rethinking everyday italian

One of the things I will not order often out in a restaurant is any kind of pasta or accompanying sauce I might make. Well one exception is Patsy’s in New York City. My sister’s father in law loves the place, and one time when I tagged along, I even got to meet Sal Scognamillo and he autographed a copy of his cookbook for me!  I will make other exceptions here and there, but if I do, it is generally because I want to try to replicate a sauce or something in my own kitchen.

This morning I decided to finally write down one of my Bolognese sauces, my Turkey Bolognese.  (You can find one of my other sauces on – it’s a traditional, non-Bolognese Sunday sauce)

People like to eat healthier, so rethinking the occasional pasta sauce doesn’t hurt.  Several famous chefs do a Turkey version of Bolognese – Emeril La Gasse, Rachael Ray, and Giada Di Laurentis, for example.  Sorry but I prefer my own, because it is hard to learn to cook with ground turkey and what I have tasted other than my own tastes like it is made with shredded cardboard – the flavors aren’t there.  And my homemade today comes with homemade garlic herb tagliatelle.

When I started the sauce today, I had one of those instant when-you-were-a-kid flashbacks.  The smell of coffee co-mingled with the garlic and spices of the beginnings of a pasta sauce.   That will forever remind me of my father’s mother when she used to baby-sit us.  Only her coffee wasn’t French Press, it was a Corning Ware Blue Cornflower stove-top percolator pot like the vintage one in perfect condition I gave my friend Teri when I moved.  And well, she started her sauce around 6 a.m.  I love the smell of garlic in the kitchen, but heck me and your neighborhood vampires don’t start that early!

Now when my grandmother started her sauce she had this pot.  My mother is the keeper of her mother in law’s old pot if she did not toss it, and I prefer my own pot.  I have two vintage mid-century Dansk Kobenstyle Dutch Ovens – a large and a medium-sized, both in sunny yellow enamel.  I picked them up at house sales years ago, and am glad I did because they are somewhat collectible and go not so cheaply even on Ebay.

So I grabbed the larger of the two Dutch Ovens, laid a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the bottom and chopped up a large red onion, and minced 4 cloves of garlic and one small carrot and tossed them into the pan over a medium heat with a couple fresh bay leaves and some salt (I used this crazy roasted salt I found at H-Mart with my friend Sherry.)

When the onion was sweating down and had reached a pretty translucency and almost a caramel color I added a half an eight ounce container of Baby Bella mushrooms, chopped fairly fine, and added a bunch of fresh herbs (I do this a couple of times) minced – basil, oregano, flat parsley and a tiny bit 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of finely minced hot pepper – whatever I have handy, today it was a Serrano.

After everything seems to have melded nicely and before everything goes broken-down and caramelized, I add a pound and a half of freshly ground turkey.  I may, depending on the pan, add another couple of tablespoons of olive oil. At this point I add a dash or two of mild, sweet paprika (see photo for one of my favorite brands, Chiquilin – I am a paprika freak – I have easily 8 different kinds/brands) and about a half a  teaspoon of finely minced fresh rosemary (or a quarter teaspoon dry).

Once the turkey is cooked thoroughly and slightly browned (and you have to stir while turkey cooks, because it will stick to bottom of pan otherwise), I turn to first the wine, and then the milk.  Traditional Bologneses will have both.

First I add 1/2 cup of white wine – anything dry, not sweet will do (or whatever is open in the refrigerator).  Today it was Pinot Gris from Martin Ray Vineyards in Monteray.  Don’t know if they intended their wine for cooking, but there it was.

The wine will bubble and evaporate.  It has to be 95% evaporated/incorporated into meat mixture when you next add a scant 1/2 cup of milk.  (Whole or 2% or if you are doing a traditional Bolognese with lamb, veal, pork, beef I like to make it 1/2 milk and 1/2 half and half.)

The milk must also cook off – I don’t take the post completely to liquid free, but it’s close.

Next comes the tomato of it all.  First I add a small (six-ounce) can of tomato paste, and incorporate it well into the meat mixture.  Then I add one 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes followed by a 28 ounce can of puree.  I am a snob about tomatoes, so I genuinely will not use the generic here.

To the tomatoes comes round two of fresh herbs minced – oregano and basil only.  I stir, I taste to see what salt and pepper needs to be added, and will move to the back of the stove to burble happily over a VERY low flame.  Like people say about BBQ? Low and slow works here too.

I bet you thought I forgot about the homemade  garlic herb Tagliatelle, right?

Into a bowl goes 2 cups of regular flour, 1 cup of semolina flour, a dash of salt, a few dashes of herbs, pepper, and garlic powder.  I mix the dry ingredients and crack in one or two eggs (sometimes I use one egg, sometimes I use two.)

After the egg is incorporated into the flour mixture I add a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and then tablespoon by tablespoon ice water until dough comes together and is not oooey gooey icky sticky.  I do this by feel like my great aunts taught me at their ceramic topped kitchen table in South Philadelphia.

I gather my dough in a nice ball, put in a little bowl and cover with saran wrap.  I like to let it rest about half an hour.

When I am ready to roll (no pasta maker for me, I hand-roll), I get two even sized pieces of saran wrap ( about 18 inches long), put one down on my board, lightly flour, and pinch off dough somewhere between the size of a golf and tennis ball and plunk it down on the saran wrap, dust with flour, place another piece of saran wrap on top and start to roll.  I learned the saran wrap trick years ago from Martha Stewart – she was doing it with pie crust.

I prefer a European kind of rolling-pin – one long skinny piece of wood, you just roll with it, it has nothing in it to turn as you roll.  The one I have now is actually Russian.

I roll out my dough until as thin as I can get it (pretty thin), and when I think it is thin enough, I peel off top layer of saran wrap and roll my pasta dough up into a skinny tube.  Then I slice like it was a little jelly roll and lay out the pasta  side by on fine linen/cotton dish towels or parchment paper on a flat cookie sheet.  I will layer pasta in between other dish towels or parchment paper as I repeat the process until the pasta is all cut out.

When I am ready to cook, I boil in a big pasta pot only a few minutes.  I like al dente.  I will drain, but not rinse and I will put some sauce in the bottom of a bowl, layer in some cooked pasta, dust with grated cheese, layer more sauce and repeat until my bowl is filled.   I garnish with a little chiffonade of flat leaf Italian parsley and fresh basil.

I serve with a nice tossed salad and once in a while crusty bread or homemade (as in not out of a bag) garlic bread.

Hopefully you can follow this.  This is a recipe that lives in my head, but before now had never written down.

And FYI, I don’t have a giant kitchen.  Just an everyday sized one.  Space is a fabulous commodity to have in a kitchen, but you can indeed turn out fabulous meals in a smaller sized one.  However, if I had my druthers I would have a kitchen like my sister’s.  It is  a good size and well laid out.  I would probably only move one thing and that would be the oven.  She has wall ovens, and I like my oven underneath my stove.

Everyday Italian rethinking everyday Italian, over and out.

P.S. : This is what it looks like as you are ready to sit down and eat (and it was yummy):