Spaghettigeddon

October 4, 2011

or,

Preparing for the End Times the Tastiest Way I Know!

Probably you are tired of this by now, but I’m not:

WINTER IS COMING.

A gorgeous and long-awaited fall has graced Chicago, and consequently I am girding up for winter’s terrible onset.  Actually, I’m excited.  Carolyn is terrified, and already misses summer.  I scoff at her, and put on my favorite KWUR hoodie. 

I’m so ready.

The change in seasons has me collecting food like  a chipmunk.  I recently purchased a chest freezer off Craigslist – a big one, but not the biggest one.  It’s, uh, noticeable.

Oh, no - wait.  It's huge.

See, I kept on running out of room in my freezer.  I’d cook in quantity, and then run out of space for ice cubes.  I made a large quantity of leek and potato soup, and froze 3/4ths of it, and with the chickens I’d recently de-boned, the stock cubes I made from those bones, and the bottle of homemade limoncello that my friend Aaron gave me a year ago, there wasn’t room for much of anything else in my freezer.  And, having just eaten a quart or so of the stuff, I was in no hurry to defrost and finish the soup.

Now I have space enough to store a hundred meals (and, to anticipate a few wags, yes, a coupla corpses.  Don’t cross me.).  Finally, with room to store anything I could ever want to make, I’ve finally found my calling – COOKING IN OBSCENELY MASSIVE QUANITY.  My new friend Terri works at the Chicago Food Depository as a cook, and if I asked her, she’d probably say that my exuberance for that very thing might wane the moment I had to stick my gloved hands into “a massive bucket of mayonnaise.”  Despite my hearty Defense of Mayonnaise, I think she’s right.  And I shall have to avoid buckets of the stuff.

Anyway, having storage space like this means that I can save money by buying in bulk and not having to worry about spoilage.  It also means spending a lot of money up-front for long-term savings.  That pork shoulder is $1.99 per pound, but it only comes as a full 20-pound shoulder?  Well, okay!  Lemme just throw down 40 bucks and we can do business!

It was this kind of thinking that led me to the realization that I could (and should!) make approximately 18 pounds of my mother’s spaghetti sauce.  I mean, after all, what else are giant stockpots and chest freezers for? 

If I am not mistaken they are for holding THIS!

This is the spaghetti sauce I grew up with; it’s not a bolognese or anything – it’s just a chunky tomato, beef, and Italian sausage sauce with a whole load of fennel.  I’ve modified it slightly to fit my more fennel! more red pepper! tastes.

I understand that probably you don’t have an enormous freezer, or even a stockpot the size of your torso, which is why I present this recipe in normal proportion, with wildly incongruous photographs.

Mostly My Mother’s Spaghetti Sauce
Makes enough for two pounds of spaghetti.  Freezes like a champion.

If you like, I’ve made up the (roughly scalar – I recognize that 24 ounces is not 3/4th of 28 ounces, but it makes sense as you scale up the recipe that the tomato outpaces the meat) part-to-whole ratios, although I’ve got to admit that they get a little ridiculous as we get to the spices, because they’re by weight, not volume.

The Setup
You will need:

  • 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes (1 part)
  • 1.5 pounds ground beef (3/4th part)
  • 1.5 pounds hot italian sausage (3/4th part)
  • 1 large onion (1/2 part)
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic  (1/50th part)
  • 1 cup red wine (1/6th part)
  • 1 6-oz can of tomato paste (1/6th part)
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed (approximately 1/100th part)
  • 2 tablespoons italian seasoning (1/200th part by weight)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper (1/850th part)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (1/850th part)
  • salt to taste (the sausage is probably going to be fairly salty, just warnin’ ya, so maybe don’t salt until after everything’s all together)

The Heist

1.  Dice the onion or onions and set aside.  Then peel and chop the garlic fine.  My friend Aaron was the first person to show this to me, so he gets the credit – there’s this video from Saveur magazine floating around lately that details a technique for quickly peeling an entire head of garlic.  Since I was using an entire head of garlic, I decided to try it – it certainly worked, but I think it’d be silly to do for fewer than eight cloves of garlic.  Don’t bother unless you wanna cover the insides of two bowls with garlic peels.

First, break up the head of garlic.

Then, give the garlic a hat and SHAKE PROFUSELY

omgz naked garlic look away (I washed the bowl to get the garlic paper out)
2.  Start browning the beef in a big, 6-quart pot (and, y’know, if you’re making it with 10 pounds of meat, use a great big multigallon stockpot).  Drain the fat (optionally, into a measuring cup) and set the meat aside.  I used a wire-mesh spider to get everything out of the pot.

That's a lot of meat.

4.  Deal with the sausage.  I actually liked that the sausage was still semi-frozen, because it made it easier to cut and portion evenly.

I stand corrected.  THAT'S a lot of meat.

Still.  That’s a lot of sausage.  I mean, we’re looking at a mountain of meat, here.  Cut or squish the sausage into 1/4-inch chunks and cook it in the same pot as the one you browned the meat in; remove the sausage from the pot once it’s evenly cooked through, and set it aside with the beef..  At this point, switch out your slotted spoon or wire spider for a Trusty Wooden Spoon.

The sausage, divvied.

5.  Dump the onion and garlic into the rendered sausage fat, add the fennel seeds, and cook over medium heat until your kitchen smells like heaven.  The onion will get yellow and soft, the garlic will melt like it’s sinking into a comfortable bath, and you will then…

Mmmm.  Garlic bath.

6. Give your sous chef, co-chef, guy- or gal pal a high five because it’s step six.  And Step Six always has a high five in it.  Secret handshakes, too, are admissible.

7.  Pour in the red wine and stir it into the aromatics – let the wine vapor fill your kitchen, and breathe deep: if it makes you feel special, you may pretend that a Calabrian has just burst.  (No, they aren’t from Star Trek.)

8.  Measure out your canned tomatoes and dump them in on top of the aromatics, the wine, and the fennel.  Wash the cans out with water (or more wine) and add their contents to the pot.  Stir to combine.

The metal thing beneath the bowl is a scale - I was working by weight because everything was in such quantity.

Tomato paste has such a pleasant look to me.  Y'know.  For a paste.

Shplop.

9.  Add in the cooked beef and sausage, as well as the red and black pepper, stir with your Trusty Wooden Spoon, and bring the mixture to a gentle bubble – reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour to forty-five minutes.

Blub blub blub

10A.  For service:  Fill your pasta pot with water (I’m assuming you’ve got a 6 to 8 quart pot) and a tablespoon of salt, cook the pasta of your choosing al dente (I like how this goes with spaghetti, even if it’s senseless and nontraditional to have a thin pasta with a chunky sauce.  However, nothing about this is traditional, or even Italian.  If you’re not into the long, thin pastas, the sauce goes nicely with penne rigate or rigatoni.  Crucially, reserve a cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.

Drain the pasta, put it back in the pot (over low heat), spoon over the sauce (a little at a time.  By god, not all of it – you’ll probably end up tupperwaring 3/4ths of this anyhow), and splash some of the pasta water over everything.  The starchy pasta water will thicken up the sauce, and lend a really full-bodied mouthfeel to the already quite-substantial sauce.  Cheese is, at this point, almost superfluous.  But feel free to be superfluous.

10B.  For packing up and freezing:  As soon as it’s cool enough to pack up, portion the sauce into pint and quart-sized containers (leaving at least a half-inch of headroom to allow for the sauce to expand as it freezes).  Cover and let stand until they’re cool enough to put in the refrigerator.  Let them hang out in the refrigerator overnight (or for a few hours) – you don’t want to melt the stuff in your freezer.  Then label them, pop them in the freezer, and let them freeze into lovely hard pucks of sauce.

Playing Puck as saucy is, in fact, my favorite way to see the character portrayed.  Nobody likes a sullen Puck.

Then stack them to show how much there is.  Because you’re smart.  And stacking them is definitely a clever and intelligent thing to do.

Yeah, it fell over.  Shut up.
The sauce should keep for up to 9 months, and then get slowly less good as the months wear on, but let’s be real, here – unless you make an actual literal metric ton of the stuff, you’re probably going to eat it all inside of six months anyway.

11. To thaw and reheat: run hot water over the bottom of the container for about 30 seconds, until the saucepuck detaches from the container.  Plop the saucepuck into a smallish saucepan and pour a tablespoon or two of water over it.  Turn the heat up to medium, cover the pan, and go do something else for about ten minutes.  Uncover the pan, break up the saucepuck as it melts, and stir it around until everything’s warm and bubbly again.

Enjoy, and happy cooking!

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While my parents were in DC a few weeks ago, I was tasked with watching Penelope, the familial springer spaniel.  She’s a very cute critter, and last summer she stayed with me for a time at the House in Indiana.  She served as my amanuensis, and even took dogtation.

Penny averages 120 wpm (woofs per minute).  Yes, I've got the leash around my foot.

She’s very smart.

Anyway, I was dog-sitting in the suburbs for a week – my fabulous job (as a game-writer, not a professional tweeter) permits me to work from anywhere with an Internet connection.  My girlfriend, Carolyn, came to stay for the weekend, and that Saturday, we went garage saling, where we found some TREASURE.

  • Two unused yoga mats in a carrying case: $7
  • One bamboo jewelry-organizer: $2
  • Some lovely wrist bangles for Carolyn, including a chunky brass one that will be All The Rage next season (so she claims.  I think it makes her look like Wonder Woman.  No complaints there.): $10 or so
  • A lovely green glass vase, which was: $free
  • A never-before-used Krups Butcher Shop, still in its taped-up box: $5

And

LA MACCHINA,

which is what I have taken to calling this gorgeous Marcato Atlas pasta maker, which goes online for €51 (about $73 USD), which Carolyn and I acquired for … yes.  Five dollars.

LOOK AT IT.

CUE HEAVENLY CHORUS

Ah! Che bella macchina!  I behold you and I hear the swelling chorus of a Morricone score.

Carolyn and I looked at each other.  There was no way we couldn’t make pasta for dinner.  I had to know if it was hard to do; I’d tried to make pasta without a machine a few years prior, and I had a hell of a time (using a rolling pin) getting it thin enough without tearing.  It was also obnoxious to cut the pasta into fettucine with a knife, because it wasn’t thin or straight enough, and I didn’t have a food-safe ruler to use as a straight edge.  (And frankly, the idea of rubbing a metal ruler against one of my knives makes me cringe a bit.)

I’m not a food gadgety person.  It’s taken me a long time to embrace Carolyn’s strawberry huller, her cherry pitter, and her totally adorable water-carbonator, but I knew I would love LA MACCHINA immediately.  It had such a handsome shine!  It clipped to the table!  It could roll and cut pasta to even thicknesses and dimensions!  I was in love.  (For the record, it only took me three dates to embrace Carolyn herself, who is cuter than a water-carbonating device.)

But while I do love some gadgets, I’m also frugal (or a skinflint.  you decide), and although a new handcranked pasta machine certainly won’t break the bank, I guarantee you can find an unwanted pasta machine no matter where you are.  A pasta machine is just the sort of thing a couple might receive for their wedding, regardless of whether or not they put it on their registry.  Where there are garage sales, you will find pasta machines at reasonable prices.  And even if you did buy a new one: in the past two weeks, I’ve already created enough pasta to exceed its retail price – three different ravioli dishes, enough to serve four, assuming an average restaurant price of $14 per plate comes to (3 x 4 x 14) $168.  And that’s not counting the other pastas I’ve made.

We decided we would make ravioli, and so I decided to do what I generally do when I’m staying at my parents’ house: mount raids on the freezer, the pantry, and the liquor cabinet.  I found a pound of frozen, uncooked shrimp, a can of tomatoes, and a handle of Stolichnaya vodka.

“Carolyn?” I hollered up the basement stairs, “Do you like vodka sauce?”

I couldn’t find a recipe for shrimp ravioli in my parents’ capacious cookbook library, but I found and tweaked a basic recipe for pasta dough from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian CookingThen I hunted around on the internet, and found this recipe for shrimp ravioli in a vodka sauce, which I have slightly adapted, defatted, and seriously copy-edited.

This recipe has a lot of steps, but isn’t altogether that complicated.  You can make the filling and the sauce well ahead of time, but the dough should probably be made the day you intend to assemble the ravioli.  However, they freeze beautifully, and we’ll get to that later.

Let’s get started!

Ravioli/Tortellini di Gamberi alla Vodka

The Vodka Sauce

The Setup

Ingredients:

  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup basil, ribbon-cut (chiffonade)

The Heist

  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and lightly fry the garlic until fragrant.  Kill the heat.
  2. Add the vodka.  You don’t want to add liquor to a pot over a live flame because there could always be a wayward splash, a sudden flare-up, and then it’s goodbye, eyebrows (and possibly goodbye, face).  Bring the vodka to a bare simmer and let it cook over low to medium heat for about five minutes.
  3. Add in the tomatoes, bring back to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add in the cream, bring to the very barest of simmers, and stir.  It should get somewhat thicker after a few minutes.  At this point, add the basil and kill the heat.

What a pleasant color.

Pasta Dough (for Ravioli)

makes enough for about 50 ravioli or so
The Setup

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp milk or cream

(So, one half-cup of flour and one teaspoon of milk per egg)

The Heist
Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and make a little well with your fingers, or a fork.

  1. Crack the eggs into the well, and pour in the cream.
    Well, well, well, my pretties.
  2. With a fork, beat the eggs and the cream, first into one another, and then gradually begin introducing the flour into the egg mixture, until it’s fully incorporated.It's the world's tastiest vortex.
  3. Clean off the fork and begin kneading the dough with your hands until it has picked up most of the flour and is relatively unsticky. Pad the dough into a flattish round, and perhaps cut it into thirds or quarters with a knife or dough scraper.  Put another half cup of flour into the mixing bowl, because you’ll be using it later to dust the pasta.
    This might warrant a little more kneading - you can see how it looks a little rough at the right edge; it should be smooth all over.
  4. Cover the dough with a towel and let it hang out while you make…

The Shrimp Filling

The Setup

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb shrimp, defrosted, peeled, and deveined*
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • a generous handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper

* Save those shrimp shells for a shrimp velouté for your SQUIZZA!  Or, if you like, incorporate them into the vodka sauce with the garlic – but be sure to strain out the shells before serving.

The shrimp don’t need to be big, or even that attractive-looking; they’re going to be minced into tiny little pieces anyhow.  Ah-ha-ha-ha.  But seriously, the part of this dish that looks good isn’t the shrimp filling; nobody can see that bit.

The Heist

1. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a pan, and gently cook the garlic until pleasantly scented, about 30 seconds to a minute.
These shrimp were already somewhat pink just due to their natural color, which was a little alarming to me.
2. Drop the shrimp in, and sauté until the shrimp curl up (which they do because of proteins contracting during cooking.  Shrimp cocktail pro-tip: if you want to prevent shrimp from curling, make little slits on the ventral side of the shrimp; it’ll hamstring that muscle and curtail the curling.

Of course, we don't care whether or not the shrimp curl up, now do we?  We're making a ravioli filling; the shrimp are invisible.

3. Remove from heat, and either mince the shrimp finely, or quickly pulverize in a food processor.  Move the shrimp to a mixing bowl and add the ricotta, the eggs, the cheese, and the parsley.  Season to taste (yes, I know there’s raw egg in there.  It won’t kill you.).

Much.
Making the Ravioli

4.  Pass a chunk of your pasta dough through the machine, on its widest setting.  Fold it into thirds, rotate it 90 degrees, and repeat two or three more times, until the dough is glossy, pliant, and cheerful.Yes, friends, it's The Thin Pasta, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy!

5. Begin passing the dough through the rollers at increasingly thinner settings – just once through on each setting will do.  I tend to stop at the penultimate thinness.

6. High five your significant other, for finding a pasta maker. *

7. Lay out a sheet of dough on your work surface – maybe one foot long by six inches wide (depending on how wide your rollers are).  Lay out another piece with similar dimensions beside it.

8. Take a 1/2 teaspoon measure and dollop out the filling onto one of the sheets, about an inch and a half away from each other, and from the edge.  This means that if your sheet is 6 inches wide, place one dollop at 1.5 inches, the next at 3 inches, and the third at 4.5 inches.

9. Wet a finger or a pastry brush with water or egg wash and brush down every part of the dough that doesn’t have filling on it.  Lay the other piece of dough on top of it, and crimp the dough around the filling.  Then press everything down so that the dough fuses together.  You can see Carolyn and I were doing something slightly differently, and making tortellini andravioli, but mostly because we weren’t sure exactly how to do either, at first.

Who knows!  There's no effin' rules, dude.  I mean, yes there are, but we don't follow them.

10.  Take a knife, or, if you have it, a scalloped pasta roller (I don’t have one yet, but I think I’d like one.  They can’t be hard to find) and cut the ravioli close enough so that you’re not just eating a sheet of dough, but not so close that you expose the filling, either.  Recover the dough, ball it up, and put it aside – you can mix it with the remaining dough to make the rest of the ravioli.

11. Sidenote 1: as you cut each raviolo free, dunk it in flour and shake off the excess; you don’t want them to stick to each other as you prep them for cooking – trying to separate stuck-on ravioli will rip their skins and expose the filling, which will cause you to curse assiduously.

12.  Sidenote 2: if you wish to freeze the ravioli, line a baking pan with parchment or wax paper, and plop the floured ravioli on as you complete them – let them sit in the freezer for at least 40 minutes before removing them from the sheet, putting them in a freezer bag, and throwing them back in cold storage.
These are not quite done!

13.  Bring salted water to a rolling boil and cook the ravioli until they float, and the filling is hot throughout, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size, quantity, and thickness of ravioli.  Frozen ravioli take 4 to 6 minutes to cook, on average.

That's what they look like when they float.  And when they're tortellini.

14.  Toss lightly with sauce, and serve.

Tadahhh.

* Just so you know, from now on, Step Six is always going to be “Give the person you’re cooking with a high five.”  I jokingly put in the original step six when I was writing out this recipe to myself in an email, while Carolyn read over my shoulder.  Now, whenever we reach Step 6 in a recipe, we high-five.  We have even gotten to the point where we refer to high-fiving as “step six”.

Sure, it’s ridiculous, but I think it’s also important, in a way: cooking is always more fun with others, and it’s important to acknowledge your co-chef now and again.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Never high-five your co-chef while holding a sharp object.

Contra odii (a note to the haters):

I am aware that the images in the photos above do not depict ravioli, but rather tortellini.  Yes, they are not square.  Yes, they’re somewhat ring-shaped.  I got better at making them; more photos to come.

For additional guidance on making ravioli, I refer you to this video featuring Sergio Maria Teutonica (which is a pretty excellent name) making shrimp ravioli and a ragù di mare (a sauce of the sea – here grape tomatoes, shrimp, pine nuts, and basil).  It is, unsurprisingly, entirely in Italian, which I do not speak, but the technique is pretty self-explanatory.

I’m just starting to get into pasta; we’ll see where this takes us.  Probably weirder places than this – just warning you.  (I see more squid in my future.)

Enjoy, and happy cooking!