Pork and Chestnut Ragu

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Winter is here, and you know what that means…sickness! Everyone seems to have some form of cold, cough, or sore throat. I’ve definitely caught the bug. While everyone is out and about doing their Christmas shopping, I’ve had to stay in for most of the weekend and take a sick day today from work. This is tougher for me than it should be. General American working culture makes it seem like taking a sick day and, therefore, taking care of yourself, is a bad thing. It’s as if coming into work even though you’re sick is a badge of honor and dedication. Thankfully, I work at a company where culture dictates that taking care of yourself is a top priority. And, who wants to catch my germs, anyways?

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Taking care of yourself 101: Drink mugs and mugs of this beautiful tea—preferably in your favorite mug.

My boss just told me this today, and I think we all need this reminder on the daily: Never apologize for taking care of yourself. You know your needs better than anyone else does.

Part of taking care of myself includes nourishment, of course! When I’m sick, I always muster up the energy to cook myself something, even if it’s just warm chicken broth. Now, when most people are sick, they think “soup!” Well, when I’m sick, the first thing I think of is, “pasta!” (Are you at all surprised?)

So, earlier this week I saw peeled and cooked chestnuts at Trader Joe’s, and something came over me that said “you MUST buy these and cook with them!” even though I’ve never cooked with chestnuts before in my life. I was kicking myself later in the week, staring at these chestnuts dumbfounded. Then I took out all my cookbooks and cooking magazines to look for a recipe. Thank goodness, I found a copy of Jamie Oliver’s magazine (aptly named Jamie Magazine) from November/December 2011. He had a whole section on cooking with chestnuts. Perfect! His recipe was for Chestnut Tagliatelle with Venison Ragu. Well, I hate venison (don’t hate me!) and I did not have the ingredients to make the homemade tagliatelle, so I tweaked the recipe a bit to make my own version of it! Behold (let’s show this beauty pic again…):

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Pork and Chestnut Ragu

  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 vacuum-packed package of peeled and cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup tomato purée
  • 3/4 cup red wine (I used Chianti)
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  1. Add finely chopped carrot, celery, and onion to a sauté pan with 2 tablespoons butter, the bay leaves, cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the ground pork and break that up in the pan. Sauté until cooked through.
  3. Add the chestnuts and nutmeg and stir together.
  4. Add the tomato purée, stir in, then add the red wine and stir again.
  5. Add the chicken broth and let the mixture come to a boil. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
  6. Add the tomato paste and mix into the sauce. The sauce will thicken at this point and should only need a few more minutes to simmer.
  7. Taste the ragu and add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this with a pasta of your choice. Rigatoni pairs perfectly, if you were looking for a recommendation!

The holiday season is about giving to others, but please remember to give to yourself, too. Happy December!

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Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas

Yesterday was the first day of spring, and it’s now…let me check my phone…26 degrees Fahrenheit here in Boston. We’ve all been craving the sunshine, the green grass, the blossoms, and the spring harvest. Winter brings us squash and citrus, but gosh do I miss those colorful farmers markets, those bright, fresh flavors. I needed a boost after being plunged into the cold for months, so I went to the grocery store and found fresh mint. One whiff of this beautiful herb brings images of summer to my mind’s eye.

Right before I traveled to England in 2011 to study abroad in Oxford, I watched Jamie at Home every day. Jamie Oliver is one of my favorite chefs of all time for several reasons. He has a knack for pairing flavors together in the most beautifully simple way. The one flavor trio that stood out most was his use of lemon, mint, and chili. Look to his courgette salad recipe for an example of this. Mint and citrus are made for each other, and that extra kick at the end from the chili adds an unexpected warmth. Amazing.

This past weekend my boyfriend and I ate dinner at The Haven, a Scottish pub in Jamaica Plain, MA. One of their signature sides is minty mushed peas. Oh my heavens. Chopped mint made those creamy peas the most refreshing mashed vegetable in the world.

So, with these inspirations in mind, I wanted to create a dish that put lemon, mint, peas, and chili together. Behold:

Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas
Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas

 Egg Noodles with Ricotta, Lemon, Mint, and Peas

Serves 2

  • 1 pound egg noodles (I recommend Pennsylvania Dutch Extra Wide)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese (about 1/4 cup per person)
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 9 mint leaves, chopped
  • a pinch to 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (you can use fresh red chili if you wish)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Put the frozen peas in a pan. Take a garlic press and crush one clove of garlic, adding that garlic to the pan.

2. Add olive oil to the pan and turn the heat up to medium. Season the peas with salt and pepper to your taste. Let the peas sizzle in the pan until fully thawed. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. Fill a large pot with water and heat until boiling.

4. As the pasta water heats up, wash the mint leaves and either chop them with a sharp knife or rip them into pieces with your fingers for less bruising. Add these mint leaves to a bowl along with the lemon zest and lemon juice. If you do not have a mortar and pestle (I don’t!), take the back of a spoon and press or “muddle” the mint and lemon against the side of the bowl. This allows the juices in the mint to come out and mix more readily with the lemon juice.

5. Add the ricotta cheese to the mint and lemon and mix until fully incorporated. Add the cayenne pepper (or fresh red chili) and salt; mix until combined. Set aside.

6. When the water begins to boil, add the egg noodles and cook until al dente.

7. Add drained pasta back into the pot and mix with the sauteed peas and garlic.

8. Spoon the pasta into bowls and top with the lemon mint ricotta cheese mixture. Mix it all together.

And there you have it! A pasta dish so creamy yet so refreshing. Spring is here—celebrate with good food. Happy cooking!

 

Restaurant Review: Highland Kitchen

I live in Boston, which means that the culinary scene is on fire. There are so many amazing restaurants, delis, diners, bakeries, and more to enjoy. As a cook, you can learn so much from these innovative chefs and gather ideas of your own.

Last week I had to say goodbye to a dear friend of mine as she moves to New York City. She enlisted my advice for where to have her goodbye dinner. She lived by Porter Square, so I immediately recommended Highland Kitchen.

Rated at the top of Boston Magazine’s “Boston’s Best,” Highland Kitchen boasts several different cuisines on their menu, from Southern to Italian to English. Not only are the available dishes impressive, but the prices attached are unbelievably affordable. You can get a cocktail for $8.00. Most appetizers are under $10.00, and entrees are reasonably priced for being so close to the city.

Now you’re probably wondering…Kristina, what did you get?!

For my cocktail, I chose what Highland Kitchen calls the “Monsoon.” Ginger beer, Mount Gay rum, fresh mango juice, and fresh lime juice. A wonderfully tropical play on the classic “Dark and Stormy” (just ginger beer and rum).

Highland Kitchen's "Monsoon" Cocktail
Highland Kitchen’s “Monsoon” Cocktail

We all shared the Buffalo Fried Brussel Sprouts for an appetizer. I did not manage to snap a picture of the dish because we ate it so fast! The brussel sprouts were fried to perfection, crunchy on the outside and tender yet not overcooked on the inside. The sprouts were doused in a buffalo sauce that was not unbearably spicy. The spice warmed my mouth, allowing a the sauce’s flavor to more prominently arise.

For my entree, I chose the Pappardelle Bolognese. Now, I grew up with my father’s bolognese, and you should know right now that I’m a major pasta snob. However, I took a chance on ordering this dish because I had a feeling they would make this coveted dish right.

Highland Kitchen's Pappardelle Bolognese
Highland Kitchen’s Pappardelle Bolognese

The noodles were homemade with just the right thickness. The bolognese was spot on – tender, mild Italian sausage meat and ground pork meshed beautifully with a sauce that had the correct balance between tomato and wine. Some bolognese sauces out there have too much red wine or too much tomato sauce and not enough wine. Other sauces make the blasphemous error of using meat that comes dry. I give Highland Kitchen an A+ for their bolognese!

Dessert was decent – a hot fudge brownie sundae and bourbon pecan pie. When I go there again, I’ll just go for the pie! I like my brownies fudgy, but their version was a bit more on the cakey side. If you like your brownies a tad bit on the lighter side, you’ll love their version.

If you are willing to take a little adventure outside of the city, Highland Kitchen has a wonderfully lively atmosphere accompanied with affordable, creative, and delicious meals.