Tag Archives: do-ahead

Weeknight Dinners: Spaghetti Bolognese


Spaghetti Bolognese – Posted by Lynda Balslev

Things are a little busy around here – more on that later. For now, I share with you a favorite recipe that’s perfect for the fall. It’s also perfect for busy schedules, when you can make a big batch of the sauce and keep it on hand for weeknight dinners. If you don’t have a recipe like this in your weeknight repertoire, then you should. We refer to it as Spaghetti Bolognese in our house, and before someone writes to inform me that this is not an authentic bolognese sauce, I’ll save you the time and announce it right here: This is not an authentic bolognese sauce – but it’s our version, and somewhere along the way it was assigned the name “bolognese” (probably my fault) and since then it’s stuck. More importantly, my entire family loves this sauce, and we’ve become quite attached to it’s name, so we’re are standing by it.

Since we are on the topic of authentic vs. unauthentic Bolognese, let me explain:

Bolognese sauce is a meat ragu, often containing 2 to 3 kinds of meat (beef, pork, veal). My sauce calls for ground beef since it’s most readily available in organic, sustainable form in all of the markets I shop. If you wish, feel free to add pork, pancetta or veal to the mix.

Bolognese is typically not a tomato-rich sauce. The meat is the principal component, which is why it’s a ragu. My version is generous with the tomatoes, because, well, we like tomatoes, and we are happy to call our sauce a sauce.

Bolognese spices are minimal: salt, pepper, bay leaf, nutmeg – and no garlic (gasp). You can be sure there will be garlic in my sauce, along with a handful of my garden’s herbs, such as oregano and thyme.

Bolognese includes white wine and milk – yes milk.  Neither are in this sauce  – otherwise, at least one young family member would have rebelled years ago due to a mystifying bias against dairy. Instead, I add red wine, because it deepens flavor and acidity to meaty sauces, and (for some reason) there’s always red wine in our house.

Finally, bolognese is a hearty ragu, often served with thick hearty-type pasta such as pappardelle. We love pappardelle, but, unlike red wine, there’s rarely pappardelle in our house, so spaghetti is the go-to staple of choice.

The point here is this is a flexible sauce that tastes great no matter it’s name or its origin. More importantly, it’s a family staple that’s hugely popular, may be prepared in large quantities, easily frozen, and is unfussy in its use: Ladle it over pasta, between lasagna sheets or even call it a base for chili. It may be prepared within an hour for easy weeknight dining and tastes even better the next day.

Spaghetti Bolognese

This recipe may be doubled. Freeze the extras for later use.
Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
1/2 celery stalk, finely diced
1/2 sweet red pepper, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup heavy-bodied red wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, to taste

1 pound pasta – cooked al dente
Fresh parsley
Grated Parmigiano or Pecorino (they don’t do that in Bologna either) cheese

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook, stirring, until brown, about 3 minutes. Drain the beef in a colander. Return the pot to the stove and add 1 tablespoon oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until beginning to soften, stirring up any brown bits, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, red pepper, and garlic. Sauté until the vegetables soften and brighten in color, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring up any brown bits. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Return the beef to the sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally and breaking up any of the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, about 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add the sugar if necessary. Serve ladled over cooked pasta, such as spaghetti, pappardelle, or rigatoni. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with grated cheese.

 

 

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs and Praline

~ Orange Almond Semifreddo, Port Wine Poached Figs, Almond Praline ~

What are you serving for dessert for Christmas? I am making this light and luscious semifreddo, cloaked in a heady sauce of port-wine poached figs. Fragrant with orange and spice, it’s reminiscent of English Christmas puddings and mulled wine. The semifreddo is an elegant frozen Italian concoction of whipped cream and meringue, flecked with toasted almonds and orange zest. Each bite is ethereal, melting on the tongue in a teasing airy poof. For a little extra oomph (it’s Christmas after all) a shard of caramelized almond praline crowns the dessert.

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs

Each component may be prepared in advance, perfect for entertaining and last minute gift wrapping.

Serves 8

Semifreddo:
3/4 cup whole almonds
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon Gran Marnier or Cointreau
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Figs:
1 cup Port wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
12 large dried (or medium fresh) figs, stems removed, halved

Praline:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Prepare the semifreddo:
Line a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with plastic, leaving a 3-inch overhang. Place the almonds and 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add the orange zest and salt; pulse to blend. Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until they begin to hold soft peaks. Add 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Transfer to a large bowl. Beat the cream, Amaretto and vanilla extract in a clean mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream until no traces are visible. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites until evenly distributed. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with plastic. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

Prepare the figs:
Bring all of the ingredients, except the figs, to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and boil until liquid is reduced by half. Strain the liquid and return to the saucepan. Add the figs and toss to coat and submerge. Simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the liquid. (Figs may be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate until use. Allow to come to room temperature before serving).

Prepare the praline:
Heat the sugar in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar turns amber in color. Add the almonds and sea salt and stir quickly to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and spread into a thin layer. Do not touch with your fingers. Cool completely. Break into small pieces.

When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from the loaf pan. Working quickly, cut in 3/4-inch slices and arrange on serving plates or shallow bowls. Spoon figs and juice over the semifreddo and garnish with praline shards. Serve immediately.

Pork (or Boar) Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

I prepared this stew with boar meat, because boar reminds me of autumn in Europe when it’s the season of la chasse – or hunting season.  Like most game, boar is lean and has a slightly gamey flavor. It benefits from slow cooking and pairs well with powerful aromatics such as juniper, winter fruit and spirits, such as Calvados and Armagnac. If you cannot find boar meat, pork is a good substitute.

Pork (or Boar) Stew with Prunes and Armangnac
Serves 6-8.

20 prunes
3/4 cup Armagnac brandy
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds boar or pork shoulder meat, cut in 2 inch chunks
4 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bottle full bodied red wine
2 bay leaves
1 bouguet garni: 4 juniper berries, 3 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, handful of celery leaves

Combine prunes and Armagnac in a bowl. Let sit at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a dutch oven or oven-proof pot with lid. Season the meat all over with salt and pepper. Sauté in batches, without overcrowding, until brown on all sides. Transfer meat to a bowl. Add bacon to dutch oven and sauté until the fat renders. Add carrots and onion. Sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Return meat to the pot with any accumulated juices. Add prunes with Armagnac, wine, bay leaves, bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pan and transfer to oven. Bake until meat is very tender, 2 1/2 – 3 hours. Remove from oven and taste to check seasoning. Remove and discard bay leaves and bouquet garni. (Stew may be prepared up to two days in advance. Warm over low heat or in a 300 F. oven before serving.) Serve with mashed potatoes or polenta.

Chocolate Pots de Crème with Gran Marnier

Pots de Crème are an entertainer’s best friend. They may be prepared up to 2 days in advance and are very easy to make. With just a little finesse, and some high quality chocolate, you can be sure to wow your guests. Depending on the vessel in which they are served, they are an appropriately small shot of rich chocolate following  a heavy meal, or a moreish serving for the chocoholics at the table. Keep it simple with straight-up chocolate, or dress it up with Gran Marnier. This recipe is a keeper.

Chocolate Pots de Crème with Gran Marnier

This recipe requires refrigeration before serving for at least 6 hours. For best results, prepare at least one day before serving. Makes 6 large or 12 small servings.

1  3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
6 ounces high quality dark chocolate (70-72%), finely chopped
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Gran Marnier or Cointreau (optional)

Gran Marnier Whipped Cream
Candied orange peel and/or raspberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.) Combine cream and milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove and add chocolate, whisking until melted and thoroughly incorporated. Whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla together in a large bowl. Slowly add chocolate to the eggs, whisking constantly. Mix in Gran Marnier if using. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into another bowl. Blot foam from the top of the chocolate with a paper towel or skim with a spoon.
Pour chocolate into demi-tasse cups or 3/4 cup ramekins. Cover each cup with foil. Place cups in a large baking pan. Pour boiling water into the pan until it reaches half-way up the side of the cups. Bake until the chocolate is set but still wobbles in the middle, about 40 – 50 minutes depending on the size of the cups. Remove and transfer cups to a wire rack; cool. Cover and refrigerate pots de crème at least 6 hours (or overnight). Bring to room temperature before serving.
Serve with Gran Marnier Whipped Cream. Garnish with candied orange peel or raspberries.

Gran Marnier Whipped Cream:
Before serving, beat 1/2 cup heavy cream in bowl of an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Whisk in 2 tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar and 2 teaspoons Gran Marnier and beat until stiff peaks form, taking care not to overbeat.

Aprés-Ski Menu: Beef Bourguignon

 

During the winter season I like to prepare rustic recipes from the French countryside. These hearty dishes are made with staples from the land, such as potatoes and root vegetables, bitter winter greens, cured meats and cheese.  My favorite is beef bourguignon, a stew consisting of a tough cut of beef slow-cooked in Burgundy wine until falling-apart tender, mingling with carrots, onions and mushrooms in a rich, savory stock.  It’s a delicious one-pot meal perfect for a cold night or an apres-ski meal. It may easily be made in advance, and like most stews, tastes even better the next day for easy planning. Enjoy with a glass of red wine, a roaring fire, friends and family.

Beef Bourguignon

Serves 6-8

5 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds beef chuck, cut in 1 1/2″ chunks
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup cognac

4 large carrots
1 large yellow onion, cut in large chunks
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 – 750 ml. bottle full-bodied red wine
1 cup beef stock
1 – 6 ounce can tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried thyme

10 ounces (300 g.) pearl onions, peeled
1/2 pound white mushrooms, halved
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large oven-proof pan with lid or Dutch-oven. Season beef all over with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add beef to pan in one layer and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl. Add cognac to pan and deglaze pan over medium-high heat, scraping up bits. Allow to reduce by half. Pour cognac over beef and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.)  Coarsely chop 2 carrots.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in same pan. Add chopped carrots, onion and garlic. Sauté 3 minutes over medium heat. Add beef, wine, stock, tomato paste, and thyme. (Beef should be covered by the wine and stock. If not, add more wine or stock to cover.)  Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and cook 2 minutes.  Cover and place in oven. Bake until meat is very tender 2 1/2 – 3 hours.

About 30 minutes before beef is done, cut remaining carrots in 1/2″ slices.  Steam or blanch carrots until crisp tender; drain. Sauté mushrooms and onions in a skillet with one tablespoon olive oil until light golden brown.

Remove beef from oven.  Strain liquid from stew into a saucepan. Separate meat from vegetables and discard vegetables. Boil liquid until sauce is reduced by 1/2 and has a sauce consistency, skimming fat from surface. Add sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce back over beef.   Add carrots, mushrooms and onions to stock. Simmer 15 minutes. Serve.

Beef bourguignon can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Remove solidified fat from surface before reheating. Reheat over medium-low heat on stovetop, or in a 325 F. oven.