March 27, 2019

Dear friends,
I’m not trying to pick a fight with the food police of Bologna, Italy. It’s just that both Marcella Hazan and my husband disagree with them.

In 1982, a food society in Bologna published a recipe its members, after much study, declared was the last word on ragu alla Bolognese — meat sauce for pasta, which is thought to have originated in the city (hence, “spaghetti Bolognese” ).

I have made Bolognese sauce but not the official one until last week. It contained just two tablespoons of tomato paste and no tomatoes. When the sauce was an hour into its two-hour simmer, I caved and added a cup of crushed tomatoes. I knew Tony wouldn’t like a spaghetti sauce with no tomatoes.

Before I added the tomatoes, the sauce tasted good but not as good as Hazan’s, which I use for lasagna with homemade noodles (it’s like eating heaven). Even Hazan, a cookbook author and the premier northern Italian food expert, adds tomatoes to Bolognese sauce. The finished sauce tastes more of meat and cream, but the tomato notes are there.

Bolognese sauce, both the official and unofficial versions, is almost all meat, no liquid. The wine, seasonings, milk and cream are absorbed into the ground meat, giving it an unctuousness and depth of flavor regular spaghetti meat sauces lack.

A meaty, almost sauceless sauce is just what I needed for baked spaghetti squash alla Bolognese. The stringy squash is halved and filled with meat sauce, then topped with Parmesan cheese and baked. As you eat, your fork rakes up the strands of squash and drags them through the sauce. It is a memorable way to eat both squash and sauce.

I have wanted to make this dish since Julie Maier-Miller of Claire’s Garden in Norton posted a photo of her creation on Facebook. The idea is hers. The recipe I’m sharing is my version. If you want Julie’s version, you should sign up for one of her cooking classes. Information follows.

I am sharing two recipes for the sauce: my modified sauce from the food fathers of Bologna, and Marcella Hazan’s sauce. Take your pick. I baked the sauce in single serving-size spaghetti squash I found at Aldi’s. The more typical, larger spaghetti squash would probably serve three or four.

The recipe makes enough to fill two or three squash. I filled two halves and Tony used the rest on angel hair pasta. The sauce freezes beautifully if you prefer to save the leftovers for more baked spaghetti squash.

This is the best way to eat spaghetti squash I’ve come across. Filling the cavity with sauce and baking it is a brilliant idea. Thanks, Julie.

BAKED SPAGHETTI SQUASH ALLA BOLOGNESE

3 small or 2 medium spaghetti squash (or just 1 small if you’re serving 2 people, 2 small for 4 people, etc.)
Olive oil or melted butter
1 recipe Bolognese sauce (see below)
1/2 to 1 cup or so shredded Parmesan cheese

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds and their membranes. Working with two halves at a time, place cut-sides down on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high power for 8 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the squash. When done, the squash will be tender enough to pierce with a fork but the shell will still be firm. Set aside.

Make Bolognese sauce. Almost all of the liquid should evaporate, leaving just the creamy meat.

Place the squash halves, cut sides up, in shallow oven-proof bowls and place on a baking sheet. Or place the squash directly on a baking sheet. Brush the rims of the squash with oil or melted butter. Mound the sauce in the cavity of each squash half. Sprinkle each with 2 or 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the squash is completely tender. Serve in individual bowls or on dinner plates. Makes about 6 servings.

AUTHENTIC RAGU ALLA BOLOGNESE,
SLIGHTLY MODIFIED

Olive oil
5 oz. finely chopped pancetta (Italian non-smoked bacon)
2 1/2 ribs celery finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 lb. lean ground beef (I used venison; the Bolognese use ground skirt steak)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. tomato paste
2 cups whole milk
Salt, pepper
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp. heavy cream
Pinch of fresh-ground nutmeg

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy-bottomed medium pot, preferably terra cotta or ceramic-clad cast iron. The pot should be deep so the sauce doesn’t reduce too rapidly. Add pancetta and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta’s fat has rendered, about 10 minutes.

Add another 1 tablespoon olive oil and the celery, carrot and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add the ground meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until broken up and lightly browned and beginning to sizzle. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, about 4 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the tomato paste and 3 tablespoons water. Add to the pot and stir well to combine. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, and add the milk little by little until all the milk is added, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper. Add the crushed tomatoes and simmer 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is very thick. Stir in the cream and nutmeg.

Mound in the squash per above instructions or toss with freshly made tagliatelle — never dry pasta.

MARCELLA HAZAN’S
BOLOGNESE MEAT SAUCE

2 tbsp. chopped yellow onion
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. chopped celery
2 tbsp. chopped carrot
3/4 lb. lean ground beef, preferably chuck or meat from the neck
Salt
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup milk
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups canned Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice

Use an earthenware pot if possible; if not, a heavy, enameled cast-iron casserole, the deepest one you have (to keep the ragu from reducing too quickly). Put in the chopped onion, with all the oil and butter, and sauté briefly over medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes.

Add the ground beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add 1 teaspoon salt, stir and cook only until the meat has lost its raw red color. Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.

Turn the heat down to medium, add the milk and the nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated. Stir frequently.

When the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stir well. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down until the sauce cooks at the laziest simmer, just an occasional bubble. Cook uncovered for a minimum of 3 1/2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and correct for salt.

Ragu can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or frozen. Reheat until it simmers for about 15 minutes before using.

TIDBITS
Jullie-Maier Miller, whose Facebook post was the inspiration for my stuffed spaghetti squash recipe, will soon begin offering cooking classes in response to requests from her friends. Miller’s style of cooking is low-carb with a Paleo bent, but she is not a purist. She uses dairy products and whatever her nutrition research tells her will make a body feel good.

“It’s a healthier diet you can adapt to you,” Miller says. The small classes (BYO wine) will be held in her Barberton Air B&B.

Miller, a former banquet chef, is a florist at Claire’s Garden in Norton. She says that all day, while working at her shop, she thinks about what she is going to cook that night. She plans to teach recipes and techniques for all skill levels.

For more information or to sign up for a class, phone Miller at the florist shop at 330-835-6922 or email clairesgardenflorist@gmail.com.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Detox green smoothie; pan-grilled salmon with capers and lime beurre blanc over wilted spinach with toasted garlic and slivered almonds; over-hard eggs on toast with ketchup; sirloin steak salad with pan-seared brussels sprouts, sautéed mushrooms, red bell pepper, toasted slivered almonds and shaved Parmesan; Bolognese meat sauce baked in spaghetti squash; chocolate pudding; sugar-free strawberry Jell-O.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Hamburger, potato chips and cabbage soup at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; pepperoni pizza from Rizzi’s in Copley; wonton soup, egg roll and stir fried chicken in black bean sauce at Ming Garden in Norton (another intolerable “Chinese” meal; is it that hard to make a decent stir fry sauce?); tacos al pastore and a taco with Korean barbecued pork belly (fabulous!) at Funky Truckeria in Norton; refried beans, a green chili beef burrito (meh) and freshly made tortilla chips (great) and salsa at Casa del Rio in Wadsworth.

THE MAILBAG
From Martha K.:
Regarding your smoothies, Robek’s has extensive healthy green smoothie options, many with calorie counts the same or less than your Detox Island Green smoothie, and one that has nearly identical ingredients. Check the Low Calorie, Superfood and Wellness selections. I like the cool cucumber fresh juice. I ask them to put it over ice, or blend it with ice to make a smoothie. Anyway, Robek’s has changed its menu quite a bit since it first opened.

Dear Martha:
Well, yes and no. The menu does have more healthful options than the (essentially) milkshakes it started with. But I’m disappointed that most of the smoothies still are made with sherbet or frozen yogurt, and even the low-cal, wellness and superfood selections are high in sugar. The green smoothie you mentioned sounds good until you get to the apple juice. The one I tried was so sweet I couldn’t finish it.

The spoiler for me is that the calories are much higher than Tropical Smoothie’s Detox, which has just 180 in a 24-ounce portion. Robek’s Queen of All Greens, made with banana, pineapple, spinach, kale and apple juice, has 180 calories for a small, which is 12 ounces. Double that for a 24-ounce smoothie and you have a meal-sized 360 calories. Sigh.

From Ron C.:
I am sure there are lots of ways to fix grits, but this is what we do. Add some crumbled bacon or bacon bits and a slice of cheese. The heat of the grits melts the cheese. Then a pat of butter on top, salt and pepper — fit for a king (or at least a prince).

Dear Ron:
Oh, yeah. Sign me up.

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