"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Loving Marcella

When I was about 12 or 13 years old I stumbled upon Marcella Hazan's Classic Italian Cooking. I spent my early teens working through nearly every recipe for which I could obtain the requisite ingredients--which was probably about half of them. Marcella is very particular about what should and shouldn't end up in one's sauce or roast chicken, or fricassee, or whatever. Eager to learn the secrets of True Italian Cooking, I followed her recipes slavishly.

Then I discovered Barbara Tropp and Martin Yan, and thought Chinese was the way to go. Then it was Thai and Afghan. I still make a batch of Afghan green sauce ("gashneetch" or something close) every couple of weeks, as it truly is an all purpose condiment. It makes everything taste of cilantro and vinegar, which is good if your larder is stocked with a lot of plain food.

I've come full circle, though, and temporarily shelved my Mexican cookbooks and my Asian Fusion stuff, and my Indian books (Julie Sahni's book I also worked my way through, but much later in life), to return to Marcella.

Sunday night I cooked a bolognese meat sauce ("ragu") and this time I did take liberties. I added a bay leaf, which I'm sure would win a disapproving head shake from Marcella. I used half pork and half beef. Marcella's original recipe calls for beef only, but in a later version of the recipe, published in another cookbook, she concedes that many cooks in Emilia-Romagna make their ragu with pork added. So I added pork. I simmered the meat in milk and then in wine (a California Pinot Grigio), I diced onion, carrot, and celery into uniform, tiny cubes. I salted and peppered liberally. After three hours of simmering, the sauce didn't taste the way I remembered it. I added more tomatoes. That did the trick. Marcella makes it very clear that the final sauce should have very little acidity. Adding more tomatoes surely tipped the balance, but without them, it simply tasted too mellow, too bland, lacking a certain savoriness. We ate it over penne with the Sopranos.

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