Updated 2009-01-04 19:55:58 ID=248:0

© 2009 The Romantic Table
©2008 The Romantic Table, Susan McGourty's Table Talk, a California Central Coast Lifestyle blog. 2011-06-09 16:33:16:80
©2008 The Romantic Table

Susan McGourty's Table Talk

Rethinking Duck Ragu

The mysterious disappearance of a key ingredient, late night dumpster diving on New Year's Eve... just a few of the trials and tribulations of re-thinking our Duck Ragu recipe!

By New Year's Eve day I was feeling a bit paunchy -but was too afraid to acknowledge all my excesses over the holidays by weighing myself. So I decided instead of Roast Duckling L' Orange for New Year's Day, I'd make our classic Duck Ragu, which is much more slimming and true to the Mediterranean Diet.

I had bought all the right ingredients and lugged them home from one of my "marathon grocery escapades." But by New Year's Eve I was concerned where I had stashed the fennel seeds. (As most of you know, when you do a "marathon grocery gatherer expedition" you come home with lots of grocery bags of assorted sizes and are in a hurry to get them to their storage place for refrigeration or cabinet shelf.) I thought back, I didn't remember seeing the fennel seeds since just after unloading from my car. I panicked! Oh my God! I thought, maybe I had accidentally thrown them out when I was hurriedly trying to get the house back to normal and threw out all the "empty" bags. I checked all my food storage places --all the normal ones anyway. "I bet I threw them out!", I thought. My husband who had also been "an extra set of eyes" to help look, gave be a sigh and said "Oh no!-You did it again!" My husband has to be one of the sweetest guys on the planet! He dutifully said he go try to find it, maybe it was on top of our dumpster. At nine o'clock at night, there he was, on a ladder with a flashlight looking for a sealed bottle of fennel--dumpster-diving! Oh well, on this particular night no one would think it peculiar - other than being a bit early maybe...

While he was doing that, I went over my tracks. I had unloaded my car and brought everything in to our mudroom for unpacking. Then I thought, could I have accidentally left the fennel seeds in the same bag that held our fresh baby spinach that I put in our produce refrigerator? I hurriedly ran to that refrigerator. There it was! The critical fennel seeds! I called off to my husband," I've found it! I didn't throw it out!" We both broke into laughter. What a relief! I didn't have to make another trip into town to buy more.

©2009 The Romantic Table, Duck Ragu, it's all about texture! 2009-01-02 16:36:29:100
©2009 The Romantic Table

Rustic Duck Ragu, it's all about texture!
Now to get back to my story. It's been several months since I last made my Duck Ragu. I really wasn't happy with the way it photographed for the website. I'm a person that loves texture in food.- I like it to really stand-out and retain the integrity of the flavor and color of the morsel. Instead of just chopping the vegetables so it looks like a non-nondescript sort of ragu, how about if we cut the vegetables so that they are about one-eighth inch sized little cubes, maintaining their individual shape and taste so that it's mouth-watering tempting to look at as well as taste. That is one way I decided to change this recipe.

First we start with the trito which is the combination of sauteed chopped celery, carrots and onions. Tritos are the basis for many Italian sauces and ragus. I LOVE sauces that start with this trio! When these are the basis of a sauce or ragu, you can be practically guaranteed that the food will melt in your mouth and "practically digest by itself!" Tritos have been known to soften-up the harshest person's stomach. When I'm enjoying a sauce that's been started by a trito, I practically melt! --My stomach rejoices in contentment! The trick to getting your trito to perfection is to saute it long enough that the vegetables really soften up to the point that they almost carmelize. Then when you add the meat and wine, it only gets better and better! (Of course my husband says it must be "a chick-thing!")

After cutting up all the vegetables, and coarsely grinding the duck meat, I proceeded to make my ragu as described originally, but with chunkier pieces. I let the pot simmer for two hours, then added the "almost-lost" fennel the last hour. I served it on fresh spinach fettuccine, my husband photographed it and then we enjoyed it. My husband said it was the best ever! Even I thought it was pretty good! After we had finished our meal, we started thinking about more ways to use this combination of vegetables and duckling. Since we had about half of the ragu sauce leftover, we came up with the idea to try to utilize this vegetable-meat combination in a risotto. That's what I'm going to make day after tomorrow! And if that goes well, who knows where it could go from here! --Would you believe "duck-lasagna"?

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A tip from Sue!

Beware cooking wine!

Never use a "so-called cooking wine" that's marketed specifically as a cooking wine for your sauce. Only use a wine that would not be objectionable to drink by itself. In lighter sauces a good one to use is a nice Fume' Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc. In stronger red sauces, use a decent red wine such as a Barolo, Zinfandel or Cabernet.