What’s in Our Basket
"I decided on making a ragout; I love the way it makes the house smell... it doesn’t get much more comforting for me than that."
It is easy to get carried away in Gjusta Grocer. It's a common refrain that guests need to check out and leave before they find 15 more things too tempting to leave behind. The temptation is much worse at the tail end of a long week. I had a comically silly shopping trip last month that I had to share. A box of Pastificio pasta got knocked off the shelf and damaged at the beginning of my day, and I claimed it without a total plan, but knowing I wanted to cook on my days off. I spent the rest of the day walking the store, stocking the shelves, checking out guests, and musing about what I should cook. I decided on making a ragout; I love the way it makes the house smell, and as a baked pasta with rigatoni, it doesn’t get much more comforting for me than that.
I started my basket with some pork from Peads and Barnetts. I grabbed a shoulder that I could dice and throw in the braise, some ribs for all the connective tissue to add texture, and a smoked hock, because when there are smoked hocks around, you throw them in the sauce. The pork from Peads is really good; the fat renders so beautifully, the meat has an almost sweet flavor. If you haven’t read the piece about Oliver Woolley and Peads and Barnetts, you should pause now so you can grasp how truly special they are.
I grabbed some fresh mozzarella from Gioia Cheese Company, and ricotta from Bellwether Farms. Something I learned from stretching mozzarella professionally is that it is at its best immediately after it is pulled. Every moment that passes, the cheese loses a little bit of its magic. 3-day-old fresh mozzarella is still delicious, don’t get me wrong, but the closer you can get to the hands that stretched the curd the better it will taste. Gioia Cheese is fresh; they call us in the evening twice a week to get our order, then stretch it the following morning and deliver it that afternoon. Minimal magic is lost in such a short supply chain. Bellwether Farms, based in Sonoma, makes the best ricotta I have tasted. The texture is really pillowy and perfect, they retain most of the fat from the whole milk by heating really slowly and gently, so it is also really rich. They start with cultured milk, so beyond just the sweet milky flavor, it has a slight tang, which I needed to cut through the sweet and sticky ragout. I also took home garlic and whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes from La Valle.
I also grabbed a bottle of the Tutti i Giorni Rosso from Antonio Camillo. It's a very fresh every day red with crunchy red fruits and good acidity. Bonus points for being a liter, because I needed some for the sauce, and more than a little for the chef.
When I got home I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had gotten carried away. I started to break down the collar to braise, and they looked like the most beautiful collar steaks. They should have been cooked as such, but I had the rest of my basket to think of, so I trimmed off the fat cap and rendered it, so I could sweat onions, garlic, and a couple serranos in it for some heat. I browned all the meat separately and reserved it. Once the aromatics were starting to get some color, I covered them with wine, added some spices (long pepper, mace, bay leaves), cooked that all down till it was almost dry again, then crushed and threw in the tomatoes, and put all the browned meat in the pot and popped the whole thing in the oven at 250 overnight. The next day I pulled out the bones from the ribs, cooked the pasta, tossed in the cheese and baked.
It was a massive pan of pasta, it fed me really well, and made delicious leftovers. In retrospect, did I need a full basket of groceries and a full day of cooking in the name of not wasting a damaged box of pasta? I absolutely did not. But, the times when I let myself get carried away are the times I have the most fun in the kitchen. So, will I find a box of inspiration and let myself fill a basket and get carried away again? I absolutely will.