Bolognese! Caprese! Molto Bene!

First things first, I need to say SORRY that I have been away from my blog for so long! With school and recent traveling, I haven’t been cooking much (just eating a TON). I am currently visiting my family in Minnesota, and last night my mother was craving pasta. Fortunately, pasta is my soul food, and honestly, my soul needs a little mending right now. So I decided to see if I could get some of my powers back. 

I started with a bolognese recipe from bonappetit.com, but honestly it was missing a lot, so I adapted the recipe in my own way. Bolognese is a hearty meat sauce with a full and rich flavor, enriched with red wine and plenty of aromatics such as onion, celery, and carrot. I also added mushrooms, and next time I think I will add some fennel root as well. Once the ground meats are browned (bolo typically has ground pork. beef, and veal, but I couldn’t find veal), tomato paste and beef stock (or broth) is added. I simmered that for an hour. It reduced really nicely. After that I added a cup of whole milk and let that simmer another 45 minutes. I also added some butter. Finally I seasoned it to my liking and added more tomato paste. 

As an appetizer I made a caprese salad. It was by far the best caprese salad I have ever made. I found the most gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. After you slice them, make sure to season them with salt! The mozzarella I found had the most perfect texture. I also made an aged balsamic reduction (just reduce 1/2c balsamic with 1T sugar and salt to taste). My mom had some big basil leaves growing in her garden that completed the dish. Just a sprinkle of freshly cracked pepper and not five minutes later the plate was demolished. 

A Perfect Soup and a Personal Story.

A lot of you ask me why I came to the CIA. Where does my passion come from? How do I know so much now? As I end my first journey at the CIA (btw thanks for following!), I thought that I should tell you all my story. I know this is kind of lengthy, but a fun story nonetheless! 

In just three weeks I will get my first diploma from the Culinary Institute of America. Some of you have been following me since the very beginning. What a mess I was, right? I decided to go to the CIA with no prior cooking experience and thought I could handle it. At first I felt very discouraged. Everyone was faster than me, better than me, and smarter than me. 

When I came here, I didn’t even know IF cooking was right for me. As a lot of you know, I come from Minnesota. I am currently 22 years old and I went to the University of Minnesota - Mankato right after high school for one year because I had no idea what the hell I wanted to do. In every single class—even art class (!) I had no motivation at all. I flunked out. Towards the end of my year there I was feeling really stressed and worried about my future. I had many passions, but nothing that clicked with me. 

During that time I started having dreams…about food! I started seeing myself in my own kitchen cooking. Sometimes I would dream up recipes, too. I would wake up in the middle of the night and write them down. Several times I actually got myself up, even at 3am just to go to the 24-hour grocery store to test my recipe or cook whatever I was dreaming about. After about a month of that I started reading a lot of books about food and started teaching myself to cook every day. Then I started looking at culinary schools and had a friend who went to the CIA and recommended it to me. So I came here and…everything just worked. The motivation that I was looking for in college was instant at the CIA. And my dedication has always stuck with me. My passion has only grown, even with all the hard work and crappy days I had here and there. I strive to become the absolute best I can.

And you’re probably wondering how this is all connected to a bowl of soup. 

My very first Chef at the CIA was Chef Corky Clark in Fish & Seafood Identification and Fabrication. I remember one day specifically when he said,

"You can’t cook unless you can make a perfect soup."

Soup was one of the first things we learned how to make in Skills One. I remember that my lentil soup could have been seasoned more, and my cream of broccoli soup could have been silkier. Skills class is the very backbone of my education. My only experience beforehand was in a pizza shop back home. 

So I thought about that quote the other day and thought about how absolutely little I knew then compared to what I know now. That’s when I decided that I needed to make a perfect soup. 

Without a recipe. Without a plan. Just me, some basic skills, some basic knowledge, and a little soul. 

I picked up about two and a half pounds of plum tomatoes. Roasting seemed like the best option. It infused the flavor of the herbs perfectly. I just halved the tomatoes, seeded them, drizzled them with olive oil, a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper, and chopped basil and thyme. I roasted them at 450F until they looked like this—

Beautiful, aromatic, and caramelized. Cooked completely through with the skins barely holding on.

I took skin off the tomatoes and added them to a pot of onions.

I sweated them until translucent and added the roasted tomatoes. I let that cook down for a few minutes before putting everything in a blender and blended until absolutely smooth—like silk (unlike my rookie attempt at cream of broccoli). Then I added some chicken broth and salt to taste. Everything was perfect, the tomato flavor was there, I added a little tomato paste for color, the seasoning was there, I added a little more basil, but it needed something else. Everything was right there, but it needed a little…life. After a brief ponder I spotted a lemon in our fruit basket and Ah-ha! It needed acid. So I squeezed a whole lemon’s worth in and there it was. A symphony of flavor. A harmony of herbs. Crescendo!!! That single balancing note—the tomatoes—the smell of roasted tomatoes brings me back to childhood, it reminds me of my mother, of comfort, of peace and contentedness. I couldn’t wait to enjoy. 

At first I was going to make grilled cheese with it. But then, I remembered—this was supposed to be a PERFECT SOUP. A grilled cheese would almost make that the star, but it wasn’t. I still made my roommate Brian (www.brianthony.tumblr.com) one because he loves them. But for me I made some cast iron toasted rye bread with a little sprinkle of salt. 

And this is the result. As we were eating we sat mostly in silence at first. Then Brian told me that it was absolutely amazing and I felt accomplished…maybe even serene.

We spent the rest of the meal marveling over this basic soup and how something can be so simple, yet I worked so hard to get there.

Again, I can’t thank you guys (my readers) enough for sticking with me these past 2 years. Can you believe it? I will have 20,000 followers before I graduate. And I’m graduating as a whole new person. An adult, a hard worker, a passionate person, and a girl that can make herself a beautiful soup—even when she is sick as a dog (I am by the way!) I really appreciate that so many of you message me with questions and comments. It’s an amazing thing to hear that I’ve inspired so many people about cooking. Keep those questions coming! I am loving it.

Also, I still have food dreams almost every night. Sometimes I wake up in the morning thinking I just spent 12 hours in the kitchen!

I hope you enjoyed my story! Three weeks until graduation!

Sincerely,

Rachel