Spring has always been my favorite season. In Minnesota, spring is a sloppy, muddy mess, and, as a child, I absolutely adored jumping through the puddles as the snow melted. And walking on the thin layer of ice after that same melted snow refroze during cold nights. Of course I also loved the flowers which appeared in late spring and watching the entire natural world come back to life. Spring is so lovely, isn’t it.
Dear spring, however, is also very fickle. For a day or two she will tease you with sultry warm weather and then all of a sudden she gives you the cold shoulder. Case in point, last Saturday I spent a lovely day in my floppiest spring skirt eating a picnic in Central Park with my two favorite boys, enjoying 70 degree weather. Yesterday I had to bring out my thickest down coat, ear warmer, and gloves just to bring Julio out for his walk, which I did grudgingly because after such a warm streak the cold is especially bitter.
Anyways, all of this is to explain why I am sharing a winter recipe with you when it’s springtime and, in just a day or two, may be another balmy 70 degree day. But right now it’s cold and all I can think of is bolognese.
This bolognese recipe is thoroughly hearty and will warm you right up if you’re also experiencing chilly weather. But it’s not your traditional bolognese and so, might I suggest, that we think of this as spring bolognese? You see it’s made with fish (yes, fish!) and I think of fish as summer fare, so the fish bolognese is right in between, like a spring day. (Am I trying too hard? My apologies.)
The recipe comes from the restaurant Esca, one of our favorite seafood restaurants in the city. It’s a lovely place which combines extremely fresh fish with more traditional Italian cooking. Which of course, also, describes this recipe perfectly. We loved this very comforting dish and, honestly, you can’t even tell that it isn’t a traditional meat bolognese. As it is, it’s not fishetarian friendly, but if someone tries exchanging/omitting the pancetta please let me know how it works.
Rigatoni with Tuna Bolognese
From David Pasternack in The Young Man and the Sea
2 pounds fresh tuna scraps or steaks , cut into large chunks
10 ounces pancetta
6 ounces mackerel, but into large chucks (we used blue fish)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bottle (750ml) red wine
1 bay leaf
1/2 cinnamon stick (about 2 inches long)
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes and their juice
1 pound rigatoni
1/2 pound mascarpone cheese
In a food processor, pulse the tuna, pancetta, and mackerel until coarsely ground. Set aside.
In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until translucent, which takes ~4 minutes. Add the tuna mixture and turn heat to high. Cook, stirring with a fork until the juices run dry and the fish begins to brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the red wine, bay leaf, red pepper, and cinnamon stick, and cook until dry, about 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, crushing them by hand, and 1/2 cup water. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Let simmer, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours. The sauce should be moist but not wet. Season more with salt and pepper; remove bay leaf and cinnamon stick.
Prepare the rigatoni according to the package instructions, cooking 1 minute less than suggested for al dente. Drain in a colander and and combine with the bolognese sauce. Divide among serving bowls and top each serving with mascarpone cheese.
Sarah’s Notes: This recipe is supposed to serve four and so we made half of the sauce, but then I looked at, and, unsurprisingly, there was a ton of bolognese (the recipe does call for 3 lbs of meat/fish!). So we used a full pound of pasta (double the amount for our half recipe) and had enough food for more than 5 servings. If you go to the restaurant the proportions are on the small side so I’m not sure who thought this would only serve 4 people. Also, I was going to skip the mascarpone, and was very glad I didn’t. The sauce is so heavy it needs the cheese to lighten it up (I know, it’s hard to believe that a thick creamy cheese would do this, but compared to pancetta/tuna in wine sauce it does seem light!).