Tag Archives: pancetta

Bolognese Sauce


Some dishes are simply classics. They are the go-to recipes that you return to over and over again. In my family bolognese sauce is one of those recipes. Rarely does a week go by without our eating a steaming plate of pasta topped with rich bolognese sauce for dinner. Its comforting, satisfying and when I make a pot of the sauce over the weekend, becomes the perfect fast weeknight dinner.

I’ve adapted this recipe from Williams Sonoma’s Essentials of ItalianIts taken me years to find my right balance of meat, vegetables and sauce but I think I’ve finally found my magic combination. The key to a good sauce is long and slow cooking. The process just can’t be rushed if you want to achieve the perfect balance of flavor and texture. I’m also a fan of including a piece of parmesan rind in my sauce. Most people discard this hard remnant of cheese but I stash my leftovers in the freezer then pop one into my sauce while it simmers. It adds a richness and complexity that you just can’t find any other way. If you don’t have a parmesan rind on hand that’s ok to. Skip it for now but save it the next time you use up your hard parmesan cheese. Try it once and you too will be a convert.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 ounces pancetta, chopped

1 large carrot, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 leek, quartered and thinly sliced

1/2 pound ground pork

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 cup drained and chopped plum tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 beef bouillon cubes

1 cup water

1 cup milk

1 parmesan rind

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • Melt the butter in a large heavy pot set over medium-low heat.
  • When the butter has melted add the pancetta, carrot, celery and leek. Stirring occasionally, cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the ingredients are golden brown and tender.
  • Add the ground pork and ground beef to the pot and stir well.
  • Raise the heat to medium and stirring often in order to break up the meat, cook until the meats are lightly browned and crumbled with most of the juices having evaporated. This should take about 20 minutes.
  • Add the wine to the pot and scrape up any browned bits that are stuck on the bottom of the pot.
  • Add in the tomatoes, tomato paste, bouillon cubes, water, milk, parmesan rind, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir well.
  • Allow the mixture to just begin to simmer then reduce the heat to very low and continue to cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally for about 1 hour. If the mixture becomes too thick you can add in a bit more water.
  • Partially cover the pot and continue cooking until the sauce is thick and dark brown, an additional 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Skim off any fat that floats to the surface of the sauce and serve over hot pasta. Alternatively, let cool, cover and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Reheat over low heat, additionally additional water or wine as necessary to get the right texture.

Yields 4 cups


Cheesy Corn Casserole


Side dishes have never been my forte; I have a tendency to focus on the main dish and the dessert leaving the accompaniments to be an after thought to the meal. But one of my cooking resolutions for 2015 is to change all of that. After all, a simple protein dish can be dressed up when accompanied by a more complex and interesting side dish.

And because we are still in the heart of winter, this is the season for comfort food. Here in Belgium the days are still short and dark and the weather is almost always damp leaving me craving rich foods that both satisfy and warm me up. This creamy corn casserole, adapted from Saveur Magazine, fits the bill to a tee. It is rich, creamy and oh so good.

I baked it in a single casserole dish and served it family style at the table but if you wanted to make the dish a bit more formal, bake it in individual ramekin dishes. Serve it alongside grilled rib eye steaks or tangy bar-b-que chicken and you will have a dinner that is flavorful and satisfying to the whole family.


4 ounces pancetta, diced

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, finely diced

1/4 cup flour

1 cup milk

4 ounces cream cheese

1 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 15.2 ounce can whole kernel corn

1 15.2 ounce can creamed corn

Salt & pepper to taste

  • Preheat the oven to 375.
  • Cook the pancetta in a large saucepan set over medium heat until it is crisp and brown, about 8 minutes.
  • Add the butter and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Add the flour and stirring constantly, cook for 1 minute.
  • Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until thickened, about 2 minutes.
  • Add in the cream cheese, grated cheddar cheese and paprika. Stir and cook until the mixture is smooth.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the corn.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Transfer the mixture to a 3 quart casserole dish and bake until the top is browned and bubbling, about 40 minutes.
  • Let cool slightly before serving.

Serves 6

Fig, Pancetta & Goat Cheese Flatbread


It’s Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing I want to do is cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat. The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes. Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.

Flatbread is one of my favorite go-to appetizers but it is just as good when served up as a quick and tasty dinner. I love homemade pizza dough but sometimes it is necessary to use pre-made dough from the grocery store. And here in Belgium we are lucky enough to have a great variety of quality pre-made doughs to choose from. Because of this, I tend to keep one in my refrigerator for those late days when I need to get dinner on the table quickly.

This combination of sweet fig preserve, salty pancetta and tangy goat cheese is wholly satisfying and reminds me of the Mediterranean. It makes for the perfect end of the week dinner when all I can do is dream of the warmer months ahead.


1/2 recipe pizza dough or 1 pre-made pizza crust

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 ounces pancetta, diced

1/4 cup fig preserves

4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced

  • Allow the pizza dough to come to room temperature. Depending upon your kitchen this should take about 15 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Heat the olive oil in a small skillet. When it shimmers add the pancetta and stirring occasionally, cook until the meat is crispy, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain off the fat and set aside.
  • Place the pizza dough on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 12 inch circle. The dough should be approximately 1/4 of an inch thick.
  • Carefully transfer the circle to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Spread the preserves over the top of the dough then evenly distribute the pancetta, goat cheese and finally the thyme over the entire surface.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cheese has begun to melt and the crust is lightly browned.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for one minute before slicing.

Serves 2 (as dinner)


Pancetta & Potato Leek Soup

Thanksgiving is just days away so if you are anything like me you are busy cooking up a storm in preparation for the big day. But you (and your family) can’t wait until Thursday to eat; you need dinner tonight. This time of year I am all about easy and satisfying meals that can be made in minutes leaving me plenty of time to concentrate on the impending big dinner. Enter this creamy potato and leek soup that is topped with crispy pancetta.
I love how creamy this soup is and most surprising of all, there isn’t a drop of cream or milk in the entire recipe. The thick texture of the soup comes solely from the pureed potatoes and leeks. The pancetta is optional, if you prefer to make a vegetarian version of the soup, simply omit the pancetta. But my family loves pancetta so we like to top the soup with a healthy serving of the crispy meat. It makes the soup taste all that much richer and satisfying.
1/4 pound pancetta, diced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large leeks, white and green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 large russt potatoes, peeled and diced
4 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced
  • Fry the pancetta in a heavy soup pot set over medium-high heat. Stir the pancetta occasionally to keep it from sticking and make sure it is browned on all sides, approximately 6-8 minutes.
  • Remove the pancetta from the pan, drain on a plate lined with paper towels and set aside.
  • Add the butter to the pancetta drippings and heat until melted.
  • Add the leeks to the pan and stirring occasionally, cook for 8-10 minutes or until the leeks have softened.
  • Add the potatoes to the pot, cover and cook for 4-5 minutes until the potatoes begin to soften but not brown.
  • Add the chicken broth to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes.
  • Remove the pot from the heat and using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Thin with additional broth if the soup is too thick.
  • Season with the pepper.
  • Serve the soup in warmed bowls topped with the crispy pancetta and the minced chives.
Serves 4

Garlic Sauteed Mushrooms & Onions


Grilled steak is nice but when you can add an easy and flavorful side dish to it you can take an ordinary piece of meat and make it extra special. And this oh-so-easy dish of sauteed mushrooms and onions is exactly what I serve I want to take a steak and impress.

This recipe is more of a method rather than an exact formula. I like to use red onions but any kind. Add more garlic if you like, use less or omit it entirely. And as far as the mushrooms go, use whatever type you like. Portobella are always good since they are meaty and hold up well to slow cooking but I prefer to use a variety of wild mushrooms for added flavor and interest. These are so good that they may be more popular than the steak. I’ve even been known to serve these mushrooms as a dish unto themselves on a buffet table. They disappear there too.


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

6 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

3 cups wild mushrooms, cleaned stemmed and sliced

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt & pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet set over medium-low heat until the butter has melted.

Add the garlic and onions to the skillet and cook, uncovered for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want the onions to soften but not brown.

Add the mushrooms to the skillet, stir and continue cooking on medium-low heat until the mushrooms are soft for an additional 8-10 minutes. They will initially release their liquid then this liquid will cook off.

Stir in the thyme, season with salt and pepper and serve. Alternatively, you can turn off the heat, cover the skillet and allow the mixture to sit until ready to serve.

Yields: 2 cups



Fall weather has me craving comfort food and nothing fits the bill for this category more than casseroles. The dishes don’t have to be complex or even have a lot of ingredients. Rather a few simple but quality ingredients goes a long way towards making the perfect dish. And tartiflette, the classic French comfort food, is about as perfect as it gets when it comes to comfort food.

As is the case with most traditional foods, there are as many versions of the dish as there are people. The basics for a tartiflette are the same: potatoes, onions and bacon are topped with a pungent Reblochon cheese and baked until soft and oozing. Some cooks add additional ingredients while others keep it simple. This version, adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe, keeps things pretty basic. I am lucky to have a great variety of cheeses readily available to me, including Reblochon, a soft ripe cheese that resembles Camembert. If you can’t find Reblochon in your local stores go ahead and substitute Camembert or even a pungent brie. Both will give you the same gooey and cheesy results you are looking for. Because this dish is so rich, a little goes and long way. I like to pair this with crisp greens in a light vinaigrette. Voila! You will have a rich and satisfying meal.


6 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thin

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 onions, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

1 cup chopped pancetta

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 reblochon cheese, rind intact and halved crossways

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • Preheat the oven to  400 degrees.
  • Boil the potatoes in a large pot of water until the potatoes are al dente. Drain and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium heat until it shimmers.
  • Add the onions and garlic and saute until they are soft but not brown, 5-7 minutes.
  • Add the pancetta and fry until the meat is cooked and the onions have begun to caramelize, 8-10 minutes.
  • Add the white wine to the skillet and cook for an additional minute before removing the skillet from the heat.
  • Lightly coat an oven proof casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Place a layer of the potatoes along the bottom of the dish then sprinkle with some of the onion and pancetta mixture.
  • Top with another layer of potatoes.
  • Repeat in this pattern until you have used all of the potatoes and pancetta and onions, ending with a potato layer.
  • Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top of the potatoes.
  • Place the cheese on top of the potatoes, crust side up.
  • Bake, uncovered for 25 -30 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is bubbling.
  • Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 6

Garlicky Zucchini & Tomato Spaghetti

photo 3-235

It’s Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing I want to do is cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat. The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes. Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.

This pasta is a regular part of my dinner menu rotation; I substitute whatever vegetables are fresh and in season.  This version uses the last of the local zucchini from my neighborhood market along with a healthy dose of fresh grape tomatoes. The pancetta adds saltiness and additional flavor to the dish but you can omit it and turn this into a vegetarian entrée. Alternatively, for a lighter and healthier dish, you can reduce the amount of pasta and substitute additional vegetables. I do this often and my family is none the wiser.


1 pound whole wheat spaghetti, cooked according to package instructions with 1 cup of cooking liquid reserved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup diced pancetta

1 small red onion, minced

6 garlic cloves, crushed and minced

2 medium zucchini squashes, cut into cubes

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 cups mixed grape tomatoes, halved

Salt & pepper to taste

1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

  • Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling water according to package instructions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the liquid, return to the cooking pot and set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet set over medium-high heat.
  • Add the pancetta and stirring occasionally, cook until crispy and browned.
  • Add the onion and garlic and saute for an additional 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the zucchini to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the squash is browned and is slightly softened.
  • Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up any browned bits.
  • Stir in the tomatoes and cook until heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Pour the vegetable mixture into the cooked spaghetti and using tongs, toss until the vegetables are evenly distributed. Add up to 1 cup of the reserved cooking water if the mixture seems dry. (I usually use about 1/2 cup).
  • Divide the pasta among warmed shallow bowls and sprinkle with the grated cheese.

Serves 6

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