And the more than forty writers whose collective works come together to create this delectable read, understand that.
I love this book. I love it. Through its provocative essays and delicious words, we get a peek into 44 enticing worldly food adventures, and along the way, get to to learn about the authors and their personal stories behind them.
When I was invited to review this year’s “Best Food Writing 2015” it was all I could do to keep from perching on my mailbox…like a little bird impatiently waiting for a crust of bread…I waited for this year’s piece dé resistance of food writing. As I’ve had the pleasure of reading collections from past years, I knew what I was in for. Editor Holly Hughes once again curates a feast for our foodie-imaginations with stories that fascinate and illuminate gastronomy from all around the world.
Like the one [story] that shows how our finest meals are not always born from a well-calculated list of high-end ingredients but that sometimes carrot tops, fish skin and ‘repurposed bread’ make a meal to remember.
Or the one that demonstrates how the most positive dining-out experiences are as much about hospitality in the front of the house as they are skill and technique in the back; that serving up grace and attentiveness alongside stunning food and a gorgeous room are the difference between a meal that is memorable and one that is miserable.
Or the one… I could do this all day… Okay, one more… The one that shows a dad, a ‘Chez Panisse chef’ dad, accepting a phone call from his boy in New York, during the crunchiest time of his work day, to answer the question, “What is the best meat to use for a Bolognese?” To which Dad replies, “But Bolognese takes hours to cook, and in New York, it’s what, eight o’clock now?” Concerned that even if his son started the sauce now, he wouldn’t be eating until midnight, he encouraged him to grab some eggs, a nice salad, some bread and cheese and plan for Bolognese another night. But this got his wheels turning…he wanted to create a Bolognese-like sauce recipe for his son. One that could be made up pretty quickly but would satisfy like the classic long-cooked meat sauce. And guess what?
He did it.
And guess what else?
It’s our lucky day.
We get to benefit from a thoughtful response to a simple question that a curious son, hungry for meat sauce on a Saturday night, received – the recipe for his dad’s, Cal Peternell’s, Ragù Finto.
Friends, if you are in a position to buy a gift for someone you know and love, or even someone you know and like – doesn’t have to be love, that is a connoisseur of excellent writing, delicious food, new authors, tender-hearted moments and witty quips…this is your gift. And while you’re at it – get one for yourself – you deserve it!
- 1 lb. ground pork or pork sausage, taken out of the skins
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- ¾ tsp. each toasted and ground fennel and coriander seeds (optional)
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
- 1 15-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, chopped, juice reserved separately
- 1 pound rigatoni, penne or ziti
- Parmesan cheese
- Put a big pot of cold water on to boil. Add salt
- Spread ground pork on the paper it was wrapped in, sprinkle with ½ tsp. salt, and grind on some black pepper. If desired, for a more sausage-y effect, sprinkle with red pepper flakes and toasted and ground fennel and coriander seeds.
- Fold up the patty of pork and mix it just until the spices are well distributed. *If you're using sausage, then skip these seasoning steps.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add 1 Tbsp. of oil and then quickly add the pork, breaking it into chunks and placing it into the hot pan bit by bit.
- Tilt the pan to spread the oil around and nudge the pork around to fill in the gaps and get even browning, but don't move it around too much.
- The skillet should be at full-throated sizzle - if it's too quiet, turn up the heat.
- Resist the temptation to poke and stir at this point; just let the meat fry: it will go from pink to gray and, if you stay out of its way, to a nice caramel brown, which looks and tastes much better, sweeter.
- When the first side is ready, turn the pieces over and brown the other side.
- Set the pork aside on a plate and tip out some of the grease if it makes you feel better, though you may find yourself wanting to add it back in later.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, if needed, and the onion.
- Sprinkle with salt and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up the bits of browned meat as the onion begins to get juicy.
- Lower the heat to medium and cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until very tender, about 15 minutes.
- Add the parsley, garlic, and red pepper flakes and stir for a minute as the garlic sizzles, but don't let it get even a little bit browned.
- When the garlic smells really good, add the tomatoes and the pork.
- Use the back of the spoon on any chunks that are too big, and adjust the heat so that the sauce is simmering but not bubbling fast.
- At this point, you can cook the pasta in the salted, boiling water, stirring frequently, and the sauce will be done in the 10 or so minutes it takes to cook, though it will be better if given another 10 for the pork and tomatoes to enjoin.
- If the pan starts to dry out and sizzle, add some of the juice from the tomatoes or, if you've used all the juice, a little water. (Chicken or pork stock works very well also, but water is fine.)
- Taste the pasta, and when it is done, drain and add it to the sauce, and toss, stir, and toss.
- Taste it; you may want to add some salt, oil, or the pork fat you set aside - or a splash of the pasta water if it needs more flow.
- Serve hot and pass the cheese to grate.
If you’re anything like I am – and crave sauce the day before or the weekend following Thanksgiving – this is your winner!