Thursday, February 7, 2013

brasato al barolo with pumpkin orzo

Brasato al Barolo was actually the first dish that I cooked out of this book. I made it in 2006, when I was cooking for a big birthday party for my friend Lawrence. About 100 people were going to be there. Lawrence is Italian, by the grace of God, and I knew a Mario recipe would go over well. I was looking for something I could use to stuff into small peppers, to make some sort of take on jalapeño poppers. I saw this recipe, and decided to make it, shred the meat, mix it with the sauce, stuff it into the mini peppers (some went into jalapeños, some into sweet peppers that were the same size as jalapeño), then roast them.

That worked out pretty well. And as many photos as I have from that party, there are none of that dish. Weird. But here is a gratuitous photo from that party, in which the bresato stuffed peppers are nowhere to be seen:

When I went to cook it that time, I really knew nothing about wine. Unlike now, when I know enough to know that I don't know very much, but know the right questions to ask the right people. In fact, cooking this dish back then was probably how I learned that.

The dish called for a wine called Barolo, and I presumed that must be pretty important, because there it was, right there in the name of the dish. I went to Mazarro's in St. Petersburg, went to the wine rack, and saw two kinds of Barolo. One was $45 and the other was $65. Given that my budget for the whole party was about $300, this was a problem. So I went to the wine guy at the store, and told him what I was making. It's been six years now, so I don't know if I'm quoting him correctly, but suffice to say he said something like, "No, you don't want to cook with that." He implied he would consider not even selling me a bottle of Barolo if he thought I was going to cook with it.

The thing was, I did want to cook with it. I just knew that I couldn't rationally afford to. So he pointed me to a bottle of Something Or Other 2001, which was a very good year for Something Or Other, and told me that it had a lot of the same characteristics of the Barolo, but would not be a sin to dump into a braise and put in the oven for 2 hours. He seemed adamant.

And that time, it turned out great.

So this time, I never even considered looking for a bottle of Barolo. I used a bottle of pinot noir I had at hand, because, as I learned by reading the book Heat, that's what they use to braise the short ribs at Babbo in the first place. So I was achieving and added level of authenticity by not following the recipe. Woo-hoo!

When I made this dish in 2006, I'm sure I used whatever tiny short rib remnants I was able to find at Publix, and I was probably pretty grateful to find them at all. But this time, I had every intention of getting that long rib bone with the shrunken braised meat cube on the middle. So I went down to Eastern Market, where they had a bunch of the tiny short rib remnants in the case. I got the attention of one of the butchers behind the counter and asked if they had any that were uncut.

He smiled and said he'd be right back.

He brought out a container full of 10- to 12-inch long ribs. They really have no business even being called short ribs. The ones in the case were probably these cut into four pieces.

"Want me to cut these in half?" he asked.

"I don't want you to cut those at all," I said.

He smiled. "Ohhhhhh, you want to cook them right."

Yes. Yes. That is my plan.

He seemed very pleased. He pointed down at the little bitty quartered short, short ribs in the case.

"Most people tell me they want those cut again. They say those are too big," he said, with the clear subtext that most people are total morons.

"Those?" I asked, incredulously. "Those are tiny."

"I know!"

And that's how I made a butcher friend.

This dish was never, ever going to be bad. I love braising meat for a long time and getting the fall-apart chunk of meat and the amazing sauce that happens while I pretty much sit around and watch football. It's the best kind of magic.

The pumpkin orzo is the contorni that is prescribed in the book to go with this, and it was good. (I multitasked this dish: I made the pumpkin puree for the orzo at the same time that I made the filling for the pumpkin lune. That way, I killed fewer pumpkins)

Usually I'm cooking for two, so often when a recipe serves 4 or more, I halve it. Not this one. The only thing better than braised short ribs are leftover braised short ribs. I shredded the ribs we didn't eat, and they will soon be a sandwich, or on top of pasta.

Or maybe stuff some little peppers.

(Here is the recipe, if you have some short ribs to braise.)

Up next: duck brasaola

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