Wednesday is Pasta Day at our house. Growing up very Italian there was a LOT of pasta, and for a long time I was fairly tired of it. In the 80s and 90s there was a trend to the Alta Cucina style of Italian food, the dishes of Northern Italy where my family is from, and Tuscan cuisine became a thing. Northern cooking favors meats, game meats, venison, wild boar, pheasant, rabbit, mushrooms, truffles, butter, cream, cheese, and polenta. It is not overly spicy or hot.These were the dishes that my dad's Tuscan immigrant parents cooked.
My mom on the other hand, liked things hot. She liked peppers, and spices, hot sauces. Her family started out in Louisiana, the after a brief sojourn in Canada they moved down river to New Orleans. They were French Creoles and their cooking embraced alllllllll the spices of everyone they came across in Louisiana that became part of our family. They picked up some Northern Italians too along the way, but they kept the hot stuff. In fact she and my dad used to make a dash for take-out to a place called The Hot House back when I was a kid. We never got any as they used to tell us kids we wouldn't like it. Wrong!
I inherited her taste for hot, which is why I love this Southern Italian ragu, which uses Italy's version of Sriracha/red chili paste, Calabrian sambal oelek. If you don't have the Calabrian stuff, any good spicy red pepper paste works so when you see this ingredient you can sub in Harissa, Sriracha, basically any sambal oelek paste. If you don't like too much heat but want something milder you can try smaller amounts of it, or use some dried red pepper flakes. Your call.
In place of the usual meat this can be made with jackfruit (works great) , any ground meat substitute, (I like Beyond Meat) , ground mushrooms, or you can just use plain old ground meat.
So here we go.
Ragu With Calabrian Sambal Oelek
Here's What You Need:
1 lb of ground Beyond Meat, or any meat substitute, or yes, you can of course use meat.
1 onion thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves or shallots peeled and crushed with a knife
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs (generous) Calabrian sambal oelek
1 28 oz can of peeled tomatoes with their juice. I use San Marzano tomatoes for this.
1/2 lb of lasagna noodles. Use the kind that needs to be boiled. There is evidently a type I saw at the market the other day that says No Boil...Do NOT USE those. Break the noodles into 1 to 2 inch pieces before boiling them.
1/4 cup of Cabernet or Merlot wine
1 tsp fennel seed
1 cup of ricotta
1 lemon, zested
flaky salt ( I use Maldon)
1/4 cup olive oil and a bit extra for a drizzle.
Here's What To Do:
Heat the olive oil on medium.
Add in the onion and shallots/or garlic. Add a bit of salt and saute until they start to soften, this takes about 5 minutes.
Now add in your ground meat substitute. You want it to start to brown, but don't cook it through.
A note about browning a non meat substitute. If you want the caramelized effect of browned ground meat without using meat sprinkle a pinch or two of sugar on it as you are browning. That crisps things up nicely.
Add in your Calabrian Sambal Oelek.
Add in the red wine and stir things up to make sure nothing is sticking or burning.
Add your tomatoes and their juices. You can either crush them with your hands while adding them or use a potato masher once they're in, it just depends on how much rage you have about the world situation bottled up and how you want to express it. I go back and forth on this one.
Now cook on medium low until the tomatoes break down and the "meat" is cooked through. This takes about 1/2 hour. Midway through, add some salt and pepper to taste.
Boil your pasta.
While it's boiling, toast the fennel seeds in a small skillet until they are fragrant (this does NOT take long.)
When they're toasted, crush them or grind them.
When your pasta is cooked, drain it, and add it to the ragu, toss it coat it in the sauce.
Serve it up with a nice dollop of ricotta.
Sprinkle with lemon zest, the toasted fennel, the flaky sea salt and pepper. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil for the finale.
This is so good, hot, spicy, a bit sweet, just perfect. In fact writing this up, I'll be making this for us tomorrow. It's also great as leftovers.
So there you have it , if you've got the ingredients this can be on the table within an hour. That to me on a work day, is damn near perfect timing!
Coming up next, I'm finally getting to those caramelized pears.