Monday, December 17, 2012

Easy polenta bolognese for a cold, grey day

Yesterday was cold and rainy and the dogs were stir-crazy inside the house, and the fire was burning in the grate, and we went out in gumboots and stomped around the myriad of steps at the mansion which borders our hillside. No-one lives there, but there is a groundskeeper, who is Dotsie's boyfriend, and recently the fire department made them cut everything back so that the stone steps and the little grottoes inlaid with Spanish tile are plain to the eye.  It's a magical place, full of ghosts and old oak trees and plush, acid green grass from all the rain we've been having. If you don't live in California, it's probably hard to imagine the always bright and blue and cheerful LA in the rain. (An English screenwriter I met at a brunch yesterday asked whether Angelenos ever say anything bad about anyone because in his experience everything is always described as "great."). But it's nearly Christmas and in our houses with lots of glass and paper-thin walls and no carpets, it's cold.

Dogs drying off by the fire yesterday

So I remembered a meal I had at Trattoria Dell'Arte in midtown Manhattan.  It's a cozy Italian place with a fine array of large Roman noses painted on the walls.  They serve bolognese with creamy, steaming hot polenta. I decided that I had to recreate it.

This, I found, was surprisingly easy.

For the polenta, buy a sausage of it at Trader Joe's, chop it up into 1/2 inch dice and melt it slowly with a cup and bit of chicken stock in a pan, whisking now and then as you go, as it melts, the polenta disintegrates into the stock, and then you can add some nice freshly ground black pepper and some freshly grated Parmesan.

My quick bolognese recipe is below:

1 onion or a couple of shallots, chopped
A mushed garlic clove
Olive oil
A pound of fatty ground beef (20% fat)
or a mixture of pork and beef
A half cup of chopped pancetta
A few chopped mushrooms
A jar of good Arabiatta sauce
Some milk
Salt & pepper
Chopped flat leaf parsley
A slosh of red wine (whatever you have open)

Sweat the onions, shallots, garlic in the oil in a pan, add the pancetta and mushrooms, cook till translucent, add the meat and cook till just not pink. Toss in the jar of Arabiatta sauce (it's a bit more interesting than normal tomato sauce) and mix well, bringing the mixture to a nice slow simmer. Add a slosh of red wine, a little milk (somehow the milk makes it deliciously creamy and there is a very legitimate recipe for authentic bolognese which utilizes full fat milk as it brings out the flavors in the meat) and let it simmer on a low heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over the creamy polenta and sprinkle with parsley. Eat by the fire with a glass of good Italian red.

Seriously scrumptious.

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