12 Recipes: An informal crash course in recipes at the heart of home cooking

By Cal Peternell | October 05, 2014
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Ragu finto with penne | Photo by Ed Anderson |Stylying by George Dolese

Most pasta sauces can be made in the time it takes for a big pot of cold water to come to a boil. Some take much longer, and in learning to know the difference there may be some moments of disappointment and of hunger (or at least satisfaction delayed). 

It became clear that my son Henderson hadn’t completed this part of his cooking education one night as I was tasting the evening’s dishes at Chez Panisse. Saturday night at 5 o’clock is a crunchy moment at the restaurant. Late lunchers are trying not to look toward the door, knowing they must leave soon to make room for the dinner crowd but still lingering in Zinfandel afterglow. Early diners are waiting at the bar, and everywhere bussers and waiters are working hard to clean up after the 200 people who just had lunch while getting ready for the 250 coming in for dinner. 

The cooks are setting up their stations and, though tensed for the headlong rush about to begin, seem calm: The open kitchen can’t hide chaos on either side, so we try mightily to keep a sane appearance. This is also “tasters” time (we taste one of everything on the menu every day—the number one secret to good cooking in a restaurant and at home: taste always), and I am at the salad station in the midst of trying one of the first courses when the sauté cook leans over to say that Henderson is on the phone from New York. We are a close crew and they know my sons well. They also can’t help but overhear, so the culinary comedy of the conversation that follows is lost on no one. 

“Hey, Dad. Sorry, I know you’re busy, but I’m making Bolognese and can I just ask you a quick question? Don’t hang up.”

“Sure.” I wasn’t going to.

“OK. What’s the best meat to use?”

“Well, what kind have you got?”

“I’m going to the store now.”

“But Bolognese takes hours to cook, and in New York it’s, what, eight o’clock now? Is the store even open? Oh, sorry, it’s New York, right.” I roll my eyes at the cooks and squeeze a little lemon on the rocket salad we are trying. The faces of cooks and waiters around me show a mix of amusement at the content of our conversation and amazement that it’s even taking place just as the curtain is going up on the evening.

“I can get the meat, just what kind?”

“Even if you get it now, you won’t start cooking till 9, won’t be done till, like, midnight.” Oh, sorry, it’s New York. Right.

“Yeah, but I’m on my way, walking to the store now.”

“I think you should get some eggs and whatever salad looks OK, bread, cheese maybe. Bolognese is going to have to be for another night. Can I call you back later?”

I called him later and he did have eggs and good toast for dinner that night, but it made me think about getting a Bolognese-like sauce recipe to him. Something you could make up pretty quickly but that would satisfy like that classic long-cooked meat sauce from Bologna. 

Pork should be the meat in it because, as my friend’s mother says, “Pork just tastes better.” Or, as my other friend says, “Chicken has become the default cheap meat, but it really ought to be pork. Pork already is what we think chicken should be. Pork is more chicken than chicken.” She’s probably right, but what I love about ground pork for a pasta sauce is its sweet, rich flavor and its ability to quickly cook to tenderness. The sauce I came up with can, in fact, cook in the 30 or so minutes it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta, but it’s a bit better if there’s time to simmer longer. 

Recipe: Ragù Finto Meat Sauce

 

Reprinted with permission from 12 Recipes by Cal Peternell (Morrow Cookbooks, Harper Collins Publishers, © 2014).

“The best beginner’s cookbook of the year, if not the decade."  — New York Times Book Review

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