berry chocolate ice cream

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I’m not a big ice cream lover. When I saw how rich and thick and chocolately this custard was right before being churned into ice cream, I was tempted to leave it just like that. The only thing that stopped me was knowing I wouldn’t be able to resist something so like chocolate mousse.

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So I poured it into the ice cream maker. After a few minutes, I tested a spoonful to see how it would taste when it was partially frozen. And then I tested more and more spoonfuls, until it became clear that any claims I might want to make about not loving ice cream are wishful thinking.

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pre-frozen, like smooth rich chocolate pudding

Laurie chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. Other than adding a pinch of salt to bring out the flavors and using the boysenberry preserves I had in my fridge instead of buying blueberry preserves, I followed the recipe exactly.  I’m glad I did, because Dorie is right about how well the dark chocolate and bright berries compliment each other.

One year ago: Oreo Cheesecake Cookies
Two years ago: English Muffins
Three years ago: Cranberry Orange Muffins

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lentil marinara

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When my coworker came back to work after spending weeks in the hospital (and in my small town, that means a hospital over two hours away from home) with his sick newborn baby, I figured they could use a home-cooked meal. I thought tomato soup, homemade bread, and some nice cheese to make grilled sandwiches would be the perfect comfort food. Unfortunately, it would require a trip to the store and a couple free hours to cook, and when I saw how exhausted my friend was, I figured getting something to him soon was more important than getting the perfect meal to him.

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So I made extras of what I was having for dinner that night. Spaghetti is warm and familiar, so fits the comfort food bill, and who doesn’t like the pasta and tomato sauce combination? The lentils, though, might seem strange to some people.

It makes perfect sense to me, because lentils are a great protein source, and while I can’t claim that they taste like beef, there is something meaty-like about them. Besides, what’s more comforting than knowing that your dinner is not only delicious, it’s healthy?

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And now I have another friend who needs comfort food after the death of her father on Thanksgiving day. Unfortunately, I can’t just bring her my leftovers, because she lives a thousand miles away. I don’t think virtual comfort food is quite the same, but at least she’ll know I’m thinking about her and her family and wishing them the best during a difficult time.

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One year ago: Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pine Nuts
Two years ago: Thai-Style Chicken Soup
Three years ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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Lentil Marinara (adapted from Branny Boils Over)

6-8 servings

I simmered this for 30-45 minutes, but, if you have the time, I suspect that a longer simmering time while covered would really help the lentils absorb the tomato flavor.

I like canned whole tomatoes for sauce because they break down better, but if you don’t mind larger tomato chunks in your sauce, diced tomatoes will work fine. I chop canned whole tomatoes by sticking kitchen shears into the can and snipping away.

Update 4/23/12 – I’ve made this a couple more times, and I’ve decided that it’s probably too heavy on the lentils.  Using up a whole bag at once is nice, but 8 ounces of lentils for 2 cans of tomatoes will make a tastier sauce.

2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ cup white or red wine
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 (1-pound) bag brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion just starts to brown around the edges, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add the wine, scraping any browned residue on the bottom of the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender and the sauce is thickened.

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cheddar puffs with green onions

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Are you afraid of yeast? Or at least resistant to adding complicated rising schedules to your already-stressful Thanksgiving to-do list? Try these puffs instead of yeast bread. They take about 10 minutes to put together, and you can shape the dough and freeze it until the big day. Then you just pop them in the oven while the turkey rests.

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I admit that they don’t make the best gravy mop, but they have such great flavor on their own that you don’t really want to bury it anyway – even with this gravy. They resemble cream puffs, except instead of a sweet creamy filling, they’re full of onions bits and shredded cheese. They taste perfect with the turkey, and they fit perfectly into the turkey roasting schedule.

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Two years ago: Croissants (Martha Stewart)
Three years ago: Asian Peanut Dip

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Cheddar Puffs with Green Onions (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

Makes 24 puffs

½ cup water
2 tablespoon butter, cut into 4 pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup + 1 tablespoon (2.7 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
3 ounces grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup minced green onions

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Bring the water, butter, and salt to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Remove from the heat; mix in the flour. Stir over medium heat until the mixture becomes slightly shiny and pulls away from sides of the pan, about 3 minutes; transfer to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition to form a sticky dough. Mix in the cheese and green onions.

3. Divide the dough into 24 equal portions; drop onto the baking sheet one inch apart. (Can be made ahead. Wrap in plastic, then foil. Refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.)

3. Bake the cheese puffs until golden, about 30 minutes if at room temperature and 35 minutes if chilled or frozen. Serve immediately.

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chocolate allspice cookies

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September is an ambiguous time. School and football, two signs of fall, have started. Labor Day is over. It might not be meltingly hot out every single day. On the other hand, that all important sign of autumn, fire-colored leaves, hasn’t started except in the most extreme of climates. And besides, tomatoes are still in season. Everyone knows that tomatoes belong to summer.

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When I lived in upstate New York, where summer was disappointingly short, I refused to acknowledge fall until October 1st. I wouldn’t make anything with pumpkin or apples, and I wouldn’t buy candy corn for Dave. (I’m mean.)

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But come October 1st, I was all about fall. I love it for all the reasons everyone loves fall – the colors, the chill, the apple cider. We don’t get any of those things in southern New Mexico, so I welcome what little there is here that feels like fall, no matter when it happens.

Dave thinks anything with ginger or allspice or cloves tastes like Christmas. I say it tastes like fall. And even in early September, I’m not complaining.

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Jessica, who chose these cookies for Tuesdays with Dorie, has the recipe posted. I doubled the spice, plus I freshly ground my allspice berries in a coffee grinder just before mixing the dough. I also increased the salt.  I had ground almonds to use up, so I made the dough in the mixer instead of the food processor.

One year ago: Peanut Butter Crisscrosses
Two years ago: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies
Three years ago: Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops

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pesto

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Pesto is super simple, right? Just dump some ingredients into the food processor, and thirty seconds later, you have pesto. And while that’s true, with a few extra simple steps, you can ensure that your pesto will live up to its maximum potential every single time.

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Traditionally, pesto was made in a mortar and pestle, which smashes the ingredients into each other instead of cutting them like the food processor does. It sounds horribly tedious. You don’t want to do that.

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However, it is important to do more than slice basil with the food processor blade. Consider that when you want to smell an herb, what do you do? You rub it between your fingers, not tear it in half, because bruising the leaves is what produces flavor. So to maximize the flavor of your basil, you need to bruise the leaves before cutting them.

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You can do this with almost no extra effort using a trick I picked up from Jamie Oliver – just put the basil in the food processor, but with the plastic dough blade instead of the knife blade. It takes only a few seconds longer and produces just one more small utensil to clean, but it makes a big difference in flavor. Before I started using this trick, sometimes my pesto would taste grassy, but now it always tastes basil-y.

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You probably also know that toasting nuts brings out their flavor, and it isn’t hard to do on the stovetop. I also like to toast the garlic, because I am not a fan of the tongue-stinging sharpness of raw garlic. Toasting the unpeeled cloves in a dry skillet tames garlic’s bite with very little effort. And that’s it – you’ve maximized the potential of every ingredient in pesto, ensuring dependably outstanding pesto, and it only took an extra minute or two.

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One year ago: Yogurt-Marinated Lamb Kebabs
Two years ago: Tortellini Soup with Carrots, Peas, and Leeks
Three years ago: Summer Rolls

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Pesto

2 ounces pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
Salt
1 large bunch (6 ounces) basil leaves, washed and dried
1-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ ounce (¼ cup) freshly grated parmesan

1. Heat a small empty not-nonstick skillet over medium heat for several minutes. Add the pine nuts and cook, stirring constantly, for about a minute, until they’re golden brown and fragrant. Pour the nuts into a food processor bowl fitted with the knife attachment. Add the garlic to the skillet and toast, without stirring, for about 1 minute. When the first side is dark brown, turn the garlic cloves onto another flat side and continue toasting for another minute. Peel the garlic and transfer it to the food processor with the pine nuts.

2. Add ¼ teaspoon salt to the garlic and pine nuts. Process until the nuts and garlic are finely ground, 10-15 seconds. Replace the knife attachment with the plastic dough blade. Add the basil to the food processor and pulse until the basil is bruised and fragrant, about ten 1-second pulses. Remove the dough blade from the bowl and return the knife attachment. Process until basil is finely chopped, a few seconds.

3. With the machine running, slowly pour the oil into the feed tube. Scrape the sides of the bowl; process until evenly mixed. Stir in the parmesan. Serve, refrigerate for a few days, or freeze for months.

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green pea ravioli in lemon broth

My notes call this Saturday night cooking adventure “Light Italian Meal”. I was experimenting with wet scallops – scallops that have been treated with sodium triphosphate to help them retain moisture. Cooks Illustrated has a recipe designed to make wet scallops palatable, so I gave it a go. I tried to keep the rest of the meal relatively light to compliment the scallops, starting with these ravioli, then moving onto insalata di crudita before serving the seared scallops with almond cream sauce. Pinot grigio and whole wheat ciabatta accompanied every part of the meal.

This was the only recipe I made that night that I was really excited by. The only reason the ciabatta doesn’t qualify is because I didn’t follow much of a recipe, and the salad, although crisp and fresh, was a fairly typical side salad. The scallops were a disaster. Not only was the almond cream sauce too rich, but the scallops themselves didn’t brown until they had overcooked into balls of rubber. What’s worse, while I set them aside to finish the sauce, the cooked scallops released a freaky blue liquid. I choked a down few and filled up on bread.

I wish I had made enough ravioli to fill up on those, rather than teasing myself with a small starter course serving. These pasta pouches with their vibrant filling were the highlight of my meal that night. There aren’t many ingredients in the filling, but each one has something to offer: the peas are both sweet and earthy, the shallots are bright, the parmesan salty. This humble mixture might have not had much to live up to compared to the rest of the meal, but it would have been just as special on its own.

One year ago: Vodka Gimlets
Two years ago: Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Three years ago: Cinnamon Rolls

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Green Pea Ravioli with Lemon Broth (adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

6 servings

I’ve doubled the amount of filling, because I only had enough filling for 9 ravioli, not the 18 the original recipe indicates.

Pasta:
1⅓ cups (6.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Filling:
2 cups baby peas, defrosted
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced
Salt
6 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
6 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

Broth:
4 cups chicken broth
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
Squeeze fresh lemon juice

Garnish: fresh chervil or parsley and cooked peas

1. Combine the flour and eggs until smooth (either by hand, with a food processor, or with a stand mixer). Add more flour if the dough is sticky or more water if it’s crumbly. If you stick a dry finger into the center of the dough, it should come out nearly clean. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and set aside to rest while you prepare the filling.

2. Force the peas through the fine disk of a food mill into a bowl to remove their skins. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat; add the shallot and a pinch of salt; cook until shallot is softened, 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine the pea puree, cooked shallot, parmesan, and bread crumbs.

3. Divide the dough into 6 portions. Working with one portion at a time, flatten it and fold in thirds, like a letter. Roll it through the widest setting on a pasta roller. Repeat the folding and rolling 3-4 more times, flouring the dough as needed to prevent sticking. Adjust the pasta roller to the next thinnest setting; roll the pasta sheet through. Continue thinning the pasta until the next-to-thinnest setting. Lay the thinned pasta sheet on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining portions of pasta.

4. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 3 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Using a pasta brush or your fingers, wet the pasta in between the rounds of filling. If the pasta sheet is at least 4 inches wide, fold it lengthwise over the filling. If the pasta sheet is too thin to fold lengthwise, lay a second pasta sheet over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza roller to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel (there’s no need to cover it). Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

5. Combine the broth, garlic, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste in a saucepan; bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cover to keep warm.

6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Cook the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water. Divide the cooked ravioli between six soup bowls.

7. Discard the garlic in the broth. Ladle the hot broth over the ravioli. Garnish with herbs and cooked peas, if desired; serve immediately.

lentil goat cheese burgers

Burgers are just sandwiches with patties in the middle. I don’t care if that patty is beef, bird, or beans. What I do require is that it not be bread.

A carb-filled patty between two ends of a bun doesn’t make nutritional sense, but it does seem like most vegetarian burgers are bound by large amounts of bread crumbs, oatmeal, or other grains. Whether whole or refined, these are still grains where I want there to be protein.

Cara is a great source for high-protein, low-carb ideas like these lentil burgers, which are bound with just a tablespoon of bread crumbs per serving. The protein – and, more importantly, the flavor – is increased even more with the addition of creamy, tangy goat cheese, one of my favorite ingredients.

While certainly healthy enough for a good weeknight dinner, prepping these burgers is not a short process from start to finish. However, the active time is not unreasonable, making these a great option to make ahead of time, leaving just the final searing for dinner time. It’s nice to have a meal as hearty but nutritious as this one stashed in the freezer.

One year ago: Brown Soda Bread
Two years ago: Deli-Style Rye Bread
Three years ago: Rice Pudding

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Lentil Goat Cheese Burgers (adapted from Cara’s Cravings)

Make 4 burgers

Don’t be shy with the salt. I always need more than I expect in these.

¾ cup dried lentils
1 bay leaf
salt
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
2 large shallots, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 ounces goat cheese
¼ cup breadcrumbs (fresh or dried)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 egg
for serving: buns, mustard, lettuce, tomato

1. Combine lentils, bay leaf, ½ teaspoon salt and 3 cups water in medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 18-20 minutes. Drain the lentils, discarding the bay leaf.

2. Meanwhile, process the carrot, shallots, and garlic in the food processor until finely chopped but not pureed, about 5 seconds. (Do not clean processor bowl or blade.) Heat 1½ teaspoons olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat; sauté the vegetables with a pinch of salt until softened and the shallots just browns around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the vinegar; cook, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency, 1-2 minutes.

3. Combine the lentils, sautéed vegetables, cheese, bread crumbs, and pepper in the food processor; process until evenly mixed and finely ground. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add the egg; pulse until just combined.

4. Divide the dough into four portions; shape each one into a disk about ½-inch tall and 4 inches across (or approximately the diameter of your burger buns). Chill, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days (cover if longer than 30 minutes).

5. Heat the remaining 1½ teaspoons of oil in a 12-inch nonstick pan over medium to medium-high heat. Using a spatula, carefully lower each patty into the pan; cook without moving for 4 minutes, until the bottom side is browned. Flip the patties and continue cooking for another 6 minutes until the second side is browned. Serve immediately with buns and toppings.

roasted tomato soup

When I was a kid, my friend Katie and I played a game in which we had a restaurant. We wrote up a menu and would let our parents order food from it, and then we’d bring them what they ordered. In other words, our parents paid for their food twice – once at the grocery store, and then a second time to Katie and I after we heated it up in the microwave for them.

Among other delicacies, our menu included nachos (Cheez Whiz and chips) and tomato soup. Tomato soup was probably our specialty. At Katie’s house, the Campbell’s concentrate was mixed with milk, but at my house, we added water. Katie and I were nothing if not accommodating to our customers’ preferences.

This tomato soup is not that tomato soup. It’s brighter, fresher, but still deeply flavored from the roasted tomatoes. The shallots make it just a little sweet, and a pinch of allspice adds warmth. This soup, topped with whole wheat macaroni noodles and served alongside cheese toast, is my favorite meal. It’s even worth ordering in a real restaurant.

One year ago: Masa Pancakes with Chipotle Salsa and Poached Eggs (I’m about halfway through that same bag of masa harina.)
Two years ago: Spinach Bread
Three years ago: Raspberry Bars

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Roasted Tomato Soup (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

6 servings

This recipe is messier without an immersion blender, but I made it that way for years. Use a large slotted spoon to transfer the solids to the blender with a cup or two of liquid and blend to puree. Pour the pureed mixture back into the liquid; stir in the brandy. You can blend everything instead of just the solids, but the soup will turn orange instead of red.

Feel free to add in a few tablespoons of cream (or pureed cottage cheese for a healthier alternative) at the end if you’re like Katie’s family and prefer your tomato soup creamy.

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes in juice
1½ tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
4 shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
⅛ teaspoon allspice
1¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup brandy

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of two 8- or 9-inch round pans with aluminum foil. Use a slotted spoon to remove the tomatoes, one by one, from their juice. Open the tomato on the side opposite the stem. Holding the tomato loosely in a fist, gently squeeze the tomato to remove most of its juice. Place the tomato stem-side up on one of the prepared pans. Repeat with the remaining tomatoes. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the brown sugar.  Roast the tomatoes until they are dry and lightly browned, about 45 minutes. Reserve the tomato juice.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the shallots, tomato paste, and allspice to the pot; stir, then cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken broth, reserved tomato juice, and roasted tomatoes. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Stir in the brandy and serve.

This recipe is in one of my earliest blog entries, but I have simplified and healthified (but not de-tastified) the soup since then, so I thought it was worth posting an updated version.

toasted almond scones

My parents are visiting this weekend (Hi Mom!), so of course I want to figure out the perfect menu that will taste amazing, fit everyone’s food preferences, reflect how I like to cook, and magically prepare itself while we’re out doing touristy things. Wish me luck!

My dinner plans are coming together, but I’ve been stumped at breakfast. Until I remembered that I have almond scones the freezer. Perfect! My mom loves scones and has been eating a lot of almonds lately. I’m sure my dad would rather have bacon (or sausage or ham or really any form of meat) and eggs, but when is it ever about the dad when your parents visit?

I believe my mom started really enjoying scones while she was visiting New Zealand several years ago. Unlike my retired world-traveling parents, I have never been to New Zealand, but I’m guessing the scones there are less sweet than we usually make them here in the US. If that’s the case, my mom will especially love these lightly sweetened biscuits. For eating plain, I might add a bit more sugar next time, but with a generous smear of jam, these were perfect.

Mike chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie, and he has the recipe posted (as a link to the pdf; don’t miss it!). I doubled the salt.

One year ago: Honey Wheat Cookies
Two years ago: Caramel Crunch Bars

beef short ribs braised in tomato sauce

When my sister visits with her young kids, I like to make a dish on the first night that’s particularly kid-friendly. While they aren’t picky eaters, they love pizza and spaghetti and hot dogs as much as any other kid. But if I’m cooking, the food has to be Bridget-friendly too. In other words, it has to be fun to cook.

I’ve wanted to perfect a recipe like this for a long time. I had in mind something that wasn’t just tomato sauce with meat added. I wanted the meat to shine, and I wanted the sauce itself to taste distinctly meaty.

To get the intensity I was hoping for, I pulled out every umami trick I know. Beef, obviously, and all the tomatoes don’t hurt. Dried porcini mushrooms, tomato paste (added with the aromatics and browned slightly), and pancetta added layers of meaty flavor.

This is my favorite type of recipe to make. Ingredients are added incrementally, food gets browned and delicious, and all the while, I get to stir and inhale the aroma, stir and inhale. It gets better after the sauce has simmered for hours, and then it becomes stir and taste, stir and taste. Even better is enjoying the meal with pasta, freshly baked bread, salad, a bottle of red wine, and two rambunctious kids and their parents.

One year ago: Lighter Chicken and Dumplings
Two years ago: Chopped Salad
Three years ago: Banana Cream Pie

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Beef Short Ribs Braised in Tomato Sauce

½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 (3-4 pounds total) beef short ribs
salt
3 ounces pancetta, diced
1 onion, diced small
1 carrot, diced small
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon oregano
½ cup wine (red or white, just something that isn’t too sweet or oaky)
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes with their juice

1. Rinse the mushrooms to remove any dirt clinging to them. Cover them with ½ cup water in a small microwave-safe bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in the plastic wrap, and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Let stand until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Use a fork to lift the mushrooms from the liquid; mince the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.

2. Season the beef ribs with salt. Meanwhile, in a 5-quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it flows like water when the pot is tilted. Add the beef ribs and cook, for 2-3 minutes per side, until richly browned on all sides. Remove the ribs from the pot. Lower the heat to medium and add the pancetta to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to the plate with the short ribs. Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat from the pot. Add the onions and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned on the edges, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, mushrooms, and oregano; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine; scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, beef ribs, pancetta, mushroom soaking liquid (being careful to leave any dirt behind) and 1 teaspoon salt; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. After 2 hours, remove the cover, increase the heat to medium-low, and simmer for another hour, until the beef is tender.

3. Transfer the ribs to a plate; shred the meat. Meanwhile, if the sauce is too thin, increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until it reaches the desired thickness. Stir the meat back into the sauce. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary, and serve over pasta or polenta.