Friday, October 30, 2009

Julia Zarankin and White Ragu Recipe

Julia Zarankin was a graduate student in Comparative Literature at Princeton and I met her when I was the manager of the Slavic Department. With her background as a Russian-Canadian and a dissertation advisor in Slavic, she was often in my office and I got to know her as a very gentle, incredibly sweet being – always with a smile even during her most high-stressed moments. Her father, noted pianist, Boris Zarankin, came to perform Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata (partnered with a violinist - the wife of Julia's advisor) on campus, performed after a short reading of Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata by distinguished Tolstoy scholar (and my then boss), Caryl Emerson. A very impressive performance and we had expected a handful of attendees and instead had to resort to standing room only for some.

When I left Princeton to move to Italy, Julia gave me a cookbook, Bologna Mia (by Loretta Paganini), as a parting gift and this book has been an invaluable source of not only wonderful recipes, but tips on where to buy ingredients in the food markets of this city, and I often (in cooler weather) make the following white ragu recipe for guests. Even the hard-core Italian palates are impressed with it.

Thanks, Julia, for this gift and also for the recording of your father’s music. I think of you often and look forward to a visit from you one day! (beautiful to listen to, though a dated version - without those mentioned above)

Bolognese White Ragu – Christine’s slightly altered version
Make this when you have a few hours to spend in the kitchen and want the house to smell like an Italian kitchen. Friends Marsha and Tom have been waiting for this one.

For 8 people as a primo, 4 -6 as main course
Ingredients are not exact - use slightly more or less of anything

1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (I chop each of these separately in the food processor).

I.5 pounds of ground pork
1 - ½ - ¾ “ hefty slab of prosciutto, finely chopped by hand (you can request this at the meats department at Wegman’s and they may put it through the grinder for you)

½ bottle of dry white wine (sip the other half)
3 cups of chicken stock
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 (or slightly less to use to heat up leftovers) pint of heavy whipping cream
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1.5 teaspoon coarse or sea salt, or sale grosso
½ teaspoon ground white pepper

In large stockpot, cook the carrot, onion and celery together in the olive oil until the onion is transparent. Add the pork and prosciutto until brown. Add the wine, reduce the heat and simmer until wine evaporates – up to one hour – stirring regularly. Do the same with the stock. When the meat has become heavy on the spoon during stirring, add the tomato paste and cream, season with salt and pepper. On the lowest heat possible, stir occasionally for at least 45 minutes to keep meat from sticking.

Serve with fresh garganelli pasta (go to the fresh pasta section of the supermarket- buy enough to feed up to 8 as a primo, or 4-6 as the main course). Boil the pasta in heavily salted water and mix with ragu in a bowl before serving. The author recommends boiling the pasta with asparagus tips but I haven’t tried that yet, and the flavors are enough and should be enjoyed as is.

Note – Americans tend to drown their pasta in sauce. In Italy, they know to coat the pasta in the sauce and make a greater effort to blend the two together. A tiny bit of sauce can go a long way.

Another note – the red Ragu Bolognese sauce still maintains great consistency and flavor when frozen. If you have leftover white ragu sauce – I recommend that you eat it in the following day or two and add additional cream when heating to restore the consistency. Because of the cream, it does not freeze well.

Buon appetito!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Italian Autumn 2009

Our region of Italy, Emilia Romagna, had the loveliest fall weather - it had been very warm until last week when the temps finally dipped into the 40s at night, though it is still sunny and high 50s in the daytime. Here are some photos of the season - the chestnut festivals are in Scascoli (the first 8 photos, where they also hold a American style western riding competition and where we hope to be living this time next year) and a neighboring town which is so small they roasted the chestnuts in a parking lot. The night photo is an aperitivo on a friend's property that overlooks Bologna. Ray is ready for Halloween... oh, and oranges are in season.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Blogging has become so popular - here are a couple from Andrea's students. I asked Sky if she would make our audition tape for Househunters International as they have been emailing me frequently asking for one. They must have a shortage of Americans abroad who are buying real estate. With the dollar at €1.47, I can understand why.

If you can believe it, we still haven't made an offer on the old farmhouse. We plan to do so just after the weekend. I am having to drag Andrea through the mud to do this. Thank God he wasn't stuck in this way before our wedding. He just needs to come around, which seems to take longer the older HE gets. (Or maybe I am losing my powers of persuasion as I get older. That makes sense, hagnag that I am.)

Fall still hasn't come to Bologna. Sleveless tops and sandals are still the rage. Hitting the chestnut festival in our (hopefully) new hometown this Sunday. Missing the colors of the NE corridor.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nobel Prize Chemistry

Good luck, Uncle Koji. May this be your year. The Nobel announcement comes this week. (...a famous and talented magician....ummm, I remember a show at a Thanksgiving dinner in Ringoes a lifetime ago...)

Follow up: maybe next year. :-

Saturday, October 3, 2009

We're outta here - good bye Bologna

We accepted an offer for our apartment last evening. We are very happy! We had spent the afternoon at the house in Scascoli (my flavor of the month) and then after receiving the offer took a drive out there to see the property in the full-moon light. This is the house I really want and it is a 30 minute drive to Bologna and so would not be a drastic change of life for us (the little white door you see above the light fixture is where a small statue of the Madonna is supposed to sit - we will have to go to a convent shop to buy one).

I hope we can make an offer on Monday that is acceptable as real estate in Italy is quite different than in the US. First, if you are looking to buy a house, you have to contact the listing agent as there is no such thing as multiple listings. So you meet a lot of agents and some are good, some are great and some are a disaster. As a seller, you only have one agent that shows your house, and we used a professional gentleman that we bought and sold from twice before. But now we have to deal with someone new for the place we want. The hitch is, you can set the closing date any time and waiting 12 months for one is quite common. So our buyer wants up to a year to close on our place. Now we just have to get the seller of the house we want to agree to that, with the hope that it comes much sooner. But we know he wants to buy a new place and will be less than happy with such an agreement.

So the flavor this month is an old farm house with an attached barn that has been converted into a loft space. There is a nice old, part with small rooms and old, wavey brick floors, a guest room and three baths, all redone very nicely and even combining old ceiling beams with steel ones. The barn has been converted to a loft and dining area - a funky layout with a nice combination of old and new. The exterior still needs to be done and we would have to put in a terrace and plant the 2000 meter garden. The house is a bi-familiare and so attached in the back to another residence. We met those owners yesterday - a retired couple who use the house only for the summer. The village itself (and this is where Andrea hesitates) is small - perhaps 100 residents, and not even a coffee bar in sight. But the bread man comes with his wagon (er, van) every day so at least we know we can get some fresh rolls if we don't want to drive out of town for food. This Sunday is the chestnut festival that we attended exactly one year ago and posted on my blog - who'd have thought we would have come around to actually wanting to live in a place where we once went to for the quaint break in the countryside.