When you have a decade birthday, you do a lot of thinking. Even if the decade birthday was six months ago. (which it was so I am doing way too much thinking.) Often "thinking" is not the way to go. Doing something yields better results. But I do the pondering thing. A lot. Between the "decade thing" and the New Year and what-will-I-do thing, early January was spent in "deep ponder." A fun ponder. Pondering airfare to Arizona or Miami in January. The what-as-I-thinking-ponder as to "why did I decide to write a play 18 months ago that employs physics when I don't understand physics?" ...yeah - had a lot of coffee and wine figuring that ponder out.
And then there's usual "ponder" about taking off the last 12 pounds that apparently love me very much and don't want to leave. And so I scoffed at those last 12 pounds by eating fettuccine with sausage ragu and David Lebovitz's wintry fresh ginger cake. Because doing something is better than pondering.
I had a wee bit too much tomato in the ragu. (Note to self: stop obsessing, so what?) I edited the ragu by eating the extra tomatoes. And you should, too. Because it's winter and feeding the brain with pasta and ragu is required in January.
Polishing it off with this Fresh Ginger Cake was one of my better ideas. You should make it a New Year's resolution. It's a resolution you will keep. In fact, you could continually roll it over into the next year's resolution and be done with any new resolutions once and for all.
The olive oil in the cake keeps it densely moist inside with a crackle on top (not a crunch mind you) that tickled my fancy. Crackly and pliable? Best of both worlds. Lebovitz serves it with a plum compote that certainly made me sit up and think spring. But some simple sweetened raspberries and a little cream worked just as well.
Because it's made with a generous amount of freshly-grated ginger, this is as fresh as one can get in Minnesota in January. The olive oil I used told me this recipe could pass muster in an Italian food blog. And I don't really care if I'm kidding myself. When it comes to dessert, I can talk myself into anything.
Fresh Ginger Cake by David Lebovitz from Ready for Dessert
(Makes one 9-inch cake, 10-12 servings)
4 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cup (250 ml) mild-flavored molasses
1 cup (250 g) sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (250 ml) n(I used olive oil - probably made it a wee bit denser)
1-1/2 (350 g) cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup (250 ml) water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 eggs, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter bottom and sides of 9-inch springform or round cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
In a food processor (with metal blade) or with a sharp knife, chop the ginger until it is very fine. (I opted for the food processor). Set aside.
In a large bowl mix the molasses, sugar and oil. In a medium bowl mix the flour, cinnamon, cloves and pepper.. In a small sauce pan bring the water to a boil and stir in the baking soda. Whhisk hot water mixture into the molasses mixture. Add the chopped ginger.
Sift the flour mixture intro the molasses mixture and whisk to combine. Add the eggs one by one until thoroughly blended. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes clean - about an hour. Let cool completely. Run a knife around the edges of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Invert on a plate, peel away the parchment paper and invert back onto the plate you will serve it.
Serve warm or room temperature with whipped cream or a fruit compote. (I added two teaspoons of sugar to winter raspberries. When the juices were running, we drizzled it over the cake or - as my kids did - over the cream and the cake.
Now that you had your dessert first (which is sounding like a most likeable New Year's Resolution), have some sausage ragu. I've posted the recipe before but it's worth another look. I make at least one variation every winter. I am convinced it keeps us sane until spring.
Fettuccine with Sausage Ragu
(barely adapted from Biba Caggiano in Tastes of Italia - serves 6 in my home)
1 pound fettuccine
3 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
1 14-ounce can of low-salt beef broth or 14 ounces of your beef broth
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (I used 1-1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes, drained (I didn't drain but for a truer ragu - you should)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
1/4 cup milk (I used a wee bit more)
Grated Parmesan for serving
Cook the fettuccine according to package directions. Soak the mushrooms in the beef broth for 30 minutes. (I warmed the broth - you don't need to). In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook 3-4 minutes until softened. Add sausage and cook 5-7 minutes until no longer pink. Add wine, mushrooms with broth, tomato paste and tomatoes. Stir to mix well. Bring to a boil and cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally. The tomatoes break down and melt into the meat so you have the tomatoes but not a sauce of it. Stir in nutmeg and milk and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper (I didn't need it.) Remove from heat and toss with pasta. Pass the Parmesan cheese.
As for those 12 pounds, I've thrown down the gauntlet. I can defeat them. Without sacrificing pasta and a David Lebovitz dessert. Happy 2013, all. May you have ginger cake and sausage ragu in your life.