October 17, 2014

Thank you for eating: casual italian cooking

Cooking great food at home is about patience and preparation, not being an expert chef. Join us on a ride to the #YOLOGNESE side.

On occasion, you’ll find yourself standing in Whole Foods, considering the finer points of what it means to be a human in 2014. You look at the price of individual items and invent justifications for why you need a ½ ounce jar of white peppercorns for $7.99, or purple garlic at $21.99 per pound. (It’s gotta be better – it’s the colour of royalty!) And the tally you’ve been adding up in your head like Rainman? Wrong. At the register $30 instantly becomes $55. $90 becomes $160. No, I didn’t bring any bags (cue eye roll). It’s just part of the vortex you’re in. Accept it. Embrace it. Or just try one of the many honest, family-owned grocers, fishmongers and butchers conveniently located in every city across our wildly civilized nation. But then again, it’s 4:30pm and a grip of hungry people are set to arrive at your place in less than three hours.


So just keep moving forward. Tonight we’re making a bolognese. Strut your stuff into the produce section with a sense of purpose (avoiding the juice bar, which is a sucker move): a knob of celery, a bunch of carrots, 2 medium onions, a head of garlic, one of those pre-packed thyme joints. On your way to the meat cooler, grab a bottle of organic milk. You can tell the difference, can’t you? I dare say I can. Get yourself 1 pound ground pork, 1 pound ground veal (or beef, or lamb, it’s all good)and ¼ pound of pancetta. Hit the aisle with the tomato paste, you’ll need about 8 ounces. You probably have pasta kicking around your crib already, but pick some up anyway. You want the semolina-based stuff, preferably with an endearing story about its provenance written on the back. In my case, I went with penne because I adore it, and definitely not because I don’t own a lasagna pan. Get some kombucha because, kombucha. Go lay out your life savings.

As you depart the store with a sense of smug satisfaction, you may be struck with the realization why you came here in the first place: their excellent liquor selection. Go back inside, head straight for the Ciroc section, and get yourself straightened out. The recipe calls for white wine, so look around and select something cheap but that you would still drink (because you will). Get some red to drink with the meal as well because hey, you’re all sophisticated and shit. Try something from a region adjacent to a really famous wine-producing neighborhood like Burgundy or Tuscany (look it up on your phone), and wink at the guy when you buy it. Head to the car with your haul looking like you know something everybody else doesn’t. Play some UGK on the way home.

You’ll need a dutch oven or similarly heavy pot, a cutting board, wooden spoon and a sharp knife. And a wine glass. Assemble your tools, put on some tunes, pull your meat out of the fridge. You’re in your happy place now. Ease into things by washing your vegetables and performing a reasonably fine dice on the onions, a carrot or two and four stalks of celery. Pro tip: use a cheese grater to make quick work of your carrots. Mince 5 to 500 cloves of garlic for the sauce. Or use a razor blade so the garlic liquefies in the pan with just a little oil. Pour about a ¼ cup of good extra virgin into your dutch oven and start it off at a medium-low temperature. Open your white wine and see what it tastes like.


When the oil is hot enough, dump in all your veg and give it a stir with your wooden spoon. Let it cook down for about 5 minutes, or until it all starts looking succulent and sort of translucent. Stir periodically and, between stirs, put on some Raekwon. Now is a good time to dice up your pancetta if you couldn’t find a place to grind it for you. When your vegetables are good to go, jack up the heat to high and add all 3 meats into the equation, using your wooden spoon to break them up as they brown. Should take about 7 minutes. While this is going down, take your thyme stalks and strip a decent handful of leaves from them.

Your next move comes in three parts, but don’t be intimidated. It’s not rocket surgery: you just need to do things in stages. It’s not about precision either, it’s about building flavors. You want to add your liquids one at a time, allowing them to absorb separately into the meat and vegetable mixture. To start, add your 8 ounces of tomato paste into the mix. Break it down with a few stirs and cook for about 5 minutes. Then add a cup of that lovely milk and allow it all to simmer until the milk is almost gone. Keep your eye on it, but not, like, really keep an eye on it. Check on it once in a while, smell the thing. Trust yourself. You got this! Once the milk is pretty much absorbed, add your half cup of white wine, being careful to pour an equal portion into your own glass. This is really the only measurement that matters right now. Allow everything to keep simmering until it’s almost as dry as your post-grocery-store wallet.

This is basically the end of the hay ride. Throw in your thyme leaves and keep the sauce simmering lightly, just like your growing appetite. Let it ride for another hour or two, or longer. (Note: this is a good time to open that other other bottle of wine.) Stir the pot every once in a while when you find yourself walking by. If it looks too thick, add some water. When you’re ready to serve, do not forget to season it. Hit the whole thing with a prodigious amount of salt and fresh cracked pepper (I love white pepper in Italian dishes). Take a spoon and taste it. Things will be getting rather delicious at this point.


Serve over pasta (tagliatelle is traditional), use it in a lasagna or make some gnocchi from scratch. Make a good salad. Do some garlic bread. Try it a few times and maybe tweak the recipe a bit to make it your own. Take it to a potluck (winning). Serve it with a charcuterie board if you like, but refrain from charging your guests the $19 you paid for schinkenspeck and organic chevre. Throw a dinner party and comically smoke out the entire dining room because you ain’t got no hood fan. The most important thing to remember is that layers of flavour take time to develop. It doesn’t necessarily mean extra work, it just means a bit of preparation and patience. Something that we could all use a bit more of, amirite?

Thank You for Eating by Drew Dunford is a series of edutaining features on creating simple, considered meals for serving to and enjoying with good company. Drew loves cooking, rap music and wine from that part of France next to the part that everyone has heard of.