I meant to write this post a couple of days ago, but then this happened:
I don’t have a “before” picture, but this is my front hall and I just re-wallpapered it. The project got a little more complex than I expected – as home projects often do, especially in old houses. I thought I could knock it out in a day, but in fact it ended up consuming about half a day for three days in a row. It’s not that it was so very difficult, just finicky. And unfortunately it’s still not quite finished.
But, I have learned a few things:
1. A sharp knife makes all the difference – just like in cooking.
2. As a matter of fact, old houses do have crooked walls. Darnit.
3. If you’re going to take on a project like this, remember to have something delicious and cozy already made for dinner. It helps to soften the reality of those little surprises you can’t control once you call it a day.
I didn’t actually make this beautiful Sauce so that we could enjoy it at the end of a wallpapering afternoon, I made it a couple of days before. But the leftovers were sure nice to dig into on Monday evening when I was surprised that I was still working on the project!
The inspiration for this Sauce Bolognese came from a zip-lock bag of August tomatoes I found in my freezer. A friend who gardens (thankfully I have lots of those, because I do not garden) was headed out-of-town and couldn’t deal with all the tomatoes her plants were offering that week. I too was headed out-of-town, but I wasn’t about to say no to my favorite thing – sweet summer tomatoes. So I accepted her gift, and instead of roasting them and turning them into sauce right then, as I would usually do, I took a chance and piled them into zip lock bags and then stuck them in the freezer.
And voilà! August tomatoes in February. Perfect for just one thing – sauce. Which was fine with me. The thought of Sauce Bolognese had been skipping around the back of my mind for a week or two anyway.
I googled recipes for this legendary Italian pasta sauce and perused a few. I settled upon on this one from the Williams-Sonoma site. And then I noticed that they were suggesting you use that fancy slow cooker, the insert of which can go from stove top to the slow cook vessel. Then I remembered that I had that brand new Ninja cooker which had been given to me by Ninja after I attended the International Food Bloggers Conferencelast year – yeah, pretty nice giveaway, they gave one to every blogger in attendance.
Frankly I hadn’t been quite as intrigued by the cooker as I thought I would be once I got it in my kitchen. The brilliance of it is that it is basically a mini-kitchen the size of a crock pot. It has a stove top setting, an oven setting, and a slow cook setting. All of which are really cool, but I have a kitchen, a pretty nice kitchen in fact. That I really like. So the appliance sat on my counter collecting dust for a couple of months, while I tried to think of a reason to use it. Finally I moved it down to the basement for longer-term storage.
But when I saw that Williams-Sonoma was recommending an appliance which cost at least $100 more to make their Sauce, I thought at least I ought to give the old Ninja a chance.
The first thing I did was make the base tomato sauce. I sautéed an onion and some garlic in the Ninja and then dumped in the previously frozen tomatoes and all of that “tomato water” that appeared as they thawed. (That “tomato water” is surprisingly flavorful). Because it didn’t seem like there were enough tomatoes, I also added a 28 ounce can of Muir Glen tomatoes to the pot. Then I threw in some dried herbs – oregano, basil, marjoram – you know, the usual stuff. And I let that sauce cook on the stove top setting for a couple of hours. Afterwards I pureed it in my blender, instead of pushing it through a food mill as Bill Sonoma suggests.
The next day, I launched into the Bolognese. It was sublime, everyone in my family adored it. And we got two full meals out of it, with some of the straight tomato sauce left over, which found its way to the freezer for another day. For dinner this requires nothing but the pasta you toss with it, and a crisp green salad with a citrus-y dressing. All of the meat in the Bolognese (if it were a pizza, it would be called “meat lovers”) makes it quite rich, so a lively salad afterward is just the thing.
I almost forgot to tell you about the Parmesan rind! In case you don’t know, the rind of a chunk of good Parm is a pure gem. I store the rinds in my freezer when I get through with a piece of cheese. Then, when I’m making soup or a pasta sauce like this one, I take it out and add it to the pot. Like other secret ingredients (anchovies for instance) it adds just the right amount of Je ne sais quoi to a dish. So that it goes from very good, to oh-my-gosh good! (It turns out that the allusive Je ne sais quoi is actually umami, but that’s a subject for another day.)
As for the Ninja? I give it a solid B.
I wish I’d had it when we were remodeling our kitchen, it would have been a lifesaver then. If you have a camper or maybe live in one of those tiny New York or Paris apartments that don’t have a real kitchen, just a sink and a hot plate, you should rush right out and buy one. I wager it will change your life.
My favorite feature: the timer on the slow cooker. At 11pm I set it for 3 1/2 hours then headed to bed. Sure enough, in the middle of the night it switched from cook to warm and maintained the Sauce at a safe temperature until I got up in the morning and stuck it in the fridge.
My least favorite feature: the non-stick coating on the inside of the pot. When I was browning the meat, I knew I would be sorry that I wasn’t able to get those lovely bits of caramelized goodness that stick to the pan and later easily incorporate into the sauce with a quick de-glazing. They add so much deliciousness to any dish. On the up side, the pot was definitely easy to clean when all was said and done.
Of course, a fancy slow cooker is not at all necessary to make this delicious Bolognese. You can certainly make it on top of your stove, or on top of your stove and then in your good old crock pot. Whichever way you make it, you’ll be glad you did.