A chunk of crusty, stale bread sat on the kitchen bench, homemade might I add. I have come to take a great amount of joy in watching my sourdough starter slowly bubble away throughout the day as it sits on the windowsill in the kitchen, above the bowls of fruit, catching the suns morning rays.
I have always, somewhat, greatly appreciated a loaf of beautifully crafted sourdough, however I really don't think you can fully appreciate the amount of work involved, let alone how the inside and outside atmospheres can all have an effect on the humble loaf of bread. Even down to the mood that you find yourself in as one makes it, until you try making it for yourself!
Needless to say that I was determined to make good use out of this chunk that was looking a little sad to say the least. It definitely was not going to the chooks, this time! My hands pulled the crusty end apart, scattering crumbs onto the floor. Tumbled into a bowl to let sit and soak in their very own milk bath for an hour or two.
I don't know what it is, but my mind seems to hold almost a photographic memory of sorts of words and recipes from many of the books that I lose myself in from time to time. They flash into my mind and from there an idea comes alive. Sometimes this results in meals that are nothing to do a jig about, but other times its a celebration and I can't hurry over to my recipe notebook to scribble down the words fast enough!
In saying this though, quite often the recipe needs to tweaked here and there and made again and again until it is just right and as close to perfection as possible. I am trying to remember just how many times it took to get this particular recipe right and for me to get that reaction from my husband that I was looking for. I seem to remember that it was about the fourth time for the sauce and about the same for the ricotta gnocchi.
"Oh, Chook (his nickname for me) you've done it! This is the best yet! You've nailed it!" Were his words as he scooped yet another forkful into his mouth. Our little man, Beau, seemed to think so too, as he was covered from the top of his head to the tips of his toes in red sauce and continually shovelled small handfuls into his already full mouth!
Like any ragu, I really do believe that it tastes better the next day or the one after that. The longer its allowed to sit in the fridge the longer it has to multiply in flavour. I actually had a container that I had frozen sitting in the freezer, so all that was to be done was a quick re-heat on the stove top and to make the ricotta gnocchi and dinner was done.
The mushy, milk soaked bread gives the sauce a lighter flavour, which makes it perfect to enjoy in the warmer months, sitting outside as the sun stretches its glow for a few extra hours. Which I am very grateful for as the amount of mess that was left behind from a little sauce covered human was all but cleared up by our dog, Slinky!
800g oyster blade, cut into chunks
light olive oil
a good knob of butter
2 brown onions, diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
4 small carrots, diced
2 sticks of celery, finely sliced
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup red wine
2 tins of diced tomatoes
1 tin of cherry tomatoes
about 2 cups of stale bread, torn
2 1/2 cups full-cream milk
rind of parmesan
2 sprigs of rosemary
a scattering of dried oregano
*Note: this recipe makes quite a generous amount, so you can halve the recipe if you want or make the full amount and freeze half. As you will only need half for the ricotta gnocchi.
Heat the oil in a large heavy based pot and add the beef. Do this in batches as you want to brown the beef so that it starts to caramelise. Remove from the pot. Pop the butter in along with all of the leftover browned bits and add the onions, garlic, carrots, celery and bay leaves, stirring until softened. Add the nutmeg and give it a stir for another minute or so.
Add the red wine and allow to deglaze the bottom of the pot, then reduce down until it has all but nearly disappeared.
Next, add the tomatoes and fill each about a 1/4 full with water, give it a good swirl around and then add this into the pot too. place the bread and any remaining milk into the pot along with the parmesan rind and give it a good stir. Bring to the boil. Add in a good pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper and place the oregano in, stir again and finally place the rosemary sprigs on top. Reduce the heat so that its simmering away slowly and cover with a lid. another hour or so, stirring frequently to makes sure that its not sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Fish out a chunk of beef and allow to cool, then taste, if its meltingly tender your sauce is ready. Check to see if it needs any more salt or pepper and remove from the heat.
You can now let it cool to room temperature and place into the fridge or portion it up and place it into the freezer. You can most definitely use it straight away, but it is better if its allowed to rest for at least a day or overnight.
30g grated parmesan or pecorino
either 3 free-range egg yolks or 1 egg yolk and 1 egg (I used 3 yolks last time as I had them sitting in the fridge)
150g plain flour
a good pinch of salt
Fresh basil leaves for serving
In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, parmesan, eggs, flour and salt until it comes together. lightly dust your bench with flour and turn the mixture out onto the bench, bring it together into a flattish disc and then cut into 4 portions. Roll each portion into a long sausage about 55cm long. using a knife cut off little pillows about 2cm wide.
At this stage you could have your sauce re-heating in a wide fry pan.
Dust in a little flour and spread them out so that they don't touch each other onto a floured board or bench. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a rapid boil and carefully drop spoonful's of gnocchi in, in batches, until they float to the top. using a slotted spoon, transfer the little pillows into the sauce until all of them have been cooked. Add a little of the pasta water to loosen the sauce and stir everything together carefully.
Remove from the heat, spoon into a lovely platter and scatter over fresh basil leaves and a good grating of parmesan or pecorino. Let everyone help themselves.
This will serve 4 as a main with a salad on the side and perhaps some freshly baked sourdough bread.