Week 11: Food of the Italian South

I have been completely unmotivated to cook lately. I think partially its because going to the grocery store, which is usually a happy place for me, is presently quite emotionally draining.

After dealing with the extreme crappiness of our local grocery store, which I am not really a fan of anyway (the people are nice, but the prices are ridiculously high and the selection is crap), and having Trader Joe’s out of my reach (I am not standing in line for hours to get into a grocery store), I went back to my old neighborhood, Astoria, to a grocery store very out of the way (but close to Rikers Island?). This store is not accessible by public transportation, and it is in a not-very-densely-populated part of Astoria, so there is not much of a line, and the store has aisles that I can actually maneuver a cart through fairly easily. If you’ve never shopped in a NYC grocery store, because real estate is so expensive, the aisles tend to be about one person wide and it’s pretty claustrophobic.

We’ve been cooking our way through our comfort food favorites, and have exhausted those. I had a craving for ragù, and have previously made this one from Bon Appetit, but since we’re doing the cookbook experiment, I dug through my books and came up with one from Katie Parla’s Food of the Italian South.

Dog Nose courtesy of Sisko, who refuses to be in any photo that he’s supposed to be in, but LOVES to photobomb.

The ragù recipe in this book was Filjie con Ragù Calabrese, and is pretty similar to the Bon Appetit one, with the exception of the cut of meat. Parla’s version calls for spareribs, which I’m not usually the biggest fan of, but I’m always up for trying new things. Also, for the Bon Appetit version, I usually substituted in pork tenderloin rather than Boston Butt, as it is fairly difficult to find a decent butcher in NYC, and I don’t always want to drive an hour out of my way (or take public transportation for two hours) to find one.

However, the magical Astoria grocery store had spareribs, and they were relatively inexpensive, so ribs it was. Plus, I had a pretty good inkling that the bone marrow would add greatly to the sauce (spoiler alert: it did).

As per the recipe, and good sense, I salted the meat the day before I started cooking, and let it sit in the fridge. Due to my aforementioned apathy regarding cooking, I completely spaced out on getting photos of pretty much anything, except the sauce as it cooked and the final dish.

I started cooking the sauce at 1pm, and was done by 6:30ish, so this is not a quick recipe. I do the same for the Bon Appetit one as well. I couldn’t find pancetta, so I substituted bacon (which the store actually had for the first time in more than a month! I’ve been missing bacon), and as always, screw adding water to the sauce – I fill that sucker up with red wine every time. I get some decently flavorful bottles of a dry Italian red wine, and just dump them in whenever the sauce starts looking too thin.

Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly. The only seasonings were the carrot/onion/celery mix that gets sautéed in the beginning, a pinch of nutmeg, wine, and of course, the bacon (or pancetta).

The sauce, after hour two.

The sauce was delicious. The bone marrow and bacon definitely added a richness and complexity to the ragù that the other recipe doesn’t have. I think pancetta would be great in this, but the smokiness of the bacon was pretty fantastic.

I pulled the meat off the bone to make eating it a bit easier, and also to cater to the whims of the kids, who have texture issues. After shredding the meat with forks, I stirred it back into the sauce, and let it sit until the pasta was done cooking.

Couldn’t dredge up enough emotional energy to make fresh pasta, so I used boxed. It was fine. Not quite as transcendent as 5-hour ragù over freshly made pasta, but still delicious.

The verdict: Absolutely will cook from this book again. I’m eyeing the foccacia recipe in here – just need to wait for a decent day so that I can cook it on the grill, which gets up to 700 degrees F (~370 C) and will produce the results that I want.

Also, I’ve cooked from another of Parla’s cookbooks, Tasting Rome, for our rather epic Ides of March party a couple of years ago. I think Chris and I cooked for two or three days prior to that party. And there were POUNDS of fresh pasta. Anyway, Parla’s recipes are exceedingly good, both from a following-the-instructions standpoint, and for eating. I highly recommend.


2 thoughts on “Week 11: Food of the Italian South

  1. That sauce looks AMAZING! I love a ragú cooked long and slow over a low heat, and that method sounds very similar to my own, which involves the soffrito, lots of red wine, and sausage to add more flavor. Your meal looks delicious, and I’m glad you’re back on your feet. Look forward to your next culinary creation.


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