Ok, I have an absolutely amazing recipe for you today.
One that might well and truly knock your socks off.
It's one of those recipes that came to me in a flash as I was driving home from work.
And somehow I knew that it was going to be a winner.
As with many of my recipes, it's not full of exact measurements and cooking times. It's a guideline, and can be adjusted to suit your tastes...or what's coming out of your garden.
I think the reason I love cooking so much is that it truly is an art. It's a gut feeling. You just know when certain ingredients are going to work well together, will complement each other.
Baking, on the other hand, eludes me - it's too much of an exact science for me. I wish I knew more about the chemistry behind it, but alas...it's not my strength.
That's ok - I'll stick with cooking in my loose, freestyle way....but when it comes to baking I'll follow the recipe pretty much to a tee!
So, here we go. My 'recipe' for Summer Garden Bolognese.
Let me just say, this is not what I planned to make when I pulled a pound of ground beef out of the freezer before I left for work. I put it in the fridge to thaw, and had every intention of making burgers when I came home. Burgers and a garden salad. Easy peasy.
But something happened as I was driving home that afternoon.
The skies were dark, the wind was kicking up, and there were storms all around us.
And somehow I just knew it was a night for Bolognese.
But not my fall and winter version.
Nope, this was going to be a whole new, lighter, summer garden version.
I was so excited to get started I barely put my handbag down before I was pulling random ingredients out of the fridge.
I started with a classic mirepoix, which is the flavor base for many soups and sauces. Traditionally the ratio is two parts onion to one part celery and one part carrot, all chopped uniformly. Mine was a little more equal-parts onion, carrot, celery, as this was going to be a very veggie heavy sauce.
I used a very large Vidalia sweet onion, a half bag of organic baby carrots, and about 3 large celery stalks.
I threw the onion in first, in a little olive oil, while I chopped the carrots and celery. The carrots went in next, and the celery last.
Next came two peppers - one red, one yellow. Because that's what I had.
All the veggies went for a ride in the mini chopper, until they were minced very fine.
I wanted this sauce to be very smooth, with a consistent texture.
I wanted everything to meld together, so you couldn't tell where one veggie left off and the other began.
It was a very good plan....trust me, you'll see!
Next up was a fairly large zucchini. I scrubbed it but did not peel it. Rough chopped, thrown into the mini chopper to mince fine, and into the pot it went.
I gave everything a stir and turned up the heat at this point.
I wanted those veggies to start to brown on the bottom of the pot.
While they were cooking, I prepped some mushrooms for the next step. The stems were removed, and the hard edge trimmed off. The stems were put into a Ziploc bag I keep in the freezer - mushroom stems are awesome for soups, or flavoring stock.
I made a hole in the middle of the veggie mixture, dropped in a tablespoon of butter, and then the mushrooms.
At this point, everything got seasoned with freshly ground sea salt and pepper. I always go light on the salt, and heavy on the pepper.
You can always add more salt but it's really hard to correct a dish that has been over salted.
I had the flame turned all the way up to high now, to really get some brown bits on the bottom. This is what's going to give your sauce the rich, deep flavors you want.
Keep in mind, you don't want to burn the veggies....once you get some good brown bits, you can turn the heat back down to medium.
Now comes the magic.
Lots and lots of garlic. I think I used about 12 large cloves.
Again, I made a hole in the center of the veggies, and this time dropped in about 2 tbs of butter. When the butter was good and bubbly, the garlic went in, to become golden and extremely fragrant.
The aroma in the house at this point was pure heaven!
Am I the only one who thinks sauteed garlic is one of the best smells on earth?
After the garlic was lovely and fragrant, it was time to brown the beef. Again, I made a hole in the center of the veggies, but no butter this time!
Note: This package of beef weighed about 1.25 lbs.
I use grass fed organic beef from a local farm, 90% lean. It's the best beef I've ever tasted, and has ruined me for all other. I stock my freezer with it during the summer months, when they sell it at a local farmers' market - it lasts me all winter long.
When the beef is all browned, it's time for tomato paste. This was not a tiny can of paste, but the next size up - I think perhaps around 10oz.
I stir it into the veggies, let it cook for a minute or two, and then pour in about a cup of red wine.
This is when you need to get out your wooden spatula/scraper and scrape up all those wonderful browned bits off the bottom and sides of the pot.
Flavor, people. Remember that. Browned bits add flavor!
After scraping all the browned bits, let the wine cook for about 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol.
Next, throw in a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes. I like Tuttorosso Crushed Tomatoes with Basil, which are all natural and have the non-BPA lined can.
I also filled the empty can half full of water and threw that in. Everything got a good stir, the flame was turned down to simmer, and the lid put on.
Whew, this is why I usually make things like this on a weekend!
(Honestly, it wasn't that bad - my little mini chopper did most of the work!)
I simmered the sauce for an hour. If it was earlier in the day, I would have let it go a bit longer, and just added water as needed. But, truly, an hour was more then enough time - the sauce was amazing and had tons of flavor!
While the sauce was simmering, I put a large pot of water on to boil, and I dug around in my pasta stash to see what I had that would be suitable for this incredible sauce.
We have an amazing Italian deli in a nearby town, and whenever I'm in the area I'll pop in and stock up on some favorite products.
I always stock up on their pastas, and Pirro is one of my favorite brands.
This is the Pirro Pappardelle with Spinach - I knew it would be perfect for this summer garden bolognese!
Right before serving, I turned off the heat and threw in a handful of chopped fresh basil, and about 1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano.
My daughter's tongue was hanging out at this point, but I made her wait while I took a photo.
It's tough being the family of a blogger, don't you think?
Of course, we served hot crusty bread and fresh Vermont butter with this meal, because if you're going to do it, you better do it right.
It appears that it was a complete and total success! Another fabolous experiment!
I have to say, my sweetie gets pretty excited when I tell him we are having an experiment for dinner. I think that's amazing, he has complete faith in my concoctions!
What a trusting soul he is.
One of the best parts? Leftovers!
This 'recipe' made three hearty dinners....plus four packed lunches....and four containers of sauce for the freezer!
The round containers for the freezer will each do 3 dinners...and the rectangular container will do 2 dinners.
Grand total? 18 meals from 1.25 lbs of ground beef, some pasta, and a few veggies.
Not too shabby, huh?