On cold, short winter days, we tend to turn to comfort food for, well, comfort. Food professionals—chefs, bakers, restaurant owners and the like—are no different. At this time of year, homey braises, filling pastas and old-fashioned desserts are on their menus at home. When we asked local food pros to share their favorite winter dishes, the ones they serve family and friends, we got recipes that run the gamut from an intoxicatingly complex pork-and-hominy stew to a simple meal ender of wine-poached pears with mascarpone whipped cream. Delish!
ANDREA LEPORE owns a Jewish deli in downtown Sacramento, but her heritage is pure Italian. When she was growing up, both her Italian grandmothers served “amazing” homemade pasta every Sunday. Before her maternal grandmother died, Lepore watched her make pasta and meatballs and wrote down every step. Says the owner of Solomon’s Delicatessen, “With a loaf of ciabatta or pugliese, a bottle of Italian red wine and a table of friends and family, that’s a good life!”
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped Castelvetrano olives
1 6-ounce can organic tomato paste
3 28-ounce cans whole peeled organic tomatoes
Salt to taste
Fresh or dried oregano to taste
1 pound ground beef
½ pound ground veal
½ pound ground pork
½ cup high-quality breadcrumbs
1 garlic clove, chopped
¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Grated Pecorino, Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
⅓ cup olive oil
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
To make the sauce:
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the carrots and olives and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and canned tomatoes. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer for at least two hours and up to all day. Add salt and oregano to taste.
To make the meatballs:
Place ground meats, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, eggs, cheese, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Using your hands, quickly and gently mix the ingredients together until evenly combined. (Do not overmix.) Form the mixture into 3-inch meatballs.
Heat the olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs. Cover the pan with a lid and cook, turning the meatballs occasionally until brown on all sides. Add to the sauce and simmer 30 minutes.
To make the pasta:
Mound the flour on a large wooden board and create a well in the center. Break the eggs into the well and add the salt. With a fork, begin whisking the eggs and slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs. When you have a messy, wet dough, begin to knead the dough with your hands, incorporating the rest of the flour into the dough. Continue kneading the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into two equal parts. Using a pasta machine, roll each dough portion into a long, thin sheet. Cut the sheets into noodles. (Tagliatelle noodles, which are about ¼- to 1⁄3 -inch wide, are perfect for red sauce and meatballs.) Lay the noodles flat onto a board dusted with flour so they don’t stick.
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the noodles until al dente. (Don’t overcook your pasta!) Drain. Return the pasta to the pot over medium-low heat. Spoon 1½ cups of the sauce over the pasta and toss to coat. Add more sauce if necessary. Place the pasta and sauce into a large bowl and top with meatballs.