Anchors can weigh you down, but they can also keep you grounded. That’s not always a bad thing. Mrs. Fussy was gone for less than forty-eight hours, and during that time, I engaged in more cooking projects than I should have.
The good news is that our chest freezer is packed with all kinds of delicious things to eat. The bad news is that last night I was up past midnight cooking a giant pot of food that we didn’t even remotely need. And really, I could have used the sleep.
But it was my own fault. I did something incredibly dumb.
Recipes often lie about how long a particular dish takes to make. Perhaps lie is the wrong word. I’m sure someone can make that thirty minute meal in thirty minutes, if they had everything prepped, had made the dish countless times before, and had someone else to spend the time cleaning up after the cooking process.
Cooking is cleaning. Never forget that. And don’t cook dirty.
Marcella Hazan’s bolognese recipe would seem to take three hours, from a cursory reading of her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. But that’s not right. Because even as written, it’s the final simmer that takes three hours. And that’s already after sautéing the vegetables, cooking the rawness out of the meat, simmering away all the milk, and simmering away all the wine.
By my back of the napkin calculations, that’s a five hour process, if you’re lucky. Because most people can’t cut up onions, carrots, and celery nearly as fast as the pros do on TV. Plus, most people will try to measure out the ingredients in order to replicate the recipe.
You may laugh, but I opt for simplicity. This recipe calls for one cup of dry white wine. I don’t want to open a bottle of wine just for one cup. And I figure, anything that’s worth making is worth making in volume. So naturally, I quadruple the recipe.
No problem. That’s three pounds of ground meat. Everything will fit nicely in my large Le Creuset dutch oven. Easy peasy.
Except for one thing.
I forgot the simple fact that it takes longer to reduce a quart of milk than it does a cup of milk. Even if you are using a larger pan with greater surface area. So that step alone took ninety minutes. Reducing the wine took another ninety minutes. Then, around midnight it was time to add the tomatoes.
The recipe calls for one and half cups. Those are supposed to be reduced for three hours (or more) at a bare simmer. I added six cups. But dammit, I was committed. This project had begun, and it would be completed. However, I couldn’t pull an all nighter. So I took a gamble and put the enameled cast iron pot in the oven overnight at 240 degrees.
It’s a big bet, because a pot of sauce like this isn’t cheap. It’s got about $20 worth of meat in there. A $15 bottle of wine. San Marzano tomatoes. Cultured French butter. Organic vegetables. The ingredients add up.
How did it turn out?
Well, it wasn’t a disaster. In hindsight, the oven could have been turned down even lower. When I checked on it in the morning, the layer of fat that separates had turned a deep dark brown. But nothing was stuck to the bottom, and nothing was burnt. Whew.
The sauce survived. The house smells like meat and wine. Oddly, even though it is January 12, I could not put the bolognese out in the garage to chill. This morning was a balmy 48 degrees. So I took out some trusty ice packs, and surrounded a bowl in the refrigerator to help protect some of the surrounding foods from the radiating warmth of the cooling meat sauce.
So much for winter.