Monday, February 22, 2010

Bachelor Monday. Pasta with beans ala Bolengese

What's the secret to a happy marriage? Well, I don't really know how others do it, but for me, the ability to take a few days a week "off " keeps my marriage vital. Because I am married to a  woman who puts her duty to family first, I get the benefit of an unusual situation.

My wife has two sons from her first marriage. Now, both her boys are in their 20's and  fully capable of taking care of themselves. But, because my wife is a Guyanese Indian, she follows the custom that your sons aren't really on their own until they are married. To some, this might seem sexist, but to the Guyanese it makes perfect sense. I might add here that the Chinese, the Indians and even old world Italians follow the same custom, that is that you care for your sons until they marry, and when you get old, they care for you. I'm sure most readers will agree it's an odd arrangement for Americans, but the fact is if you visit a nursing home, it's extremely rare to find Chinese or Indian residents. So, three nights a week, instead of coming home to her loving husband, my wife visits her boys' apartment where she cooks, does laundry and micromanages their lives.

Back at the ranch, I have to fend for myself. This creates a strange psychological state in me. Instead of feeling married, I feel more like I am dating my wife. She's gone Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights. When she leaves for work on Monday morning, it's as if I am released temporarily from my marriage! That doesn't mean I go out looking for other women, but I do tend to revert to "bachelor mode". So, for two days I don't do much cleaning, I eat meals in front of the TV, I stay up late; sometimes, I don't even shave. By Wednesday, I'm looking forward to seeing her again and I scramble to clean the house, do laundry and prepare a great meal for her return. She's gone again Thursday morning  and I don't see her till Friday night, so Wednesdays feel a lot like our"date night". By Sunday night, I feel thoroughly married again, but then the whole process repeats itself.

"What's this got to do with cooking?", you ask. Well, since Neeta (the wife) is a "fish only" vegetarian, Mondays, Tuesdays or Thursdays give me an opportunity to  eat meat! Now, since I'm in bachelor mode, I often find myself instead eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches or hot dogs on those days. Occasionally however, I actually get the urge to cook. Today was one of those days. I found some chop meat in my freezer and had some left over cannellini beans in the 'fridge, so I decided to do a version of Bolegnese sauce combined with pasta fagiole.

Real Bolengnese sauce has many layers of flavor and several different meats. I wanted a  sauce that would give me some of that complexity, but would be quick and easy, a Rachel Ray version, if you will! So, here are my ingredients (enough for two people or one bachelor):

6-7 oz.of lean sirloin chopped and salted; one large clove of garlic, minced; 1/2 medium onion, minced; 1 small carrot, minced; 3 Tbs. of tomato paste; about 1/2 cup of milk; a small bunch of parsley chopped; 8 oz. (1/2 can) of cannellini beans ( white kidney beans), rinsed and drained; two handfuls (?) of penne rigatti pasta; one celery stalk with leaves; 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

The Process:

Begin by sauteing the garlic briefly in about 2 Tbs. of olive oil. When the oil is fragrant, add the onion and carrot and saute on medium low till onions are opaque and carrots softened (about 6 or 7 min) Meanwhile, put the pasta water to boil with the celery stalk and leaves.

Move the vegetables to one side, and add the chopped meat browning it slowly. When the meat has browned, incorporate it with the vegetables. When the pasta water with the celery stalk comes to a boil,  add salt and the pasta.

Move the vegetables and meat to the side. Raise the heat to medium and spread out the tomato paste on the pan to toast it. (it should darken a bit). After a minute, combine it with the meat and vegetables and add the parsley to the pan.

Slowly, add the milk a little at a time to the pan, combining it with the meat mixture in the same way you would make risotto. After about 5 additions, the meat will have achieved a soft texture and a pinkish color.

Finally, add the beans and pasta to the pan and about 3/4 cup of the cooking water. Cook for 1 or 2 minutes stirring on high heat. Ideally, this dish should have the consistency of a soupy stew. Off the heat, stir in half the Parmesan, and serve the remainder along side. I promise you, this was good!

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