Words like "tradition" and "comfort food" can mean vastly different things to different people living side by side, especially in the culturally diverse United States.
When it comes to the tradition of entertaining people in parties during the holiday season, some cooks like to show off what they can do with decorative hors d'ouvres or a fancy recipe. But even though he could probably whip up just about any dish he imagines, Jeremy Einhorn, executive chef at the Blue Pig Tavern inside Congress Hall in Cape May, likes the practicality of a hearty one-pot meal, like his mom's pasta Bolognese.
"Bolognese is always on our menu (at the tavern). It's great for entertaining large groups in your home because it's easy to make in large quantities; and if a few more people show up, it will stretch," he says. "I definitely associate it with winter, when you tend to crave heartier foods. And in my family, this is something I remember my mom making."
While Bolognese is an old family favorite, Einhorn uses a different recipe in his restaurant.
Einhorn is something of an expert on entertaining in a home-style environment. While earning his diploma from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., he worked as a line cook, a salad and cold foods preparer and banquet chef at Mohonk Mountain House nearby. The variety of work helped him develop a wide range of skills quickly, he says. And he learned to be creative in keeping the menu fresh for guests who stayed several days.
When he was ready to take over as executive chef of his own commercial kitchen, Einhorn spent a year searching for just the right position.
"Some places didn't offer the right style of cuisine or environment," he says, adding the tavern-style menu at Blue Pig leaves him plenty of room to be creative. "I like working in hotels because … it's a great way to capture more people in your restaurant and it completes the cycle of hospitality."
He likes adapting the meals he grew up on to maintain the culinary interest of hotel guests whose meals are included in their room rate. He knows lots of visitors to Cape May are looking for a cozy, old-fashioned experience in the Victorian town.
Some people may say the traditional base for Bolognese sauce is a mixture of ground beef, veal and pork.
But Einhorn says that's just not his tradition.
"My mom never put anything but beef in hers. I guess personally, I associate Bolognese with just beef," he says. "Come to think of it, one of the first things I made in my own kitchen at home after I moved out was mom's Bolognese."
That's not to say Einhorn has anything against veal or pork. Because Blue Pig Tavern is a part of Cape Resorts group of hotels, the restaurant gets produce and Berkshire hogs from the organic Beach Plum Farm. Soon he'll start preparing those hogs for Christmas hams, using what he learned in culinary school.
And Einhorn employs some other techniques he learned at school when adapting his family's traditional recipes. For example, he uses carrots to lightly sweeten his tomato sauce instead of using a sweet tomato sauce or adding sugar. But he also sneaks in a little cinnamon and nutmeg, which he says blend well with the beef flavor.
"It's not completely out of left field, it's fairly common to put carrots in tomato sauce, but not usually dried spices," Einhorn says, adding he chose those spices, often found in eggnog or holiday-flavored coffees "because they go so well with beef, and nutmeg especially goes really well with tomatoes."
And just because he uses all beef in his Bolognese sauce, doesn't mean the experiments stop there. Einhorn like to grind his own chuck meat fresh, ensuring he gets the perfect blend of 85 percent lean beef.
"With bolognese, you want to go leaner than you would on a burger, because you cook it so long, you render all the fat out anyway - but you still need some," he explains. "If possible you want it as fresh as you can get it. The more it sits, the more it oxidizes and the more you get that metallic flavor, like if you've ever bought frozen meat. It's similar to iron rusting, it's the same process."
A good butcher usually will grind the beef per request, but many supermarkets also will accommodate shoppers now, Einhorn says. And if you're going all out on the beef, don't just plop it in any old sweet tomato sauce.
Einhorn recommends crushed Roma tomatoes, because "they have a higher ratio of meat to jelly, so you get a richer, thicker sauce." He uses commercial grade, but recommends cans of Tutto Rosso brand for the home cook. He also uses the sauce for lasagna with ricotta cheese.
Finally, he serves the bold-flavored meat sauce over pappardelle noodles, because he loves the unique texture of the egg noodles. But any large pasta - such as rigatoni or ziti - will do, he says, just as long as "it's large enough to stand up to the meat sauce."
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