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Ragu with Fresh Tajarin Pasta


We were recently in Seattle, visiting one of our sons, and had dinner at Spinasse. Spinasse is known around Seattle as one of the best places to go for homemade pasta and it did not disappoint. There were a lot of moans and groans coming from our table. The meal was delicious, from the amuse that they brought out (a heavenly little bite of crostini with butter and anchovy) to an oustanding dessert of coconut gelato with dark chocolate flakes.  But the real star of the show was, indeed, the pastas.

They make their own pasta, by hand, right in front of the diners and you can watch them, especially if you sit at the "cook's counter". Their signature pasta that they are most known for is Tajarin, a thin flat noodle that is common in the Piedmont region of Italy.  They make their pasta only with egg yolks, just like they do in Piedmont, which makes a rich, silky pasta with a nice bite.  They serve the Tajarin two ways - with either butter and sage or a meat ragu.  We tried both at our table and they were so good.  Their ragu especially got to me - it was a very finely ground ragu, which was great on such delicate pasta.  Most ragus are on the chunkier side and just don't work well with such fine pasta - they slide right off.  The ragu was also very concentrated, with almost no liquid. I wanted to try to recreate the dish myself.  

I started with the usual recipe for ragu - a soffritto of onions, celery and carrot.  But I tweaked some of the ingredients - I used tomato paste in addition to tomato sauce.  I added a little nutmeg for a richer flavor.  But the main thing I did that I really loved was after the sauce had cooked off most of the liquid, I transferred it to my food processor and finely ground it.  I then returned it to the pot and added some ingredients again - some tomato puree, more wine, more broth - and the ragu just soaked it up so beautifully.  And the step with the food processor was key - it really made the ragu fine enough that it really coated the fresh pasta nicely. 

the smaller cutters on this Imperia machine make almost perfect Tajarin


Ragu with Fresh Tajarin

for a printable recipe click here

This recipe makes about 12 ounces of pasta, which should serve 4 people.  The recipe makes more ragu than you will need for 12 ounces of pasta. You can either freeze the remainder (which I do - as long as I am making sauce, why not make more?) or you can easily halve this recipe. 

for the ragu:
1 pound of beef (I used chuck roast), ground
1 pound of pork (I used pork shoulder), ground
2 Tablespoons olive oil
⅓ cup finely chopped onion
⅓ cup finely chopped carrot
⅓ cup finely chopped celery 
2 cloves garlic, grated
6 Tablespoons tomato paste, divided (a 6 ounce can)
1 cup dry red wine, divided 
2½ cups beef broth, divided
2 cups crushed or pureed tomatoes, divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground pepper
sea salt to taste
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese 

for the pasta:
8 egg yolks, room temperature
1½ - 2 cups all-purpose flour (approximately)


Make the ragu:
In a large heavy pot, brown the meats over medium heat.  Drain the meats in a colander to remove fat. Do not wipe out pot.  Add the onion, carrot, celery and olive oil to pot and saute on medium low heat for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute a minute more.  Add 3 Tablespoons of the tomato paste and let cook for a couple of minutes and then blend well.  Add ½ cup of the wine, 2 cups of the beef broth, 1 cup of the pureed tomatoes, the oregano, nutmeg and pepper.  Return the meat to the pot, stir well and cook, uncovered, over low heat so that the ragu simmers, but does not boil.  Cook this way for about 1½ hours, stirrig occasionally. 

Meanwhile, make the pasta:
Place the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl and whisk.  If you have an electric mixer with a dough hook, do this step in that mixing bowl.  Add half of the flour and, either with the dough hook or a fork, mix the flour into the eggs.  Keep adding more flour until you get a dough that is still a bit sticky.  Turn out onto a counter and finish by hand, adding a little more flour at a time and kneading until the dough is not too dry but still a tiny bit moist - it should feel like "Play-Doh".  Wrap in floured plastic wrap and allow to sit for about 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, cut it into 4 pieces and run through the rollers of a pasta machine, starting at the widest setting and ending at the next to thinnest setting (if you like a thicker pasta, just stop at the thickness you like).  Lay the sheets out on a slightly floured counter.  After you make all the sheets, either roll them up and slice by hand or run the sheets through the spaghetti cutter on your pasta machine.  Place the pasta on a well floured rimmed baking sheet, toss with flour so the pasta doesn't stick, lightly cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge until ready to use. 

Finish the ragu:
After the ragu has cooked for about 1½ hours, most of the liquid should be gone.  If not, simmer for 20 or so minutes more until this stage is reached.  Either with an immersion blender in the pot, or in a food processor, process the ragu until the meats are finely ground.  Return to pot and add the rest of the wine, beef broth, pureed tomato and tomato paste.  The ragu should soak these right up.  Taste the ragu and add salt to taste. Stir well and keep warm, with the lid on this time, until ready to use. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook the pasta for about 60 seconds, tossing with tongs as it cooks. Remove the pasta with tongs and place right in a large serving bowl, allowing some of the pasta water to cling to the pasta.  Spoon some of the ragu over the pasta and toss well, coating the pasta.  How much sauce you use is up to you - most Americans overdress pasta.  Divide onto serving plates and serve with freshly grated Parmigiano cheese.


Chocolate Cinnamon Babkallah

I discovered this recipe last year and made it for my youngest son who loves both challah bread and chocolate. This is a cross between a chocolate babka and challah bread and it's so good.  I love the combination of the chocolate and cinnamon together.  


This "babkallah" is not at all hard to make, it just takes some time.  After you make the dough and let it rise, You divide the dough into three pieces and roll each piece out flat (see photos below).  On each piece of dough, you lay the chocolate/cinnamon mixture and then roll each piece up into a long log.  You braid the logs together and bake.  Honestly, this bread is divine

Chocolate Cinnamon Babkallah

for a printable recipe click here

½ cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
⅓ cup granulated sugar
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast (like Rapid Rise)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups all purpose flour (approximately)

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
⅓ cup light brown sugar
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
all purpose flour for the counter
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
granulated sugar (for sprinkling - I used raw, coarse Turbinado sugar)


Make the dough:
Heat milk in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the stove just until warm, not hot.  Transfer to a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Blend in the egg yolks, vanilla, butter, sugar, yeast and salt.  Mix on medium speed (or use a large wooden spoon) until well blended.  Switch to the dough hook. Add 2 cups of the flour and blend until fully incorporated.  For the last cup of flour, add slowly until you get a dough that just holds together well without being too dry or too wet.  Don't worry if you don't have to use all the flour - it's better to get the right texture dough.  Knead for about 5 minutes. 

Transfer the dough to a large bowl sprayed with a little cooking spray.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size about 2 hours. 

Filing and Assembly
Mix chocolate, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide into three equal portions.  Shape each into a 12" long rope. Roll out each rope to a 12x6" rectangle and about ⅛" thick. Brush with butter and top each rectangle with a third of the chocolate mixture.  Roll up to form a log; pinch seam to seal.

Place logs, seam side down, side by side on a parchment lined baking sheet. Pinch logs together at one end; braid, then pinch ends together and tuck under. Cover loosely and let sit in a warm place until 1½ times larger, 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Beat egg yolk with 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl. Brush dough with egg wash;sprinkle with sugar.  Bake until top is golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when bottom is tapped, 35 - 45 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. 

adapted very slightly from Bon Appetit


Shrimp Risotto and a Whole Foods Gift Card Giveaway!

Whole Foods is celebrating their Parmigiano Reggiano cheese again this year and they want to give a lucky reader a $50 gift card to use in their stores!  All you have to do is leave a comment at the end of this post and you will be entered for the giveaway.  To celebrate this cheese, I'm posting a recipe that I actually made for Valentine's Day dinner this year - a cheesy saffron risotto with poached shrimp on top.  It's out of this world. I made it as a first course for the dinner. 

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