Fundamentals, Evolution and the Tyranny of the Recipe


Being tied to a recipe makes me nervous, I keep checking and double-checking the ingredients, the procedure; my cookbooks are filled with notes on how to tweak a recipe to suit my tastes.  I encourage people to trust their instincts and cook with passion and abandon instead of adhering to the written word.

But, as I was putting dinner together last night, I started to think about how I ‘knew’ to put these ingredients together and the value of learning the fundamentals of flavor combinations and cooking techniques. Let’s just say some knowledge and experience narrow the risk factor dramatically.

Here’s how Pork Polpette in Salsa Rosa evolved:
The weather has been hot-hot-still-summer, but in mid-afternoon the wind shifted and you could smell a whiff of fall. I have a boatload of tomatoes in the house, and a ton of frozen peas in the freezer, the result of being gifted with frozen peas right after I bought some. The slightest chill in the air, the thought of stewing peas, and I was thinking about a classic blanquette de veau (a white sauced veal stew).   That still seemed a bit heavy for dinner, and it needed to “Italian-ized” with the addition of tomatoes. We have tomatoes at every meal these days in one form or another, I’m thinking about developing an all tomato breakfast cereal.  And, are tomatoes an anti-oxidant, or do they tame free radicals? Because if so, I’m completely oxidant free and my radicals have become submissive conservatives.

Salsa Rosa
5 or 6 large ‘sugo’ or sauce tomatoes (use plum tomatoes in the states)
1 carrot
2 ribs of celery
1 small red onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup of frozen peas
¼ cup of heavy cream
olive oil, salt, pepper

½ lb ground pork
3 T grated cheese
2 T breadcrumbs
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:
Clean and roughly chop the fresh tomatoes and place in a saucepan with a scant bit of water in the bottom. Let the tomatoes soften and cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat. You want them to just be yielding, not mush, and be careful there is enough water in the pot so that the tomatoes don’t scorch.  After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and let the tomatoes get cool enough that you can handle them. Process the tomatoes in a food mill, using a medium sized plate.Food_mill
This is a common item in an Italian kitchen; it’s a cone shaped cylinder that is hand cranked and comes with different, interchangeable size plate holes. The beauty of the food mill in this case is that all the seeds and skins remain in the mill and only the tomato juice and pulp are reserved. If you don’t have a mill, before you cook them, skin and seed the tomatoes (plunge in boiling water and then peel, the skins will simply slip off).  Place the ground tomatoes in a small pot and cook over medium heat until you have a thickened, sauce consistency (about 10 minutes).

Roughly chop the carrot, onion and celery. Warm a sauce pan with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and add the chopped carrots, onion, celery, sprinkle with a bit of salt and let soften. When the vegetables have gotten soft and all cozy together, add the white wine and let this cook until it evaporates, then add the cream and turn down the heat to the lowest possible simmer, add the tomato puree and let cook for about 45 minutes.

For the Pork Polpette (Meatballs)
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing well, and then form nice little meatballs. Lightly fry in olive oil and place in a covered baking dish. What, did you expect some long involved recipe? They’re just meatballs!

Keep the meatballs in a covered dish, warm in the oven.
Make your favorite pasta. I had some fresh spaghetti alla chitarra on hand, so I got lucky.

Add the peas to the sauce, a few scrapes of fresh nutmeg to add some depth to the flavor, then check to see if you need any more salt or pepper. You should have a sauce that is like a thick, creamy tomato soup. Toss with the pasta, layer the meatballs on top and then eat your dinner. Maybe have a glass of a nice medium bodied red wine and a crust of bread around for sopping up the extra sauce.

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