Wednesday, February 3, 2010
What I feed my imaginary children - Beef Rigatoni in an Intensely Tomato-y Cream Sauce
I make it on Sunday afternoon, sipping a nice Ripasso as I chop, simmer, and stir.
Dalton, my youngest and the only child to ever win the USCF Chess Championship, runs up to the stove dipping a spoon into the sauce. "Delicious, Mom," he says. "Lidia Bastianich has nothing on you." He then returns to his room to finish his side project for Nasa (he's in first grade and I don't like him doing freelance work during the school week...)
Kidding! I don't have kids, much less well behaved child prodigies (unless you count my cats, which would be crazy. And I'm not crazy. Usually.) But if I did have kids, this is the kind of pasta I would feed them. A big old piping hot batch of it served family style.
This is seriously comforting, homey food. Sunday food. Fireplace food. And while a nutritionist probably wouldn't endorse it, I like the fact that just a teensy bit of cream cheese gives it that lovely pink hue and creamy texture. I mean, between the organic tomato paste and the lack of heavy cream, it's practically health food...
A couple of sticklery things - you don't want your rigatoni cooked a second longer than al dente. Any further and you risk them collapsing on you, defeating the whole reason you hired them for the job in the first place. God knows they're not attractive, bless them. But the fact is no other pasta can envelop a hearty meat sauce like rigatoni. They make every bite a treasure hunt.
Beef Rigatoni in an Intensely Tomato-y Cream Sauce
* Serves 4 pigs or 6 regular eaters.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
2 fat cloves garlic (or 4 small - don't skimp here), minced
1 pound ground beef (for a higher meat to pasta ratio, up it to 1 1/2 pounds, or only use 3/4 lbs of pasta)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you really want that kick)
1/2 cup white wine or vermouth
4 oz canned tomato paste, preferably organic
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes, lightly drained
2 oz cream cheese
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 lb rigatoni
handful salt to flavor water
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Put a large pot (with lid on) of water on a burner over high heat for your pasta.
Meanwhile, add the butter and olive oil to a large dutch oven and put over low/medium heat. Let the butter melt, then add the onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt and some fresh cracked pepper giving a good stir. Cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the garlic. Saute, stirring occasionally another 2-3 minutes until the onion is translucent.
Now add the ground beef to the onions and garlic, breaking the meat up gently (but not too aggressively) with your wooden spoon. Season with the additional salt and red pepper flakes then cook, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes or just until the meat is browned. No need to cook it to death at this stage - you're about to boil the hell out of it.
Carefully pour in the wine and raise the heat to high. Once the wine is boiling, give everything a good stir then let simmer away until the majority of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is almost dry again (about 10 minutes.) While you wait is a good time to cook your pasta, as your pasta water should be boiling by now. (If not, do the following as soon as it's ready.) Add a handful or kosher or sea salt to the water, allow it to return to a boil, then add your rigatoni, cooking ONLY to al dente - about 9 minutes.
Back to your beef/wine mixture - once the majority of the liquid has evaporated, lower the heat to low and stir in the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, cream cheese, salt, and oregano. Combine well and keep over low heat until your pasta is cooked.
Once the pasta is ready, use a spider or slotted spoon to strain the pasta from the water and add it into the sauce along with a ladle full of pasta water (about 1/3 cup.) Immediately stir in the parmesan cheese, mixing well so that it melds into the sauce. Taste for any additional seasoning necessary and serve with a tiny sprinkling of dried oregano over the top.