you for it) and we were all good again. The book I’m “reviewing” here is his first.

Unlike Michael, there are many meals best forgotten and only a few that are memorable. And here they are:

1. Somewhere in Florida, circa 1968, an Italian restaurant served me Italian Wedding Soup. Whether or not it was actually canned Chickarina Soup (made by Progresso and loved by me) is debatable but at that point, the entire state of Florida became my new, best friend. I would like to note that I was not quite nine at the time.
2. In the early 70’s, we went to San Francisco for a family vacation and stumbled into (and out of) a little Italian bar and restaurant that served us a wonderful four-course meal. I cannot recall what I had but I can recall that my dad was thrilled to be served tripe and that my teetotaler mother had way too much wine. It is one of my brother and my fondest memories.
3. While on our honeymoon in Provence visiting friends, we went to a newly-opened restaurant and were attended to by waiters in formal wear carrying around enormous domed platters of food. At one point, the waiter came up to us and whispered “Your fish is almost ready” and then when it arrived, he and another server counted to three before removing the domes. This has to be one of our favorite honeymoon stories. We had never before seen such behavior from servers and likely never will again. And talk about respect for that fish….
4. Let me just say that the bouef bourgignon at the Schlumpf Museum in France saved my life and possibly my honeymoon and that’s all you need to know about that.
5. All of the food we had on our trip to England in 1994. Eh, what?!
6. The meal I had with my friend, Susan, at Gramercy Tavern, in NYC, one week after I took the Minnesota Bar Exam. I couldn’t tell you for certain what I ate except it was delicious. The lack of certainty is caused, in part, by the most excellent martini I imbibed before dinner…and after…but I digress.
7. Can we talk about Marcus Samuelsson’s newer Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster? We went with another couple this summer and ordered that night’s special—braised and then BBQ’d (if I’m recalling this right) pork butt…or shoulder…for three (or four as it turned out) that came with corn bread and to which we added an order of mac and greens. Prior to that we ordered and shared two appetizers. And then we had dessert. We are now all proud members of the clean-plate club. And major fans of the restaurant. And are probably 10 pounds heavier. Now if I could just have that recipe for the spread that came with the bread….
8. And my number-one all time memorable meal was at Delfina restaurant in San Francisco. It was 2001, I was about to start law school and to celebrate that and our 10th wedding anniversary, my husband and I went to SF. And then we snuck in at Delfina and the rest is part of my culinary history. We started with bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and basil, followed by pasta with fresh beans, peas and goat cheese, followed by sea bass with an olive tapenade (and to be clear, we are not usually fish fans), followed by (I think) cherry clafoutis for dessert. And wine, lots of great California wine. (We brought back 6 bottles). Ten years later, it still beats out all other competitors.

Now, as to this recipe, Hey Mikey, we liked it! In my family (from Sicily), we do not usually make a Bolognese when marinara sauce with meatballs and sausage on the side will do, but this was good. If I have complaints, they are minor, for instance, faithful readers know that I don’t like when recipes aren’t specific and so when Michael says to “add 6 cups canned tomatoes, drained,” what kind of tomatoes did he mean? Because people, Kowalski’s grocery store had about a bazillion different kinds of tomatoes. You could get whole, diced, petite diced, stewed, tomatoes without salt, tomatoes with salt, tomatoes with basil and other Italian spices, Mexican tomatoes (“You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay…”) and so on and so on (and on and on and on) and so for a minute, I didn’t know what to do.

So I used petite diced but I’m not sure that was the right choice as the sauce was chunkier than I like.

As to the addition of the milk (1 cup milk), well, again, what kind of milk (does whole make a difference?) and furthermore, is it me or shouldn’t this addition have made the sauce creamier, because if so, it still looked rather “liquidy” to me.

Finally, Michael said to “add the wine and cook until evaporated.” Huh? All of the wine evaporated or some of it? Because waiting for all of it to evaporate took a long time, and so to kill time, I added the wine to the sauce and then had some for myself. (Maybe that’s why it took longer than I thought?)

Anyway, at long last it was all done and it was good and tasty (and memorable!) and we served it with rigatoni and called it a day. (And please note that you can serve a hearty sauce like this with something delicate like angel hair pasta but you will be cursing your decision ever after as you will spend more time wiping it off yourself and others than making the sauce in the first place. Go with heartier pasta and you’ll be happy).

Classic Bolognese Meat Sauce – serves 8

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion
3 stalks celery with leaves
3 carrots
4 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground veal (not easy to find in the Twin Cities but Kowalski’s carries it)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup milk
Nutmeg (fresh is preferred but I used dried although sparingly)
6 cups canned tomatoes, drained (see comments above)

Heat the oil and butter in a heavy, deep pot. Finely chop the onion, celery, and carrots and sauté them until just cooked. Add the pancetta and cook for a few more minutes, then the ground chuck and veal, salt and pepper and cook gently until the meat has just lost its color. Add the wine and cook until evaporated. Turn the heat down, add the milk and some freshly grated nutmeg. Let the milk evaporate. Add the tomatoes, stir, and let simmer for a few hours, stirring.

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