Since having to give up nightshades, there are two dishes I miss more than anything, which took me years and years to perfect in the earliest years of keeping my own home – bolognese and bacon and whiskey chili. The backbone to each of these recipes is, of course, the tomato. I miss them greatly, and there’s just no substitute for them in the recipes. In trying to search for a good, hearty pasta sauce, the internet tried to lead me astray, especially on the recipe blogs aimed at the autoimmune or paleo communities. Modern interpretations are rife with imposters – “rice” made of cauliflower, “pizza” made of vegetable mash, “fries” made from rutabaga. I’m okay with minced cauliflower every now again, but let’s not delude ourselves – it’s not rice, and it’s not even really a very good analogue for rice. It’s minced cauliflower. Why do we have such a hard time calling food what it is?
The most ridiculous (to me, anyway) of this substitution fad is the “nomato” concept. It’s basically swapping any red/orange hued vegetable for the magnificent tomato, and calling it “nomato” this or that. There is “nomato” ketchup (typically made from beets) and then there is the ubiquitous “nomato” pasta sauce (sometimes made from beets, pumpkin or other squashes). There is certainly a place for pumpkin or beets or whatever on our dinner tables, but not as sad, disappointing replacements for the foods we really want. Which lately for me, is a good meat-based pasta sauce, that is rich and silky and in no way a sad imposter.
Fortunately for us, the Italians were doing Italian food long before the arrival of the tomato on their venerated shores (some time in the mid-1500’s). I had only to ask the question – what delicious pasta sauces were eaten then, that I could recreate and still enjoy today? Fortunately, I have a couple of books by Lynne Rosetto Kasper on my shelf, and one recipe especially caught my eye – The Cardinal’s Ragu. Not the tiniest bit of tomato in it, but a beef stock base, flavored with cinnamon (it works!) and onion. I did make a couple of modifications to it – I didn’t have salt pork fat on hand, so I used two slices of diced bacon instead. And instead of thickening the sauce with flour, I used an arrowroot slurry. And I swapped the beef steak with ground beef because that’s what I had in the freezer. Even with these few tweaks, the recipe was a revelation. It was silky, flavorful and perfect on our gluten free pasta. It was rich and filling. It was a proper pasta sauce.
I also think this is a great base sauce where I can jump around and try different flavor combinations – for a tomato-free riff on that bolognese I’m missing, I think next time I’ll swap half the beef stock for red wine, swap the cinnamon for thyme, and add some minced carrot and celery for extra flavor. I’m excited to try it soon, and to continue combing my books for heritage recipes that work with the food restrictions we have – it’s the first time in a long time I’ve felt really inspired by a recipe, and not stuck in a rut of the same old things.