The last days of a year are always a good time to reflect back on how you spent the other ones: what you did, where you went, and, if you’re a Sur La Table fan, related to me, or otherwise just love food, what you ate. Two years ago, my top eating honors went to bacon in Brooklyn. Last year, who knows because I forgot to blog about it. For 2016, it’s a multi-way tie between Saturday morning pancakes at home (can someone PLEASE convince my husband to open a pancake van?), several fancy dinners out, and a single, perfect piece of shrimp toast I had at a party at Saint John’s here in Seattle.
This year, instead of just thinking about the food that I ate, I decided to take my reminiscing “beyond the plate” and consider the best food that I cooked, too. The categories rarely overlap for me. Although I work for Sur La Table, I’m more of an aspirational cook than an actual one, so anything I make in the kitchen stays in its own, well-meaning-but-lesser league.
To land on a winner, I had to first ask myself: what did I cook this year, anyway? While I continued to deliver in the sandwich department (give me a loaf of bread and a semi-stocked fridge and I will make dreams come true. Confidence.) and recently pulled together an impressive pimento cheese, the answer is: not much. I’m lucky enough to have a roommate of the marital variety who loves to cook and is great at it, so I usually leave it to him or to takeout. But I did try my own hand at a few recipes in 2016, and one stands out above the rest: Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce, made known to me by the gang over at NYT Cooking.*
The making of this sauce was, in a word, epic. It was an all-day affair of dicing, braising, simmering, stirring, and, of course, sniffing. So much sniffing. At one point I had to be forcibly removed from the stove. It smelled that good! Like the aroma of my great-grandfather’s spaghetti sauce as described by my mother, who swears she could smell it from down the street as a kid. Like I imagine the sauce in the famous sauce scene in Goodfellas must have smelled, minus the crime and high anxiety. Like great restaurants that I haven’t been to yet. It smelled like I’d cooked.
And the taste? Let’s just say that by the time I spooned some out of my favorite Staub cocotte (ps. I put that thing to WORK and it was a dream), it could have tasted like a shoe and I would have loved it. Mercifully, the flavor was footwear-free. The sauce tasted, much like its smell, so good. Simple, hearty, and delicious. With no offense meant to my treasured collection of seasonal table runners,** it tasted like it should be served at a table with a white tablecloth on it. Made of fabric. Cooking success!
So there you have it, from one aspiring home cook here at Sur La Table to you: the best thing I cooked this year was Bolognese sauce. Sure, it didn’t quite make the “best thing I ate” cut, but it topped the cooking category by a mile. Because when you put a lot of effort into a dish and enjoy it around a table with your favorite people, “so good” will always taste pretty great.
We’d love to know: what was the best thing you cooked this year? Tell us by leaving a comment below. Thanks and best wishes for great food and great cooking in 2017!
*The NYT Cooking staff didn’t actually tell me about the sauce themselves, but I’ve worn a hole in my phone screen from perusing their app so I feel like we’ve developed a relationship. Hi guys.
**I’ve got them all except for summer. It will be mine.