Thursday, February 27, 2014

Tip-toeing through My Magazines
What’s cooking? Rigatoni with Abruzzi-Style Lamb Sauce

I spent a few days last week going through a recent issue of Food & Wine magazine. Okay, so it wasn’t really a recent issue. It was the March 2013 issue, and I was just getting around to it. I do this sort of thing with my subscription to The New Yorker, too – I figure the articles are interesting and informative and they’ll still be that way in another six months. Although occasionally I’m reminded of a New Yorker cartoon I saw several years ago that pictured a man in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, saying to the receptionist, “I see by your copy of Newsweek that Lyndon Johnson has decided not to run for reelection.”

In any case, in the issue in question, the magazine was celebrating their 35th anniversary, and reprinting many of their favorite recipes from over the years. The cynic in me – oh, yes, I have one – suspects they did the same exercise on their 30th anniversary, and the 25th, and..., and maybe we’ll see it again for the 40th. But I haven’t been a subscriber that long, so the recipes were all new to me, and by the time I’d waded through the whole issue, I found that I’d earmarked at least a dozen. I got so excited, I called friends who live nearby and invited them for dinner the next night. (One of the best things about retirement is that you don’t have to wait until you can get a babysitter or it’s not a school night to entertain.)

Something about all this cold weather makes me want to be in Italy. I’m pretty sure it gets cold there, but you know they have all that red wine and pasta... We had a brief taste of spring in Texas last week, but it’s all of a sudden feeling like winter here again. And more snow for New Jersey yesterday morning. (Can’t those people get a break, for goodness sake?)

So one of the dishes that called out to me was a pasta dish from Marcella Hazan, featuring lamb in the sauce. Now, when you read a recipe in a magazine, you never really know if it’s exactly as the celebrity chef meant it to be, or if the magazine staff tweaked it in ways that didn’t help. For whatever reason – and no disrespect to Marcella – this recipe didn’t blow any of us away. But it had a good premise, so I played with it and last night made it again, just for my husband and me. I added garlic – imagine a recipe with lamb that doesn’t have garlic! – and some bacon for extra flavor, a zucchini for color and vegetation, and I cut the pasta way back to give the sauce room to stand out. We pronounced it quite good, and easy as well. In fact, there’s not much to do other than a lot of chopping. I served it with ciabatta bread, sliced and toasted with garlic butter, and steamed asparagus drizzled with an Italian vinaigrette. Just the thing for a cold evening.

For you winos out there, we paired the dish with a bottle of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

Rigatoni with Abruzzi-Style Lamb Sauce

Based on a recipe by Marcella Hazan published in Food & Wine Magazine, March 2013

Serves 4-6.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped onion
1 large clove garlic (about 2 teaspoons), minced
2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 ounce bacon, cut in ¼-inch dice
1 heaping tablespoon chopped rosemary
8-10 ounces boneless lamb, cut into ½-inch dice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup dry white wine
One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, with their juices
1 small zucchini, cut in ½-inch dice
12 ounces rigatoni pasta
⅓ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving

The best flavor comes when the pieces of lamb are no larger than 1/2 inch.

In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the onion in the oil, stirring frequently, until the onion is a pale gold (about 4 minutes). Add the garlic and continue to stir frequently for another minute. Add the pancetta, bacon, and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat from the pancetta and the bacon is rendered (the meat will still be soft).

Raise the heat slightly, add the lamb, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Add the wine and simmer about 10 minutes, until it evaporates. Add the tomatoes and the zucchini and simmer, stirring occasionally and reducing the heat if necessary, for about 20 minutes until the fat begins to separate from the sauce.

At the end of cooking, you'll see little pools of oil sitting atop the sauce, especially around the edge of the pan.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling water (4 quarts) with 1½ tablespoons of salt. Stir often until the pasta is al dente.

Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it to a large warmed bowl. Toss with the lamb sauce and the ⅓ cup of grated cheese. Serve immediately, passing additional cheese at the table.


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