Bolognese Sauce

April 27, 2011

The night before my half marathon, Will and I had a pasta party. I wanted some protein on the menu, but didn’t think I wanted to spend a warm and sunny Saturday making meatballs for eleven people. I decided on a Bolognese sauce from Tony Casillo’s Family Cookbook. Bolognese sauce is a meaty, slightly creamy pasta sauce made wih pancetta, pork, and beef.

Tony is actually a friend of my dad’s. His cookbook is filled with stories about his family and memories of his childhood in Italy. It is a very sweet cookbook. This is the first recipe of his that I’ve made. The sauce was rich (but not too rich), and was a great hit among our friends. I’d anticipated having to freeze the leftovers from my huge batch of sauce, but the pot was licked clean!

This is my third half marathon, and it’s definitely my favorite! There were few spectators, but everyone who cheered was so enthusiastic. Most of the spectators were the families who lived on the farms we ran past. The first few very hilly miles took us over a reservoir and past a few mountains. We spent a good 7 miles in farm country which was gorgeous, and ended the race on a bike path. The race was small but very sweet.

As usual, my favorite part of the race was the after party. The finish line was at the New Belgium Brewery. They had really good bands playing, unlimited New Belgium (including 1554!) on tap, and Texas Roadhouse.

I have never in my life been to Texas Roadhouse, but that pulled pork, salad, and rolls with cinnamon butter were SO GOOD. I could not stop talking to Will about it. “We can go if you want, I guess,” Will said. “There’s one like an hour away.” Now I fully recognize that under circumstances that did not involve 2 hours of running, I probably would not have attacked my meal with such gusto. But that day, it was PERFECT.

Each night this week after Will or I make dinner, we say, “Wow, that was great. But it was no Texas Roadhouse…”


I doubled this recipe and found it made the perfect amount of sauce for 11 people. I changed this recipe by cutting down on the butter and omitting the olive oil, since I didn’t want the runners to feel too weighted down by the end of the night. Instead of stirring the cream into the sauce at the very end, I let each person put a splash of cream on their sauce after plating since two of our diners were lactose-intolerant. This is also a good idea if you plan on having leftovers, since you shouldn’t freeze cream.

Serves 6


3 tablespoons butter

5 oz pancetta, minced

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 medium celery stalk, finely chopped

6 oz ground pork (about 3/4 cup)

6 oz ground beef (about 3/4 cup)

2 oz italian sausage meat, removed from casing if necessary

2/3 cup dry white wine

1.5 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup tomato puree

Salt & pepper

1/4 cup half and half


Melt butter in a large pot with a heavy bottom over medium head. Add pancetta, onions, carrot, and celery. Stir occasionally and cook until vegetables are soft and onions are translucent (about 5 minutes). Stir in pork, beef, and sausage meat, and cook until meat is browned and crumbles into pieces (about 15 minutes).

Reduce heat to low, add wine, 1/4 cup of stock, and tomato paste, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover with lid. Simmer on low heat about about 1.5 hours, stirring and adding 1/4 cup stock at a time about every 10 or 15 minutes. The finished sauce should be very thick and, as Tony says, gruel-like.

Plate your bolognese sauce on some pasta (I like rigatoni, Tony likes tagliatelle), and stir in a little cream to taste. Enjoy.


Pasta Puttanesca

February 20, 2011

We celebrated my good friend Kristina’s birthday this weekend. We had a blast out on the town and started our evening right: in a stylish bar, with our very first real martinis.

I ordered mine Extra Dirty because I love olive juice and also because it sounds cool. After I ordered it, my friend David said, “Oh, aren’t you fancy?” And I said, “Well David, it takes a certain kind of person to order an extra dirty martini at a classy bar.” To which David responded, “What kind of person? Oh, right, an extra dirty one.” Here are David and Will at a burrito place much later that evening.

Midnights spent at late night burrito places sometimes lead to very difficult mornings. But I regret nothing. On top of the hours of fun we had around town, the extra dirty martini I had reminded me of a wonderful recipe I found for Pasta Puttanesca.

Pasta Puttanesca is a sauce made from tomatoes, black olives, capers, anchovies, garlic, and herbs. It cooks quickly (less than 30 minutes, actually) and is extremely fragrant and delciious.

Puttanesca literally translates to “in the style of the whore” in Italian. There are various explanations for this name. Some say that Italian prostitutes made this aromatic sauce to lure men into their houses of ill repute. Others claim this sauce was made by Italian housewives who wanted to finish making dinner quickly to attend to other nighttime activities. Either way, this is one of my new favorite winter time dishes. Particularly if you must attend to other nighttime activities.

PASTA PUTTANESCA (adapted from Mark Bittman’s Pasta Puttanesca)

I doubled the sauce in this recipe so we’d have extra to take for lunch and to spread over chicken later in the week. I like a lot of sauce on my pasta, so this made about 5 servings of sauce.


  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 or more cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
  • 6 or more anchovy fillets
  • Two 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup pitted black olives, preferably oil-cured
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 pound linguine or other long pasta
  • Chopped fresh parsley, oregano, marjoram or basil leaves for garnish, optional


Salt a pot of boiling water and bring it to a boil. Heat a large saucepan on medium low heat (Don’t try to heat it any higher of the anchovies will explode when you add them. Trust me). Add your olive oil, then add garlic and anchovies. Saute a few minutes until garlic is lightly browned.

Drain your tomatoes and tear them into smaller pieces with your hands (be careful not to squirt tomato juice everywhere). Add to the saucepan with a little salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium high, cooking and stirring occasionally until the tomatoes break down (about 10 minutes). Reduce heat to a simmer and add capers, olives, and red pepper flakes.

Cook your pasta to al dente. Toss pasta with sauce. Garnish with fresh herbs, if you like. Enjoy.

Spinach Almond Pesto

October 11, 2010

I was looking for an efficient way to use up a bunch of spinach and remembered hearing about using spinach in pesto instead of basil. I also remembered reading, not too long ago, that pine nuts go rancid quickly. I can’t remember when I bought my industrial-sized Costco bag of pine nuts. I opened my cabinet and was relieved to see all my little pine nuts, looking good. And then I saw the expiration date. November 10, 2009.

2009? I can promise you I have used these much more recently than November 10, 2009. I had a fleeting moment of, Well they certainly look fine. But Will and I watched the pilot episode of Hoarders not too long ago, where an elderly woman hoards, of all things, food. I won’t elaborate further since you should only be subjected to this story by free will, but I will say that if you ever want to get your butt in gear to do some spring cleaning, watch Hoarders. I can promise you, you will be throwing things out faster than you can say “OCD.” Into the trashcan went the pine nuts.

So I decided to try this pesto with almonds. I thought I’d seen pesto with almonds before, and I had some on hand.  A great way to use some pesto now and save some for later is to freeze part of the pesto in ice cube trays. Pop them into a plastic bag for storage. 1 or 2 of these pesto cubes gives you a single serving of pesto, on the spot. And yes, I do own heart shaped ice cube trays. It was an impulse buy. In hindsight, I should have got the penguins.

This pesto tastes, well, a lot like spinach. And not much else. I wonder if pine nuts would have given it a creamier or more complex taste. It’s definitely not bad, and I will use it as a quick dinner on pasta or over chicken or as a sandwich spread, but it’s just not very exciting. But the giant bag of bright green hearts in my freezer is a good conversation starter, at the very least.

More on spinach: Spinach, Strawberry, and Goat Cheese Salad, Spinach Pie, Spinach Quiche.

More on pesto: Unconstructed Garlic Scape Pesto

What I’m Reading:

SPINACH ALMOND PESTO (adapted liberally from Grilled Chicken with Spinach and Pine Nut Pesto by Giada de Laurentis)


  • 2 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves (about 2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup silvered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan


Combine the spinach, almonds, lemon juice, and lemon peel in a processor. Lightly pulse. With the machine running, gradually add 1/3 cup of the oil, blending until the mixture is creamy. Add salt and pulse. Put half of the pesto into ice cube trays and store in the freezer for future use.

Transfer the rest of the spinach mixture to a medium bowl. Stir in the Parmesan. Season the pesto with salt and pepper, to taste.

Andy Worhol once said, “I never fall apart because I never fall together.” The same might be said of this “pesto,” which I was first going to call “Deconstructed Pesto” until I realized that I never constructed it in the first place. I did not use the recommended food processor or mortar + pestle for this pesto, since I don’t have either of those pieces of equipment in my kitchen. This pesto was made using a knife, a meat mallet, and many Ziploc bags. I’d like to think it’s how MacGuyver might make pesto, were he having a pesto emergency.

The flavor is quite nice, but I must admit that this pesto would be much better were the texture less coarse. There is a reason why people make pesto with food processor. But you can sing “I’ve Been Workin’ On the Railroad” when you make pesto with a meat mallet, so that’s something to consider.

And what, you may ask, is a garlic scape? A garlic bulb planted in the soil sprouts a bright green shoot up out of the ground. This shoot is the scape. If left alone, the scape will continue to grow and straighten out, and will take energy away from the growing of the bulb. If trimmed, garlic bulbs can spend more energy growing bigger and becoming those nice, large garlic cloves we love to cook with. Farmers used to trim the scapes off and throw them away until someone brilliant decided to try and eat one and was quite pleased with the taste. And the taste is quite lovely– like raw garlic but a bit milder. And though I love garlic, I mostly love scapes for the way they look. If Dr. Seuss invented a vegetable, it would be the garlic scape.

So. should you make my Unconstructed Garlic Scape Pesto? Not if you have a food processor on hand. But it’s a fair and kinda fun substitution.

GARLIC SCAPE PESTO (adapted from Garlic Scape Pesto from Pies in the Sky)


  • 10 garlic scapes, flower part removed, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt to taste


Chop garlic scapes as finely as possible. Chop pine nuts finely as possible. Add chopped scapes, parmesan, and pine nuts to Ziploc bag, and squeeze out the air. Place that bag inside another Ziploc bag. Place bag on top of cutting board (so you don’t dent your counter top). Hold one end of bag with left hand, while using right hand to beat contents of bag ferociously with meat mallet. Take a break, rest bicep. Return to kitchen. Add olive oil to bag, and again, squeeze air out of bag. Beat bag violently with mallet until you can’t take it anymore. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use.

I have been somewhat of an absent blogger these days for three reasons 1) Spring fever. 2) Laziness 3) Exhausting my “old standard” recipes. You see many of my old posts were courtesy of things I’ve been making in my kitchen for a few years. If I didn’t feel like trying out a recipe or learning a new skill, I just photographed and wrote about something I make all the time (ie: pasta sauce, banana bread, oatmeal raisin coconut cookies, roasted vegetables, open-faced goat cheese and tomato sandwiches, strawberry + goat cheese + spinach salad, coconut chicken fingers, beet greens, roasted broccoli, and eggs-baked-in-tomato sauce). I am sure there are a few “old standards” I haven’t blogged about that have slipped my mind, but those are pretty much what I do when I’m too tired to learn new things.

Now it is apparent that in order to keep blogging, I need to expand my skills. Which is good and worked out well today. I had to buy lots of new things at the store I’ve never bought before: Fish sauce, sesame seed oil, rice wine vinegar, and teriyaki sauce. Some of you may be thinking, “Wow, these are really elementary things that she’s never bought!” Well, you’re right. I’ve never tried to cook Asian food before!

I pretty much adhered to the recipe. I only substituted hot chili powder for cayenne pepper (add a little at a time and taste as you go to make it just the right amount of spice for your personal taste) because I was out of it, and I used a grill pan instead of a Hibachi or indoor grill. Oh, and I forgot skewers. But despite all this it was still awesome. I’ll make the recipe for the Asian Slaw I made to go with it next post. I have loved Thai food and it was awesome to make it in my own apt! I highly recommend this.

BEEF SATAY WITH PEANUT SAUCE (adapted from Beef Satay with Peanut Dipping Sauce by Emeril Lagasse)

Serves 4


1 lb skirt, flank, or sirloin tip steak, cut into thin, wide strips against the grain

1/2 cup teriyaki sauce

1/2 tablespoon minced ginger, plus 1 teaspoon

1 tablespoon minced garlic, plus 1 teaspoon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

1/4 cup unsweetend coconut milk

3/4 teaspoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Juice of 1 lime

1/4 teaspoon Thai fish sauce

1/8 – 1/2 teaspoon hot chili power

1/2 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1/2 tablespoon chopped dry roasted peanuts


Place beef strips in a medium-sized bowl and pour teriyaki sauce over them. Add 1 tablespoon of ginger, 1 tablespoon garlic, and the salt. Swish beef around in sauce, then cover and place in the fridge to marinate while you make the peanut sauce.

In a small bowl, combine remaining ginger, peanut butter, and coconut milk and whisk together. Add sesame oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, lime juice, fish sauce,  chili powder, and 1 teaspoon garlic to the bowl and whisk to combine. Place the sauce in a serving bowl and garnish with cilantro and chopped peanuts. To serve the satays, set up a Hibachi or indoor grill or grill pan (I used a grill pan on medium high heat). Remove beef strips from the fridge and use skewers to thread the meat. Grill 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side for medium rare. Serve with peanut dipping sauce.

Marinade Basics

March 7, 2010

I am very lazy when it comes to going to the grocery store. This is what caused me to become good at improvising. When I’m missing an ingredient from a recipe, I am much more likely to change the recipe slightly and make a substitution from something in my pantry then I am to go to the grocery store next to my apartment. Literally, next to my apartment. It’s actually a little embarrassing, but it did make me develop mad improvising skillz! After a few mishaps, I became good at improvising by doing a little research. A lot of cooking runs on general principles. One such principle, that will make your kitchen life exponentially easier and more exciting, is the Marinade Principle. All marinades are comprised of three components: A fat (almost always olive oil), an acid (usually vinegar or citrus), and an aromatic (herbs and/or garlic). 

Last night, Will and I had a swordfish filet we’d bought on super sale at Sunflower Farmer’s Market. We wanted to marinate it but let me tell you, our cupboard was BARE. I looked up a few recipes for swordfish marinades on I saw a few recurring themes among various swordfish marinades: lemon for the acid, thyme and garlic for the aromatic. So I made up a marinade using olive oil, lemon juice and zest, minced garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. I dumped it over my swordfish, sealed it in a plastic bag, let it sit in the fridge for an hour, flipping it on the opposite side at the 30 minute mark. I took it out of the bag, placed in on a cookie sheet, and broiled it on each side until they became golden brown (about 7 minutes per side). I boiled the remaining marinade and served it over the fish as a sauce. This swordfish was delicious, and I never had to leave my apartment. 

I really encourage you to marinate your meats and fishes. Even just a little time in a marinade (30 minutes) can bring the protein to a whole new level of flavor. Marinades are cheap and easy to make once you get the hang of them. After you take out your protein, boil the marinade and serve it over the protein as a sauce. 

So, a summary of how I improvise: Google general principles of what you are trying to make. Look up some recipes with good ratings. See what you have in your pantry and fridge, and where those ingredients overlap with what you’ve read on the internet. Then, experiment! Even if you mess up and have to go out to the store, it’s no worse than the fact that you would have had to go to the store if you’d followed a recipe in the first place.



1 lemon

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt


Zest and juice the lemon. Place all ingredients in a bowl, mix together, pour over 3/4-1lb fish. Let sit in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.

Back when I was in nursing school and didn’t have a whole lot of free time, I had two default dinners: Grits & Cheese or Pasta & Sauce (glamourous, I know). The latter, being just a bit more ritzy, was also what I’d serve when my friends would come over. I would tell them it was my Grandma Rose’s sauce, and then I’d follow that up with a story about her. I’d tell them how, in Newark, in the 30s, the marriage between my Italian grandmother and my Neapolitan grandfather was considered an interracial marriage. Or how she used to be model for Sears, and the store would pay her to walk around the aisles in the latest fashions. Or how we used to sit and eat buttered alphabet pastina while I’d practice my ABCs.

All of this is true except for one thing: my Grandma Rose never made me pasta sauce. But it, like her, is Italian(ish), and for some reason this recipe that is a compilation of things I watched my parents do in the kitchen and my own trial and error while living in my first apartment always reminds me of my Grandma Rose.

This sauce is very forgiving. It is basically done when you’re ready to eat and can take a spectacular amount of abuse before it’s truly messed up. You can add whatever herbs you have around the house. As long as you don’t burn the garlic in the first step, you’re home free. And one more thing. My friend, Katherine, taught me how to can my own tomatoes back in the Fall. I use my own canned tomatoes but, by all means, the store bought variety is a fine alternative. But if you’d like to can your own tomatoes (which is a time-consuming pain-in-the ass but so-worth-it once you taste how much better they are than the store-bought kind), use her excellent tutorial here.

Sidenote: You’ll have to bear with the photo quality here for a bit. I’ve lost my camera cord and so I have to take pictures with my MacBook for now.

Want to make your own canned, crushed tomatoes to use in this sauce? Canning Crushed Tomatoes

Did this recipe make you hungry for pizza? Basic Pizza Dough

An easy, hearty dinner using this sauce Eggs Baked in Tomato Sauce



5 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon olive oil

16 oz crushed tomatoes

16 oz tomato sauce

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (to make it a little spicy. Use 1 teaspoon if you don’t want it as spicy)

1 teaspoon salt

1.5 teaspoons ground pepper

1/3 cup chopped fresh basil (if you have it. If not use dried oregano or dried basil)


Take skin off garlic. Chop garlic into pieces (the size of the chopped pieces is up to you, I tend to get about 6 pieces per clove). Heat a metal pot on medium heat. When it’s hot, add the olive oil, then the garlic. Brown the garlic. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, the red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and (if you are using them) dried herbs. Now, let it simmer with the lid off as long as you need to. 10 minutes or 2 hours. The longer it simmers, the thicker the sauce will be. If the sauce is getting too thick, just put the lid back on. Once you spoon the sauce over the pasta, sprinkle the basil on top. Serves 4.