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Laura’s Best Winter “Food for the Muse” Recipes: Pasta Bolognese

While I am taking this time of dormancy to write, and enjoying what Haven Writing Retreats alums are saying about creativity here on my blog, I am also cooking up a storm!  It’s the perfect balance to the act of writing because while characters and stories dwell and grow in my mind, with food creation, there is an immediately met trajectory.  I create it:  people eat it.  Complete creative arc!  We will finish the Haven Winter Blog series this week.  I hope you are enjoying these musings on the creative process.  In the meantime…here is one of my very favorite things to create, perfected over many years of trial and error…never before written down.  From my kitchen to yours!  May it fuel your muse! Buon appetito!

Now Booking the Haven Writing Retreats 2016 Schedule

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23
Sunday-Pasta-Tagliatelle-alla-Bolognese-2-640

Bolognese Sauce

(with apologies to the people of Bologna– this is an American woman’s best stab at what you do, and will always do, much better than this lowly lover of your cuisine)

I have learned to make this sauce over the years from the family I lived with in Italy, to Italian friends along the way in Chicago and Montana, and by cooking it over and over and becoming its friend, as with all favorite recipes.  It is my go-to happy meal and my family’s too.  Cook it when you need inspiration, when you feel inspired, when you’re in the dumps, when you want to dance in the kitchen for half the day, when you just…need…to…remember what it is to delight in holding beautiful lovingly grown manna in your hands and turning it into a blissful creation.  Sharpen your knives, clear the cutting board and counter, turn on some great music, (perhaps a bit of vino), and let’s go!  I serve this on the first night of my Haven Writing Retreats!  …food for the muse…

Note:  This is for a gallon of sauce!  It will feed a lot of happy people.  You can also freeze it.  I use about a quart for a box of pasta.

To begin:   The Sofrito– which is the base for many Italian sauces and soups

sofrito

Sofrito Ingredients:

2 yellow onions

4 cloves of garlic → 2 tbsp minced

4 cups chopped carrots

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

 

Additional ingredients:

1 6oz can tomato paste

2 cups organic whole milk

2 cups dry white wine

3 28 oz cans of Italian whole plum tomatoes, hand crushed

 

Meat:

4 slices very thick pancetta, cubed

2 lb ground pork (no spices)

1 lb ground beef

 

Step: #1:  Meat

Add olive oil to cover bottom of pot

Let oil heat but not smoke

Add cubed pancetta

Remove pancetta when fat is rendered and brown (should take about 4 minutes) with slotted spoon so the grease stays in the pot — Don’t burn

Add ground pork

Remove with slotted spoon once brown, leave enough grease to coat bottom (note:  you don’t want the meat to stew– you want it to brown, so add each meat so that it touches the bottom of the pan)

Add ground beef

Remove with slotted spoon once brown, leave enough grease to coat bottom (ditto)

Set all meat aside and cover with foil

Step #2: Sofrito (cooking process takes about 20-30 minutes)IMG_0125

Saute onions in pot at medium heat, add large pinch of good salt, [no pepper until end-- makes it bitter]

Once onions are transparent and beginning to brown, add garlic, stir, add carrots

Once carrots begin to stick to the bottom of the pot, add celery and parsley, don’t brown

Cook sofrito until all liquid is absorbed

Step #3:  Combine meat to sofrito, and add liquidsIMG_0135

Add all browned meat and can of tomato paste, cook 10 minutes stirring occasionally to avoid burning

Add milk and wine, let cook ~15 min or until liquids are absorbed and bubbling

Add the crushed tomatoes and remaining juice (I like to do it by hand rather than buying diced tomatoes.  It’s a feel thing.)Pasta Bolognese

Let sauce gently simmer for an hour, adding salt to taste during the processIMG_0141

 

 

 

 

Step #4:  Assembly:

Bring water to a rolling boil in stock pot, add salt

Cook pasta until al dente– This pasta sauce can be served with any hearty pasta.  I like papardelle, penne, and rigatoni the best.


Strain in colander

Add sauce to stock pot and warm on low

Keeping burner on low, add pasta, grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste (a cup or so), fresh ground pepper to taste, and stir lightly until pasta is coated (this is key, and too many Americans skip this step and pile the sauce on naked noodles.  Bad form!  The sauce never really marries with the pasta.)

Plate and garnish with fresh chopped Italian parsley

Serve additional fresh ground pepper and grated Reggiano for people to add themselves.

YOU WILL HAVE VERY HAPPY PEOPLE AT YOUR TABLE…who will all know that they are eating food made with love.

Enjoy!

yrs.

Laura (and my daughter, Ella, who cooked this with me, took the photos, and recorded the recipe which had never before been written down…and told me a long time ago that my food was “made with love.”  High compliment.)

 

pomodoroNow Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

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Laura’s Best “Food for the Muse” Winter Recipes– Pork Tenderloin Wellington

pork_wellington

Pork Tenderloin Wellington:

A quick and easy meal that is sublime winter comfort food!

Ingredients:

Pork tenderloin

Puff Pastry—thawed but still cool (store-bought is the standard. It’s in the freezer section and it only takes a half hour or so to defrost)

2 cups dehydrated apples—not the totally dry kind (that’s me avoiding the word m**st)

4 tbs good mustard

8 slices prosciutto

1 tbs fresh minced thyme

1 tbs fresh minced rosemary

2 cloves minced garlic

1 egg lightly beaten in small bowl for egg wash

Procedure:

1)      Lay a sheet of wax paper on the counter

Cover with slices of prosciutto, overlapping a bit

Cover with another layer of wax paper

Roll thin and smooth with rolling pin

Remove top layer of wax paper

2)      Put pork (both slices of tenderloin) on the prosciutto, side by side

3)      Chop apples in food processor until size of…like a Tic tac or an Advil gel tab or like…half a sugar cube ish

4)      Add half the garlic, thyme, rosemary mixture to chopped apples and put between loins

5)      Roll prosciutto over loins tightly

6)      Flour another part of the counter

7)      Spread out puff pastry and roll out to fit over pork

8)      Add the other half of your herb/garlic mixture to mustard and spread over pastry

9)      Put prosciutto covered pork on pastry and cover tightly, sealing ends and middle seam with egg wash

10)   Brush with egg wash

11)   Use leftover pastry for decoration with cookie cutter designs, and brush with egg wash

12)   Cook in preheated oven at 375 until 140 degrees, (30-40 min.), or remove and rest 10 minutes

Note:  since meat likes to be room temp to cook, and puff pastry likes to be cold when it goes into the oven, you don’t want to pre-prepare this and store in your fridge.  Assemble it, cook it, and enjoy!  I’m serving this at my next Haven Writing Workshop for Haven Writing Retreats alums writing a book.  They’ll need the extra love!  yrs. Laura

*inspired by Alton Brown

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Now Booking 2016 Haven Writing Retreats in glorious Whitefish, Montana:

February 24-28 (one spot left)
June 8-12
June 22-26
September 7-11
September 21-25
October 5-9
October 19-23

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Haven Gravy Giveaway!

Thank you to all who participated in my Haven Gravy Giveaway! We had some very interesting submissions, all in response to the challenge: why do you want my fabulous turkey gravy recipe? The prize? (aside from the recipe, of course) is a discount to a 2015 Haven Retreat in Montana. I’m pleased to announce the winter: Laura Probert from Bethesda, MD who responded with a 500 word poem about why she doesn’t necessarily want my gravy recipe as much as she wants to come to Haven! She gets both! You can learn more about her great work as a physical therapist and coach here: Bodyworks. And find her here too!


My next Haven Retreat will be February 25-March 1.  There’s still room but it’s booking fast! Give yourself the gift of creativity, voice, self-expression, community, support and inspiration!  You do not have to be a writer to come.  Just a seeker.  Gravy not included.

Now for the secret revealed!

Lining the Pan with your root vegetable gravy thickener...mmmm.  GOLD!

Lining the Pan with your root vegetable gravy thickener…mmmm. GOLD!

Laura’s 20 years-in-the-making Delicious Coveted and Begged-for Turkey Gravy Recipe

(Not heart smart, but who cares.  It’s one or two meals a year!)

The secret to this liquid gold requires some prep time but it pays off.  Oh, does it pay off.  The idea is this:  you dice an abundance of vegetables and line the roasting pan with them, cover with a rack and rest the turkey on the rack so that the juices drip into the vegetables during the cooking process.  Then, while the turkey is resting, you puree the entirety of the pan ingredients, grease and all, in a blender, and that is your gravy thickener!  It should be illegal.  The base is your reduced giblet stock.  It’s so easy and no stress and no raw flour ick and no corn starch yuck, and no intimidating de-glazing and no gizmo-dependent grease/juice separating… I’m telling you.  It’s the BEST.  Don’t be intimidated by the prep work.  I chop all the vegetables for the pan and for the stock the night before and put them in respective zip-loc bags so that Thanksgiving morning, I don’t have to do any more chopping than necessary for other preparations, like stuffing etc.  I strongly recommend this.  I never used to do this, and always was stymied by how long it takes to do this prep the morning of.  Cuts down your turkey morning prep by an hour!

Ingredients for roasting pan:  (if you do this the night before, put all of the vegetable out-takes (see parenthesis below) into a zip-loc bag for your giblet stock, so that you have 2 ziplocs– one for stock, one for pan)

Peel and dice:

1 Turnip

1 Rutabaga

1 Parsnip

2 Carrots (use the ends plus another carrot for giblet stock)

4 Yukon Gold Potatoes

2 Celery stalks (use the outer tougher stalks for giblet stock)

2 Shallot cloves

2 Garlic cloves

1 Leek (use the white part, and some of the green.  Wash and reserve the tougher top greens for giblet stock)

1 yellow Onion

4 crimini Mushrooms (reserve the stems for giblet stock)

1 cup chopped (Yep):  Parsley (Italian flat leaf), Sage, Rosemary and Thyme—fresh (use the stems/twigs for giblet stock)

1 stick Butter

1 cup dry white Wine

Ingredients for final touches:

Madeira

Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Liquid:

    • Melt butter in small saucepan and add white wine.  Turn off heat once combined.

Lining your roasting pan:  (gravy gold)

    • Dump the diced veggies into the roasting pan.
    • Pour a cup or so of the warm butter and wine mixture from stove.  Salt/pepper.
    • Stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula so that all the veggies are coated. (you don’t want them to dry out during the cooking process, so remember to baste them as well as the bird)
    • Add any additional chopped herbs.  This should coat the pan about an inch thick. 
    • Put the rack on top of this, flat.
    • Put turkey on top and cover with additional butter wine, salt and pepper
Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below...

Bird stuffed, racked, seasoned, ready to shed its love on its veggies below…

Giblet stock for gravy base

Giblet stock for gravy base

Giblet Stock:

Ingredients:  (Don’t cheat and use canned broth.  This stock has a very specific flavor and makes the gravy sooooooo good)

Giblets (The gross stuff in the turkey cavity, but get over it.  Your hand is in a turkey cavity!  That’s already gross.)

1 tbs. olive oil

Whole pepper corns

Out-takes from all of the above vegetables and herbs (described in parenthesis above.  Best to put them in zip-loc bags while dicing the rest for the roasting pan the night before, to make prep time faster on Thanksgiving morning.)

Additional sprigs of rosemary and thyme, roughly chopped, stems/twigs included

1 garlic clove– crushed

1 medium yellow onion quartered

1 Yukon gold potato quartered

      • Heat a large saucepan, add olive oil, not butter—too greasy.  When hot, put in the liver.  This needs to be cooked through first.  Then deglaze the pan with Madeira—1/8 cup or so.  This stuff has a lot of flavor and you don’t want it to overwhelm, but it’s perfect for this feast.  Let it cook down—you don’t want the next ingredients to stew in pan, but to sear like the liver seared.  (you might have to add a bit of olive oil again to give it something to cook in)
      • Add the neck and other organs—brown
      • Now add the veggie out-takes plus the additional veggies/herbs described above.
      • Cover with water, a cup of wine, and add a few tablespoonsful of whole peppercorns and a few bay leaves.
      • The trick to any stock is to bring it to a boil, and then drop the heat down so that it is just simmering.  This is going to simmer all
        Swimming in turkey goodness.  Now for the blender...

        Swimming in turkey goodness. Now for the blender…

        Veggies from roasting pan to blender-- pureed heaven

        Veggies from roasting pan to blender– pureed heaven

        day.  If it gets too low, then add more water.  Taste it as it cooks to make sure the flavors are coming along.  Add salt/pepper to taste.

      • Keep to about 8 cups total

Gravy:  (drum roll…HERE IT IS!!!  My very own special, time-evolved gravy recipe!)

      • When the turkey is done, remove from the rack and let rest, covered in foil.
      • Remove the rack and put all the pan-liner veggies/fluids in a blender and puree
      • Put a large bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout) in the sink with a colander on top of it.
      • Strain the giblet stock.
      • Pour the stock into a small/medium saucepan—should be about 8 cups of stock
      • Add 3 tbs. or so of Madeira and lots of fresh ground pepper (a tbs. or so)
      • Cook down for a few minutes.
      • Now grab your whisk, and whisk in the puree, little by little until you get the right consistency. 

It is absolute magic and you never need any flour or anything else for thickener!!!  Secret shared!  Now pass it on to future generations!  Say you learned it from an old friend who wrote.

 

And here...it...is!

And here…it…is!

Gravy happiness.  Happy cooking to all!  May you share it with loved ones!

Gravy happiness. Happy cooking to all! May you share it with loved ones!

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Loveletter to NYC (and to Montana)

As a Chicago girl, I know I’m not supposed to say this…but I love New York City. I’ve been there ten times in two years, and this time it was for fun. Everything about it was fun. I met amazingly generous people who are doing amazingly inspiring things with their lives in the world of art and media. I left half day chunks to myself and went to the De Kooning exhibit at MOMA (which I highly recommend).  I hung out in the Madison Square Park dog park with my dear friend (a culture unto itself), poked around Chinatown and ate dumplings, walked and walked and walked until shin splints had me crying uncle and justifying a two hour sushi meal to relieve them. Ate a ridiculous four course dinner at Eleven Madison Park which my culinary genius friends/hosts think is currently the best food in NYC.  And I was so inspired by Lee and Bob Woodruff’s Stand up for Heroes gala which had me staring up-close-and-personal at people I idolize like Katie Couric (who I met!!! and gushed all over like an idiot), Bill Clinton, John Stewart, Rick Gervais, Bruce friggin Springsteen, Seth Meyer, Brian Williams… The city stuns me.

And yet, flying home into our little valley, I love that I’m limited here in Montana by the possibilities of what I can hold in my hand and pay for with a credit card. I love that the currency comes in snow plows and back hoes and chickens and horses who are easy keepers. I love that it’s going to get hairy now as the snow twirls in gusts around my office window. I love that I have a fire going and that I’ll need to keep it going most of the winter, propane prices being what they are. I love that my head will be cold in my bed at night and that I’ll see my breath when I wake. I love that it is hard here. I love who I am here. People kept asking me in New York why I have lived here so long. Why not come back to the land of the sophisticate, opportunity, options in full feast. “I trust myself in Montana. I trust the currency. I trust what it asks of me and I trust how I answer its questions.” But THANK YOU, New York, for one heck of a week. Maybe it’s because of weeks like this that I can receive Montana. yrs. Laura

Lee and Bob Woodruff raise money for wounded vets in a fabulous evening of entertainment-- Beacon Theater, NYC

Bob and Lee Woodruff with Bruce!

This is NOT with a zoom. Almost lost my lunch.

Today Show anchor, Natalie Morales at 30 Rock. This has been a dream since Jane Pauley Days-- look what she's holding...


Stone Crab and Uni at Eataly-- mecca!

Art Installation at MOMA

A dumpling walk in Chinatown

Thanks Sarah Brokaw for all your support of my book! Go buy hers: FORTYTUDE! So empowering!

A bastion of publishing-- the Hearst Building where I met with some FAB editors from Good Housekeeping!


This was my favorite!
Such expression. Here I go back to Montana….

I'll take the M train home now...

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Holiday Baking Panic

My Pear Brandy Applesauce

As I’ve written before on this blog, I am not much of a baker.  Mostly it’s because I’m too stubborn to follow directions (I know, my loss.)   I like to riff on recipes, and that can work beautifully on the stove-top, but not so much when it comes to measuring out ingredients that make things rise and lift and puff.  So this time of year, I do things like make applesauce and add pear brandy to it and think pretty highly of myself. 

NOT my Bouche de Noel

Yesterday, at school pick up, one of my children announced, inbetween “can we go get ice cream,” and “my boots fell apart and I had to duct tape them together, but that’s okay, they look pretty cool that way because I used purple duct tape”….this little benign morsel of holiday cheer: “We’re having a party in French class tomorrow, and I promised my teacher I’d bring a Bouche de Noel (otherwise known as a Yule Log– you know, with the meringue mushrooms.) That’s what I get for addicting myself, and consequently my family, to the Food Network.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. This after an entire day wrapping presents and putting up garlands. Fun in theory, until your back starts to hurt, and you start swearing at tape dispensers and can’t find the scissors for the fiftieth time. “You want to make a Bouche de Noel TONIGHT?” Yup, those little eyes begged from the back seat right there in my rearview mirror. Ugh.

Bouche de Noel is one of those things that I’ve planned on making one day. Like, when I have grandchildren or need to impress a visiting queen or something. It involves layering and rolling and whimsy and frosting prowess– things I aspire to have one day. But not last night. Last night I wanted to pour out a glass of vino and lie on the couch by the fire and watch old Christmas musicals like White Christmas. Still, I’m a sucker for the word “Yes” when it comes to delivering in the way of homemade goodies and my children’s wildest dreams…so to the grocery store we went (mind you, I’d just been to Costco, something I dread– I have a hard time with the smells of hotdogs and radial tires comingling).

And you know…sometimes you just can’t be that homemade kinda gal– not this time of year– not when you start to resent this season that is supposed to be about love and giving and receiving and “dreaming,” as my father used to say with a tear in his eye, gazing up at the Christmas tree. So I gave myself a colossal break– grabbed the Betty Crocker and the pre-made frosting and the whipped cream in a can and called it good.

My child said, “Oh, I feel kind of sad, not making it from scratch. We’ve never made a box cake before. It won’t be made with love.” Tough crackers, I wanted to say, but instead I said something like, “Well sometimes you need to give yourself a break. It’ll still be made with love. It’s all in the intention.” Then I grabbed another box of cake mix just in case, because I had zero confidence in this “loving” endeavor.

I’d seen Tyler Florence make a Bouche de Noel recently on TV and I recalled needing to make a sheet cake, and then cut it in half making thin layers to cover in whipped cream and roll. (maybe we could just get a bunch of Ho-hos and line them up, yes? No.) I remember something about the dough needing to be especially springy and moist (my least favorite word). It said right there on the box: “Moist.” This, as a result of putting the called for cup of vegetable oil into your cake mix, and no, not EVOO. So I grabbed a bottle of Wesson oil– something I hadn’t seen since about 1972. And off we went.

After dumping out two attempts, a few hours later, this is what we came up with. Not so bad. My kid made little French flags taped to toothpicks instead of woodland meringues and we smiled at each other, pleased. “You’re a lot different than you used to be,” he said. “You used to be more Martha Stewart-ish.” It’s true. “It’s important to have range,” I said. Thank you, in this case, Betty Crocker.

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Eataly– Bless you, Mario Batali.


I love markets. Whenever I’m travelling, whether it’s in a third world country or in a massively gentrified city, I try to go to the central market. It not only is a feast for the senses, but it holds the pulse of the place. One of the highlights of my book tour, and I mean SERIOUS HIGHLIGHT, was dinner with my fabulous agent and gal-around-town New Yorker, at Eataly. Run don’t walk. This is the sort of place that makes me want to weep for joy whilst in its walls, and weep for deprivation whilst back in Montana– where the grocery stores just don’t have live uni or kobe beef or towers of Parmigiano Reggiano or…well, you get the picture. Here’s the scoop:

Eataly, the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world, is finally here in New York. Two years after Oscar Farinetti opened his groundbreaking food and wine market in Turin, Italy, he has teamed up with Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich of Batali-Bastianich (B&B) Hospitality Group to transform a 50,000 square – foot space in the Flatiron District into New York City’s premier culinary mecca.

The marketplace located at 200 Fifth Avenue (the former Toy Building) is the city’s ultimate destination for food lovers to shop and taste and savor – an extravaganza includes a premier retail center for Italian delicacies and wine, a culinary educational center, and a diverse slate of boutique eateries. This gourmand’s delight features cured meats and cheeses, fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, fresh fish, handmade pasta, desserts and baked goods and coffees.



Here’s what The New York Times has to say about it.

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Food Can Bring You Back

Thank to all of you who sent in recipes to my Sentimental Recipe Contest. I admit that the stories alone were food for me. As fall tucks us into Montana and the fever to spend long afternoons in the kitchen takes over, I will look forward to trying them all.

To that end, I’ll share a sentimental recipe moment with you that happened just yesterday.

I have not cooked anything in recent history that made me want to weep like this dish did. Where every simple item blends so perfectly with the next that the result is akin to Violet Beauregarde’s reaction to Willie Wonka’s magical gum, hitting on a four course dinner with every chew. One bite: and there it all was, the caulifower, and the lemons, the olive oil, the oregano, the cinnamon, the tomatoes, the onions, the garlic, the feta. And I was back in Greece, where I spent the summer of my 19th year, sitting at an outdoor cafe with cats crawling around my feet, just waking to my senses. I hadn’t relived that moment in over half my life and there it was. There I was. Greece in Montana.

It began as an exercise in trying to figure out how to get my kids to eat a new vegetable. I chose cauliflower and I remembered that I’d loved a particular dish in Greece, went on line, found what seemed like the right ingredients to that particular dish, and made the recipe. By the end of the day, I’d completed an entire casserole-sized portion of this fantastic dish– forget my kids. I’ll make it for them later this week. Sentimental recipe indeed.
Kounoupithi (Baked Cauliflower With Feta and Tomato Sauce)
By Cookgirl on October 27, 2005

• Total Time: 40 mins
• Serves: 4-6
About This Recipe
“Cinnamon is one of the intriguing and delightful ingredients in this Greek dish.”
Ingredients
o 4 tablespoons olive oil
o 3 garlic cloves, minced
o 1 large yellow onions, chopped
o 30 ounces Italian plum tomatoes (I used diced canned tomatoes)
o 1 bay leaves (I used 3)
o 2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano (I used fresh)
o 2 inches cinnamon sticks
o salt
o fresh ground black pepper
o 1 large heads cauliflower
o 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (I used 2 tbs)
o 5 ounces feta cheese (I used 8 ounces)
Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a saute pan, gently cook the garlic and onion in half of the olive oil until soft. Add the tomatoes, herbs, spice and seasonings. Cover pan and simmer 5 minutes.
3. Cut up the cauliflower into florets and stir into the tomato sauce mixture. Cover pan and cook another 10 minutes.
4. Transfer the mixture into a shallow, ovenproof dish, and drizzle with the remaining olive oil and the lemon juice.
5. Grate the feta cheese on the top and garnish with black pepper.
6. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes. (I cooked mine another 15 minutes until the water from the tomatoes was absorbed and the cauliflower was soft.)

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Ceres’ Table– Fantastic New Chicago Restaurant!

Ceres’ Table: 4882 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640 773. 878. 4882

Ceres is the ancient Roman goddess of the harvest. She was born in Sicily, like our chef.

Recently I had the pleasure of dining at a new Chicago restaurant in a part of town that you might not stumble upon if you aren’t a local. The Sicillian born owner, Giuseppe Scurato (formerly of Boka and Landmark) brings the freshest, most local ingredients to his tradition of Sicilian cuisine, which given its trade history and geographical orientation, is quite different from my idea of Italian food. Sicilians have long enjoyed spices and flavors not indicative of other Italian regions, so I found myself eating unlikely items– currants, saffron, sardines, walnuts– and in preparations I’d never seen in my year living in Florence. Sicilians eat very little meat and the menu reflected that, full of halibut, swordfish, scallops, cod, and crab.

These were some of our favorites: (but it was all food that made you want to weep it was so good!)
Day boat scallops with lobster agnolotti, baby carrots, spring onions, cress and lobster cream sauce.

Corzetti (hand-stamped pasta) with fennel, anchovies, currants and pinenuts.

Anancini– rice balls made with artichoke and saffron rissoto, filled with taleggio.

Yukon Gold potato gnocchi, with a pesto Genovese, green beans, toasted walnuts, and parmagiano reggiano.

 
It was the kind of menu I love: the prices were very fair, and the portions perfect for sharing. My friends and I were joined by Giuseppe’s wife, Carolyn, who graciously walked us through the menu and suggested her house favorites, and since she lives with the chef, in this case “house” really means “house.” She is intimately apart of these dishes and you can see the pride in her eyes for what she and her husband have co-created.

In short, we ended up ordering most of the small plates, and feasting for hours all the way through to Giuseppe’s delicious homemade Limoncello.

Ceres is getting great reviews all over Chicagoland, and I was thrilled that my local friends were savvy enough to find this little gem.  It’s nice to have foodies in every port!

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Extending THE SENTIMENTAL RECIPE CONTEST! Send in by 10/10


In my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS, I include a recipe that I hold near and dear. Not because it’s particularly hard or original, but because of what it represents to me. It is the tomato sauce commonly made in the summer by Tuscans and put up in jars for the winter. They call it the Pomarola sauce, and for it they use the freshest tomatoes from as close to the sea as they can find. The goal: to capture summer.

To me the Pomarola sauce captures much more than that. It is a symbol of a year in my life in which I found my heart language in a place and a family far from home. It is a symbol then, of finding home inside myself in a time of my life when I was morphing from child to adult. It is with this heart language that I went into the “rest of my life” and it was this heart language which I revisited with my daughter 21 years later (a few years ago). I had longed for it for all those 21 years, aching for it, naming it as the most important year of my life, yet not granting my return. I had realized a few dreams, some of which felt within my control: Getting married, having kids, building a home in Montana. Writing books. But I couldn’t seem to get those books published.

So after years of longing for it, I realized that I needed to stop basing my happiness on things completely outside of my control. I could write the books, and I could submit them for publication, but the rest was out of my hands. I decided to embrace the freedom of this surrender. And I started to look at the un-realized dreams of my life that I COULD control. Going back to Italy, with my daughter, to live with this wonderful family, was just that.

So I booked it and went.
One afternoon, my Italian host mother, Milvia, showed us how to make this sauce, how to can it, what to look for in ingredients. It was magical.

Little did I know that my new philosophy of surrender would be put to the test in a way I never dreamed, when my husband announced he wasn’t sure he loved me anymore and wanted to move out—this just two days after my return home from Italy.

There began a season of my life depicted in my book, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, wherein I got the chance to practice what it is to embrace the present moment in a place of creating, not wanting. Of claiming responsibility for my own well-being despite what was going on with my husband. Of focusing on beauty and freedom and even joy. On p. 295 you will find a scene in which I make this sauce with my children, shopping for just the right ingredients, and spending the day up to our elbows in tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil, parsley. carrots, celery and pots of boiling water. On p. 300 you will find the recipe.

In re-visiting those pages now, six months after my book’s publication, I find it not coincidence that we came up with twenty-one jars of sauce. Instead, it feels quite deliberate, subconsciously. As if each jar represented of year of not claiming a dream that was completely within my control, and focusing so hard on another dream that was not.

So I pass on this message to you, in the form of a recipe. What is your Italy? What do you deprive yourself of that you CAN create in your life? What place do you long to re-visit in your life? So often I find that there is the nurturing element of food attached to our fondest memories and even our wildest dreams. Afternoons in a kitchen with a grandmother, a holiday feast with family in town from far-away places, picnics on a beach, a particular glass of lemonade. I’d love for you to share those sentimental recipes here. And a scene or story that shares why you hold that food, that memory, so dear.

The winner will be randomly selected and will receive a free signed copy of THIS IS NOT THE STORY OU THINK IT IS. I look forward to this sharing. Yrs. Laura

My Italian Family’s Pomarola Sauce Recipe
This is a light sauce that is the epitome of the summer harvest and is usually canned to capture summer in the middle of winter. It must be made with the freshest Roma tomatoes to get the right consistency, preferably from somewhere close to the sea.

Sauce for one pound of pasta. Serves six.
2 1/2 pounds unpeeled ripe Roma tomatoes
1 onion
1 clove garlic (Americans generally use more garlic than is the Italian custom.)
1 stalk celery- just the white part, not the leaves
1-2 carrots (depending on how big they are)
3-5 leaves basil
3 sprigs flat-leaf parsley- no stem
A pinch of salt
A pinch of white sugar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cut tomatoes in half. Cut vegetables into small pieces. Rough-cut basil and parsley with scissors. Put all ingredients into stockpot. Simmer, covered, very slowly until the carrot is soft and can be easily mashed with a fork (about an hour and a half). Then pass everything through a passatutto, or food mill– a wide-mouthed hand-cranked strainer. Keep turning the passatutto until only the seeds and skins are left. Then put the sauce back on the stove until it reaches a boil. You may need to cook it for a bit longer to ensure desired consistency.

If you’d like to make a big batch of this sauce for canning, then adjust ingredients proportionately, adding an extra hour or so before passing the ingredients through the food mill, and after returning the sauce to the stove. Working with eleven pounds of tomatoes at a time is a good amount.

At this point you can serve or keep it in the refrigerator for a week, or put it in jars. Use the ones that have a self-sealing lid– which pops as the sauce cools and provides a vacuum seal, making it possible to store for months. The wonder of this sauce is in its fresh ingredients and its simplicity.

Here’s a blurb for my book written by my dear friend and literary hero. If you haven’t read his “Brother’s K,” you simply must.
“With amiability, wit, and a modicum of self-pity, Laura Munson’s memoir reminded me of the twenty-one jars of organic tomato sauce she and her children hand-made. A chapter is like a jar lid: if it doesn’t pop as the contents cool, the seal is faulty and the sauce is worthless. Exhausted from their all-day effort, mother and kids sipped hot chocolates and listened as twenty-one jars cooled. To their satisfaction, they counted twenty-one distinct pops. In reading this brave memoir I counted about the same.” —David James Duncan, author of The Brothers K and God Laughs & Plays

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