this week | april 15th, 2021
Pollen Season is upon us here in Richmond.
I still remember that first spring in Durham. Was rooming with Gabe in Randolph. Think I had the window open one afternoon and was like why’s there sawdust on the windowsill? I’m not sure how I eventually figured out that all the yellow powder was pollen, but by then it was all over my keyboard, my desk, my pretty much everything.
Definitely a North Carolina and Virginia thing because growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I never even knew pollen was visible. Thought it was just invisible flower dust that gave my uncle Hay Fever.
(I wrote) an ode to pollen
Writing group this week was good. Angus, Cathy, Leah, and I. Speaking of which…
(I read) Low-Rise Jeans Are Back to Ruin Your Life by Leah Abrams
So Leah got her piece published in McSweeney’s!
Low-Rise Jeans Are Back to Ruin Your Life
Heyyyy, girl. It's me: Low-Rise Jeans, returning after a decade of R&R in the back of Paris Hilton's closet. Yes, it…
Though I can’t 100% relate to the Lip Smackers and Abercrombie & Fitch tees (my middle school material obsession was the Ti-84 and my mom bought all my clothes for me from Kohl’s), everything else—the tone, the smack, the talk, the tease—is so so good. Go read it!
(I cooked) Bolognese Sauce
So this is one of my go-to lunches that I make en masse. I freeze my sauce in Talenti jars and will take out one per week—just enough for 2–3 lunches.
This can easily be made vegetarian by omitting the ground meat as well as vegan by omitting the milk. I’ve never tried subbing a non-dairy milk in bolognese but you are welcome to try.
Oh and of course this is nowhere near traditional. I know it’s supposed to be light on the tomatoes but I love tomatoes (and Rao’s specifically) so this is how I like it.
Before I get started, this is pretty close to how Kenji does his Sausage Ragu:
- Olive oil
- Salt, pepper, chili flakes, dried oregano, bay leaves
- Italian sausage, ground beef, ground pork, ground whatever you want
- 1–2 carrots (more carrot = more sweetness)
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 stalks of celery (I like celery)
- Whatever mushrooms you have
- As much garlic as you want
- A jar of Rao’s (recommend getting it from Costco)*
- A 28oz can of San Marzano tomatoes and/or any loose tomatoes you have hanging out in the fridge. Tomato paste is cool too.
- Balsamic vinegar, miso, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, or any other fun things you got hanging out
- Milk if you want to add some creaminess
- Any opened bottles of wine in your fridge or unopened bottles in your pantry
*yes there’s a jar of store bought pasta sauce in this recipe, but it’s Rao’s
Step 0: Sourcing Good Ingredients
Not only is this delicious but it cleans out your fridge and freezes well for (relatively) quick weekday lunches.
I’ve made variations of this with just fresh tomatoes, only canned tomatoes, only Rao’s, and a combination of all of those and after one whole work-from-home year of experimentation, my verdict is: You Have to Have Rao’s.
Yes, it’s expensive. When Cody first recommended it, I saw the $8 price tag and was like nope. But Costco has a two-pack routinely for $11 and when on sale, somewhere around $8, and most importantly, it’s really just that good.
So go get Rao’s. Everything else you can just do whatever you want.
Step 1: Chop Things Up and Fry Them
I love chopping veggies, so I love this dish. Mince your veg. You’ve got a lot to chop so this is the perfect thing to do if you’re in a boring Zoom meeting and can turn off video.
When you’re almost done, get some olive oil going in a big pot and then add your meat if you’re using it. It’s up to you how much browning you want—I like to get a nice sear on the initial layer and then use my wooden spatula to break it all up.
My rough sauté order:
Oil → Meat → Onions/Celery/Carrots/Salt → Mushrooms → Garlic (burns more easily than the others) → Fresh Tomatoes → Wine if using → everything else
Step 2: Slow Cook
I like to let it simmer for 2–3 hours minimum. I also keep the lid off for most of that time so it’s able to reduce and thicken.
Make sure you stir the bottom every now and then so it doesn’t burn.
Step 3: How to Serve
I’ve tried one pot/pan strategies which result in fewer dishes to clean, but if you want to make it the best way possible, here’s how to do it:
- Night before, get that sauce in the fridge to thaw.
- One pot going with salted boiling water for your pasta.
- Frying pan on medium with olive oil. Infuse with chili flakes and chopped olives (these days I don’t bother with the olives, but it’s really good with them).
- Spoon in your bolognese. You want that sauce to sizzle and fry (but you don’t want the pan too hot so that it splatters everywhere).
- Turn the sauce down to low and stir. When the pasta’s almost done, spoon a bit of starchy pasta water into your sauce. Don’t turn it into soup like the people at Il Forno in West Union do.
- Instead of timing my pasta I just routinely grab a noodle and taste it and when it’s almost done (al dente) it’s time to come out.
- Strain out your pasta but save the hot starchy water since that will clean off all your pasta saucy pans and surfaces really easily.
- Turn the heat off on your sauce and dump in your strained pasta. Mix it good.
- If you live in Chicago or have a Potbelly’s nearby, get a jar of hot Italian giardinera (the spicy oil preserved one, not the watery fake grocery store giardinera they have here in Virginia) and spoon some in.
- Grate some pecorino romano on top.