My sister and her family moved into their new Lavender Bay house recently and in true Italian style, my parents flew over from Perth to help with the move. Scotty and I visited my sister’s place today to see mum and dad, check out the new pad and help with the hanging of some paintings. As I hadn’t seen mum and dad for months it was great to see them both, and wonderful to smell familiar scents wafting from the kitchen.
After a quick tour of the new house I wandered back down to the kitchen to figure out what mum was cooking up for lunch. She told me she had been cooking an ox tail ragu for the last couple of hours to be served on a bed of polenta – very contadina style (rustic).
I quickly got behind the kitchen bench to help her with the cooking. I hadn’t made polenta with her before and wanted to watch the-woman-who-never-measures-an-ingredient at work. It was wonderful to be cooking beside her again.
The dish we served up for lunch was extraordinarily flavourful – the meat peeled of the bone effortlessly and the rich sauce flavoured the polenta beautifully. At the lunch table, dad told a story about growing up as one of seven kids in Italy. His mum used to have an unvarnished wooden table in their kitchen where she would serve the polenta directly onto the wood dotted with Italian sausage pieces. His nine family members would then each get a spoon and start eating the polenta, occasionally getting to the good bits. Apparently, the rules were you had to eat your way through from the edge till you got to the little meat treasures before you could eat them. Dad said there was always a race to eat quickly and get to the good bits before anyone else!
POLENTA WITH OX TAIL RAGU
12 ox tail pieces
1 700g bottle tomato passata
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/2 carrot, cut into 3 pieces
1 celery stalk, cut in half
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon olive oil
Bunch fresh basil
3 cups polenta
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Salt and Pepper, freshly ground
OX TAIL RAGU
Sautee the garlic, onion, carrot and celery in a medium saucepan until onions are onions and garlic are transparant. Then add the ox tail pieces and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg to the saucepan until meat has browned. Once browned add the bottle of tomato passata, 1 cup water and a handful of finely chopped basil to the pot and season with salt to taste (don’t over season as the sauce will reduce over the cooking process and the flavours will change – you can always add more salt later). If the passata is very acidic add a tablespoon of brown sugar (as with the salt I would recommend not adding too much at this stage).
Bring sauce to the boil then turn down heat and simmer gently for roughly 2 hours.
Once sauce has simmered for 1 1/2 hours you will need to start the polenta. The usual ratio of polenta to water is 1 cup of polenta for each litre of water. Italians usually cook polenta a little longer and like a thicker polenta and so would add less water. mum 3 cups of polenta to 2.5 litres of water (cook italian polenta longer)
Bring 2.5 litres of water to the boil. Once boiling salt the water to taste and as the water is boiling gently sprinkle in the polenta a little at a time while stirring vigourously. For the first 10 – 15 minutes continue stirring on a medium heat – the polenta will be bubbling so be careful. Then reduce heat and cook gently for another 10 minutes stirring occassionally. The polenta may stick to bottom of pan – this is normal for a heavy polenta – don’t scrape polenta from bottom as you may then find burnt polenta in your dish.
Once the polenta has cooked place it in an even layer on the bottom of a ceramic baking dish. Grate parmesan cheese over the top and then 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg. Pour the tomato sauce over the polenta and place the meat pieces evenly on top. Finish with torn basil leaves, freshly grated parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Serve with a simple Italian insalata.