When you get engaged, one of the most common questions people ask you is “were you surprised?”. I know I ask that question a lot, and I definitely got a lot of that when Kevin and I got engaged last summer (yes – it’s official!). I knew we would get married some day, and we had talked about it a lot. I guess I just didn’t really worry or think about when.
Looking back, I totally missed the signs. I had gotten a massive respiratory infection right before 4th of July weekend, and I sounded like a man. A real butch chain-smoking bearded lumberjack kind of man. Apparently, Kevin had planned to propose that weekend but since I got sick, he decided to bump it a week. He said that he felt bad I didn’t get to take advantage of the 3-day holiday weekend so he wanted to plan a date for us (clue #1). He had talked a number of times about how special Descanso Gardens was to him and his family and had told me about some of the great memories from his childhood with his grandparents and cousins there. I had never been, so when I found out that’s where we were going, I didn’t suspect anything (clue #2). He had a glass of whiskey a little before we left at 2pm (clue #3), but I attributed it to the fact that maybe he needed one after braving the first weekend of the Nordstrom Half-Yearly sale with me that morning. It was also a warm day, but he was full on sweating – and I don’t mean a delicate dew across his nose. We’re talking a thick stripe of sweat all the way down the back of his shirt, poor guy (clue #4). And then there were the awkward silences (clue #s 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10) whenever we would get to a really beautiful, secluded picturesque setting in the garden. I thought it was because he was tired of all of the steep inclines we were scaling or the mild heat. Throughout the afternoon, we both said how it would be nice to do something special at Descanso someday – like a wedding or take pictures or something.
Then, we got to the rose garden. I was noting how gorgeous Descanso was and turned around for a quick moment to take in the surroundings. I remember saying, “what do you think?” and not getting an answer. I heard him say, “Al?”, and when I turned around, he was down on one knee holding up a ring. He had beads of sweat beading down his forehead and this look on his face that I’m pretty sure I make when I think I’m about to get hit in the face or when I look directly at the sun. He asked me to marry him. Instead of saying yes the way most girls would say when the man of their dreams pops the question, I said “Is this for real?”. I have no idea why I said that (What if he said “naw, just kidding”?), but he reassured me it was and I said yes. So here we are. We won’t be getting married at Descanso after all, but we did do our engagement photos there thanks to our phenomenal photographer, Rodney Ty. Here’s a sneak!
The day we had our engagement shoot, I was in a rush to get something to eat before meeting up with Kevin, and the only place nearby that didn’t have a wait was a quick service Greek spot. Being the considerate person I am, I told them not to put hummus or garlic sauce on anything so Kevin wouldn’t have to breathe in my essence for the rest of the day. However, I did not realize how much raw onion would be in my pita until I wolfed down my first bite. I pulled out as many as I could find, but it was too late. Those suckers were STRONG. My breath nearly set his eyebrows on fire in the afternoon, but he was a great sport about it. I love the photo below because his face totally shows him being torn between trying to smile and look happy for the photo while my breath was really making him cry. Sorry, hun!
Anyway, Kevin LOVES orecchiette, so making that for his birthday dinner a couple months ago was a no-brainer. It pairs really nicely with some sort of Italian fennel sausage. I’m not entirely sure why that is. My theory is that it’s because the sausage falls apart into little curds of ground meat when its casing is removed, and the orecchiette almost serves as a little bowls to catch it before it falls to the bottom of the dish the way it would with penne, farfalle, or so many others. But Kevin doesn’t really like fennel. Or sausage. So, figuring out what else would pair well with the orecchiette took some thinking. Okay, maybe not a lot of thinking, because really – who doesn’t love a good hearty Bolognese?
I didn’t make the pasta from scratch, but I did do the Bolognese. Here is a recipe as adapted from Anne Burrell. Note that this recipe is a TIME COMMITMENT. It’ll take you about 5 to 5.5 hours from start to finish – but it’s worth the time and effort!
- 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1″ dice
- 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2″ inch dice
- 3 ribs celery, cut into 1″ dice
- 5 cloves garlic
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
- Kosher salt
- 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket, or round… or a combination
- 2 C tomato paste
- 3 C hearty red wine (Don’t go super cheap on the wine – use one that you would drink!)
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 bunch fresh thyme, tied in a bundle
- 1 pound orrecchiette
- 1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop. The bottom of your pan should look like this when you move the veggies aside:
- Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE BEEF! Brown food makes for a more flavorful dish. Don’t rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don’t be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it down. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
- During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the orecchiette. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn’t matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
- While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the bolognese from the pot and reserve.
- Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining bolognese. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.
This bolognese was so delicious and didn’t require heavy cream or butter, like a lot of other recipes do. The sauce can totally be frozen in a freezer-friendly ziploc baggie if you have a ton of leftovers – just pre-portion everything out. When we made our leftovers, we thawed a portion of the sauce in the fridge overnight, and then added a lot of minced veggies (mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower) when we heated it up again on the stovetop. It made a little sauce go a long way and added some extra nutrition and bulk to the meal. Delish every time!