Recent Posts by Jonell Galloway

Neapolitan Ragù or Ragù Napolitano

Published by Wednesday, September 4, 2019 Permalink 0

Ragù (or Sugo) di Carne

by Marlena Spieler

Whether it’s Ragù Napolitano “Classico” or “Leggere,”  this richly flavored sauce is a perfect example of traditional, long, slow-cooked (slow, very slow) food, the sort of memory-filled dish that makes all Neapolitans, rich or poor, remember their childhood and nonnas or grandmothers with even just one bite; or even with just one sniff of the bubbling sauce.

Because it needs to be looked after, slowly cooked and attention paid that it doesn’t burn or scorch, it was given the name sugo della guardaporta, the doorkeeper’s sauce, as it needed someone to watch over it as it slowly, slowly, slowly bubbled its way to perfection.

Though now it has come to symbolize family food, it was no doubt created in the 19th-century kitchens by the chefs of aristocratic Naples — its abundance of meat and attention-demanding cooking method would have been beyond the means of the city’s poorer inhabitants, which meant most of the population. Its name came from the French ragout, or saucey stew. The Neapolitan ragù is exactly that: a large piece of meat simmered in either tomatoey or oniony (La Genovese) sauce unlike the ragù of other regions, which include small pieces of chopped meats and vegetables.

San Marzano tomatoes

San Marzano tomatoes.

After unification and the lessening of nobility, food traditions such as gathering for Sunday lunch began to reach everyone’s table, with Nonna cooking for her family, taking over from the chefs who once fed their aristocratic employers.

The ragù takes a long slow simmer — 5-6 hours is optimal; mothers and grannies used to awaken at the crack of dawn to put on the ragù. If you don’t have time to cook it uninterrupted for such a long stretch of time, that is fine too: it is accepted that you can simmer it the first day, simmer it the second day, take the meat off the bones and serve it all on the third day.

Main ingredients for Ragù Napolitano.

Main ingredients for Ragù Napolitano.

Or, you can cook it a few hours, let it rest in the refrigerator overnight, and the next day simmer it again (though it might need a little water to loosen it up for further cooking). It just gets better as it sits, and as it cooks (add a little extra water, broth, or wine, to keep it from sticking or burning on the bottom).

Traditional Ragù Napoletano is served in two courses: the meat is removed from the sauce and saved for the main course, to eat with salad, or potatoes or vegetables; the sauce, well, the sauce is to go on the pasta! Bellissima!

Il Ragù Napolitano

Unlike many of the other ragùs — especially in the north — where meat is finely chopped or even ground together cooking with wine and stock to become the sauce itself, in Campania, il ragù is quite different.

Here, it is a tomato sauce, full of meaty essence (because a large chunk of meat, such as brisket, or eye of round, or pork roast, is cooked in the sauce for hours and hours and hours) but not chunky like a northern ragù (or sugo as it is sometimes called). The meat gives a huge umami layering to the sauce, then is taken out and eaten as a second course or saved for the next day’s dinner; the sauce is tossed with pasta, and eaten for Sunday lunch!  Sometimes small slices of the meat are served on top.

Pacchieri with Ragù Napolitano and Meat Slices.

Pacchieri with Ragù Napolitano and Meat Slices.

 

The ragù itself remains a tomato and wine sauce made super savory with the juices of whichever meats have simmered in it. Its frugality: two courses for effort and cost of one.

At a seminar-gathering of chefs, this is the dish that had all of our fancy chefs in their tall white toques scurrying about with their forks, while gloriously fashionable Neapolitans had their forks out too; everyone was excited.

The sauce was pre-cooked — one of the chefs pointed out that “one would need three days plus a ‘nonna’ to cook a proper ragù,” so we didn’t get a recipe. The nonna part is because ragù is a dish made every week, and nonna learns from her mother, and each week she makes it and it becomes better each time she does, until it is so traditional and perfect; oh and also: she is making that sauce with a heart full of love for those she feeds.

Basically a rich red-brown tomato-meat sauce that has simmered a big chunk or roast of beef or pork, and a few other small meaty enrichments: a whole fresh sausage or two (especially with fennel), the heel end of a salami, a hunk of pancetta or guanciale, as well as braciola di cotica (cutica, or codica). The last item, pork skin (pork skin braciole, see il secondo chapter) rolled around aromatics is something that I had noted wasn’t included in modern cookbooks or food magazines, specifically American (or U.K.) ones. So, when I saw the rolls of by now-translucent, simmering pork skin, bobbing up and down in the sauce, I asked the chefs what it was and why: “Braciola di cotica“, they answered: “pork skin wrapped around aromatics.” Then they all smiled: “It’s what our nonnas did.”

Paccheri pasta with Neapolitan ragù / ragù napolitano and meat slices.

Paccheri pasta with Neapolitan ragù and meat slices.

The long-simmered sauce has an audio component as well: the sound of the “pippiare,” or the bubbles bursting when they gently reach the top of the sauce; the sauce should be very thick, so the pippiare is a sign that it is getting ready, and also gives you the warning to watch the temperature, monitor the sauce, and be careful the bottom doesn’t burn. A burnt bottom will ruin the entire sauce.

The ragù may take 3 days; Nonna didn’t mind — she was (is) looking forward to feeding her family: The first day to cook and simmer, the second to simmer low, perhaps in the oven, and the third, to sit and relax. Only then, when the meats slip from the bone, the chunk of roast or other meat is butter-tender, and a bit of the pork skin roll melts in your mouth at first bite, only then is the ragù ready.

Bronze-cut Candele pasta. Photo courtesy of Tesoritalia.

Bronze-cut Candele pasta can be broken to the size and shape you require.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As to the pasta: big thick long tubes, Candele, broken into pieces, Giuseppe di Martino of Pastaficio di Martino and president of Consorzio di Gragnano, explained this local tradition:  “Long ago, purchased dry pasta was made in long big pieces to be broken up as needed: that way you could break it at any size you wished — rigatoni, penne, ziti or other fat shortish tubes — and the broken pieces with their irregular edges gave a variety of textures to the dish as well as helped thicken the sauce.

If Candele are not available, use any pasta shape you like: ragù Napoletano is good with them all; my personal favorite is Paccheri (shown above).

Recipe: Il Ragu “Leggero”

It is called a “light ragu,” because it doesn’t have the array of sausages, smoked meats, and pancetta, that the classico version does, but in reality: it’s still thick and intense, made with a chunk or two of meat, and some rolls of garlic-parsley stuffed pork skin.

How many does it serve? What kind of nonna asks such a question: it makes a nice big potful.

Ingredients

2 onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup or more, olive oil

2 1/2 lbs meat: beef, or pork, or both: brisket, eye of round, pork roast, whatever meat and stewing cut you like. You can use pork ribs with bone, but add more weight since the bones are heavy (but give beautiful taste to the liquid).

1 recipe for pork skin braciole (see below)

1 1/2 or so cups red or white wine, or more as desired

1 large can San Marzano tomatoes, (1 lb 12 oz), whole or chopped, plus their juices

3 cups meat broth (or water plus maybe half a bouillon cube)

Approximately 3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste, or as desired

Instructions

In a heavy-bottomed big pot, lightly sauté the onions in the olive oil until the onions are softened, then add the roast (or roast and ribs), and a few braciole di cotica, a tablespoon or two of the olive oil, and cook together gently, covered, stirring from time to time, cooking over a low heat for about an hour.

Uncover and pour in a little wine, then raise the heat and let it evaporate, repeating this once or twice, then add the rest of the wine and continue to cook another 15 minutes or so.

Add the canned tomatoes and the broth, then set onto a low heat to simmer. Keep your ears alert: the sound that a good Neapolitan ragù makes while it is cooking properly is a gently bubbling plopping sound. It is said that it “spits,” or “sputters” and is called “pippiare.”

Keep cooking over very low heat, on top of the stove or in the oven, until the meat is very tender, adding more liquid as needed — you might want to add water. 

You can prepare this sauce over 2 days if you like, cooking it, then stashing it in the refrigerator, than cooking it again. Because of the sugar in the tomatoes, the sauce is easily burned towards the end so should be checked frequently. Taste and if the sauce needs freshening, stir in the tomato paste, and if it is too condensed, add a little water, wine or broth.

When the meat is cooked, remove the pork skin from the sauce and set it aside; either discard or chop it for whoever likes to eat it, or for another use. Remove the chunk(s) of meat and set aside for another course or meal, though a small slice on top is very very nice.

Toss the ragù with your pasta of choice, a bit of grated cheese, and a small slice of meat on top, or not, as you like.

Pork Skin Braciole (rolls)

Lay out several slices of pork skin, trimmed of as much fat as you are able. Sprinkle each with chopped garlic and chopped parsley, then roll up and tie tightly.

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Food Favors Three, and So Do We

Published by Tuesday, August 27, 2019 Permalink 0

by Amy Cotler

Three satisfies, inviting us to plunge in, while kindly reminding us of life’s impermanence, because soon there’ll be two, then one.

One summer afternoon in New England I ran out to our garden, arriving back with a scant handful of the first cherry tomatoes. Soon, three lazy, but colorful halves topped salads for my husband, daughter and me. Our eyes bounced from red to red orb before we pounced. Why is the odd number three our culinary queen? Two on a plate sit symmetrically sad while only one looks like a cherry on top.

 

We’re three too — my daughter Emma, husband Tommy and I. I’ve been lured in by that number again and again in life and in food. My sisters Joanna, Ellie and I. My Dad’s writing, Mom’s cooking and me at the point of the triangle, borrowing from both. Young Emma’s PBJ sandwich cut point to point into triangle halves, so pleasing on the plate. Or in my catering days, a cluster of canapés waiting patiently on my cater-waiter’s tray, ready to be served. Those three points of bread work in tandem with three primary ingredients. Like bread and flinty ham topped with mustard sprouts, the bread showing at the edges to express itself just a bit. Or a swirl of gravlax with crème fraîche, a dill sprig propped on top.

But life isn’t simple. Sometimes those open-faced sandwiches go awry or even arty, losing their three points, but maintaining their three primary ingredients. A giant oblong of sourdough bread lay on my plate at a museum cafe. It was topped with olive tapenade, melted mozzarella, and an abstract composition of tiny tomato cubes, a dancing brunoise.

Three fish, three seabassAt home, Emma used to set the table for three each night with soft, no-need-to-iron, white and blue napkins. Dinner was often one dish with three ingredients — penne, broccoli rabe with garlic-oil. Or three on a plate — rosemary chicken, garden string beans, lemon couscous. But on weekends we shared jollier stuff: grilled eggplant sandwiches with sesame mayonnaise and watercress from the stream out back, or corn from Taft Farms lathered with miso butter. Still three.

Tommy, Emma and I never sat in three designated spots. Rather, every evening we informally switched seats. No hierarchy, I insisted — Dad at the head, chilled beer in hand, Mom and kid in tow. Still Emma never said much, even in the daddy seat. And sometimes dinner felt like two against one. So, at her request, we often sat in the living room on the couch and big leather chair, our plates balanced on our laps or atop our odd coffee table with its chiseled leather top.

Three Businessmen DiningIn the winter, snow quieted the world outside our ancient clapboard house. The three of us settled in briefly after dinner, each with a book (or computer), each with a drink. Each before our own plates, now empty. Three.

Emma will go off to her own life soon, like that first cherry tomato off our salad — gone. And dinners will come and go, our food peering up at us, three.

 

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Book Review: A Hastiness of Cooks, by Cynthia Bertelsen

Published by Monday, August 12, 2019 Permalink 0

Book Review: A Hastiness of Cooks

by Margie Gibson

I’ve flirted with historic cooking for years, but somehow, the relationship never took off. I would get frustrated by arcane language and ingredients and turn to something more familiar and easier to cook. Cynthia Bertelsen’s new book, A Hastiness of Cooks, has provided the catalyst that just may spark a beautiful relationship.

This slim volume’s subtitle, A Practical Handbook for Use in Deciphering the Mysteries of Historic Recipes and Cookbooks, For Living-History Reenactors, Historians, Writers, Chefs, Archaeologists, and, of Course, Cooks, precisely summarizes the book’s aims and audience. Courtney Nzeribe’s many illustrations remind the reader that the book’s ultimate subject is food and its preparation.

Bertelsen has provided the organizational structure and clarity that will help the reader analyze recipes from earlier centuries. This volume concentrates on the food on European tables from the Middle Ages to the 1700s. Spanish and English recipes get prime attention—after all, the territories that Spain and England conquered were huge and were the source for a steady stream of new foods entering the European repertoire. Interestingly enough, England, whose early cooks were influenced by France, Italy, Persia, the Iberian peninsula, and Turkey, led the way in the production of manuscripts on cooking—which suggests to me that British cooking may have gotten a bad rap in the years since World War I.

Why bother with early recipes? We already have plenty of easily accessible recipes based on ingredients that we can source easily from the farmers’ market or local supermarket. As Bertelsen explains, cookbooks contain a wealth of information beyond ingredient lists and instructions for preparation. Cookbooks can also provide clues to social, economic and political circumstances. They shed light on what farmers were producing as well as on trade relationships. They provide insight into the lives of ordinary people, something often ignored in historical studies that focus on the wealthy and powerful—and for the most part, on men. Cookbooks, particularly as they progress to the 17th and 18th centuries, illuminate women’s lives, which were generally ignored as being less interesting than their male counterparts.

A Hastiness of Cooks also illustrates how early cookbooks were used. Food and medicine were intertwined and many early cookbooks contain recipes for the sick and infirm, which give insights into medical beliefs. Also, earlier books were intended for those in charge of managing wealthy households or the kitchens for abbeys and universities, so we are able to get downstairs insight into the mechanisms that fed large numbers of people.

Luckily for us, many of the early cookbook writers plagiarized . . . er, borrowed and shared . . . recipes during a time when European cuisines were not strongly differentiated from each other. Today, this is especially useful if a recipe in one book doesn’t make sense. By searching for similar recipes in other cookbooks, modern cooks can reconstruct the holes and lapses in earlier books.

In another very useful chapter, Bertelsen provides tips on how to begin recreating old recipes. She sets up a framework for analyzing the recipe, which helps resolve the questions and problems that might otherwise discourage the modern cook. She also describes cooking techniques, such as cooking on a hearth or in a fireplace, that have been lost in the modern kitchen. Anyone trying to create a living history cooking program at a folklife museum or colonial-era home would find a wealth of information here.

Perhaps best of all, the book explains how all these early resources can be interpreted for today’s kitchen. In Part IV, Bertelsen presents five Spanish and five English authors of cookbooks with a fictionalized, first-person description of the writers’ lives. These short blurbs are followed by an original recipe, as well as a transcription of the recipe. She uses her framework to analyze the text and produces a recipe that could be cooked in a modern kitchen.

Reading about these early authors, one sees how they influenced each other and how they were influenced by the Age of Exploration when so many new foods appeared in Europe. By the time I finished the final section about Hannah Glass’s book, I understood the analysis process and thought I could try my own hand.

Of course, I know there will be inevitable questions and roadblocks in my efforts. So for further perplexing problems that may vex the modern cook, the book concludes with a discussion of the importance of bibliographies and provides a rich selection of on-line resources for further reference.

I highly recommend this book, which is not only a fine instructional text but will be an excellent reference for questions that arise as I delve deeper into old recipes. In short, A Hastiness of Cooks is a goldmine that I fully expect to explore further in this developing relationship with historic cooking.

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Cutting the Mustard

Published by Wednesday, July 31, 2019 Permalink 0

Cutting the Mustard

by Gary Allen

Mustard is second only to ketchup in the pantheon of popular condiments. 

All mustards start with seeds (of various colors and Brassica species). The suspended particles of ground powdered mustard or seeds, left whole, or used in combination, produce a variety of textures and flavors.

Mustard seeds

Mustard seeds (R).

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The Four Courses of the Apocalypse

Published by Thursday, July 25, 2019 Permalink 0

Remembrance of Food Past:

The Four Courses of the Apocalypse

by Leo Racicot

One of the glaring ironies of my life consisted of being pals with food goddesses Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher, and yet not knowing how to make anything other than a peanut butter sandwich. My friends used to tease that, “Leo could burn boiling water if you don’t keep an eye on him.” When I was a kid, my poor mother, who often claimed I was her ticket to sainthood, would prepare the evening meal for my father, my sister, Diane and herself, and a lonely hamburger on a back burner of the stove for me because other than it and the peanut butter and bread, I refused to so much as look at any other kind of food. “This isn’t a restaurant,” my mother would say, but I was willful, wanted my burger and nothing else. So, in later years, it was of particular surprise to many, and especially to me, when I became a private cook to two former members of the Roosevelt administration, Hilda and Francis Shea, their son, Richard, and their live-in staff of 15 to 20 men.

Leo Racicot Julia Child in her Kitchen

Julia Child in her kitchen in 1997 (R).

I can boast a little bit now that I am quite the accomplished cook – I whip up a mean jambalaya and can flambé and sauté with the best of ‘em. But I did myself at the time no good throwing the names Fisher and Child around because that made Ms. Shea assume that I, too, knew how to cook. “Oh, Leo. Do you know how to make a Sauce Soubise?” she intoned, summoning up her most aristocratic accent. “Suuuuu-beeeeeze??” I said I did not and reminded her she had hired me to be Richard’s companion/caregiver. It led anyway to the dread question, “Well, did you ever take Chemistry 101 in school?” “Sure,” I said. I was then led by the nose over to shelves heavy with cookbooks of every decade and design, names so dear to me now but which instilled instant quivering in my spine when I first laid eyes on them: some vintage such as Michael Field’s Culinary Classics and Improvisations, and of course, the twin bibles of every serious kitchen: Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking and Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and some quirky, even strange cookbooks such as Cook It Ahead, Live High on Low Fat, John Thorne’s Outlaw Cook, Only Kosher Cooking Matters, The Zodiac Cook Book. Ms. Shea waved her hand à la Vanna White showcasing letters of the alphabet and said, “Well, this is just like Chemistry 101, only with food.” She showed me where the apron was and left me to my folly.

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Lemons

Published by Tuesday, December 4, 2018 Permalink 0

by Marlena Spieler

I come from a land — California — where lemons grow on trees. To buy them in a store would be ridiculous since they grow outside your window. And if you don’t have a lemon tree, your neighbor does and will share them with you. In season, there really are lemons everywhere.

Once, I wrote a humorous-ish front-page column for the San Francisco Chronicle about how there are lemons everywhere in the Bay Area, and that every time I pass a tree, I stash one or two in my handbag. They ran a cartoon of me dressed up as a burglar, reaching into lemon trees.

Lemon Stand Naples by Jonell Galloway

 

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Venice: The Alternative to Italy’s Pasta

Published by Tuesday, October 16, 2018 Permalink 0

by Jonell Galloway

No, I’m sorry. The staple of Venice is not pasta.

Yes, in Italy, they eat pasta, but Venice and the neighboring Veneto region are relative newcomers to both pasta and Italy. Venice and the Veneto, which the Venetian Republic dominated for centuries, only became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866 to escape the rule of the Austrian Empire, imposed after the Napoleonic Wars. Before that, the people of the Veneto didn’t speak much Italian; they primarily spoke Venetian. The Italian language and customs? They’ve adopted those, including pasta, relatively recently.

Abandoned agricultural storage building in a rice field in northern Italy

 

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The History of Roquefort French Dressing

Published by Friday, September 14, 2018 Permalink 1

by Gary Allen

Roquefort cheese has been made in the caves of Combalou, Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, at least since Gaul was occupied by the Romans — Pliny the Elder spoke highly of it, and he was not the sort who normally gushed gourmet superlatives. By 1411, Les Causses had been granted the exclusive right to the name “Roquefort,” and all other blue-veined cheeses had to make their own reputations. Salads, of course, go back much further — they were known to the ancient Greeks — but didn’t have an entire book devoted to them until 1699, when Robert Evelyn published his Acetaria: A Discourse on Sallets.

When salad and Roquefort cheese first got together is somewhat more mysterious. Usually, recipes just “happen,” they evolve — often in several places at the same time — in response to new tastes, the availability of new ingredients, etc. Recipes, or “receipts,” have only found their way into print after a sufficient number of people found them useful. Only rarely can we provide, with any certainty, the “who, what, where, when and how” of a recipe’s creation.

Handwritten recipe for blue cheese/Roquefort dressing

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Relaunching of The Rambling Epicure Website

Published by Tuesday, August 28, 2018 Permalink 0

I launched The Rambling Epicure e-zine, this website, nearly ten years ago as a literary culinary electronic magazine with a host of well-known food writers and photographers, all of whom are still active members of the related Facebook groups Culinary Travel and Mastering the Art of Food Writing. Editing and publishing this on my own required an incredible amount of gratifying work and because I was busy with my personal projects, I have left it semi-dormant for the last year or two. Today, I would like to relaunch it in a different form as part of an effort to encourage conversation about food, cooking, and writing.

My primary goal is for The Rambling Epicure to become a wellspring of enlightening epicurean essays and culinary fiction. We all have captivating personal and family tales about what we cooked and what we ate through many generations, during good times and bad. These memories are part of our food culture—and our food heritage—and should be an effective way to transmit our experiences and values beyond our front doors.

But my ambitions are greater than just memoir: I’m also interested in publishing articles and essays related to historical research in the field of gastronomy and in reviews of food books.

I would like to make this a cooperative effort that opens the door for us to share our potential as cooks, diners, and writers. Together, we will create a literary culinary site unlike any other, with information and stories that can be passed down to future generations.

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Taste Unlocked: Food & Thought

Published by Tuesday, June 26, 2018 Permalink 1

Taste Unlocked: Food & Thought

France and Italy’s relationship through time, wine & food

PROGRAM FOR 4-DAY MASTERCLASS TASTING WEEKEND IN CHARTRES

with Jonell Galloway and James Flewellen

4th to 7th October 2018
——-
Course Overview

FRANCE AND ITALY ARE TITANS OF EUROPEAN culinary culture. The nations of today are inheritors of rich culinary traditions that are the result of millennia of interweaving relationships between the peoples who inhabit these lands. This is a process that predates even the Romans and continues very much into the 21st century.

Over this four-day weekend, we explore the culinary and vinous relationships between France and Italy from Roman times through to today. We will look at what each nation has gifted the other through various lenses, including food, drink and culinary culture.

The masterclass involves sumptuous feasting, tutored wine tastings, and intellectual discussion. Bring your taste buds, something to say and a willingness to learn!

 

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