Pasta Sauces

Classic Bolognese Sauce

One of the things that amazes me every time we travel in Europe is the way that “fast” food is interpreted. Now, I don’t mean “fast” in the sense of something one would pick-up in a drive-through and eat in the car while driving from one errand to another. I do mean lunch in its most routine sense — the lunch that an average Joe or Josephine would eat on a workday. My latest example brings us to a fabulous bolognese sauce.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, we went somewhat off the usual beaten path for tourists during¬†our recent trip to Tuscany and visited Pistoia, a lovely town known for its lively street market. Then, we took a scenic route back to Lucca by first driving up into the hills and then back down, to finish our day with a stop in Collodi —¬† named for the author of Adventures of Pinocchio for a visit to the¬†charming Pinocchio Park.¬† We were hungry as we left Pistoia, and¬†we were planning to stop for lunch en route.¬† But the villages along this route are very, very small, and they just don’t see a lot of nonresident traffic in the winter — that quickly became very clear.¬† So the few restaurants we saw tended to be closed.¬† We drove for maybe 40 minutes, and then we saw it — an old building containing a bar and a pizzeria, with an “open” sign and¬†foggy windows that spoke volumes of how¬†warm it was inside.¬† Did I mention that the weather on this day was overcast and windy?

We enter the restaurant, where no one seems to speak English, and the other patrons’ uniforms suggest that they are all local utility workers on their lunch break.¬† Every one of them was seated facing a television which seemed to be airing a local news program. And they were eating pasta with this gorgeous, homey-looking sauce.¬†When my husband received the¬†Ravioli with Bolognese that he had ordered, I quickly recognized it as the sauce that the locals were all eating¬†on their pasta.¬† It looked and tasted delicious!¬†Looking around, it seemed as if this lunch was as “everyday” to the locals as stopping at for a sandwich at Subway might be in the U.S.!¬† Imagine that!

When we returned to the U.S., I kept thinking about the bolognese sauce.¬† After comparing a number of recipes, I decided that this recipe seemed very close to what we had in Tuscany. As I made this sauce, I remembered that on my last day in Tuscany, as I visited the string of stores in the village center to gather ingredients for dinner (butcher shop, produce shop, bakery, etc), I found myself making the loop directly behind the same woman, such that we both chuckled as I held the door for her at the last shop. That day, I saw each of the items she purchased, and I am now absolutely certain she was making bolognese sauce! It was so much fun to cook this Bolognese sauce in my kitchen and imagine that Italian woman doing the same in her kitchen so far way! I’ll never know her name, but I feel certain I’ll think of her each time I make this recipe!

Veggies Starring as....Themselves

To Market, To Market


When we travel, we are, as a rule, incapable of arriving at any of the great street markets when they are open.¬† I really can’t¬†explain it.¬† I just know that we always arrive as the vendors are sweeping away the leaves from the pavement and packing up for the day.¬† So, when I read that the town of Pistoia deserves much more attention than it usually gets by visitors to Tuscany and that it has an exceptional market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, I dreamed of going but didn’t exactly commit my hopes to making it happen.¬†Perhaps that was the key.¬† Last Wednesday, when¬†the Eastern coast of the U.S. was focused on recovering from a snow storm, I found myself walking the streets of Pistoia, armed with a shopping bag and a handful of Euros!

For me, European markets are an art form that can rival any oil painting.  The combination of beautiful ingredients, flowers, and people who just radiate character makes them the perfect way to spend a morning.

We purchased fresh tortellini stuffed with pork, asparagus, mandarin oranges from Sicily, raspberries, currants, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes.  That night, we had the tortellini dressed with a mushroom tapenade and the asparagus roasted with sea salt and olive oil.


Real Risotto

Real risotto is about two things — the rice and the stirring.¬† Without the right rice and some elbow grease, one should just be realistic and make pilaf!

I’m a longtime fan of risotto, with memories of holding my infant daughter in one arm while obsessively stirring a risotto with the other.¬† When she was less than a year old, I whispered to her about the key elements of a great risotto.¬†¬†When she’s living in some college dorm, do you think she’ll become the “go-to” chef for late night munchies and cook her mother’s mushroom risotto recipe for her friends?

In the U.S., we typically use Arborio rice for risotto, and the result is quite satisfying. However, on my previous trip to Italy, I learned that the Italians wouldn’t think of using Arborio — they use Carnoroli rice.¬† So, I bought some and made a risotto in our Venice apartment last summer.¬† And we loved it.¬†¬†I carried the remainder of the package home and recently used the last of it.

When we arrived at our Lucca apartment in Tuscany last week, the cabinet contained another unopened package of Carnoroli, which I happily used to make two risottos during our visit.  The first was (of course!) a mushroom risotto.  The second was a sundried tomato risotto with onions and white wine, where the rice served as the backdrop for delicious sundried tomatoes I picked up in the weekly market in Pistoia.

¬†I buy very few souvenirs on our trips, as my focus is really on the experiences rather than on the things (ok…..I did come home with a couple new Italian leather handbags this time!).¬† But, my most gratifying “souvenir” is my new bag of Carnaroli rice!