Memorize This Pasta Sauce Recipe

Many many years ago, I received a copy of "The Silver Spoon," the Italian equivalent of "The Joy of Cooking" and only recently translated into English. It's the kind of fat, hardcover cookbook one receives as a wedding gift, or to find that kitschy but insanely good trifle recipe an aunt used to make. I've read the book so many times (like a classic novel) that the spine peeled off and pieces of glue and paper bits fall to the kitchen floor every time I pull it off the shelf. For me, the most-used and impactful recipe in that book has been a pasta sauce called "Amatriciana." You need to learn how to make this sauce. You will go to it again and again and it's incredibly simple.

Like all good sauces, the recipe varies a bit from town to town and kitchen to kitchen. My staples for the recipe are tomato, rosemary, garlic, bacon. Just imagine how that smells in the kitchen. Traditional Amatriciana sauce calls for guanciale (pork jowl) but for my adaptation, use good, thick-cut bacon, ham if it's all you have, and if you're really lucky, pork belly. I have no idea where I actually did learn to add fresh rosemary, but it may have been on one of my visits to Tuscany. You can omit the rosemary and you can also add sliced red onion. You can also use this as a memorable pizza sauce, topped with grated fresh Parmagiano Reggiano. For pasta, I love it with tubular versions like bucatini or ziti, which really hold on to the sauce. It's also beautiful served on top of polenta.

Writer's Note: if you are talking to someone from Lazio, DON'T call this Amatriciana or it could end badly for you. My recipe is a "tribute," if you will, but my ingredients do not match their specifications, and they sometimes take these things rather personally. I respect that and want to preserve tradition. But I also like MY sauce the best!

OK, here we go:

ANNIE'S AMATRICIANA (ah-mah-tree-chana)

3 glugs extra virgin olive oil

4 strips of good bacon, cut into cubes

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

4 cups fresh peeled and seeded tomatoes OR 2 cans Muir Glen diced or peeled tomatoes

2 sprigs fresh rosemary needles, chopped

Sea salt, black pepper, and red chili flakes, to taste

Parmegiano Reggiano cheese, grated (to top your finished dish)

Heat up the olive oil in your frying pan, and add the bacon pieces. Cook until they are halfway browned (don't crisp them). Then add the rosemary and cook until you hear it sizzle and see it soften a bit. Then add the tomatoes and continue to cook on medium-high heat. Add the diced garlic (I do this after the tomatoes so they don't crisp or burn in the oil). Add salt, pepper and chili flakes to taste. Cook on medium-low, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes (bubbling gently but not boiling)..

Conchita's Electric Chalupe

From the time I was a tiny tot, I learned that the very best, comforting foods were simple. No matter where your family is from or what your ethnic background is, our "foremothers" always had staples on hand and somehow knew how to create food magic with 3 or 4 ingredients. One of the biggest food (and humor) influences on the women in my family was our neighbor, Conchita.

Originally from El Paso,  Conchita lived down the street from us in Alexandria, Virginia, in the 1970s and early 1980s. She and my mom became quick friends and ate and laughed together all the time. They reminded me a lot of Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence, the way they would laugh and carry on, even though their lives were not easy. But man, could she cook some great food! Conchita and her husband worked their way up from just about nothing (I recall her telling me she would make "ketchup soup" to get by when they got married), but by this point her witty and shrewd husband was an officer at The Pentagon, and Conchita even had her own Mexican cooking show on our local PBS affiliate. It was called "Conchita's Electric Chalupe"!

While my mother and Conchita carried on in the kitchen, I would wander about her living room as five-year-olds do, and everything was so different from the things in my house, but very interesting to me. I remember Spanish language books, a big, sturdy, wooden dining table, a thin oriental rug that was maroon and black and violet, a black and white wedding photo of Conchita many years before, with her raven black hair contrasting against a lace veil, silvery white silk gown and a massive, cascading bouquet of white flowers. The house always, always smelled like cumin-- something we never tasted until we started hanging out at her place. Funny the details you remember after all these years. Conchita and my mom would be always be talking in hushed tones at the counter about "grown up things," or howling about a snobby neighbor or her sister's misadventures in El Paso. There was a lot of gesturing and mimicking. Sometimes Conchita and I were alone, though. When my dear grandmother died and my mom and sisters were very upset, Conchita kept me close and fed me well. And even when I knew I was being a brat, I never got my way and she gently put me in my place. She passed away just a few years ago after struggling her whole life with Type 1 diabetes. I was surprised at how hard it hit both me and my mother, and my eyes are welling up just typing this.

All I have left of Conchita are a few video blurbs in my mind, the memory of her voice, and her recipe for Spanish rice. She never really taught me, I would just watch her and in later years watch my mom make it. Everyone loves this rice: you can't go wrong. Note: use a wooden spoon to stir this. It just works better, I don't know why. And that's the way she always did it.

Conchita's Rice

a few glugs vegetable oil

1 onion, diced

1-2 cloves chopped garlic

1 green bell pepper, minced

1.5 c white rice

2 c water

1 can diced tomatoes

1 tbsp. ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in skillet, then add the onions. Cook and stir until onions are translucent, then add garlic and green pepper. Cook for a minute, continually stirring. Add dry rice to oily onion mixture, and cook until only very lightly browned. Then add tomatoes (There will be steam: Conchita would laugh maniacally behind the steam and say "I am the Wizard of Oz"!). Add cumin. Stir until liquid starts to disappear and rice begins to stick, and then add water and stir, a little at a time, until rice is tender but not mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

This rice dish is good with chicken, fish, with grilled shrimp-- well, it's good with just about everything! But here's what I love it most with: tortillas and a cheat's margarita.

Anne's Favorite Tortilla

Fresh soft corn tortillas

Refried beans (homemade or Amy's with green chile)

Salsa (fresh or if I have to buy a jar, I like Salpica brand)

Crumbled Feta cheese (or queso fresco)

Sliced radishes

Pickled onions (if you happen to have any)

Puff the tortilla up on a skillet over low heat and heat up your refried beans. Put the tortilla on a plate and smear the beans on top. Then smear a spoonful of salsa on the bean layer. Then sprinkle your cheese, radishes, and onions on top.

Cheat's  Cadillac Margarita

8 oz Simply Lime limeade or Newman's Own Limeade

1 shot tequila

1 shot Cointreau

Ice for glass and kosher salt for rim (rub lime juice on rim, pour salt on a plate, and salt the rim)

 

Enjoy this when you need some "Me Time." And watch some Carol Burnett for Conchita and Mom!






A change did me good

I cut off my long hair today. I looked so stern all the time. It was a lovely few years but kind of a pain in the ass. My hair is curly and free to be its crazy self now.  

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Today marks two years for me at the Dairy!

The friendly cow all red and white,
I love with all my heart:
She gives me cream with all her might,
To eat with apple-tart.

She wanders lowing here and there,
And yet she cannot stray,
All in the pleasant open air,
The pleasant light of day;

And blown by all the winds that pass
And wet with all the showers,
She walks among the meadow grass
And eats the meadow flowers.                             

--Robert Louis Stevenson

 My Jersey cream butter, all artistic-like

My Jersey cream butter, all artistic-like

Bovinity Divinity

Ever’body might be just one big soul,
Well it looks that a-way to me.
Everywhere that you look, in the day or night,
That’s where I’m a-gonna be, Ma,
That’s where I’m a-gonna be.
— Woody Guthrie
 And to think, I started this work in a windy field in NC, heartbroken and worried and not so sure about anything. Thank you, farm. Thank you, animals. Thank you, friends. Thank you, Anne, for not freaking out about change.

And to think, I started this work in a windy field in NC, heartbroken and worried and not so sure about anything. Thank you, farm. Thank you, animals. Thank you, friends. Thank you, Anne, for not freaking out about change.

The Truffle Snuffler

When I started to plan my orchard and research our land parcel (to see which trees will work here), I had the happy accident of discovering that our property was, in fact, excellent for truffles. Although I moved here rather recently from NC, I did know that western Oregon and Washington are among the very few places outside of Europe where truffles grow beneath the soil. And some of my friends are avid mushroom hunters and occasional told tales of a truffle discovery. There are a number of trees that will interfere with natural truffle growth, so I hired The Truffle Dog Company to come out, conduct a search with their Lagotto Romagnolo pups, and consult me on trees I should and should not plant on this very special property!

We conducted two truffle hunts and found more than two ounces of fragrant, distinctive white and black truffles. Both black and white! While our native truffles are not as large or valuable as the Italian white "Alba" truffles or French black "Perigord," I was grateful to the dogs and the woods for yielding such unique and beautiful treasures. Ours are called Oregon White and Oregon Black, and they range from the size of a pea to a golf ball. The white ones are the very fragrant, if not pungent, ones that most people would recognize the smell and taste of. Oregon Blacks are much more subtle and also more attractive to bacteria. Both perish quickly and if you find one, your best option is to use them right away.

Since I happen to work at a creamery, I churned some cultured butter and shaved the white truffles into it using a fine Microplane. I sold out of it in about an hour! I didn't seek to make a profit, as I love sharing treasures, especially the local kind, with friends and fellow Duvall dwellers, but I charged a little extra to offset the truffle dog fee!

December and January are peak truffle time, so now that I've had two great visits, I don't reckon we'll have too many more to harvest this year. But now I know they're here and I'll have something to look forward to in the dreariest and darkest of months here in Western Washington.

Should you happen upon an earthen truffle, be very careful when you wash it. I would advise putting it in a fine mesh sieve and rinsing it gently with lukewarm water. You can gently scrub off the dirt with your fingers or a baby toothbrush. Then place them on a dry paper towel, let them dry completely, and loosely wrap them in a new paper towel, and place in a glass jar or plastic container in the refrigerator. If the truffle is black, dip it in vodka before you dry it, as that will help limit their extra- rapid bacterial growth. They should last a few days and up to a week. DO NOT PUT THEM IN RICE TO KEEP THEM DRY. I am told that I should emphasize that! Bacteria factory!!

You have a clean, dry truffle. Now you have the undiluted pleasure of deciding how to eat it. You definitely want to have it with something kind of neutral so you can really taste and savor the subtle flavor. Don't steep them in oil or try to infuse! They are just too perishable for that. Did you know that most truffle oils are infused with synthetic truffle, contrived in a lab? If you could afford that oil, it was definitely synthetic! Your truffle is itty bitty, but it has a big personality. My advice is to shave it (using a Microplane or nutmeg grater) over pasta, good eggs/omelettes, or a mellow artisanal cheese. Or unsalted butter, and pour that over meat or pasta. If you stir it into a sauce or bake it, you're going to kill the flavor or bury it. Don't do it!

I HAVE A BLACK TRUFFLE!

Then grate it into a half cup of cold-pressed olive oil. Stir in some chopped anchovy. Pour this over pasta or fowl and grate some fresh Parmesan cheese to finish. Add a little sea salt and pepper as needed.

I HAVE A WHITE TRUFFLE!

Again, you can't go wrong with olive oil and a little bit of high-quality Parmesan to finish. Fowl, pasta, or risotto would welcome it with unconditional glee, as will your senses!

 

 

 

 

 

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Lolo works her business and her trainer  

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A simple black truffle, olive oil and anchovy emulsion  

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Pasta with a little olive oil, butter and shaved white truffle  

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A bounty of black and white truffles! 

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Cultured unsalted butter with shaved white truffle

Getting S.A.D.

Seed Acquisition Disorder, that is. It is that time of year.  Per Top Gun, it is possible that my ego is writing checks that my body cannot cash. For example, I should be disassembling the orchard junk pile and carefully removing the car batteries and oil cans the former owners left in the woods. I said I would do this by today. But it's my day off from the dairy. Must. Do. It.

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Midwinter

Duvall, Washington. Mt. Rainier is presiding in the distance, about 100 miles away from the Snoqualmie Valley.

 

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