Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Last Night's Dinner #118: Handrolled Pici with Meat Ragù

Handrolled Pici with Meat Ragù was my favorite dish in Tuscany. Simple, hearty and very easy to make (as long as you have the passion and time).

I allowed the meat sauce to simmer for about 4 hours. One thing I noticed about the meat sauce over there, was that it almost melted in your mouth. The tomato sauce and meat were almost one.

You'll need:

Meat Ragù (serves 2 plus leftovers for one more night)
- about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of ground meat (best if you can combine pork, beef and veal - I used pork and beef)
- 28 oz can of peeled whole tomatoes (Italian)
- one carrot stick (minced)
- 1 large shallot or 1/2 of an onion finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
- a couple of pinches of dried herbs (fresh if you have them) - I used thyme, parsley, oregano
- 1/4 cup of dry white wine (if you have some)
- salt to taste
- a pinch of sugar (optional)
- a couple of cups of water
- olive oil
* I didn't have celery, but 1/2 stalk minced would be a great addition to the sauce

Handrolled Pici
- 200 grams semolina flour
- about 80 grams of water

The sauce is easy to make, as I said before, all you need is the time. Unfortunately you can't just let it sit for 4 hours - you need to check it every 30 minutes or so to make sure it's not burning and to add water.

Step 1. Heat up some olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of your pan. Cook onions, carrots and garlic for a couple of minutes. Add a pinch of salt. Add herbs and mix. Add meats and try to chop up the meat with your spoon. Add more oil if it starts to look too watery. You want the meat to cook in a bit of oil, not boil in its own juices.

Step 2. Once you notice the liquid/oil evaporating, add the wine and mix. Wait a couple of minutes for the alcohol to evaporate then...

NOTE: It's been tough finding meat that fits into our new "diet". We found some grass-fed beef at Whole Foods and ground pork from a local upstate NY farm (Union Square Market). Liza, let me know if you know of any other sources!

Step 3. Add the tomatoes. I basically crush the tomatoes as I pour the contents of the can into my pot. You can opt to crush them in a big bowl while prepping the other veggies - but why bother with an extra bowl to wash?! Stir. Allow to boil then lower the flame to the lowest possible setting and cover.

Step 4. Check on the sauce every half an hour. You'll notice that it'll start getting thick and will start drying up in the center. Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 water and mix. Cover and allow it to simmer again. Repeat this until the 4 hours is up. You also want to start seasoning it at the half-way mark. Add a little bit of salt at a time, close the lid. Taste after 15 minutes or so. See whether you need more or not.

NOTES: You can choose to season the whole thing at the end. But I like to season a little at time, so the salt has time to settle into the sauce. I find that sometimes the salt gets saltier as it settles, so it's safer if I layer the seasoning.

In the meantime, go on and start making fresh pasta (it's easy, I promise!)

Step 5. You want the meat to be super tender. You'll notice that the meat will start to fall apart (this is a good thing). I like to add a pinch of sugar at the very end. I don't think this is nonna approved, but I can't help it (it's a Filipino thing).

Handrolled Pici

Step 1. Boil a large pot of water.
100 grams of semolina flour is perfect for two people. I like to make mine in two batches because I find it easier to knead a small amount of dough. Another reason why I like to split it into batches is that I usually don't get it perfect the first time - don't worry though, you can still eat the non-perfect batch.

NOTES: The amount of water is not a perfect science but more of a feeling. The more you make your own pasta, the more you'll start to feel what "just right" feels like. You'll start to know if your dough is too dry almost immediately after you start rolling/shaping. If it's too dry, you'll notice a thin crust will start to develop on the outside. I find that you can sort of save it by wetting your hands a little and re-kneading. Your dough is too wet if it sticks to your work surface.

In a bowl, pour 100 gr flour and slowly add water (a touch over 40 gr - and I truly mean a touch, almost like a drip or two more) while you whisk it with a fork. You'll notice clumps forming.

Step 2. Once everything has formed into bits... use your hand and clump it altogether.

Step 3. Knead the dough on a work surface until it's smooth as a baby's bottom!

Step 4. Now for the fun and relaxing part. Rip two-thumbs worth of dough and roll out - thicker than spaghetti size. Don't worry if it's not perfectly even throughout - you're not a Barilla machine.

Repeat with the other half of four/water.

Lay them out on a tea towel and sprinkle some semolina flour so that they don't stick to each other.

Add salt to your large pot of boiling water and carefully transfer the pasta into the pot. Cook for about 8 minutes. Test a piece, depending on the way you like your pasta - you can increase the cooking time.

Using tongs, transfer the pasta straight from the boiling water into the sauce.

Drizzle some of your favorite olive oil on top, add some grated pecorino or parmigiano, pour yourself a nice big glass of wine... and enjoy your fruits of labor!!!


justgen said...

This is my kind of meal. Perfect for before and after running. Like you, Elm got to know more about "happy, properly fed cows are healthier and tastier cows". It all started during a run out in the fields and we noticed some Wagyu/Kobe farms. Turns out they also own a restaurant serving those. The owners travel to Japan to learn more about the techniques. They also (lucky for us) bring back choice wines from Napa--hence, my obssession with Sinskey Cab Francs & Ehler wines.(not a serious wine drinker...just like some here and there)
Recipe is sumthin the kids and I can make. They'll have fun with the pasta. Oh, we also grew some herbs and veggies in 2 large pots...will come handy in this dish. It's on my fridge now.


gen: oooh definitely take pics ok? I'd love to see the kids making pasta!

Luke said...

That looks so good! I'd love to make pasta like that sometime.

I really commend your new food outlook--I'm trying to be more food conscious everyday. It's probably going to take a while for me. :)

And is that enameled cast iron cookware I see? I'm kicking myself for not getting an enameled dutch oven when I saw it the first time on sale...it was gone when I went back. :(

Ruben said...

Wow, that definitely looks delicious, the real thing ! (and I was born in Tuscany, Italy ;))