after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Pasta with Wine-Marinated Short Rib Ragu

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t says: Just the other day (over a year ago), g and I received a Williams Sonoma catalog in the mail.  On the cover, there was the most beautiful piece of cookware I had ever seen.  It was the “slate” Le Creuset Dutch oven.  The color screamed chic and classic at the same time.  The thing is … I didn’t really know how to “use” a dutch oven.  Wasn’t it just a super-heavy pot – why would anyone want one of those?  Perhaps it’s just a status symbol (like All-Clad and Viking)?  Fast forward to June 2009 – my parents found out that I had perused Dutch ovens at one time and purchased for me a beautiful red Le Creuset for my bday.  Trust me, I liked the red one a lot (I love the color red in general – I used to have a bright red pair of shoes and am on the lookout for a new pair of bright red shoes), but I was let down that slate was no longer available at WS (curse them and their “limited edition” colors).  Interestingly, k and her then-fiance/now-husband, cm, showed us their recently acquired Dutch oven at that time – it was the SLATE one!  Apparently, the WS they had visited happened to be clearing them out (thus, while online availability was nil, I guess some stores still had stock – but I couldn’t find any).  Fiddlesticks – I knew that the search for slate was over (unless I wanted a tiny slate saucier, which was the only thing ever in stock) …

Because I was still a neophyte to the wonderful world of enameled cast iron, I decided to do some research (and looked for alternative colors and brands).  I ended up browsing a line of cookware from Staub – the “other” French Dutch oven company with quite a following of devout anti-Le Creuset-ists (I kinda liked that).  I was impressed with the black interior and self-basting “spikes” (although sometimes I wonder if this is a gimmick because Thomas Keller and Molly Stevens both recommend parchment paper to line the lids of their braising vessels), but when I saw that they were just releasing a new, limited edition “titanium gray” color, I knew it was made for me.  I swapped the red Le Creuset for the titanium gray Staub (6.5 qt – it isn’t as classic as the slate, but, because it reminds me of a brand new dark gray  bmw, it has more bling).  I also immediately invested in a copy of All About Braising, as what is the purpose of having a piece of cookware but not knowing how to use it?  Over the ensuing 6 months, I braised everything – chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, seafood (although the latter two required a smaller vessel – so I used our other cookware).  The following is my favorite recipe thus far (probably because I <3 short ribs) and is adapted from recipes by Molly Stevens and Giada De Laurentiis, with a fine point or two from Thomas Keller.  This dish has finally allowed me to see a short rib recipe on a restaurant menu and NOT automatically order it (I <3 short rib), as now I know I can make a respectable version at home (although definitely NOT fancy – very “rustic”).

Ingredients:

the spiced EtOH:
__ 1 bottle of tasty, inexpensive red wine (For this, I like something a little less “fruity” – not Australian Shiraz or Argentinian Malbec, rather, something a bit more rustic, like some Sangiovese-based Italian blend or dip into Spain.  I personally don’t opt for Chianti because I’ve run into a lot of bad Chiantis until I started getting up into the Chianti Classico range at $20+ … which is WAY too much $$ for a recipe like this.  In short, pick a red wine you want to drink that isn’t insanely fruity.)
__ 1 tsp black peppercorns
__ 0.5 tsp allspice berries (optional)
__ 4 whole cloves (optional)a few rosemary sprigs
__ 2 bay leaves, broken in half
__ 1 tsp kosher salt
__ Cheesecloth and kitchen string (optional)

the meat:
__ ~3.5 lbs of beef short ribs bone-in (not thinly sliced)
__ Kosher salt and pepper
__ <0.5 c olive/canola oil mix (olive oil adds nice flavor, but smokes a lot – canola oil is neutral, but has a much higher smoke point – so I go 50/50, but sane people can just use whatever oil they want!  I hear grapeseed oil is good for frying, too!)

the braise:
__ 1 large onion (for this, I prefer sweet and yellow onions > white onions > red onions), diced
__ 4 cloves garlic, minced (I prefer fresh to jarred)
__ 5 roma/plum tomatoes, cut into large dice (or 4 if they seem exceptionally large, or 6 if you REALLY like tomato)
__ 2 Tbs Dijon mustard
__ <2 c beef stock (I used Kitchen Basics “Unsalted”)

the finish:
__ 0.75 lb pasta (medium-sized shape like penne, farfalle, or, my favorite, cellentani) – if using a small shape like elbows, use 1 lb
__ 1 small bag of frozen peas (you won’t use the whole bag)
__ some Italian parsley (optional)
__ Grated Parmigiano Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano (I probably use ~0.3333333333 c of each, but I just buy a small block of each, and grate it as needed to taste/texture – feel free to use one or the other depending on which you prefer or is available)

Methods:

-1)  To marinate or not to marinate?  If you know you’re going to make the dish well in advance, you could marinate the beef the day before.  Unfortunately, not everyone is able to do this.  I’ll pretend that you don’t and then make recommendations afterwards if you do.  So … if you are going to cook all of this in one day … Gently pour 1.5 cups of wine into a saucepan.  Slowly turn up the heat until the wine just reaches a boil.  Turn off the heat.  When the wine stops bubbling, add peppercorns, allspice, cloves, rosemary, bay leaves, and 1 tsp kosher salt.  Stir.  Proceed to step 0 as the pot cools.
Words of wisdom re: Step -1:
a)  If you have cheesecloth, you may instead bundle the herbs/spices into a satchel tied off with kitchen string, and add the satchel to the heated wine (like a tea bag).  I have no cheesecloth, so I instead will just strain the herbs/spices after I’m done.
b)  If you’re going to marinate your meat overnight, start with a larger volume of wine (~3 cups).  Then, after the wine cools to room temperature, pour it into a high quality 1 gallon plastic bag (one you would bet your fridge on).  Seal the bag with as little air as possible, place the bag into a large bowl (to prevent spills), and place the bowl into the fridge to cool for ~1 hour.  Add the short ribs to the bagged wine and seal the bag with as little air as possible.  Return the sealed bag-o-meat-and-wine to a safety bowl in the fridge.  Marinate in refrigerator for 24-36 hours, turning at least once to ensure that all of the meat is submerged in wine at one point or another.
c)  Any remaining wine will be useful to sip as you continue with the braise.

0)  Brace yourself.  Preheat oven to 315 degrees.  Slowly heat Dutch oven or some other wide, lidded, oven-proof pot (mine is 28 cm in diameter – the smallest size capable of holding all of the ingredients for this recipe is ~5 quarts) on the stovetop to medium-high heat.  Pour yourself a glass of wine and buckle up for some cooking!  N.B. If you marinated the meat, remove the ribs from the marinade (ensuring no peppercorns, cloves, etc are stuck to the meat), pat the meat dry, and reserve 1 cup of the marinade (liquid-only – no herbs, spices, etc) – do NOT accidentally drink it.

1)  Sear the meatSeason the short ribs with kosher salt and pepper.  Next, add enough oil to the heated Dutch oven to just cover the bottom.  Brown the ribs (in batches) in the Dutch oven on all sides until beautifully crusted; set aside all ribs.  When you’re on your last side of your last batch of ribs, turn the heat down to medium-low.

2)  Assemble the braising base.  Add onions to the cooking vessel and keep them moving to avoid burning; cook until translucent.  Add garlic and mix.  As the garlic becomes fragrant (~30 seconds), add half of the tomatoes and them down until the tomatoes start getting softer.  Add the rest of the tomatoes, and cook until all the tomatoes are soft.  Add 1 cup of the spiced wine (i.e. reserved marinade) – there should be NO herbs/particles in it, as they’ll be a pain to remove later.  Mix and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden/plastic/nylon spatula to release the “brown bits”.  Cook until the new liquid (from the wine and tomatoes) reduces in half (a few minutes depending on how hot the vessel was).  Add the mustard; mix to combine and cook until simmering again.

3)  Bring on the meat.  Nestle the ribs into the Dutch oven.  Add beef broth until the total liquid in the pot reaches half-way up the ribs.  Place lid on the vessel (if your lid doesn’t have re-basting spikes or is not completely flush, put a sheet of parchment paper between the lid and the vessel).  Place into oven.

4)  Set the temperature.  Check on the vessel in 15 minutes.  If the bubbling is any more than a “very light simmer”, reduce the heat by 10 degrees and check again in 15 minutes.  Continue reducing heat in this manner until the desired bubbling is achieved.  After 1 hour of cooking, flip the short ribs.  Total cooking time will be ~3 hours or until the meat easily pulls away from the bone and is fork-tender (if you can’t poke a spoon through the meat, it’s not done yet).  Enjoy that glass of wine while you wait …

5)  Make the pasta sauce.  Remove the ribs from the cooking liquid, and set aside under a foil tent.  Let the cooking vessel sit for a few minutes, and, using a large spoon, remove any excess fat from the surface of the cooking liquid.  Alternatively, a gravy separator would also be handy.  Using a ladle, transfer the entirety of the remaining cooking liquid into the bowl of a food processor or blender.  Process/blend until the mixture is smooth sauce.  An alternative is to simply let the vessel cool, stick it in the fridge overnight, remove the congealed fat the next day with a spoon, and then sticking the vessel it straight back into the oven at a low temp just to re-heat it before proceeding to step 6.  Meats braised like the short ribs in this recipe often benefit from a night in the fridge!

6)  Make the pasta.  Cook your pasta of choice as you perform step 7.  Use a timer so you don’t accidentally overcook your pasta (step 7 is very distracting).  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water when done.

7)  Disassemble the meat.  Remove the meat from the bones.  Using 2 forks, shred the meat into smaller pieces.  Some may also want to remove large pieces of fat as well – do as you please.

8)  Ta-da!  In a serving bowl, combine pasta, the sauce, and the meat.  If the sauce needs to be thinned (which it hasn’t for me, ever), add some of the reserved pasta water (but be careful, because you might have salted the pasta water – and both of the cheeses could be salty).  Add frozen peas until the desire pasta:pea ratio is reached.  Add grated cheese(s) until the sauce takes on a creamy, cheesy texture and the desired taste.  Season with salt and pepper if necessary (given these cheeses, you’ll likely not need much of the former).  Add chopped parsley until desired parsley density is reached (adds a little vegetal zing to the dish … I find it unnecessary).

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