In the opening of this beloved cookbook, Judy Rodgers who passed away in 2013, waxes poetic about the importance of basic, everyday fare. The food we eat everyday should be as good as--if not better than--the food we seek out for special occasions. This recipe, which makes use of the gizzards and hearts of poultry, ensures that one stays true to sustainable cooking without sacrificing flavor or making dinner seem, well, fussy.
The Zuni Cafe, which I have gone on and on about here, is a hallowed fixture not only in San Francisco but also in our lives. From lunch here with the niece last summer (I think she was surprised and delighted by the mountain of shocestring fries, which we shared in a the triangular corner of the two-storied windowed front room) to birthday dinners tucked into one of the snug alcoves in the back, we have dearly loved this restaurant.
The restaurant is well known for their Roast Chicken and Bread Salad--so much so that even the New Yorks Times has applauded Rodgers for her simple, satisfying fare. Some herald this recipe into almost religious spheres. It's that good.
So when I was presented the possibility of making a dish that would use up some of those gizzards and hearts that must abound given the number of chickens the restaurant must go through in a night, I said a simple yes, please. After a slow walk to the butchers--I am still getting over this cold--I returned for an afternoon of cooking.
First conundrum? How to clean gizzards, something I don't have a lot of experience with. However, youtube hunter, angler, gardener, and cook Hank Shaw came to the rescue. While it took a little while to get a hang of, the cleaning was a snap.
Then the cooking--which takes a long time. Longer than Rodgers suggests. I put her times in the recipe but then added my own. The results? A rich, dense, almost dusky meat sauce countered by the sweet acidity of the tomatoes.
Rodgers assures you that you can substitute tender cuts of meat instead of hearts and gizzards--which I think the husband would prefer, as he found the sauce a little gamey. However, I am certain that layering in lasagna or serving it on warm crostini (which Rodgers calls a "welcome appetizer") will ensure I can slip more of this sauce into the husband's life. He needs it. He just doesn't know that he does.
Pasta with Giblet-Mushroom Sauce
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
For the sauce (makes about 3 cups)
8 ounces duck, goose, turkey, or chicken gizzards and hearts*
about 1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped portobello or crimini mushrooms
3/4 cup finely diced carrots
3/4 cup finely diced celery
3/4 cup finely diced onions
1 ounce pancetta minced (about 3 tablespoons packed)
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped canned tomatoes, drained of about half their juice
1 bay leaf
1 dried chili or a few pinches of dried chili flakes
1/2 cup hearty red wine (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or Syrah)
A few leaves fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Optional: sugar and tomato paste (see step 5)
*I used turkey and chicken gizzards and chicken hearts.
*I used turkey and chicken gizzards and chicken hearts.
To finish the pasta
1 pound penne, trenne, mostacciolo, rigatoni, garganelli or wide egg pasta (you need something that will pick up the sauce in every bite)
Chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preparing the sauce:
1. Rinse the gizzards and hearts, then press dry between towels. Use a paring knife to remove the silverskin from the gizzards. Chop them finely. Chop the hearts.
2. Warm about 1/4 cup olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the gizzards and hearts and cook, stirring almost constantly, until they begin to turn a little golden on the edges, about 5 minutes. Don't worry if they stick a little and the bottom of the pan colors slightly--but don't let it scorch. Stir in the mushrooms, carrots, celery, onions, and the pancetta. Add a few pinches of salt and enough additional oil to coat the vegetables. Once the mixture begins to sizzle reduce the heat to low, cover, and stew for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. At this point, Rodgers recommends tasting a bit of gizzard: "It will be quite hard; remember this texture, so you can recognize when they begin to become tender."
4. Stir in the garlic, tomatoes, bay leaf, chili, and red wine. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the bits of giblet are just tender, another 45 minutes or so. Monitor the pan closely, stirring as needed and adjusting the heat to maintain the weak simmer. Taste for salt.
5. Stir in the parsley and another splash of olive oil. Simmer quietly uncovered for about 15 minutes or so, stirring and scraping the pan regularly, stopping when the thickened juices only ooze from the mass (don't let the sauce dry out and sizzle, though). [I cooked for 1 hour more.] Taste: the sauce should be shiny, rich, thick and sweet, with just enough acidity from the wine and tomato to keep it from being cloying. If it taste too acidic or thin, add a little more olive oil. Rodgers also recommends a pinch of sugar if the acidity from the wine or tomatoes is too high or a little bit of tomato paste if the sauce needs more body.
6. Leave to cool completely, which will make the sauce even richer and sweeter.
Cooking and saucing the pasta
7. Drop the pasta into 6 quarts rapidly boiling water seasoned with about 2 tablespoons of salt. Stir and cook until al dente.
8. Reheat the sauce. If it seems dry, add a spoonful of boiling pasta water.
9. Drain the pasta well, and toss and fold with the hot sauce. The sauce should glisten on the pasta; if not, it is too lean--add a splash of olive oil. Serve in warm bowls, and with some grated cheese on top.
**Note: the sauce can be made up to a week in advance. And it freezes like a dream.