A Sea Change

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            It has been a summer of largess:  the ungraspable beauty of the San Juan Islands, bounteous and perfect food offerings, unlimited shopping possibilities, and friends, family, and more friends.  We left America dragging our maximum baggage capacities behind us and somehow got all the way to Tunisia without losing one item. 
            Now, after such an expansive experience, how do I begin writing about our second year in North Africa?   As Anne Lamott recommends, start writing about the smallest topic you can bring it down to.  Voila!  Carrots!… and onions, and the simple fundamentals one begins with, including the practice of chopping. 

            These humble carrots are so organically grown.  I swear I was looking for these all summer.  The perfectly uniform carrots I found in the Northwest intimidated me and looked too fancy to chop up and cook.  These are my kind of carrots, willing and ready to cooperate with other ingredients, lending just a little sweetness and color to any dish.  We are making up a vat of ragu here, using a recipe by Giorgio Locatelli from his book Made in Italy, Food and Stories. 
            It feels really good to get back into our Tunisian rhythms.
Ragu alla Bolognese
Makes enough for 8
2kg-minced beef
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
Sprigs of rosemary and sage, tied together in a bouquet garni
2 garlic cloves, whole
1 bottle of red wine
1-tablespoon tomato paste
1 liter diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Take the meat out of the fridge and lay it on a tray, letting it come to room temperature so that it will sear rather than boil when it goes into the pan.
Heat the oil in a wide-bottomed saucepan, add the vegetables, herbs, and whole garlic cloves.  Sweat over a high heat for 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent browning.
Season the meat with salt and pepper and add to the pan of vegetables, making sure that the meat is covering the base of the pan.  Leave for 5-6 minutes so that the meat seals underneath and heats through completely before you start stirring, otherwise it will ooze protein and liquid and will boil rather than sear.  Take care, though, that the vegetables don’t burn.  Add a little more oil if necessary to prevent this.
Stir the meat and vegetables every few minutes for about 10-12 minutes until the meat starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.  At this point, the meat is ready to take the wine.
Add the wine and let it reduce right down to virtually nothing, then add the tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time.
Add the diced tomatoes and 1-liter water.  Bring to boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook for about 1 ½ hours, adding a little extra water if necessary from time to time until you have a thick sauce.
Ragu is preferably served over pappardelle, tagliatelle, or other short pasta.  It is awesome layered into baked dishes, like lasagna, which is where our ragu is headed.

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