Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bark: Foodstuff of legend

I haven't done this here in a very long while, but I'm going to give you one of my favourite recipes that I make on pretty much a weekly basis. I swear, one of these days I will write a cookbook. Not that I think I'm the next Jamie Oliver or anything - I realise that I'm a man of relatively modest talent, but while I might not be truly exceptional at any one thing (apart from being a drunken, self-aggrandising, narcissistic prick, perhaps), I would contend that I'm better than the average bear at a great many things, and if the feedback I get from Fleur's colleagues at work are anything to go by (given the way I'm told they react to the lunchboxes I make for her), cooking is one of them. Indeed, my tomato sauces are rapidly becoming the stuff of legends.

But enough with the cheerfully shameless self-promotion. Here's the recipe.

(Very generously serves 2-3)
Ingredients:

150g of good quality pasta (I prefer linguine or fusilli lunghi bucati for the shape)
400g tin of cherry tomatoes (Sainsbury's do some terrific ones in their 'Taste the Difference' - or as I like to call it, 'Pay Through the Nose' - Range... but with tinned tomatoes, spending a few extra pennies really does give you much more in terms of flavour)
3-4 cloves of garlic - crushed, grated or very thinly sliced
2 small red onions - cut in half and thinly sliced
6-8 large button mushrooms (or if you really want to be fancy, use a pack of oyster mushrooms - just be aware that these will take longer to fry to really give you a good taste in the sauce), sliced into 0.5-0.75cm chunks
1 large courgette - cut in half length-ways, and then sliced at a thickness of around 0.5cm
1 large carrot - cut into 'julienne' batons, about 3cm long
1 ramiro red pepper - cut into 1cm wide strips (these are the pointed peppers, rather than the capsicum, bell-shaped ones. slightly more expensive, but they're a lot sweeter)
1 pack of Swedish pork & beef meatballs - typically 400g or so (if you prefer, you could make these yourself. I have my own 'secret' recipe that I'm simply not going to give out for free on a blog - I'm saving it for my cookbook!)
Salt & Pepper - to taste
1 pack of fresh Basil - 25-40g will be plenty
Dried oregano
Dried Italian Herb Mix
1 25cl glass of good quality red wine (something really gutsy, like a Californian Shiraz or a South African Merlot)
Red Chilli flakes (as many as you dare!)
Tomato puree (to thicken the sauce)
2 Beef stock cubes (for extra meaty punch)
Gran Padano or Parmesan cheese - grated, to serve (I like Gran Padano, as it's slightly less salty and a little cheaper than Parmesan)

How to do it:

Fry the onions in some olive oil over a medium heat for several minutes until they start to turn translucent. Add the garlic and stir gently until the garlic starts to fry (do not let it burn!). Add the mushrooms to the pan with a little extra oil and season with a little salt and pepper. (Make sure you season as you go - this will prevent your dish from turning out to be horribly bland after you've spent an hour slaving over the stove).
Once the mushrooms start to colour, add a little wine (about half the glass) to deglaze the pan and then add the courgette. Let the courgette fry for a minute or two and then add the meatballs and then crumble the stock cubes over the entire pan evenly. Stir in the remaining half of the glass wine to prevent the stock cube residue from burning to the bottom of the pan. Once the stock cubes have infused into the wine liquour, add the tinned tomatoes (including the juice) and season with more salt, pepper, the chilli flakes and a sprinkling of the dried oregano and Italian herb mix. Reduce the heat to low, add the carrot and the red pepper, cover and leave to cook for at least twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer you leave the sauce to cook, the better the end result will be - but twenty to thirty minutes will be sufficient for most people. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add more wine if the sauce is becoming a little too dry.

Now put on the pasta and cook according to the instructions. You can add a little olive oil and salt into the water, if desired. When the pasta requires just five more minutes, shred the fresh basil leaves and add them to the sauce, stirring thoroughly. Taste the sauce again and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Be careful with the salt level, as the Gran Padano or Parmesan contains quite a lot of salt and will alter the balance of taste in the sauce quite significantly when the dish is served. But don't be afraid of adding extra pepper - a bit of extra bite will help balance the richness given to the sauce by the wine. If the sauce requires thickening (or a bit of sweetening, should you have gone a little overboard with the chilli) use the tomato puree to give the sauce a nice thick consistency and boost the flavour of the tomatoes.

Once the pasta has finished cooking, drain and serve immediately. Finish the plate with a grating of cheese, to the personal preference of the diner. (The more the better, as far as I'm concerned, but who am I to dictate?)

Enjoy with some good company (you'll have to find your own source of that, I'm afraid) and a large glass of decent red wine (ideally the same as you used in the cooking).
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