Veal cheeks are the key to this delicious, albeit very time-consuming pasta ragu. Veal “cheeks” you say? Oh, yes, you’d be eating part of the faces of young cows slaughtered before they have a chance to experience much of life. Well, I figure if you’ve made it past the first sentence in this post you’re already game to try anything. And however much I love and respect the choices of my (meat-squeamish) vegetarian and vegan friends, this blog is called OMNIVOROUS, which means I will cook and eat just about anything, including but not limited to young bovine faces.
This recipe was demonstrated to me by friend and Venetian chef Ernesto, who I’ve referred to a number of times (see Italian Invasion posts). He owns a place in Venice called Arturo’s which specializes in slightly unusual Italian meat preparations. I really have no idea why this pasta is Genovese in origin; I was given no back-story and can pass on nothing. However it is very yummy; I urge you to try it, if you can find veal cheeks, which are both hard to source and quite expensive (upwards of $18 a pound at the time of the this post). But if you can find the cheeks, you’ll discover a pasta that is unique, delicious, and quite soulful.
Keep in mind that this sauce takes frickin’ HOURS of slow tending, stirring at a low temperature. This is a sauce that cannot be rushed. If you’re a total cooking novice, best not attempt this until you’ve mastered basic pomodoro and pasta cooked perfectly al dente. Like lots of Italian food, this is food that requires care and practice and confidence.
|Slooooooow-cooked veal cheeks make for a stunning, unique pasta sauce.|
You will need:
5 pounds of veal cheeks
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus another 2 tablespoons later
2 large white onions, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 basil leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
1 large sage leaf, minced
1 short spring of rosemary, leaves removed and chopped, stem discarded
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
up to 2 cups of water
1 pound dry spaghetti
grated parmesan for garnish
First trim the veal cheeks of excess fatty and tough sinew. This is honestly a pain in the ass, and you’ll need a very sharp knife. You’ll end up discarding nearly two pounds of fat and connective tissue. Leave some of the tough, white stuff as it will add flavor and collagen to your sauce. Chop what’s left into large chunks about 1/2 inch to and inch thick.
Heat the 1/3 cup of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat and add onions, zucchini, carrot, celery, garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper. Stirring occasionally, sweat the vegetables for about 20 minutes. Add the white wine and cook for another 10 minutes or until the wine has mostly evaporated. Add the veal cheeks and cook, slowly, stirring occasionally, for about one hour. When all the meat is fully cooked (grayish-brown in color) cover the dish, turn the heat to low, and cook another hour.
Uncover the pot and continue cooking over low for another hour (stirring periodically) or until meat is fully softened and breaks when pressed with a wooden spoon. During this process add water as it evaporates to keep the sauce moist. Also, occasional break up the pieces of veal with your wooden spoon to slowly create a smoother, less chunky ragu. The consistency you’re looking for is like a very thick, meaty Bolognese sauce. Taste bits of veal every once in a while. If the meat tastes gamey or is tough continue cooking. Long, slow cooking will remove this gamey flavor and tenderize the veal over time. Last time I cooked this it took over four and a half hours of careful cooking!
When you think the sauce about right, add the other tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of sugar. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. The sauce should be on the salty side, but not crazzzzy salty.
Now, boil the pasta in salted water until al dente, drain, and add to the ragu. Toss until well-coated and transfer to a large serving dish. Top with grated parmesan. Hope you like it!