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Cook's Exchange: Bump up pasta with homemade Bolognese

By Andrea Yeager

Susan Oustalet wanted a tomato sauce recipe in which the spaghetti is cooked with the sauce.

Reader Cherry Hall shared her recipe. Today, I have another take on spaghetti and sauce cooked together.

I was skimming through some recipes and found a Bolognese made with ground beef, fresh cherry tomatoes, basil and Kalamata olives. The sauce is much lighter than a regular Bolognese and tastes so fresh. I love fresh tomato sauces and fresh basil anyway.

When draining pasta, remember to save some of the pasta water to put back in the sauce for extra flavor and liquid. Also, pasta should not be rinsed. Rinsing diminishes the flavor.

While the recipe called for ground beef, ground turkey or chicken breast would work equally well and lower the calories some. Next time I prepare it, I will decrease the amount of red chili flakes. Two teaspoons is too many. I like spice, and I thought it was a little too hot. I would use one teaspoon, but paired with a tossed salad and garlic knots, this was a hit.

My daughter liked it well enough to eat leftovers, a feat in itself. Lilly ate the plain pasta, no sauce for her.

Perhaps Oustalet will enjoy a lighter spaghetti and sauce dish for spring.

The recipe comes from Donna Hay's new cookbook, "The New Classics." Farideh Sdeghin, test kitchen director of Saveur, printed it in a recent issue. Of course, there are other light Bolognese recipes in other cookbooks and on the Internet. These two just struck my fancy.

SUMMER BOLOGNESE

1 pound thin spaghetti

Kosher salt

1/4 cup olive oil

1 pound ground beef, turkey or chicken

2 teaspoons chili flakes, or 3 red Thai chilis, minced (Again, I would use 1/2

to 1 teaspoon chili flakes)

2 tablespoons minced thyme

3 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 mixed mixed cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup Kalamata olives

Torn basil leaves, for garnish

Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup water; toss pasta with 3 tablespoons oil and keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high; cook beef, chile, thyme and garlic until beef is browned, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, sugar, salt and pepper and cook 2 minutes more. Add wine and cook until it has almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add in pasta, vinegar and lemon zest and juice and toss to combine. Add in reserved pasta water, tomatoes, and olives and cook 2 minutes more.

Transfer to a serving platter and serve with basil leaves and Parmesan cheese.

-- Originally from "The New Classics" and later Saveur magazine

For vegetarians, Town & Country magazine in its March issue published a spaghetti with mushroom bolognese that contains three types of mushrooms, eggplant and carrots, too. Another way to lighten up pasta and make use of fresh vegetables.

On the Coast, Rouse's supermarket in Diamondhead always carries a variety of mushrooms. Some of the other supermarkets do not always carry them. Check out farmers markets for mushrooms, too. My Florida readers do not have this problem.

SPAGHETTI WITH MUSHROOM BOLOGNESE

1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, cut into1/4-inch dice

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into1/4-inch dice

1 baby eggplant (8 ounces), peeled and cut into1/4-inch dice

1 pound cremini mushrooms, one-fourth sliced, the rest cut into1/4-inch dice

8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps cut into1/4-inch dice

Kosher salt

Pepper

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon white miso

1 (2-inch) chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus grated cheese for serving

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed

1 thyme sprig

1/2 teaspoon turbinado sugar

12 ounces spaghetti

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

In a small bowl, cover the porcini with 1 cup of boiling water; soak until softened, about 30 minutes. Finely chop the porcini, discarding any tough bits. Pour off and reserve 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid.

In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and carrots and cook over moderate heat until light golden, about 8 minutes. Add the eggplant and 2 tablespoons of the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 minutes. Stir in the cremini, shiitake, chopped porcini and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste and miso and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chunk of cheese, the tomatoes and their juices, the thyme, sugar and reserved mushroom soaking liquid and bring to a simmer.

Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is very thick, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Discard the thyme sprig; season the sauce with salt and pepper.

In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain, reserving1/4 cup of the pasta water.

Add the pasta, pasta water and parsley to the sauce; toss to coat. Serve in bowls, topped with grated cheese.

-- From March issue of Town & Country magazine

Chicken-fried steak report

Alene Russell has friends who are on a mission to find the best chicken-fried steak on the Coast. Some two years ago, we found answers to this quest, but I would like readers to update us on where to find the best chicken-fried steaks. Restaurants, unfortunately, come and go, and our old list is not as reliable. Let me know which restaurants have the best.

Sharon Pease's husband says the Rebel Dip on U.S. 49 has great chicken-fried steak and also the Whistle Stop in Wiggins.

"He should know, as he says that if chicken-fried steak is not on the menu, it is not worth stopping at," Pease said.

OK, who else wants to weigh in on chicken-fried steaks?

Grilling recipes wanted

A Biloxi reader just bought a new grill and wants some easy, tasty ideas to try on the grill. Please share the best grilling ideas, whether they be meats, vegetables, fruits or even desserts.

Mother's Day on the way

Readers, what do you prepare for Mother's Day? Does Mom get breakfast in bed, a Sunday brunch or maybe a backyard barbecue? Please share your Mother's Day menu and recipes with fellow readers.

Also if you have a favorite recipe of Mom's, Grandmother's or even Great-grandmother's, please send it to me. We have several weeks, but the special day will be here before we know it.

Andrea Yeager can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net or Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535-4567.

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