I really enjoy doing creative things. I think it’s one reason why I like VC: no two entrepreneurs, markets, and Board experiences are the same. Rules of thumb help, but ultimately, you have to digest and discern, and then, decide.
Similarly, I think it’s one reason why I’m attracted to fly fishing, fly tying, and cooking. You can follow rules or go by your gut. As a natural contrarian, I like the latter.
So, today, when I was at the market, I saw these guys.
They’re pieces of pork shank, or “osso bucco.” So, I’ve decided to make a pasta sauce for Sunday dinner.
Pasta sauce is one of my go-to dishes. I make a pretty darn good and authentic Northern Italian sauce. I also experiment and tweak recipes over time. There are some secret ingredients, which I’ll share. San Marzano tomatoes are a must-have. Get the real stuff imported from Italy, not “San Marzano tomatoes grown in the USA.” Also, ground nutmeg. Trust me on this.
Also, pork adds a touch of sweetness to the dish. Ideally, you should get some pork on the bone, as the marrow will add tremendous unctuousness to the sauce. It, in a way that’s hard to explain, makes the sauce silky and really changes the mouth-feel of the dish.
Last, the bit of wine in the recipe really matters. One time, I changed the wine I use in the recipe. Our oldest child remarked that the sauce “tasted different for some reason.” Substituting one white wine for another really did change the sauce a bit. Crazy, but true.
Some techniques also are important. I note them below in the recipe.
I make enough so that we have a big batch and Monday dinner is an easy “heat the pot” option. This big batch will serve 12 people. You can freeze it for about a month and have a good dinner ready in a few minutes on a weeknight.
My children have been egging me to write down recipes, so here’s what I do.
1 celery stalk
2 lbs. of ground beef (I buy the organic kind, but that’s optional.)
1/2 cup of wine (You can use red or white, but use something good enough that you’d drink it and isn’t oaked like a Chardonnay or a Cabernet Sauvignon. My favorites include an unoaked Italian white, such as a San Gimignano.)
1 “porky” element: 4 Italian sausage links, 4 spare or baby-back ribs, 1 lb. of pork shank, 1 lb. ground pork, or a few ounces of imported prosciutto (skip the domestic stuff and get The Real Thing)
2 28 oz. cans of San Marzano tomatoes
A few tablespoons of tomato paste
A small dash of nutmeg (grated fresh from a whole one)
Dice the vegetables. Heat up a large dutch oven pot over medium heat. Add olive oil. (We’re using a moderate level of heat to “coax” out flavors.)
Sauté the onion until translucent. Add salt and pepper.
Add the other vegetables and sauté until soft but not brown. Take out of the pot and set aside.
Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the beef and tomato paste. Add salt and pepper. Sauté until the meat is just cooked and not brown. Set aside. (Cooking the tomato paste and the beef really adds a huge dimension to the dish.)
Sauté the pork. Set aside. (If you’re using prosciutto, no need to sauté–just add to the pot when you add the tomatoes.)
Dump excess fat. Add the wine and deglaze the pot. (This is really important. There is a ton of flavor in the little brown bits in the bottom of the pot. It’s called the “Maillard reaction,” and French chefs deserve a hat tip for preaching about it. Also, feel free to have a glass of wine while cooking. I think of it as the Chef’s Prerogative. In fact, drink two.)
Hand crush the tomatoes and add them and all their juices to the pot.
Add back all the meat. Add the nutmeg.
Simmer on super-low heat for 4 to 5 hours. Or, if you want, put it in the oven at 250 degrees (on a cookie sheet, in case there’s spillage). Stir occasionally to prevent burning. After about 1 hr., taste the sauce and add salt and pepper, as necessary. (If you season while you cook, you’ll actually be adding less salt vs. if you wait until the end; that’s because the salt will really infuse the food and you’ll need less of it.)
Skim off fat just before you are ready to serve.
Serve with pasta (I like fettuccine) and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. (IMO, this cheese is tough to beat. It really makes a big difference, particularly, if it’s freshly-grated.)
So, that’s what I’m doing right now: cooking pasta sauce. I find it very comforting to have a pasta sauce gently cooking and infusing the house on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s the smell of home for our family.
This is a pretty magical sauce, in all honesty. It will woo Significant Others and, in general, just make your world feel just right. You will taste a number of things that make your brain sit up and pay attention: protein, salt, sweet (from the carrots and onions), fat (sorry, you need it to be healthy), floral (from the celery), and umami (from the grated cheese, tomatoes, and wine).
Much love can go into this dish. It really is a “J.T. special” from our home to yours.
Hope you use this recipe. Enjoy!