Winter has finally arrived, and here in Southern California, that's cause to celebrate. It's been raining for days and local news stations are reporting that we are officially no longer in a drought. Woohoo! That is truly exciting news.
This past weekend was damp and cold, but we took advantage of a short break between rainstorms to host our annual backyard Christmas tree burn.
It's become a friends and family tradition to get together after the holidays for a big Italian dinner, then share a special bottle of dessert wine around a roaring fire.
On this night the special wine was Wilson Creek's Decadencia, made from century-old "Old Vine" Zinfandel with a touch of natural chocolate that makes it even more delectable.
There is something indescribably endearing about gathering around a bonfire. Something that touches the deepest recesses of our hearts and strengthens our human bond.
With silvery moonlight falling through bare winter branches and wisps of pine-scented smoke drifting above, the best of memories are made.
This year's burn was a little more colorful than others thanks to Mystical Fire. Gotta love those Groupon deals!
Thanks to the wintry weather of late, I've spent quite a bit of time indoors lately, and when cooped up on a rainy day, my first thought is always, let's make a pot of sauce.
How many recipes can sit on the stove for hours, perfuming the house with a mouthwatering aroma, and just get better and better the longer it cooks? This Bolognese is one of my favorite recipes. It's fantastic on its own over any number of pastas or as an accompaniment to stuffed shells, manicotti, ravioli, lasagna...
I use three different meats in mine because that's how my Grandma Marinesi did it, but you can you use whatever meat you prefer.
In recent years grocery stores have really stepped up their game when it comes to imported foods. Items I could only find at Italian stores are now regular stock on the International aisle of my local market. And - in my opinion they are worth seeking out. Using San Marzano tomatoes does make a difference.
I always start with my usual blend of mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery and garlic, but I have been known to add a little red bell pepper if I have one lying around. It just adds extra sweetness.
The key to this recipe is to take your time in between steps. Don't rush it. The longer this simmers on the stove, the richer and silkier it becomes.
Let each liquid cook down and reduce for a good half hour before adding the next ingredient. Layers of flavor take time to develop.
A garnish of fresh basil is the perfect bright, spicy compliment to the richness of the sauce.
Traditional Bolognese Sauce
1 lb ground veal
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
2 t kosher salt
1 t sugar
1/4 t nutmeg
1 t red pepper flakes
1 t dried thyme
1 T oregano
3 celery stalks
1 lb mushrooms
10 garlic cloves
2 T basil olive oil
2 T butter
2 C heavy cream or milk
2 C white wine
1 C sherry
1 t tomato paste
2 - 28 oz cans crushed San Marzano tomatoes
2 - 28 oz cans diced San Marzano tomatoes with basil
Heat 2 T basil olive oil in a large pot on medium high. Add meat, red pepper flakes thyme and a few grinds of black pepper, and brown, breaking into small pieces. Once meat is almost done, remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Discard fat from pot.
Melt 2 T butter in the same pot with 1 t tomato paste. Add finely chopped vegetables and saute over medium high heat until soft. Add meat, oregano, sugar, nutmeg and salt, blending well with a wooden spoon.
Add cream or milk and increase heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat slightly to gently boil for 30 - 40 minutes.
Add wine and sherry. Again increase heat to a boil, then reduce slightly to a gentle boil for 30 - 40 minutes, cooking down the liquids to intensify the flavors.
Add the canned tomatoes and once again, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and that's it. Let this sauce simmer on the stove all day long - at least 4 - 5 hours, stirring occasionally. If the sauce ends up thicker than you like, add a splash of chicken broth and simmer again.
This a big batch so be sure to freeze some.
This sauce is fantastic over any pasta, ravioli and even to make lasagna with.
Top with Parmesan, Romano, basil, parsley...