Tells a story


A Lunch Guest from Japan

Posted on June 22, 2009 at 2:00 AM

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Mozzarella Bufala and Spaghetti with Ragu alla Bolognese

Russ Parson's Roasted Cherry Tomates and Mozzarella Bufala.

I am having a Japanese guest over for lunch today. I figured she might be hungry for Japanese food after being in LA for 5 days. So I made some fresh dipping sauce for the noodles last night and checked the pantry to see what kind of noodles I have in stock. I have plenty of soba and somen noodles. I am in good shape. It would be a no brainer simple lunch. But later in the evening, I did what I usually do almost every night. I took a cookbook to read in bed. Whenever I read about food, I either get involved with it or it knocks me right to sleep. What came with me to bed was an old issue of Savuer (April 2008), which featured Classic Pasta. I've read this issue countless times but when it comes to classic recipes, I like to reread and cook them in my imaginary kitchen. This practice hones my skills and deepens my appreciation for cooking, without any pressure. This issue discusses various Ragu alla Bolognese recipes. Ground meat, tomato sauce, red wine, onions, carrots and celery are the basic ingredients. The modern recipe spices the ragu sauce with coriander, star anise, cardamon, sherry vinegar, fish sauce, tabasco and tons of garlic. Another recipe in the same issue doesn't ask for garlic or a single sprig of parsely. An Italian ragu recipe with no garlic or parsely? I reread the recipe to make sure I didn't skip a line. So funny what keeps me up in the middle of the night. Some where between looking for the garlic in the recipe and thinking about tomorrow, I fell asleep. When I woke up this morning, I was still thinking about the ragu alla Bolognese so I decided that I will serve Spaghetti with Ragu alla Bolognese and forget the Japanese noodles.


Spaghetti with Ragu alla Bolognese



You can almost never go wrong feeding Italian food to Japanese people. They adore it. If you go to Japan, the second most popular flag next to the Japanese flag is the Italian flag. This is because there are so many Italian restaurants that fly them. I basically combine three recipes from Saveur but use ground chicken as a base because that is all I have in the fridge. Ground beef, lamb or pork are more common meat for making a ragu sauce. From the modern ragu recipe, I use a dash of coriander and with some hesitation, star anise but I skip the fish sauce, tabasco and the sherry vinegar. That would too adventurous. Then I go to the old recipe I already have in my head, which is no recipe. I add some dried herbs - basil and oregano. Now I feel in my comfort zone. I cook the sauce for about two hours over low heat. I get a little nervous about what the star anise is doing to the sauce. What if my guest doesn't like the flavor? I don't want it to overwhelm so I scoop it out. I taste the tomato sauce. It has a hint of the anise scent. That's exactly what I was going for. I make a few adjustments to the sauce with a teaspoon of sugar to help neutralize the acidity of the tomato and a generous splash of red wine just for fun. It can't hurt. My kitchen smells Italian. The Ragu came out light because I used chicken. My guest thought it was nice and healthy.


There is time to make an appetizer. I decide to do the dish that my friend Russ Parson made for Marisa Roth's party the other night. It is Roasted cherry tomatoes and Mozzarella Bufala which is served on slices of toasted baguette. Russ is not only a very good journalist but also a very good cook. This appetizer was so popular at the party that people took turns sitting in front of the plate. Unfortunately, the Bufala I bought is not the creamy Puglia type that Russ used. I cut my soft but not creamy soft Bufala into bite size morsels and make a sheet of white on the plate. My guest arrives just as I am taking the roasted tomatoes out of the oven. "It smells very good, " she says. "I hope you don't mind, we are eating Italian?" "I love Italian, she said smiling. See I told you. My guest is walking around the house taking pictures of my funky vegetable garden and Sakai's sculptures. While she is snapping away, I put the roasted cherry tomatoes on top of the bufala. I start the water for boiling the spaghetti. Then I go back to the appetizer plate. I garnish the roasted tomatoes with chopped basil and serve it with the toasted baguettes.I offer her wine but she opts for ice tea. I have the same. I will have a glass of wine in the evening.


all gone!



Serves 2

  • 1/2 box or about 24 Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1/2 ball Mozzarella Bufala (Puglia style is preferred) 
  • 1/2-1 clove garlic, chopped finely 
  • 1 tbls sliced basil 
  • 1/2 baguette, sliced about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick,crosswise 
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper to season 

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F. 
  2. To roast the cherry tomatoes, put them on a sheet of aluminim foil large enough to hold the tomatoes.  Toss lightly with some olive oil, salt and pepper.  Seal the foil and put it in the preheated oven for about 7 minutes.  When the tomatoes are half way cooked, throw in some chopped garlic for added flavor.  The tomatoes are done when they are very soft and begin to burst.  Do not burn the tomatoes.  Take the tomatoes out of the oven and open the foil to let them cool down.
  3.  If you can find Bufala from Puglia, the cheese will be too soft to cut.  Simply, scoop it out of the container and spread it on the serving plate.  If you have regular Mozzarella Bufala Campagna, the ball will be soft but not creamy soft.  So you will be able to cut it into small morsels.  Lay the morsels on the serving plate.  
  4. Toast the baguette.  You can brush the surface of the baguette with olive oil, if you like.  Serve the roasted tomatoes on top of the Bufala and sprinkle basil.  Serve with toasted baguette.  
  5. Serve immediately.

Roasted cherry tomatoes 


SPAGHETTI WITH RAGU ALLA BOLOGNESE  (Revised from Savuer recipe - Anna Nanni's Ragu alla Bolognese -April 2008) 


Serves 4 people   

  • 1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes (with juice)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbls butter
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  •  2 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 lbs ground beef or ground chicken
  • 1 4oz piece pancetta, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tbls tomato paste 
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt, pepper, taste
  • 1/4 tsp each of coriander, dried oregano and dried basil, or more to taste
  • 1 star anise 
  • 1 package of Pasta - spaghetti
  • 1 cup Parmegiano-reggioano, grated 

  1. Put the tomatoes and their juice in a blender; puree until smooth and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add celery, onions and carrots.  Season with the condiments.  Just a 1/4 teaspoon of each seasoning, to taste.  Put one star anise in the pot but take it out after 15 minutes of cooking and discard. Lower heat and cook for another 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Taste the sauce again and make adjustments.
  3. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring and breaking up meat with a spatula, until the meat begins to brown, about 10 mintues. Add the pancetta and continue cooking.  Ad the wine and simmer.  Add tomato pate, the reeserved tomato puree and sugar, and continue simmering utnil sauce is very thick, about  2 hours.
  4. Cook the pasta, following package instructions.  
  5. Serve cooked pasta with the ragu alla Bolognese and grated parmigiano-greggiano. 


 And she left for the airport.

Categories: Noodles, Pasta and Dumplings, Vegetable and Seaweed Dishes , Appetizers

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