Resuming my presentation of my culinary and gastronomic genius, I present this dish which I am certain commits several cardinal sins in Pasta land. I certainly find it to be a sinful dish purely from a delight perspective. It’s quite a hearty dish too.
This is not a hard dish as opposed to one requiring some effort and certainly organization. I’d rate this as a dish of intermediate difficulty.
The reason I decided to treat myself to this dish is because I am crazy about cheese in general, nuts about blue cheese in particular and because I had a fantastic meeting today with Red Hat on behalf of one of my clients that I consult for. Very worthy of the dish :)
- 1 large onion
- 9 cloves of garlic (yep, nine)
- 1 wedge of blue cheese (200g)
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin for this sacrifice please)
- 1 tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar
- 1 packet of Penne (mine are 500g and colored)
- Basil leaves (about 3 stalks worth, fresh please)
- 2 cartons of tomato puree/paste (125g each)
- 1/2 kg of lean ground(minced) beef
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- a small knob of butter that I would guess was about 1/2 a tablespoonful
- 1 tablespoonful of peppercorns (unground black pepper)
I’ve divided the preparation into three different parts. Keep in mind that you more or less have to do all three in tandem; it’s just much easier to organize them like this.
Obviously, the beef out to be thawed out if it were in the freezer. My butcher is literally up the road so I more often get my meats as fresh as possible.
First, we need to dice the onion, preferably as fine as is reasonable; we don’t want onion juice. Now I picked a rather large onion, so to dice it reasonably fine I first cut the onion itself in half and then before slicing away at that half, I cut in half again but parallel to the original cut like in the picture.
After that, you have to maintain a reasonably strong grip on both the knife and the onion when you start making your vertical cuts and when you dice them perpendicularly. I am ever so thankful for pictures as they can describe what I want to say perfectly.
Heat the pan, I would suggest a non-stick pan if you have one, and then throw in the knob of butter (if you opted to use it of course!) then as soon as that is half melted, pour in the olive oil and turn down the heat to the lowest. Don’t wait on the mix to smoke, just as soon as there is a hint of a shimmer throw the onion in; of course, by throw I mean pour in gently as opposed to hurling say a live grenade or a cobra. This is oil/butter we are talking about. Salt liberally atop to help draw out the moisture in the onion and sweat them.
(I usually start the sauce at this point because the onions need some time, but hey, its you that’s cooking)
Make a paste out of 3 of the cloves and mix that with the now reduced onions; the other 6 (or more if you want), peel but keep whole; This acts as a slow release of the essential oils in the garlic but keeps the sting of the sulfur away, also it steams the flesh of the clove and makes for a very nice and tender bite, totally unlike biting into a piece of garlic. If some of the onion dices are turning gold/brown, that’s OK, that’s almost bound to happen if you’re rushing about. Once the garlic paste has been cooked into the dish, meaning that you can smell it but you cannot see it and its been thoroughly mixed in, turn the heat up high and add the ground beef. As soon as you can start smelling the ground beef cook as you are mixing it with the onion/garlic mix, throw in the rest of the garlic cloves. Mix thoroughly and add some salt and I’d say about 2 teaspoons of black pepper, this totally brings out the flavor of the meat. You don’t need to add salt, between the garlic and the blue cheese, there’s enough salt in this dish. If later you feel that its undersalted, salting it is an easy thing to do.
At this point, turn the heat as low as possible and cover the pan and let the meat cook through properly. If the meat is done before the sauce, turn off the heat and let it lie in the pan. You also want the garlic to be properly cooked and that’s when its yellowed out a bit and soft to the touch of a ladle or a spoon.
This is an easy sauce but use a pot because you will be pouring everything (meat and pasta) here when its all done.
Heat about 300ml of water (nearly 1/2 a pint) and as soon as it starts to simmer, pour in the tomato paste. Stir that in to help it out. After about 3 minutes on medium-high heat, you can now add in the lemon juice and the balsamic vinegar. If you choose to use peppercorns, now is the time to dump them in. Now for the blue cheese. Don’t use one of the really good – expensive – blue cheeses; I used a Danish Blue cheese that cost me 1 JOD (Jordanian Dinar) which is about $1.4 (US) and Jordan is an expensive nation when it comes to groceries. Cheap but good.
Mush the 200g of blue cheese -less a tiny bit for the chef of course, for quality assurance purposes :-D – and pour that into the pot with the paste and whisk until the cheese has completely melted into the tomato “soup”. Let that simmer and reduce, occasionally stirring or whisking to make sure that there are no lumps or that anything sticks. Taste it from time to time to make sure that there is no need for salt or pepper.
You will feel a nice zing on your tongue, between the acidity of the lemon and the vinegar and the nasal after taste of the blue cheese. Yum!!! The sauce is ready when its reduced enough not to simmer but heaves. If you look at the picture, you can see the rings that show how far it has reduced. I took that picture about 2 minutes before I decided that the sauce was ready.
Once the meat and the sauce are done, pour the contents of the pot/pan where you cooked the meat straight into the sauce and then mix well. Now the sauce is truly complete.
This is possibly the easiest part. Boil water, once it bubbles vigorously, add a healthy pinch of salt and a dollop of olive oil. Once the water bubbles starts to bubble again, tip the contents of the packet (500g of colored penne in my case) into the pot. Be VERY careful, this is hot water and you don’t want to be scalded. You’d hate me and stop following my recipes, which is not what we want, is it? No, I didn’t think so. So now, we tip the contents in slowly. Good.
Read the packet, it should tell you how long you should boil the pasta. Mine needed about 10 minutes.
Once the pasta is done, take out, place in a colander and let it drain. Do not wash in water, hot or cold, because that will wash away all that starchy goodness. Once the pasta has cooled and dried enough, pour it into the sauce pot (where by now the sauce and meat should be ready and mixed together). This is a general rule you should follow with pastas, pasta into sauce, not the other way around. Mix well.
Now we are almost ready…
Once the pasta has been mixed into the sauce, you can pour it into you bowl. Now, to garnish, we’re going with fresh basil leaves. I picked off the leaves of varying sizes from 3 stalks, about 15 leaves in total, half of which were your typical broad basil leaf.
Pile them, roll them up and sliced diagonally then one big swipe across the horizontal axis.
Parmesan does really well, especially for a fromagophile like myself :)
Salam and Sahtein