Thursday, October 13, 2011

Shades of Autumn

I am admittedly not a big fan of autumn.  I don't dislike the season itself and in fact, some of my favorite garden plants flower as the days grow shorter, temperatures drop and summer begins to lose its grip.  My problem with autumn is that it precedes winter, and of winter, I am not a fan.  In my book, winter is simply a necessary evil--the cold weather I must endure in order to love the plants I love the most.  Perennials, bulbs, flowering trees, shrubs--they all have to have winter in order to survive--and not just survive, but thrive--and bloom.  And so, I survive winter knowing that at it's end, all of my garden favorites will be back to woo me with their flowers, their foliage, their fragrance and so much more.

So, if I have to endure winter, I figure autumn ought to be as beautiful as I can possibly make it.  Here are a few stars that are shining now in my gardens and a couple of others that I have visited this week.  Below, Aster novae-angliae (now technically Symphiotrichum novae-angliae because the botanists have been playing again).  The straight species, not a hybrid, it marries beautifully with Colocasia 'Elena' in the background.

Below, Helianthus simulans flowering in the Color Garden at Cheekwood Botanical Garden.  If you're a Nashvillian (or visiting) be sure not to miss Cheekwood--55 acres of beautiful gardens and the Color Garden, in the very capable hands of my friend Phillipe Chadwick, is especially beautiful this time of year.

Part of the fun of gardening is discovering new plants--or new variations of old plants, as in the case below.  I found this seedling Arum italicum in a friend's garden a few years ago and though it had but one leaf at that time, I thought it looked as though it might have some potential.  I'm so glad I talked her out of it.  Stunning variegation and these beautiful leaves will remain standing all winter long!

Tricyrtis is another genus of fall-blooming favorites.  Tricyrtis hirta, with its amethys-speckled blooms, always makes me smile.  It's not rare or even that unusual, but it sure is fun!

And last, but certainly not least, one of the best flowering bulbs around, Colchicum autumnale.  They last but a few days, but are so much fun when they suddenly burst into bloom in late September and early October.  If you look closely you can see the "checkerboard" pattern (technically known as "tesselation") in the flower petals.  In some varieties, this pattern is especially pronounced and very unique.

I hope that autumn finds you well.  I've been photographing like crazy the past few weeks and have a big announcement coming your way soon, so stay tuned!  See you in the garden!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

30-Minute Bolognese

I posted some photos last night on Facebook of a "shortcut" version of traditional Bolognese that I was whipping up to use in a lasagna.  So many people asked for the details, I decided it would be easier to post it here, rather than taking up so much room on my Facebook page and only allowing my Facebook friends to have access to it.  Sorry that I don't have a good photo.  I was snapping with my phone as I went and the images really are inferior for posting here.  I'll do better next time!  At any rate, I can still tell you how you can make a really good Bolognese in 30-45 minutes and skip the traditional, all-day cooking.

Traditional Bolognese is a thick, meaty sauce with little or sometimes no tomato paste or sauce included.  The meat is the star.  The Americanized version is usually a thick, tomato-based sauce full of meat--what we typically would think of as a "meaty" spaghetti sauce.  This quick shortcut version falls somewhere in between and to me, gives you the best of both worlds.  Deep, rich, meaty flavor and a moist, silky, stick-to-the-pasta (and your ribs) texture.  And the time it saves!

What you'll need:

(This makes enough to make a BIG lasagna, 11 x 14, or would easily serve 8 if used with tagliatelle, fettuccine, or even spaghetti.)

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 c. finely chopped celery
3/4 c. finely chopped carrot
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds 93% lean ground beef
2 quarts of prepared spaghetti sauce (and you may actually need a 3rd quart, store-bought, I prefer the Classico brand Sweet Basil and Tomato, or Publix Premium Sweet Basil)
2-3 Tbsp. sugar, optional
3-4 Tbsp. fresh Basil, thinly sliced

On a day when I'm home all day, I'll make traditional Bolognese that takes several hours to do right, but when I'm in a hurry, this comes as close as you can get and takes 1/4 of the time.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  You want it hot, but don't let it smoke.  The goal is to sweat the vegetables down and, after about 10 minutes of cooking, have them lightly golden brown.  Once the oil is hot, add the celery, carrot, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.  Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables take on a nice golden color.

Add the ground beef all at once and use a spatula to break the meat up and completely incorporate it into the vegetables.  Open 1 jar of the sauce and add 1 cup of sauce to the meat mixture.  Keep working this mixture until the ground beef has broken up completely and there are no large chunks.  Simmer this mixture until all of the moisture has evaporated and the meat begins to look dry.  Add a second cup of sauce from the open jar and incorporate it thoroughly, simmering until the mixture "goes dry" again.  Repeat this action until the first jar of sauce is gone.  It doesn't take long, maybe 10-15 minutes, and your goal is a very rich, thick, brown meaty mixture when it's done.

Give a taste.  At this point, the mixture should taste very meaty with some tomato.  If it's too salty/tomato-y, this is where the sugar comes in to sweeten it up a bit.  Sugar is optional and to your personal taste.

Once the meat mixture is completely cooked, add the second jar of sauce all at once and simmer for about 5 minutes.  If the mixture is too dry for your liking, this is where the third jar (or part of the third jar) of pasta sauce may come in handy--to get the consistency right for your personal taste.  Keep in mind that good Bolognese should not "run" over the pasta, but actually stick to it.  During the last minute or two of simmering, add the fresh basil and incorporate thoroughly.  Your Bolognese is now ready to serve or use in another dish that needs further preparation, as I did last night with the lasagna.

This may sound like an involved process, but it's really quick, easy and a tasty shortcut to traditional Bolognese when you're in a pinch.