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Bolognese and Homemade Pasta

Since receiving a pasta extruder from his parents for Christmas, Dustin has slyly been asking me if we could make pasta. Now, normally, I would jump at an opportunity to make something Dustin was asking for, but, you see, some part of me was dreading what an undertaking this might become. I had these visions of what might go wrong. I feared some huge time investment that would yield little return, and a big mess. I worried that my pasta might turn out like the chocolate cake I tried to bake 2 weeks ago, which, when inverted onto a cake rack crumbled into roughly 200 mite size bits and resembled nothing even close to the cake I had dreamed of producing.  If a mere cake could reduce me to a puddle of tears on the floor, I could only imagine the damage noodles might incur.

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And so, I did what any good home cook does when confronted by a daunting request, I stalled. As I stalled, I commenced my research. I watched several videos on You Tube on making home made dough, I browsed through 2 different book stores searching for an authoritative source on pasta making, I visited several different forums which detailed tips on using pasta extruders, and some which debated the finer points of OO vs All Purpose Flour, and read several discussions on the incorporation of semolina flour into dough recipes. Finally, after purchasing not one but  two (I tried but couldn’t help myself) books on Italian cooking, I felt I was ready to try my hand.

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I am so glad I took the leap and gave making home made noodles a try. After much research, I had come to the conclusion that I wanted to make a dough with a high ratio of egg to flour, and shape it in the form of a chunky noodle that would be able to stand up to the chunky, unctuous sauce, without being completely overpowered. The pasta extruder made the work of turning out the noodles as easy as can be. If you do not have an extruder you can use a pasta roller and cut the rolled sheets into thick noodles, I imagine a papardelle would stand up well in this dish. I employed my food processor to mix the dough, it seemed a bit dry to me at first and I worried that I had not added enough water, but as I began to knead the dough it became considerably more elastic and flexible and turned out beautiful noodles. The noodles keep well stored in a flat layer on a baking sheet in the freezer for several weeks, but something tells me they won’t last that long.

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One of the things Dustin loves most, and that he requests we make more often than any other dish is chili. Bolognese was an easy pick for a sauce, it is essentially an italian form of chili. It is a dish that requires building layers of flavor. First with a medley of herbs and vegetables, then with a mixture of meats, and finally with a sauce formed from tomatoes, alcohol, and dairy. Because the dish cooks for so long, and the vegetables practically melt into the sauce, this could be a great way of getting picky eaters to eat their veggies. While carrots and celery are the traditional veggies for the dish, I imagine that fresh fennel, parsnips, zucchini, and even winter squash, could be worked into the sauce adding valuable nutrients and subtle hints of flavor.

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This recipe makes a great deal of sauce. It can be frozen for a month or so and defrosts with great success. It is fantastic on pasta, but very versatile, it makes a fantastic topping for rice, could definately play well as a pizza topping, and would likely make a nice filling for a frittata. It is also great served on its own, with a great hunk of crusty bread. The sauce does take a good deal of time to prepare properly, there are a lot of flavor elements that need to properly blend to form the final sauce. I reduced the amount of cream in the original recipe. If you are a big fan of creamy sauces, feel free to add additional cream to taste. The mortadella makes a great finishing touch but is by no means a necessary component. Feel free to omit it if you cannot find a high quality specimen. Alternatively you could substitute prosciutto, a mild salami, or gently spiced capicola. However you serve it, the Bolognese really benefits from a finishing touch of freshly snipped herbs. Basil or parsley pair extraordinarily well, but I Imagine other herbs such as tarragon or chervil would map a nice twist on tradition. However you choose to enjoy it, this is definitely a dish for friends and family. So gather some loved ones, and enjoy!

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For the Home Made Rigatoni – From “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” by Domenica Marchetti

2 – 2 1/4 C OO Flour or All Purpose (I Used All Purpose But Have Read Much About The Wonders of OO Flour)
1 TBSP Semolina Flour – Plus Additional Flour For Dusting The Work Surface
1/2 TSP Sea Salt
Pinch of Freshly Grated Nutmeg
3 XL Eggs
1-2 TBSP Good Olive Oil

Place 2 C of flour in the bowl of a food processor along with the semolina flour, salt, and nutmeg. Pulse to mix. Break the eggs into the bowl along with 1 TBSP olive oil. Pulse the mixture until it forms small curd like crumbs. Pinch some of the “dough” between your fingers. It should not be crumbly or sticky. Try rolling the pinch in  small ball, it should form a smooth ball. If it seems too day add an additional TBSP oil, a bit at a time, until it reaches the right consistency. If it seems too wet, add more flour, a TBSP at a time, until firm but not crumbly.

Sprinkle a clean work surface with semolina flour. Turn the mixture out onto the surface. Remove the blade. Gently gather the dough into a ball. Using the palm of your hand, press the dough away and down in a firm, smooth motion to knead. Do this several times until the dough is smooth and slightly elastic. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 mins before placing it in the extruder to form the noodles. Alternatively, you can stretch the dough using a traditional pasta roller, either hand cranked, or electric. The sheets can be cut by hand into noodles, if you are planning to use the noodles with the Bolognese sauce, I recommend a thicker cut noodle, which can stand up to the hefty sauce.

The pasta will freeze well in a flat layer on a baking sheet that has been slightly dusted with semolina flour. Once frozen, you can transfer the noodles to a tupperware container and leave in the freezer for up to a month.

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For the Bolognese Sauce – Adapted from “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” by Domenica Marchetti

3 TBSP Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2-3 TBSP Unsalted Butter
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Large Carrots, Peeled and Finely Chopped
3 Stalks Celery, Finely Chopped
1 Large Yellow Onion, Finely Chopped
1 TBSP Parsley, Chopped
1 LB Ground Beef
1 LB Ground Veal
1 LB Ground Pork
1 C. Dry Vermouth or White Wine
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Pinch of Freshly Grated Nutmeg
3/4 C. Whole Milk
16 oZ Can Tomato Puree
3 C. Meat Broth, Homemade if Possible
1/2 C. Heavy Cream
4 Oz Thinly Sliced Mortadella, Minced

Warm the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat until the butter is melted.  Stir in the garlic, carrots, celery, onion and parsley and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Sauté for 10 to 15 minutes until softened and golden.  Add the ground meat to the pot and stir into the sautéed vegetables to distribute well.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is browned but still tender, about an hour.

Raise the temperature to medium, stir in the vermouth and cook until the liquid evaporates.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Add the nutmeg and milk and stir to distribute evenly.  Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until most of the milk is absorbed.

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