25 Recipes #4: Ragù alla bolognese

Sunday night’s bolognese was wildly easier and wildly more delicious than I anticipated. Ragù alla bolognese was on my 25 Recipes list in part because I keep hearing about pots of bolognese simmering away at Shana’s house – and part because while I can make a solid marinara, I really should branch out a bit in my tomato-based sauces.

Here’s the first thing I learned: there are two basic ragùs: bolognese and napoletana.  Both start with a soffrito and derive most of their flavors from the meat, but as is the way with regional cooking, the recipes diverge wildly from there, resulting in sauces that are defined by their differences rather than their essential natures.  An authentic bolognese has only a minimal amount of tomatoes, while napoletana is rich with velvety tomatoes, a byproduct of the longer growing season in Naples.  The meat is more finely chopped in a bolognese, while the soffrito of a napoletana contains more onions and herbs.

Three Meats Four Dice

Both sauces are characterized by a long, slow preparation, making them perfect for a lazy Sunday – or for a snowy night when plans have been canceled and you can wait another hour for dinner while a pot simmers away, filling the house with amazing aromas.  The longer the simmer, the better, but I started prep at 5:30, and by 7:30, we were fiending for a taste.

Meat and SoffritoSimmer Down

Ready to goFusilli Bolognese

And oh my gosh, was it worth the wait.  Shane literally groaned upon taking his first bite – always a good sign.  The sauce tucked itself into the grooves of the fusilli – Meijer’s upscale store-brand, made using the traditional bronze die process that results in a substantially better texture. We halved the recipe and would’ve eaten the entire thing, had good sense and an awareness of the caloric punch of beef AND pork AND veal AND heavy cream not prevailed.  Besides, if it was this amazing for dinner, just imagine how good the leftovers will be for lunch?

Recipe: Pasta Bolognese from Food and Wine


1216 Tuna Noodle Casserole Attempt #1

I’ll be honest: I’m looking forward to the end of the Kitchen Diaries project.  It’s not that I don’t like posting about our food – I’m just looking forward to telling you about just the good stuff, the recipes and meals I recommend, the things I’m definitely interested in eating again.  Tonight’s dinner is a good example of this – it was a fine recipe, probably better than the original, but still needs some refinement before I feel comfortable recommending it.  Instead I give you what I made, amended with notes at the bottom, and will look forward to giving you a real knock out version of this sometime in the future.

Tonight was my first stab at the 25 Recipes challenge – specifically at fancying up tuna noodle casserole. I started from this Martha Stewart recipe, as it didn’t call for canned soup and added in a couple of vegetables – a step in the right direction. Shane doesn’t like artichokes, so I left them out, instead adding in a handful of slow-roasted cherry tomatoes from the freezer. I subbed 2% milk for whole, and two big shallots for the scallions.

Tuna Noodle ingredients

Olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 oz wide egg noodles
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 large shallots
1/4 cup slow-roasted (or sun dried) tomatoes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 5 oz cans tuna packed in oil, drained
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan

Making the sauce

Preheat your oven to 400. Lightly oil or spray a baking tray. Saute your veg – in this case, shallots and peppers – in a tablespoon or two of oil, and season liberally with salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Add 1/4 cup flour to thicken, then gradually add 2 1/2 cups milk and stir til combined. Bring to a simmer.

Noodles and tuna

In a separate pan, cook your noodles until just before al dente – or about two minutes short of the recommended cook time. Drain, then return to the pan. I tossed the noodles with the drained tuna in hopes of preventing giant noodle knots, which didn’t really work.

Ready to bake

Add the sauce to the tuna and noodles and stir to combine. Pour everything into your prepared tray, then top with the shredded Parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until everything is golden and bubbly and the noodles on top have crisped up a bit.

Ready to eat?

Should yield 4 large servings – dinner-sized portions if you’re not eating anything else – or 6 smallish servings, which would be good with a salad or another small side dish.



  1. I seasoned the heck out of the veg, but the resulting casserole was surprisingly bland. More seasoning next time, please!
  2. More vegetables next time – perhaps peas and mushrooms instead?  The orange pepper added very little flavor or texture to the dish.  The tomatoes were good, and if I were making this just for me, I’d probably add some olives, both of which would make it more “Mediterranean” than the Martha Stewart original
  3. While I’m sure it would’ve been richer with whole milk, I’m fine with the 2% substitution.
  4. The crispy noodles on top were the best parts.  Maybe add some caramelized onions or – in keeping with the spirit of the processed-foods original – French fried onions?

0912 Farfalle con Gamberetti e Rucola

Or: Farfalle with Shrimp and Arugula

Sometime in July, I planted arugula.  Shane isn’t particularly a fan – he likes his salad greens a bit milder – but I hoped for a few salads, maybe a batch of pesto or two.  Nothing big.  It was already the middle of the summer, after all, and nothing in the garden was looking particularly well.  I checked on our neglected little patch yesterday and came home with bags full of veg – roughly five pounds of tomatoes, several gorgeous bell peppers, a ridiculous quantity of banana peppers, and the first harvest of arugula!

I’ve had Jamie’s Italy for a couple of years but haven’t had much use for it – apart from dreaming of making our own porchetta or pasta.  This recipe helped me turn a corner in my appreciation of the book, as it was simple, fast, and delicious, all good things for a weeknight or a night when you’re just suddenly and ravenously hungry.  We tag-teamed the prep work, with Shane earning a gold star for his handling of the shrimp when I was getting grossed out, and had dinner on the table in about half an hour flat.  The sweetness of the tomato paste and shrimp complemented the bite of the arugula and cooled the spice of the red chilies.  As with most Jamie Oliver pasta recipes, the ratio of pasta to stuff was off – even with reducing the pasta by 1/3 – but that just meant more little bow-ties for me to snack on.   We’ll be making this one again.

Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola from Jamie’s Italy

…and then back to Italy

Another really lovely night of food and conversation but no photos!

While there were many delightful things to look forward to on this trip, one of the highlights for me was getting to have dinner with two of my college friends, Blaze and Heather.  We were all students at Rockford College, but didn’t meet until we went to Regents College in London in the spring of 2000.  As is the case with many college friends and study abroad friends, we had all manner of adventures together, then drifted apart in the years since.  Heather and I have managed quarterly emails, but I hadn’t seen either her or Blaze since leaving Rockford in 2003.

Hadrian's Wall
Tara, me, and Blaze at Hadrian’s wall, spring 2000

After some back and forth about reservations and commutes, we decided to meet for dinner at Flour + Water, which came highly recommended from Shana. Flour + Water is notoriously hard to get into, though, so we hedged our bet with other restaurants in the Mission. Blaze arrived at 5:30 and was told there’d be a two hour wait, so she put our names in and grabbed a table at Shotwell’s, a neighborhood bar a few blocks away.

I know I said that I want Church Key in our neighborhood, but Shotwell’s might be even better. This is a neighborhood place, you guys, in the way that only 100+ year old bars can be. No frills – just a bar on the corner where you might run into a friend while grabbing a quick beer on your way home from work. We did exactly that, and then were joined by Blaze’s husband Michael shortly before rolling over to Flour + Water.

Remember how I complained about waiting in line at Mama’s? Well let me tell you – Flour + Water was worth the wait. Absolutely. Even very hungry Shane agreed on this one.

Once inside Flour + Water, it’s apparent why we experienced a two hour wait. The space is small, and the eaters are happy. And happy, wine-drinking eaters might take two hours for a meal, especially one that came out of this oven:

Photo by *christopher*

We talked. We considered the wine list. We asked questions of the waitress. We settled on a bottle of wine to share, and on amazing things to eat. Shane invoked his extremely useful restaurant request: if I’m only going to eat here once in my life, what should I have? The salsiccia pizza, she said, or the farro farfalle with sweetbreads. So I ordered the former, and Shane got the latter. Worth. The. Wait. Shane’s pasta was exquisite, full of rich and delicate flavors, an entirely different experience than the sweetbreads we had at Restaurant Eve last summer. My pizza was fantastic – thin crust, flavorful sausage, and a curious and pungent drizzle of anchovies.

Pizza 1 and Casual Wine
Photo by portmanteaus

Blaze and Michael both tried items from the antipasti menu – a stuffed squid and some sort of vegetable stew, both of which were passed around the table to our shared delight. I didn’t try Heather’s puttanesca, but it smelled amazingly fishy, the sort of dish that is done best close to the sea. Our wine – a blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano – worked well with everything, and we probably could’ve finished a second bottle if we hadn’t already had drinks at Shotwell’s. Besides, there was the matter of dessert:

chocolate budino with espresso-caramel cream & sea salt
Photo by Premshree Pillai

A chocolate budino – halfway between pudding and crème brûlée – with a quenelle of Humphry Slocombe ice cream and a sprinkling of sea salt. So amazing.

Let’s not wait another 10 years to have dinner, friends, but if we do – this meal’s going to be hard to top.

If you go:
Flour + Water
2401 Harrison St. (corner of Harrison & 20th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-7000

Flour + Water takes reservations for less than half of their dining room, so plan in advance or to wait a long time. I promise you won’t regret it.

3349 20th St (corner of Shotwell & 20th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-4104

People like to talk about the food from their back yard as being “deep local”. I’d call Shotwell’s “deep neighborhood”.

0824 Pasta and a Simple Tomato Sauce

I brought home another five pounds of tomatoes from the garden on Sunday.  The Romas were set aside for roasting and for last night’s goulash, but the rest went into a small but fantastic batch of pasta sauce:

Garden Tomatoes

They simmered and sweat away in our big stock pot until the juice rendered out, then I ran them through the food mill to remove the skins and seeds.  A few more minutes in the pot with a handful of herbs from the front bed, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be freezing this batch of sauce.

It was too good to wait.  I stirred a ladleful into my macaroni Sunday night, and it was fantastic.  Shane’s went out to dinner with a friend, so tonight I had a simple dinner of linguine, a bit of goat cheese, and a generous amount of the beautiful sauce.  There’s half a cup left, and I’m tempted to just sop it up with the rest of the no-knead bread.

0803 Farfalle with Caramelized Onions, Sugar Snap Peas, and Ricotta

The June 2009 issue of Bon Appetit lingered on my dresser, unread, for nearly a year until Maria pointed out the profile of Niagara-on-the-Lake, which led us to a couple of delicious destinations on our recent trip.  Since then, we’ve made at least three dishes from this issue, including last week’s wonderful polenta with a bunch of veg.  I’m not sure what the moral of this story is – maybe that I should neglect my cookbooks more often?

Tonight’s dinner was yet another success from the June ’09 issue – a pasta that was light but rich, fresh while also creamy.  I substituted farfalle for the orecchiette, and halved the amount of pasta, which resulted in a very good pasta to stuff ratio.  The onions totally melted away into a golden sweetness, and the ricotta was just enough to coat without overwhelming the flavors.  Shane took one bite and remarked that it was very fresh!  We both thought this would be good with asparagus or peas, or with chicken added.  We’ll definitely be making this again, which is more than I can say for the last riff on mac and cheese that we tried.

Orecchiette with Caramelized Onions, Sugar Snap Peas, and Ricotta Cheese from Bon Appetit

0729 Impromptu Pasta

I’m not sure what I had in mind tonight. Our planned meals got all switched around this week by my moods and our lack of interest in things that seemed fantastic a few days previously. To some extent, this worked out in our favor tonight, as we had a bit of a lot of things to use up.

I suppose this could also be appropriately called ‘End of the Fridge Pasta’, as that’s what it contained. A few leftover sausages from Sunday’s breakfast. A handful of 2nds tomatoes, too ripe to leave on the windowsill amidst the onslaught of fruit flies. A quarter of an onion. A few spoonfuls of ricotta, purchased for pasta we never made. The last of a box of whole wheat angel hair, tossed into boiling water when I realized the sauce wouldn’t wait for farfalle.

The end result? Two bowls of creamy, hearty pasta studded with bite-size pieces of excellent pork sausage. Two happy faces and full tummies.

0713 Pasta with Favas, take three

Fava beans weren’t on the shopping list on Saturday, but an impulse buy from Tantré Farms turned into stocking up when the helpful market staffer told me that they’d just done the last fava pick of the season.  No more favas?!  But we just found a new favorite pasta dish!  No more favas for another year?!  Such is the heartbreak of seasonal eating.

When I started shelling the favas, however, I understood.  Gone – mostly – were the wee bright beans of early summer, now replaced with large green-yellow beans of indiscriminate texture.  They made for a fine pasta tonight, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the rest of them, and frankly, I’m a little disappointed.

I’m also disappointed that we didn’t take pictures of each iteration of the pasta with favas, sausage, and tomatoes, as I wish I could show you how much the beans have changed in just 6 weeks.  Alas, you’ll just have to wait until next year, when I’m bound and determined that we’ll be planting favas of our own.

Pasta with Favas, Tomatoes, and Sausage from Smitten Kitchen

0628 Pasta with Favas, take two

For our second go-round with this recipe, I made a few alterations – some improvements, others just alterations.  Last time I drained and used a jar of whole tomatoes from last summer – we’ve since run out of tomatoes and didn’t pick up enough from the market, so I used a can of diced tomatoes in sauce.  This made a big difference in the resulting  quantity and consistency of the sauce.

Sauteeing onions

Second, we didn’t have any white wine around, and I didn’t want to buy and then open a bottle for a measly 1/4 cup.  I made a dubious substitution, using the Pillar Box Red that has been open in the fridge for *cringe* almost two weeks.  While iffy to drink, it was perfectly serviceable in the sauce – in fact, I think I preferred it to the white, which may have been overly sweet.

Third, in an effort to use up pasta leftover from a potluck a few weeks ago, I used whole wheat angel hair instead of the fresh sheets of pasta that the recipe requests, or the wee shells we used last time.  I quite liked the way the sauce coated the pasta, and the way the angel hair broke up amidst the beans and sausages, but Shane preferred the shells, so we’ll probably go back to them next time.

Pasta with favas, sausage, and tomatoes

I also made the whole recipe instead of halving it, remembering that we’d devoured every last bite.  Had we not cleared the table and exercised some self control, I have no doubt that we could’ve put away the entire thing tonight.  Fortunately, however, good sense prevailed, and I’m really looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow.  This recipe is definitely a keeper!

Pasta with Favas, Tomatoes, and Sausage from Smitten Kitchen

0525 Fava Beans, Sausage, Pasta

I bought fava beans at the coop late last week with no real idea of how to use them.  Or what they tasted like.  Or the fact that you have to peel them twice.  All I knew was that I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to figure out what the heck I could do with them.

A little internet research later, and I’d hit on this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  In addition to being seasonal and lovely, it paired a new ingredient – the favas – with things we already had on hand – garlic and onion, tomatoes canned last summer, a package of sausage from our pig.  If I’d been more ambitious, I would’ve made pasta from scratch, but we stocked up on the dried stuff a few weeks ago, so we used small shells, an appropriate shape for catching the beans and sausage.

Apart from the double peeling of the favas, this dinner was proof that complex flavors don’t always necessitate hard work.  While the pasta water came to a boil, I sauteed the garlic and onion, then browned the sausage in the same pan.  While the pasta boiled, a bit of white wine simmered away, and then tomatoes and favas were added to the pan.  From start to finish, this recipe took about 30 minutes, and then we were treated to a bites of pasta cradling the nutty favas, savory crumbled sausage, and a delicate garlicky-wine sauce.

We’re out of favas now, but if I see more at the coop, you’d better believe I’ll be snapping them up.  We were both surprised by how much we liked this simple dish in general, and the favas in particular.  Perhaps we’ll do a Moroccan broad bean salad? Smashed beans on toast? Broad beans and pancetta?  So many recipes to try, and so few favas to eat.  Summer, you can’t come soon enough.

Pasta with Favas, Tomatoes, and Sausage from Smitten Kitchen