Spaghetti al seminario

I mentioned on Plurk/Twitter that I was going to make what I call "spaghetti al seminario".  This is pretty simply stuff and you can put it together with brutal speed

The name comes from the fact that in my seminary in Rome we got this stuff all the time.  We got horse all the time too, but that is another story.

Get the water, with salt or chicken/beef broth in it started right away.  Begin browning some ground beef… or horse, as you please in a good sized pot.  Your carrots and onions will add a lot of volume. Season a bit with course salt and ground pepper.  I work with a pretty hot surface and like the darker flavor the browning gives.  This is 96%lean beef.  I have some elk in the freezer that would have been perfect.  Use a higher fat content if you want.

Meanwhile, chop up carrots, onion and garlic.  Don’t be fancy.  Just whack away.  This is rough and ready.

Add the veg with olive oil.  Season again, stirring to cover with oil and pick up some brown.

At this point I added some beef stock and sweated it down a bit.  You can use a little of the paste type of stock/flavor too.

When most of the liquid was gone I added my canned tomatoes. 

In this case the tomatoes were San Marzano and they were a gift from a reader here from my Amazon Wish List.  Many thanks to TG of MO who checked the wish list and sent the flat of San Marzano tomatoes!

Chop up the tomatoes right in the pan.  Don’t worry about breaking them up finely.  The cooking will take care of a lot of that.  At the end I like to have some identifiable pieces with a rough and ready preparation like this.

My oregano, which I brought in before the first freeze, has gone the way of all flesh.  I therefore used dried oregano from my summer plants.  Also, dried oregano has a very different flavor.  Work with caution.  I added finely ground hot red pepper, animi caussa.  Season it to your liking. Use a little lemon juice if you want to keep the salt down and still brighten it up.

I added a little more beef stock and then put the fire to low and let it reduce for a time the merciless way: I was hungry.  If you use the paste form of stock you can work faster, though I like some time for everything to integrate.

When I am making an express sauce like this, the fast and cruel way, I will often let it rest a minute or so just to see if it is going to separate a little, get watery.  In that case, I crank up the fire again for a bit.  This can be a little harder to gauge when working with whole or fresh tomatoes. 

Finish with grated Parmigiano and ground pepper and a drizzle of good peppery first press olive oil.  Garnish ad libitum.

If you want, you could cook your pasta (I recommend spaghetti for this, rather than penne or rigatoni) to just the underdone side of al dente and then finish cooking it right in the sauce.  That can produce some nice results and the starch from the pasta can take care of some of your texture if the sauce needs more reduction. I didn’t do that this time.  That technique permits the sauce to permeate the pasta a bit.  Think about it. 

Your pasta is going to taste like what you cook it in, right? 

Just a tip.  Try it.

Ecco.  "Spaghetti al (Fr. Z’s) seminario".  Un primo piatto sia veloce sia sostanzioso.

The carrots impart a sweetness that contrasts well with the salt and dark tones of the beef.  Furthermore, they greatly increase the volume of sauce!  Excellent for many guests and it keeps the cost down.

Serve with a modest but sturdy Italian red such as Santa Cristina.   This doesn’t need a fancy wine.  I would avoid anything light and fruity such as the incoming Italian novello or Beaujolais.  Stick to the drier and structured end of the spectrum.  A Chianti would work.  But you can always do as the Romans do and wash this fast plate down with a cold sharp white, in the style of the Castelli Romani, which was all we got in seminary.  Try a cold bottle of Frascati.

Having crusty bread to scrape the bowl will help.  This is called "fare la scarpetta" or mop the plate/bowl.  Literally something like "doing the little shoe thing".  The image has to do with the shape of the heal, like the piece of bread cut in a slice off an oblong loaf and then halved.  "Fare la scarpetta" is not done in a fancy place or formal meal.  I can assure you it is done in a Roman seminary.

If you want a variation when it is well reduced, add a little heavy cream or half and half as it is resting and blend it in. Yum.

Many "slow food" style Italian recipes will work with beef and at least some carrot as well as milk or cream.  This is the fast method when you need lots of food in a pinch. 

Reverend Fathers, you can whip this up in no time when hungry seminarians descend on your rectory.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mariana says:

    I make this all the time (SENZA horse!), but now I have an excellent name for it! Thanks, Father!

  2. An American Mother says:

    Hmmmm . . . carrots. Hadn’t thought of carrots. Will try that next time.

    Risotto tonight . . . with sweet sausage and some mushrooms.

  3. James the Less says:

    My Sicilian grandmother would always say “scarpetta” whenever she saw me mopping my bowl with bread. I say it to my daughters now.

  4. Central Valley says:

    Looks great. So, uhm, what would you wash that down with????

  5. AngelineOH says:

    When visiting Switzerland in 2001, horse steak was on the menu – I still haven’t quite gotten over that.

    Your sauce looks wonderful, and carrots are often in my sauce as well.

  6. wanda says:

    Maybe in 2010 someone will invent the aroma-net. I’d love to smell that sauce! I’m a plate mopper-upper, too.

    Blessed New Year, Father Z. and all your readers, too.

  7. jfk03 says:

    Try it without the meat! There are some great vegan pasta recipes out there. Tartufo is a good substitute, without the calories!
    Happy New Year.

  8. seanl says:

    Really, horse? And here I thought my college’s food was bad!

  9. An American Mother says:

    I would never eat horsemeat – following the rule of the Pudding in Alice that you should never eat somebody you’ve been introduced to. Too many equines in my past and present for me to feel comfortable about that. Plus of course the old British and Celtic semi-divine position of horses, that atavistic memory is what really makes the English and Irish squeamish about horsemeat.

    Although I did feed it to my show cats — made their coats nice and glossy.

  10. Maltese says:

    jfk03: “vegen”? Blaaah!

    I was a rookie firefighter in New Mexico, and so I will try to give you the best NM red chile enchilada recipe ever (now, pay attention):

    First, buy Chimayo Red Chile, from New Mexico. Nothing else will do. Or, “Bueno” brand Red Chile will do in a pinch. But, the proper chile is the first, and most important ingredient.

    Next, prepare the chile according to the directions on the package but add beef to it and onions and fresh garlic and basil.

    Next, cook tortillas briefly in vegetable oil (preferably olive-oil)

    Next, layer the oil-cooked tortillas with the chile cooked beef-red (new mexico)-chile sauce, supra, with cheddar cheese; and add another layer and another, to taste (usually three or four layers is sufficient.)

    Cook that concoction for about 40 minutes in the oven for 40 mins.

    Add some fresh tomatoes, cilantro, and lettuce, and, I guarantee you have one of the most delicious recipes man has devised for man..

  11. rinkevichjm says:

    Since I live in the largest carrot producing county in the nation, I shouldn’t ask this, but has anyone ever substituted beets for carrot in this sauce? I suspect the flavor would be similar but the sauce would be slightly more purple or pink if milk is added.

  12. pelerin says:

    Horse meat is actually very delicious and as it is very lean, extremely healthy. I once asked my local butcher here in England if he ever did horsemeat and received a very strange look with his ‘No.’

  13. ckdexterhaven says:

    Carrots, that’s a great idea. I put chopped carrots in my meatloaf, and it’s *never* dry. Father Z, I follow Rick Bayless (winner of Top Chef Masters, owner of Frontera Grill) on Twitter. Even though he’s a Mexican food guy, he has great tips, usually 10 a day! The man is a machine…. :) LOL. Saw a good one yesterday, when roasting garlic, he recommends leaving the skin on, so as to protect the flesh. This looks like a good recipe, for a big family! Gotta hide the veggies in the food so your kids don’t know they’re eating something nutritious.

    @Maltese. I’m making red chile enchiladas today. Currently, I’m being held hostage in North Carolina, but no family member from the west is allowed to enter my casa w/out a suitcase of Bueno and frozen Hatch green chiles! Can’t start the New Year w/out some chile!

  14. The Egyptian says:

    This old German Egyptian will start the new year with local made Sausage, roast for 1 hour then drain almost completely, add a layer of boiled potatoes then sauerkraut with one diced apple and a sprinkle of brown sugar mixed in. Roast for another half hour and serve. Start the new year out right and serve with a dark beer or our own raw milk from our herd of certified organic cows.
    Alles es gut

    check these guys out great meats

  15. taximom says:

    have you ever tried to substitute the oregano with some chopped, fresh basil? I am from Rome, and when I came to the States I was surprised to see that every Italian tomato sauce had oregano in it. We really only sprinkle some on pizza (very sparingly) or roasted potatoes (only when made with chopped up tomatoes, otherwise I prefer to use rosemary).
    My mom made this for us often when we were growing up, and of course, facevamo la scarpetta.
    As for horse meat, I ate quite a bit of it too. It supposedly helped in curing my anemia caused by iron deficiency. I wasn’t very fond of it, though.

  16. The-Monk says:

    Your recipe is similar to one I make—the half and half reminded me of it.

    I take 1/4 cup of olive oil and sweat 2 medium onions (finely chopped), 4 celery stalks (finely chopped), 2 carrots (peeled and finely chopped), 5 cloves of garlic (sliced). To this I add 1 pound each of ground veal and pork (but hamburger would work just as well as does elk—which I have used when available—but I’ve never had horsemeat available) and 1/4 pound of pancetta. Stirring frequently, after the meat browns, I add 1 can of tomato paste, 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of fry white wine, and 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon of dry), kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste. After cooking the pasta (I make homemade pappardelle), I mix the sauce (they call it “gravy” here) and the pasta, dividing it among 6 warmed bowls and top with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Absolutely use fresh Italian bread to scrape the bowl. Guests always “scarffa” it down.

  17. taximom: But..padre, have you ever tried to substitute the oregano with some chopped, fresh basil?

    Of course. However, I didn’t happen to have any fresh basil, in the middle of the frozen tundra.

  18. The-Monk: That sounds very good. I like the subtlety that comes from the different type of meat. It would be nice to make that together in the company of another commentator here, our mutual friend.

  19. An American Mother says:

    Father, if you have a sunny window you ought to be able to get the oregano and the basil through even a Not Global Warming Winter.

    Admittedly in the Sunny South here it’s only 36 degrees or so right now, but there’s a stiff wind blowing all the flags out straight over at Holy Spirit and chilling us all pretty thoroughly. But the basil and the oregano are perking away in my south kitchen window – so long as I remember to water them frequently in the dry furnace heat.

  20. Hey, Fr. Z — ever thought about making a little cookbook for sale with these recipes from your blog? It might sell a lot! :-) (Just kidding!)

    But I’ll just be frank: it may taste good, but it certainly doesn’t look like it! Reminds me of that cafeteria spaghetti that I had in school lately. But then again, I haven’t had any homemade spaghetti (as in truly homemade without pre-made stuff from the can or anything), so I’m open. ;-)

  21. taximom says:

    I then shall reveal my mother’s secret…. when fresh basil IS available, freeze some leaves in a regular ice cube tray, with some tomato sauce so they won’t get freezer burn. Then, when you need fresh basil, just use one of the cubes.

  22. taximom: Let me reveal something to you. I have been doing that thing with basil for years.

  23. An American Mother says:

    Another possibility is to make pesto up to the point that you add the olive oil, then freeze the pesto in ice cube trays. It keeps beautifully and the basil remains very fragrant.

  24. American Mother: And it does double-duty!

  25. An American Mother says:

    Absolutely, Father!

    I like as many multi-purpose items around the house as possible — although perhaps the retriever-watchdog-dishwasher prewash cycle is going a bit too far . . . .

  26. Maltese says:

    “@Maltese. I’m making red chile enchiladas today. Currently, I’m being held hostage in North Carolina, but no family member from the west is allowed to enter my casa w/out a suitcase of Bueno and frozen Hatch green chiles! Can’t start the New Year w/out some chile!

    Comment by ckdexterhaven”

    I am a hostage in South Carolina–and we had homemade tortilla chips with HOT salsa and some guac dip on Christmas day (tortilla chips are only truly good hot from the cooking oil)!

  27. Fr_Sotelo says:

    American Mother:

    What a beautiful dog. He is a retriever? That picture of him (or her) going to work as the prewash cycle is something a dishwasher manufacturer could use for advertising!

  28. An American Mother says:

    That is, sadly, not my dog, although he COULD be – he’s a Yellow Lab like my Katy. I have one of each color – the Labrador Trifecta – Shelley the Chocolate, Katy the Yellow, and Ruby the Black:

    – and the only reason I haven’t photographed one of them working over the dishwasher is that they run before I can get the camera!

  29. Rob Cartusciello says:

    One of the best meals I have ever had was a loin of horse in Rykjavik – they call it foal.

    I would have it again in a minute.

  30. The Egyptian says:

    Sadly the touchy feelie types have made the slaughter of horses in the US illegal, now our local stockyards must ship them to Canada for slaughter, he handles dozens a week. These same ignoramuses are now working to stop the export of horses to Canada for slaughter. what do they want, let them suffer till they die of old age or neglect, some one has to feed and house the things. Wonder if they think of them selves as pro life :>)

    Kill the child, save the horse

  31. markomalley says:

    Well, I tried your recipe tonight for dinner. Substituted crushed tomatoes for the peeled ones, but otherwise. The carrots were brilliant — I had never considered using them in a tomato sauce before, but the sweetness is certainly a good substitute for the touch of sugar I usually put in a tomato sauce.

    I wish I knew where I could find some good cavallo around here. Just about the best steak I ever had in my life I got while in Treviso — and it was good cavallo flesh.

  32. German Egyptian: Now that sounds really good!
    I’m living with German descendants around here and their homemade sausage, sauerkraut and dumplings are wonderful.
    Never had it until I lived here; I’m of Anglo-Irish descent and homemade sausage and sauerkraut were not something on our menu growing up!

  33. Agnes of Prague says:

    This talk about horsemeat is making me think of the very unusual Catholic-ish magical realist sort of novel, “The 27th Kingdom” by Alice Thomas Ellis. The main character slips it into the stew at parties and thinks no one knows. Anyone else read that book?

  34. Girgadis says:

    Usually, Father’s photos are so tantalizing that I wind up cooking his dishes soon after the pics are posted. This time, I can’t help but think of horsemeat,even though it wasn’t used in this dish. I’d sooner serve the family dog than I would horse. Is that really all they could afford to feed the seminarians in Rome? Perhaps some donations to that seminary are in order!

    A riding instructor we know went to the auction at New Holland, PA some years back and bought a race-track reject off the slaughter line. That horse later qualified for the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden and only recently retired from action. To think he could have wound up in someone’s spaghetti bolognese!

    Happy and Blessed New Year to All.

  35. MrsHall says:

    Always add the carrots… cuts the acidity, increases the veggies, looks pretty… You’re making me hungry. :)

  36. irishgirl says:

    American Mother-your ‘pups’ are soooo cute! And I love the picture of the dog in the dishwasher! Very funny!

    That spaghetti dish looks pretty good, Father Z-although I would feel pretty sad if I had to use horse meat.

    I’m not much of an ‘original’ cook-if it doesn’t come out of a can or a box….oh well…

  37. An American Mother says:

    Girgadis, I don’t know what we hunter-jumper/combined training types would do if it weren’t for the off-track T’breds. A lot of horse for very little money, and even if they can’t catch cold from a racing point of view, they’re still plenty fast enough for ME. My once-in-a-lifetime horse was a racing-bred T’bred mare, now retired at 27 to carry the little kids in the Special Olympics. She was never a speedster, but she has looks and brains – we hunted, evented, and went around to the C and B shows just for fun. The National was too rich for my blood, but I bet she could have done it.

    Egyptian, you put your finger on the problem. Those darned unintended consequences! Instead of being slaughtered humanely, the horses are being trucked to Mexico under horrid conditions to be slaughtered there. And we are so far from Mexico (in the southeast) that many people are turning their old, lame, and sick horses out on the road to starve. Equine rescue is swamped, and a friend of mine said you used to worry about somebody backing a trailer up to your pasture and stealing your horses, now you go down on Monday morning and find tire tracks and three horses in your pasture that you don’t recognize!

  38. An American Mother says:

    Thanks, irishgirl – I love my dogs — and they are utterly spoilt. But they’ll hunt for me and do hunt tests for me, purely for love (in the Black’s case, it’s love of Mallard Ducks. That dog is crazy.)

  39. Girgadis says:

    American Mother

    I don’t know who said this, but it’s one of my favorite horse quotes.

    A woman needs two animals: a horse, and a jackass to pay for it.

  40. An American Mother says:

    LOL, Girgadis!

    Unfortunately, we are overrun with livestock over here, but my husband is a cheerful and patient man! He’s allergic to horses, AND dogs, AND cats . . . and he puts up with all of them!

    I hope that doesn’t make him a jackass, ’cause he’s an awfully good guy.

  41. P.McGrath says:

    Our friend Damian Thompson just had a look at Fr. Z’s opening photo and said:

    I yield to no one in my admiration for the great Father Z, who in addition to offering witty and authoritative commentary on the liturgy likes to adorn his blog with photographs of what he cooks. It’s just that sometimes, well … This is half-browned ground beef for spaghetti al seminario, in case you were wondering. But, as a priest friend of mine commented, “at first glance I wasn’t sure whether it was on the way in or the way out.”

    See more here:

  42. Girgadis says:

    American Mother

    ha ha

    Of course not, it’s just an amusing way of saying that poverty is owning a horse. They don’t call it the sport of kings for nothing. I had no idea Italians ate horsemeat. The Irish, on the other hand, revere their horses and would rather starve than see their horses go unfed, let alone serve them for dinner. You never know what culinary facts you will pick up from this website.

  43. An American Mother says:

    Oh, yes, if a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money, a horse is a land based container with the same problem. And we all wind up with equine pensioners on our hands, but they still need food and farriers and vets and all the rest of it.

    Irish and English and Scots are all in the position of having worshipped horses at one time. The thought of eating Dobbin is fundamentally horrifying to us!

    Dog is more horrifying to more of us – unless you’re of American Indian extraction (but not Apsaroka – they never ate dog). A guy I know has a Rez Rescue dog named “Wahumpi” i.e. “Soup”.

    And I guess Damian Thompson doesn’t get in the kitchen much! If he ever saw what’s involved in preparing a chicken from the walking and clucking stage, he’d probably never eat one again.

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