Monday, November 22, 2010

Pasta Bolognese and some Home Cooking Philosophy

 As I see it, there are two extremes when it comes to people and home cooking.  (As with most things, of course.)  On one side, the ones who rarely or never cook anything from scratch.  They usually pick up either a box, a can or a jar of something that allows them to just heat and serve.  What they like even more, of course, are ready-made dinners, which they thaw/cook in the oven/microwave, but this is usually a more expensive solution.

On the other far side, there is the eco-biological DIY-cook, who will make absolutely everything from scratch, no exception, and who would rather starve then eat a frozen pizza (that is a cooked one, of course.) These people bake their own spaghetti, grow all of their spices and vegetables and they secretly (or openly) wish they lived on a farm.

I guess most of us find ourselves somewhere in between, but to be honest, I don't care to much for ready-made dinners, with all the "extras" you get, often without knowing it.  However, I will occasionally serve a frozen ready-made dinner (usually a pizza or some kind of oven baked casserole), but this is mainly reserved for days where it comes down to either that or nothing.  Typically if we just arrived home from a trip, and the fridge is empty, everybody's hungry and it's getting late...  There will also be occasional times where I arrive home late at night after teaching a class.  My family already ate their dinner, there is nothing left, and I'm craving a hot meal.  In those situations, the freezer and the microwave are wonderful to have.  

But, in my everyday life, I prefer real cooking.  It doesn't have to be fancy, and it doesn't necessarily require a  lot of time, but I prefer using real food, knowing what I'm going to eat, and what my kids are served.
Some cans I do use almost all the time, for instance the cans of diced tomatoes.  They contain just that, tomatoes.  No addittives, nothing but good tomatoes already chopped.  
Another big exception to the rule would be pesto.  I just can't make that, or I choose not to.  I've tried, with no great success, and since a local store have a very yummy pre-made one, I buy these jars of pesto, and feel good about it too.

Yesterday was a really busy day.  I had desk work all morning, my husband only arrived home for a brief visit, before taking off again, and the kids had piano, ballet and boy scouts.  So, I decided to make the trusted, old  Pasta Bolognese.  
Here you get my recipe:  (That is, the way I made it yesterday.  It will never be exactly the same, since it depends of what is on hand.)  It serves 6, with leftovers.


About 1 pound ground beef / ca. 500 g kjøttdeig
Two onions, peeled and finely chopped / 2 løk, skrelt og finhakket
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped  / 3 fedd hvitløk, skrelt og finhakket
2-3 tbs olive oil / 2-3 ss olivenolje
2 15oz cans diced tomatoes / 2 bokser hakkede tomater
2 tbs cornstarch / 2 ss Maisenna-mel.
About 1/3 cup cold water / mellom 1/2 og 1 dl kaldt vann
2 tbs  dried basil / 2 ss basilikum
1 ts sugar / 1 ts sukker
Salt and pepper
More water if necessary / mer vann hvis nødvendig.
500 g (about a pound) pasta

First I sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil.  You can use a large skillet or a cast iron pot, which I use.  Make sure to have low to medium-low heat, and let it simmer for about ten minutes, stirring it now and then.  The onions will be soft and  transparent.
In another skillet, this one as hot as possible, I cook the ground meat, turning it over, and parting it constantly.  When it's all brown, it goes over to the cast iron pot to join the onions and garlic.
Add the tomatoes, the basil, salt and pepper (to taste) and some water if the mixture is too thick.
Stir the sauce to make sure everything is well mixed, and then let it cook at medium heat for about five to ten minutes.
Just before serving, I mix the cornstarch and cold water in a glass with a lid, just shaking it until it becomes smooth.  Then I let this cornstarch mixture run slowly into the sauce, while stirring with the other hand.  This simply gives you a thicker sauce.  Let the whole thing boil again, and stir it for a couple of minutes.
While the sauce was cooking, I heated water, salt and oil in another pot, and cooked the pasta accordingly to the type of pasta I'd chosen.  Today it was twists, so it didn't take more than about 10 minutes to cook.
Usually I will have grated parmesan to go with this, and some lettuce on the side.  But today, no parmesan or lettuce, as we we were out of these items.

But, this was a quick made, healthy and yummy dinner, with lots of leftovers.  (That was intended, since I love having some bolognese sauce in my fridge, to make fancy grilled cheese sandwitches, when there is a late night craving, or simply for lunch.

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