I have the great fortune to have been born into two distinctly ethnic and diverse cultures; Swedish and Italian. With this came a love of food and luckily for me, the love of cooking. I have shared some Swedish recipes and today, I bring you Rose Caturani's Ragout.
First, meet my Grandmother, Rosina Nobile Caturani.
For some reason I will never know, she did not like the full name, Rosina. She came to America from Racalmuto, Sicily, leaving her family for the dream of earning money here and returning as quickly as possible. She never returned and never saw any of her family again except a younger sister who had emigrated to Argentina after WWII. 50 years had passed and when Grandma came back, she said, "She was so old!" Think now, my grandmother had to have been in her late 70s at this point.
She had been a telegraph operator in Palermo during WWI and told me that she was once of the first to learn the war had ended. It was after that she came here and eventually met my grandfather who was an immigrant from Naples. He worked at a bank at that time and came from a pretty strong family. There is a hospital with the name Caturani in New York and I was told the doctor it was named for was an uncle to my grandfather.
Now, growing up, Grandma had never cooked and once she married, it was my grandfather who taught her a thing or thirty about the art of ragout and other wonders. But he had his quirks. She would tell me, in hushed voice, "He doesn't like onion. He tells me not to put in onion. What does he know. I put in onion. He eats."
My brother and I would arrive from the airport with my Dad, pulling into the attached garage and she'd be standing on the top step, each successful year a little shorter. Behind her, bubbling on the old stove, would be the vat of ragout and the aroma could be detected from the street corner. Dad drove a convertible, so I'm telling you... you could smell the fragrance once we turned the last corner.
As I grew older, she would let me peel the garlic and chop onion as she explained how she made this unbelievably delicious spaghetti sauce she called ragout. (I remember when I saw Ragu on the grocery shelf for the first time and thought, OH that's how it's spelled!)
First it takes lambs necks and pigs feet. I kid you not and good luck with this unless you live where lambs are raised or near an italian butcher! We have been on the search for lambs necks for months now and the closest we have come is a processor up in Kentwood who says he'll butcher the whole lamb, if we bring one in. (anyone want to sell me a lamb?)
Last week, John read in the local newspaper a restaurant review of Palace Cafe that included a side note about a great braised lambs necks from another restaurant. We called to find out where on the planet were they getting these lambs necks and were told from their meat purveyor which only sells wholesale. sigh
So we did the next best and bought lamb chops. At least here you get a little marrow from the bone and lots of good meat. It ain't cheap, let me tell you, this recipe. At one time in the way gone distant past, lambs necks and pigs feet were basically toss-away by-products but today, not so much. Nothing is cheap but I refer you to this past post of mine.
This ragout is Not Cheap, Not Fast but oh so Good!
4-5 pigs feet
some lamb necks (or chops I used 4 and this was good.)
4-5 sweet Italian sausages
1 large onion
4 toes of garlic (more if you like, I do)
1 large can tomato paste
1 large can tomato puree
2 large cans crushed or diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon honey
Sweet Basil (dried or fresh)
Red Wine, like merlot
Push all the meat to the outer edges of the pot and add the paste in the center. This you want to cook. It literally will remove all the browned bit on the bottom of the pot as you stir it and spread it into the meats and start to separate from it's oils. After about 5-6 minutes, add the puree and stir it all together until it is well blended with the paste and meats. Now add the crushed tomatoes, honey, salt and pepper and at least 2 tbls of basil and 2 tsps fennel and a little red wine. Lower the heat to a simmer and let this cook for several hours. Stir occasionally and check the water levels. You sure don't want it to evaporate! Taste it and add salt and/or pepper to taste. Remember that this is going to cook for hours and will reduce so go easy on salt.
After some 5 hours, you can remove the pig feet and neck bones. You should find that the meat has fallen off the neck bones but the feet should be intact. Fish around and make certain you get them all. There isn't any meat on the feet so toss them out but if you like you can put the neck bones back in the pot for further cooking once you have pulled off any remaining lamb meat. That goes back in the pot for sure!
I allowed my vat to simmer for over 7 hours then I refrigerated it over night and returned it to the stove the next day for dinner.
Now, you have made so much sauce here that unless you are feeding an army, you'll have lots to spare. However, the sausage may disappear after the first feast.... what to do, what to do.
I'd make large meatballs with veal and pork, using more fennel, parsley, breadcrumbs, eggs, salt and pepper and I would bake them in a shallow pan filled with water-downed sauce in the 350 oven (drape a sheet of foil over the top so you don't have to clean an oven!), turning them once about an hour into it, for 1 1/2 hours and then simmer them in the sauce pot for another hour or more for another feast. But that's just me!
Baking meatballs in sauce is a great way to avoid the splatter that frying makes and allows the fat to rend away. You don't need that in your sauce anyway!
Mangia! Mangia! Thanks, Grandma... you are always with me!