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January 10, 2006

Eat Your Heart Out - January 10, 2006

When cooking, there are always certain recipes that I go back to, the ones that I can make in a pinch if I’m ever lost for ideas and need to whip up something tasty. Of course, over time, I no longer need a cookbook to refer back to the instructions—I’ve made the dish so many times that the steps come to me effortlessly. Here are three such recipes. Over time, they have been adapted ever-so-slightly from the original recipes, but these recipes are so good that the difference is hardly noticeable.

Creamless Mushroom Soup

This is a nice winter soup that tastes a lot richer than you would think. It may seem like there is a lot of chopping and slicing required for this recipe, which is true. But because the soup is puréed at the end, you do not need to worry about chopping perfect cubes of celery or carrots; rough chopping is fine.

Serves 6

2 Tablespoons butter

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 cup peeled and sliced carrots

1 cup sliced onions

1 cup sliced leeks, washed, white and light green parts only

1/2 cup sliced celery

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 pounds cleaned and sliced white mushrooms

6 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 teaspoons minced chives

1. Melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the carrots, onions, leeks, and celery, and cook until tender (but not browned) for about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the thyme and mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, until the mushrooms have softened. Add the chicken stock, salt, and pepper, and cover for 30 minutes.

3. Purée the soup in a food processor or blender, using as many batches as necessary. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve in warm bowls with a sprinkling of chives.

Adapted from The Union Square Café Cookbook by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano (HarperCollins: 1994).

Meat Sauce, Bolognese Style

This is a pasta sauce that is 100 times better than any store-bought meat sauce. It needs a long time to cook—but because it simmers, you can basically leave it alone after all the ingredients have been added. The sauce can also be used atop polenta or lasagna as well.

Serves 4

4 Tablespoons chopped yellow onion

3 Tablespoons olive oil

3 Tablespoons butter

3 Tablespoons chopped celery

3 Tablespoons chopped carrot

3/4 pound ground lean beef, preferably chuck or from the neck

Salt

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup whole milk

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups canned tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice

1 teaspoon sugar

1. In an earthenware or other heavy pot, put in the chopped onion, with all the oil and butter, and sauté briefly over medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add 1 teaspoon salt, stir, and cook only until the meat has lost its raw, red color. Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.

3. Turn the heat down to medium, add the milk and the nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated. Stir frequently.

4. When the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and sugar and stir thoroughly. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down until the sauce cooks at the lowest simmer (with just an occasional bubble). Cook, uncovered, for a minimum of 3 1/2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Salt to taste. Serve over pasta.

Adapted from The Classic Italian Cook Book by Marcella Hazan (Knopf : 1979).

Maple Tuiles

These are probably my favorite cookie of all time, simultaneously chewy and crisp, not too heavy, infused with a sweet maple flavor. They are also some of the easiest and quickest cookies to make. The original recipe in the Joy of Cooking calls to roll the cookies after they have cooled into curled cookies, but I find this step to be tiresome and not worth the effort and have thus omitted it.

Makes about 15 3-inch cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bring to a hard boil for about 1/2 minute:

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup butter

Remove from heat and add:

1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

When well blended, drop the dough onto a greased cookie sheet, 1 Tablespoonful at a time, 3 inches apart. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes, or until the cookie colors to the shade of maple sugar. Remove the pan from the oven, remove cookies with a spatula, and let cool on a rack.

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker (Bobbs-Merrill: 1988).