If you’ve read my blog long enough, you must know by now that I’m somewhat obsessed with slow cooked tomato sauces. There’s something deeply comforting about them, it reminds me of my mom’s bolognese during my childhood and for a chilly night, it on top of pasta just hits the spot. Actually, it was what I craved when I returned from Beijing last year!

Sunday Sauce

It was only natural then that I became absolutely fascinated with the idea of Sunday sauce, what I imagine must be the Italian-American equivalent of a Sunday roast. Another name for it that comes up is Sunday gravy but I’m not clear on the etymology of it. I then recently caught an episode of Two Greedy Italians in which Gennaro Contaldo made a ragù alla Napoletana, a slow simmered tomato sauce cooked with plenty of meat. This surely must be the origin of the Sunday sauce (I have no confirmation of this – this is purely speculation!). A few Saturdays ago, I spent the afternoon putting together my own Sunday sauce.

The Meat

This recipe takes about 2 and a half hours from start to finish. I’ve listed the meats that I used in my sauce but any pork, beef or veal cut that benefits from long, slow cooking would work here. Meatballs would also be lovely in here but I’d add them in for the last 30 minutes of simmering. This was fantastic; all the meats had given their meaty goodness to the tomatoes making for a rich, hearty sauce. At the end, you can even fish out all the meat and serve it separately  – or, y’know, just serve it all at once (it makes for a rather grand-looking lot of food). Or even serve it like a stew with some good bread on the side. The recipe makes quite a bit of ragù for two people but it keeps very well and heck, there’s nothing wrong with eating it all week (which we did).

With Pasta

Sunday Sauce (Ragù alla Napoletana)
adapted from Two Greedy Italians and uh… this scene from The Godfather.
serves 6-8.

3 tbsps olive oil
1 large or 2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves (optional), minced
about 500g Italian sausages, cut into large chunks
about 500g pork ribs, cut into individual ribs
about 500g stewing beef, cut into large chunks
200ml red wine
3 tbsps tomato paste
3 cans (400g each) of chopped tomatoes
a small handful of fresh basil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

This recipe is just stupid easy. Get yourself a large heavy pot. Heat it over medium heat, add the olive oil and let it heat. Add the onions and the garlic if you’re using it and cook until the onions become translucent. Add all the meat to the pan and stir occasionally, letting whatever’s at the bottom brown nicely. You could do this in batches but I found this worked just fine.

Dilute the tomato paste in some water and pour it into the pot along with the wine. Let it bubble away until it has been greatly reduced. Pour in the canned tomatoes, tear in the basil and add some salt and black pepper. Stir well – you want the meat to be all submerged. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat so the mixture is simmering. Half cover the pot and let simmer for 2 hours. Check occasionally – if it’s getting too dry, add some water. I found that I didn’t need to add anything since the pot was partially covered.

Adjust the seasoning to taste (even some sugar if you feel it needs it). Take out the meat and arrange on a platter. Boil up some pasta (I used fusilli but spaghetti is good too) and mix with some of the sauce – you may have more sauce than you need (not a bad thing). Serve the pasta as the first course and the meat second or just serve it all up together as we did.

The words “ready meals” suffer a bit of a stigma over here as one initially pictures the sad sweating plastic wrapped packets on the supermarket chilled shelves, ready for a nuking in the microwave. But the ready meals I’ve come across in Barcelona were always wonderful – freshly made croquetes, roasted chicken parts and meat stews, cooked legumes, and trays of prepared canalons ready for a cooking in the oven. Needless to say, you can pick all these up and more at one of the many fabulous markets scattered throughout the city. This is what London is missing!

Catalan-Style Stuffed Aubergines

Anyway, what I wanted to really talk about was what I recently encountered on my last trip there – stuffed aubergines. I saw trays of them ready for the oven – halved aubergines (usually the slim kind rather than the large bulbous ones) stuffed with a meat mixture and slathered in a rich bechamel. They looked fantastic and though I never tasted them, I knew I wanted to recreate something like that at home. But aubergines are not the only vegetable that’s filled; if you take a look at Colman Andrew’s fabulous book Catalan Cuisine, he has a whole section on stuffed vegetables.

Stuffed with Pork Filling

It turned out to be quite straightforward – all the components can be cooked ahead of time and put together well before they need to be baked. The meaty filling was so flavourful with the onion and tomatoes cooked down until they were melting together in their sofregit; the silky aubergines, though quite lovely by themselves, were really just carriers for the meat! The bechamel was luxuriously rich and I dolloped it on with a generous hand – the recipe below does make quite a lot. The only things I’d change next time is to try the thinner Japanese aubergines and to be more generous with the Parmesan cheese on top!

Slathered in Bechamel and Parmesan

Catalan-Style Stuffed Aubergines
serves 4 as a main course.

4 small-medium sized aubergines
olive oil

For the filling
2 tbsps olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 medium or 1 large tomato
500 g minced pork
a large pinch of dried thyme
a large pinch freshly ground nutmeg
salt
freshly ground pepper
4 tbsps fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg

For the bechamel
500 mL milk
80g unsalted butter
4 tbsps plain flour
salt
freshly ground pepper
a large pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

freshly grated parmesan cheese

Prepare your aubergines. Cut each in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides leaving at least a centimetre of flesh (I tossed the insides as mine had a lot of seeds). Arrange cut side up on a baking tray and brush liberally with olive oil. Roast in a hot oven until tender and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Prepare your filling. First we’ll make a sofregit of the onions, garlic and tomatoes. In a frying pan, heat the oil over low heat and add the finely chopped onion. This has to cook until the onions have become soft and golden – this will take at least 15 minutes on a low temperature. When the onions are close to this, you can add the minced garlic and continue cooking until the onions are cooked and the garlic has lost its rawness. In the meantime, prepare your tomatoes – cut each in half around its equator and deseed them. Use your palm to push each cut half against a box grater and grate the tomato pulp, leaving behind the skins. Add this tomato pulp when the onions are golden and continue cooking over low heat until the tomatoes have melted into the onions and its redness is darker. That’s your sofregit. Add the minced pork and fry, stirring frequently so that the pork is crumbly, until the pork is all cooked (about 10 minutes). Add the thyme and nutmeg and season well with salt and pepper. Stir again and then turn off the heat. In a bowl, beat the egg and add the breadcrumbs to this. Stir together and then add this mixture to the pan with the pork. Stir to incorporate and there’s your filling.

Make the bechamel. In a heavy bottomed pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and whisk together until incorporated. Let cook for about 3-4 minutes, whisking from time to time. Pour in the milk about a quarter of the volume at a time (you could whack in the whole thing but then it always seems to take longer). Whisk very well after each milk incorporation and then continue adding once the mixture gets thick. After all the milk has been added, continue cooking over low heat and whisking often until the bechamel is thick. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a little freshly ground nutmeg, give it a final whisking and turn off the heat.

Put it together. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Lay your roasted aubergine halves in a baking dish and fill them with the pork mixture. Really stuff them well – use all that filling up! Top each filled aubergine half with a good couple of spoonfuls of bechamel and then sprinkle with some finely grated parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes – the filling should be cooked through (that egg) and the tops should be golden brown.

Serve with a salad and bread on the side.

Half the vendors were gone last weekend at my farmers’ market – I’m not sure whether it’s the credit crunch affecting business or that it’s the start of the hungry season. Of the stalls that were left, I decided to get some meat from the buffalo meats and cheeses stall. I’ve had their delicious range of cow and buffalo cheeses and milks but never once tried the meats they sell alongside. Not finding the buffalo bresaola I’d had my eye on on previous days, I chose an already rolled and tied piece of meat labelled “For slow or pot roasting only! Very tasty!”. With a label like that, how could I resist? The small vacuum packed roll of organic buffalo meat, about 500g, cost me £4.70.

Covered in Sauce

Now there was the actual matter of what I would do with it! I’d never ever tried pot roasting before but upon reading about it online, it seems quite simple – just slow cooking of a large cut of meat or poultry. I pretty much made up the sauce with whatever I had at hand and served the sliced meat on top of some buttered penne. I think I could have roasted it for an extra hour though as the meat was extremely lean and could have been a little more tender – if you’re using beef, I doubt you’d have this problem. Anyway, if you’re curious, buffalo meat is indeed like beef but a little gamier. The strong flavour of the meat paired favourably with the richness of the sauce.

Pot Roasted Buffalo
serves 2

a 500g portion of buffalo meat, ready for pot roasting, rolled and tied
olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small-medium carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red wine
2 tbsps tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 stalk fresh rosemary
salt and freshly ground black pepper
sugar, if needed
about 1 tbsp butter, softened
2 tsps flour

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy based pot or casserole over medium heat and brown all sides of the buffalo meat. This will take a little time – be patient! When brown all over, take out the meat and set aside. Add another tablespoon of oil and add in the chopped onion, carrot, celery and garlic and sweat the vegetables. When they’re soft, add the wine, tomato paste, bay leaf and rosemary. Stir through, let bubble a bit, and then put the meat back into the pot. Add enough water to bring the liquid up to a level that covers a third of the meat. Add some salt and pepper and stir through the liquid and bring it to a boil.

When bubbling, cover the pot and reduce the temperature to the lowest (use a heat diffuser if needed) and let it pot roast for three hours, turning the meat every 20 minutes. You might need to adjust the heat to keep the liquid simmering gently.

When the three hours are up, remove the meat, setting it aside and keeping it warm and then turn the heat back up under the pot. Reduce the liquid (I reduced it to about half the original level) and then taste it and make adjustments to the seasoning, adding sugar if necessary – I added about 2 tsps. Mix the butter and flour together into a paste and add it to the liquid – it will thicken almost immediately: this is your sauce. Let it simmer for a few minutes to cook away any raw flour taste.

Sliced

To serve, slice the roast against the grain and serve with the sauce. I served it all on top of some buttered penne.

Here’s a recipe that went down very well in our household! I’ve always viewed sloppy joes as kids’ food, food for picky children unable to force down anything green. It’s also one of those recipes from America that never really made the trip across the Atlantic and so I’ve only learned about it through television sitcoms and online. Still, it was something I’d never made before and it would add to my minced meat recipe repertoire! I cooked them one weekend late last year and served it up with tater tots and sauteed Brussels sprouts on the side. Perfect sloppy food for a sloppy weather Sunday and yes, we even ate in front of the telly. The meat was extremely tasty (how can it not be with all the ingredients in the sauce) and not as junky as I imagined it would be. Yes, it was a bit messy to eat but isn’t that the point?

Sloppy Joes for Dinner

Once again, this is a recipe that can be tinkered easily: I used mostly what I had around – a diced green pepper would also be good in here and feel free to season it to your liking. Like it more ketchupy? Go ahead! Maybe even some barbecue sauce would be good!

Sloppy Joes
inspired by a recipe from Dinner with Julie
serves 4

454g ground beefsteak (1 lb)
80 mL (1/3 cup) ketchup
250 mL (1 cup) tomato passata
1 tbsp sugar (I increased this to 2 tbsps as my ketchup was low sugar, low sodium)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp chili powder (optional)
2 tbsps chili sauce (optional, or a few dashes of Tabasco)
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 buns (hamburger buns or those roughly that size)

Heat about 2 tbsps of oil in a large saute pan and sweat the onion, carrot and celery. A chopped green pepper would also be good here but I didn’t have one. You want the vegetables soft and this should take about 10 minutes. Add the ground beef and brown the meat, breaking it up in the process, about 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients (except the buns) and stir through. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly. You’ll probably want to taste it right about now to adjust the seasonings and if it’s a bit too thick, add some water. While it’s simmering, you can also slice in half and toast the buns. Sandwich the sloppy meat in the buns and serve immediately.

I served these with tater tots on the side. And, no, go find your own!

Something the other day must have got me thinking about meatloaf. Perhaps it was this delectable looking example over at the Food Pornographer? I think it was also mainly this one recipe for an upside-down meatloaf I’d bookmarked a while ago in one of my Saveur magazines and the idea had been sitting, festering at the back of my mind. Whatever it was, I felt the need to make one and I couldn’t wait till the weekend.

Meatloaf isn’t popular in the UK (they don’t know the delights of cold meatloaf sandwiches!) but this is typical comfort food in North America, where every family has their own recipe. It’s easy to put together and doesn’t need any watching while it’s in the oven. Somehow the idea of meatloaf being comforting transferred to me even though I hardly ever ate it at home.

Meatloaf

Of course, stupidly, I decided to make one when I was again by myself in the flat. Not to worry, half of it was left to cool and then immediately wrapped up and stashed in the freezer; meatloaf freezes well. Whatever I didn’t consume from the other half was refrigerated, ready to be sliced and sandwiched between thick slices of white bread, with extra ketchup! On the day itself, I also made this corn casserole from The Pioneer Woman Cooks to eat with my fresh meatloaf. Ooh, creamy, corny goodness.

Meatloaf Slice

Meatloaf
serves a lot, maybe 6 or so.

the loaf
500g beef mince
250g pork mince
2/3 cup cracker crumbs (I’m posh, so I used Ritz crackers. Haha!)
2 eggs
1 small carrot, grated
1 stick celery, grated
1 small onion, grated
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsps ketchup
2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp prepared mustard
salt and black pepper

the toppings
1/3 cup ketchup
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 slices American streaky bacon (I use Oscar Meyer which is easily found in most UK supermarkets)

Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius.

Mix all the meatloaf ingredients together with your hands but don’t overmix; you want a meatloaf, not a meatbrick. Place it into a 9″x5″ loaf pan – but you can also shape it into a loaf on a sheet pan. My loaf pan comes with a rack insert that allows for extra fat to drip out of the meatloaf – do find this if you can…there was a lot of stuff that came out of my meatloaf.

Mix together the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar for the topping and spread over the loaf. Cut each slice of bacon in half and drape over the loaf. If you’ve got a freeform meatloaf (i.e. not in a tin) you can increase the glaze and bacon amounts to cover the sides and then it will taste even better! Bake for 1 hour.

I found my meatloaf to be tasty and very moist and the glaze and bacon crust that forms on top is divine! If I had to do anything again, I’d increase the amount of ketchup, mustard and Worcestershire sauce slightly in the loaf and reduce the amount of milk to keep the same liquid level overall. An interesting idea would be to embed hard boiled eggs in the middle of the loaf, like the Food Pornographer did. Other variations I’ve seen include either mixing in sausage meat or embedding whole sausages in the middle, making a Swiss roll like meatloaf with ham and cheese slices rolled up inside, or topping the meatloaf with a mushroom sauce. The cracker crumbs can also be replaced with breadcrumbs – but heck, sometimes I don’t even have any bread in the flat for days on end.

Meatloaf Sandwich

Oh yes, and here’s that sandwich a couple days later! Meatloaf is one of those dishes that improves with a little time in the fridge and this sandwich was mighty good! There’s still another slice in the fridge which will be panfried and served with garlic, scallion and coriander rice and a salad. Yummy!