New York City, September 15, 2011
To see the bright indigo boxes dominating the shelves of Italian superstores, suburban supermarkets, and corner mom-and-pop shops alike around the country, one would think that Barilla pasta–which a dozen years ago was only one of many Italian brands available, has conquered America.
In New York City last week it was not only pasta that the Barilla empire offered to the people, but a free live concert on the Great Lawn of Central Park. It starred none other than Tuscany’s beloved blind tenor, Andrea Bocelli accompanied by the New York Philharmonic and a chorus of 99 singers. 60,000 fans huddled for the spectacle under umbrellas–or without, soaked from the drenching rain to listen to the voice that can make people cry. He sang duets with Tony Bennett and Celine Dione too, as the Nor’Easter blew in from the coast. [NY Times article ]
The more fortunate sat near the stage balancing complimentary, beautifully packaged Bento boxes on their laps filled with imported prosciutto di Parma, hunks of parmigiano-reggiano, and what else but pasta? Even cold fusilli could taste good on a night like this. Since most of you missed it, let me recommend whipping up a dish of rigatoni with authentic Tuscan ragù and listening to Andrea Bocelli for a little bit of magic in the warmth of home.
Ragù alla toscana / Tuscan Beef and Chicken Giblet Sauce Makes approximately 5 cups
from Salse di Pomodoro: Making the Great Tomato Sauces of Italy, by Julia della Croce© (Chronicle Books)
The use of chicken innards makes this sauce typically Tuscan. Chicken gizzards, hearts, cockscombs, livers, and intestines (the latter first soaked in water and vinegar and then carefully washed) give a great flavor boost to a tomato-and-meat sauce. Unfortunately, some of these chicken parts are typically eschewed in America and are largely unavailable, except for livers and gizzards. The latter (sometimes known simply as giblets) are added to this sauce, which is then fortified with dry red wine and cooked very gently for a long time. The result is a rich-tasting, complex ragù. In and around Siena, it is typically served over pici, handmade knitting-needle-like pasta; throughout Tuscany, it is used as a sauce for cannelloni and for sturdy macaroni cuts such as rigatoni, fusilli, gemelli (twins), penne, or ziti.
2-1/2 cups canned, peeled plum tomatoes in juice; 2-1/2 pounds fresh, sweet, mature vine-ripened tomatoes; or 2-1/2 cups canned, crushed plum tomatoes
1/2 pound chicken gizzards
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, scraped and chopped
1 medium celery stalk, including leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 pound ground lean beef, or a mixture of beef and pork
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup good-quality dry red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
freshly milled black or white pepper to taste
If using canned tomatoes, drain them, reserving their juice. Strain the captured juice to hold back the seeds. Using your fingers, push out the excess seeds, then chop the tomatoes and set aside the tomatoes and juice. If using fresh tomatoes, slip them into a kettle of rapidly boiling water and blanch for 30 to 45 seconds. Drain the tomatoes and immediately plunge them into cold water. Drain again and, using a paring knife, lift off the skins and cut out the tough core portions. Cut into quarters lengthwise and, using your fingers, push out the excess seeds. Chop the tomatoes and set aside. It using crushed tomatoes, reserve.
To clean the gizzards, wash them and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Using a sharp knife, slice away the tough outer, whitish skin from each pair of gizzards, then slice them thinly and set aside. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and parsley, and sauté gently, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, about 15 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and add the gizzards; sauté for 5 minutes, and then add the ground meat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and using a wooden spoon, break up the meat and stir it to brown evenly. It should turn light brown; do not allow it to harden. Add the wine and allow the alcohol to evaporate, about 3 minutes.
Stir in the tomato paste and the tomatoes and juice or crushed tomatoes. Allow the sauce to come to a bubbly simmer, then turn the heat down to as low as possible and partially cover the saucepan. Continue to simmer, always over the lowest possible heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and pebbly (the Tuscans actually call this ragù, la ghiaiosa, “the pebbly sauce”), about 1-1/2 hours.
Note: Two cups are sufficient for saucing 1 pound of pasta.
Ahead-of-time note: This sauce can be made 4 or 5 days in advance of using and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen for up to 3 months.