Sunday, November 16, 2008

Boxing + Bolognese

I have to be honest with you, dear reader--despite the fact that I spent many years practicing my upper cuts, jabs, and hooks with my trainer, Bob, I was always a bit squeamish about the prospect of watching a ''real" fight, up-close, and in-person. Let's face it--watching a boxing match on television from the comfort of your pillowy sofa, with the remote control in one hand, and a bowl of popcorn in the other, is one thing; listening to the sound of bone-crushing blows delivered just feet away from you is a whole different beast. But when my cousin, Mati, invited me to the (not so) Annual Police vs. Firefighters Charity Tough Man Competition in Yonkers this past Friday night, I suddenly found my lips saying 'yes' before my brain had time to weigh in with a 'no'. And with that tiny utterance, I was going to my first fight.

So, there I was, standing on the floor of the old Yonkers Armory--shoulder to shoulder in a packed room with several hundred beer-swilling, blood thirsty cops and firefighters, anxiously waiting for my first fight to begin--when I learned that my cousin, Mark, was in fact, one of the Tough Men. Now, my cousin is a tough Yonkers cop, and I know very well that he can take care of himself, but...boxing? I thought to myself, "does he even know how to box?" A shiver ran down my spine. I made the sign of the cross, and prayed to my Grandmother, "Please Grams, don't let Mark die here in front of me tonight."

When it was finally Marks' turn to fight, I looked up at his face staring down at me from the big screen: 6 feet tall, 195 lbs, 24 years old. 24 years old?!?! Wait...Mark's 36 years old!! "Stop the fight...he's too old for this craziness!!!" Alas, my cries went unheard and the fight went on--all six minutes of it--and despite the fact that his opponent fought dirty, my baby cousin prevailed and took home a Tough Man trophy. All without a drop of his blood being shed, a single bone being crushed.

When I called to check up on Mark the next day, Mati informed me that he was sore, but not so sore that he wasn't in the kitchen making a pot of homemade sauce. As I hung up the phone I was comforted knowing that despite the fact that I come from a tough lot, in the end, what matters to us most is not who wins the fight or takes home the trophy, but who can put on the apron and make the best damn pot of Sunday gravy this side of Little Italy. That's the true sign of a winner in our family.

Sunday Bolognese Sauce (PRINT RECIPE CARD)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
Salt + freshly ground pepper (to taste)
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped (with the juices)

Place the oil, butter and chopped onion in a large pot over medium heat and stir until the onion becomes translucent. Add the celery and carrots, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ground beef, a pinch of salt and pepper and stir well until the beef has turned just brown, then add the milk, reduce the heat slightly and simmer, stirring frequently, until the milk has been absorbed. Add the wine and simmer until it evaporates. Finally, stir in the tomatoes, lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Note: If the mixture begins to dry out as it cooks, simply add 1/2 cup of water as necessary (the end sauce should be dry and beefy. not watery!) Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving over cooked pasta + topping with grated Parmesan cheese.

Makes about 4-6 servings (depending on how many rounds you go beforehand, of course)

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