A couple years ago I was obsessed with developing a cooking show that was all about creatively repurposing leftovers. As a kid I hated leftovers and with this show, I wanted to demonstrate how leftovers could be utilized in new ways, expanding on the flavor profiles of the original dish but taking them in a different direction. But then came along a Food Network show called Quick Fix Meals, hosted by a glassy-eyed nutritionist/soccer mom named Robin Miller. The concept was essentially the same, but propelled by the boring cliche that in today's busy society who wants to spend all their free time in the kitchen? Soon thereafter, I lost interest in my project. Not to say there aren't multiple versions and variations on the same thing all over television, but the more I thought about it, the show seemed to have a pretty limited potential. I mean how many times can you chop up the remains of last night's dinner and toss it on top of a salad, tuck it into a quesadilla, or turn it into soup or whatever?
The idea of repurposing leftovers resurfaced last weekend as I was braising short ribs for the little dinner party I was hosting. I purposely made twice the amount of meat that would likely be consumed by my guests and myself, with the intention of having plenty left over. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are a number of ways one could go with the remaining braised meat, but that one that seemed most appealing to me was to morph it into a ragu to be served atop wide ribbons of pappardelle.
For those of us who only know "ragu" from the jarred sauce one might find at the supermarket, the real thing bears little resemblance. At it's most basic, a ragu is a very slowly cooked sauce made up of onion, carrot, celery, tomato and some sort of meat meat, be it beef, pork, veal, turkey, or game. The most famous is probably Bolognase. There is a great article in the LA times all about ragu's that can give far more information than I am capable of. Do check it out.
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 ribs of celery, sliced into large chunks
2 carrots, sliced into large chunks
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
pinch of red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 cup beef stock
1/4 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms
1 (28-ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 cup leftover braised short rib meat, stripped from the bones and shredded slightly
1/2 cup milk or cream
1 pound Pappardelle
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
Place the dried Procini mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with 1 cup very hot water and let sit for 15 or 20 minutes. Once the mushrooms have softened, remove from the water and roughly chop. Meanwhile, pour the soaking liquid through a strainer lined with 2 layers of paper towel, to remove any dirt or sediment that may have been on the mushrooms. Reserve the strained soaking liquid.
Place the chopped onion, celery and carrot in a food processor and pulse several times until the vegetables have been finely chopped.
In a large sauté pan or deep pot heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. Once the oil is glistening, add the chopped vegetables, thyme and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the chopped Porcinis and the soaking liquid, give it a stir to combine and cook until the soaking liquid has reduced down. Next add the beef stock and continue to cook until it's reduced down.
While the stock is reducing, place the whole tomatoes and their juices in the food processor (you needn't bother washing it out first) and pulse until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes and the short rib meat to the sauté pan, reduce the heat to medium low, cover and bring to a simmer. Remove the lid and continue to simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the milk or cream and simmer for another couple minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, prepare the pappadelle according to the package directions. Always taste the pasta about 3 minutes before the package claims it will be finished cooking. In my experience the pasta is always done way before they say it will be.
Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce in the sauté pan tossing with a pair of tongs to coat. Serve in bowls topped with a few shavings of Parmesan cheese, a light scattering of chopped parsley, and a grinding of black pepper.
So, as much as I loved the short ribs in their original incarnation, I think I might like them better as a ragu. Might, being the key word. When combined with the sautéed vegetables, Porcinis, stock and cream, the wine-braised meat forms a robust, earthy sauce with an incredible depth of flavor. I seriously couldn't stop eating it. It's so right for colder weather.