Here in Arkansas, the coming of autumn is almost a religious experience, given our hot summers. When the leaves start falling, the days grow shorter and the air gets that perfect note of crispness to it, minds turn to holidays, family — and food. There's nothing quite like settling down to a great meal of comfort food on a chilly day, especially when it's homemade. We wondered: What do local chefs and bakers cook for themselves this time of year? Here are their answers, which could inspire readers to fire up the stove and get cooking.
No local restaurateur has quite the string of successes that Scott McGehee has enjoyed. From pizza at ZaZa to burgers at Big Orange to tacos at Local Lime, McGehee and his crew have managed to create top quality versions of everyday foods, and the results have been some of Little Rock's most popular restaurants. McGehee shares this warming pasta sauce he learned during his time at Alice Waters' famed Chez Panisse, and it's enough to make us want to trade the Thanksgiving turkey for spaghetti. MR.
5 ounces pancetta, diced fine
1 large yellow onion, diced fine
2 ribs celery, diced fine
1 large carrot, diced fine
Salt to taste
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 pound chuck steak, cut into ¼-inch cubes
6 ounces lean pork shoulder, coarsely ground or chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
2 cups beef stock
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups cream
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup chopped parsley, for garnish
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish
Pepper, for garnish
Heat a wide, heavy-bottomed pan; pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the pancetta. Once the pancetta starts to brown add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and a little salt. When the vegetables soften somewhat, remove them from the pan and set aside.
Put the pan back on the heat and pour in two more tablespoons of oil and when it is hot, add the beef, pork and a little more salt. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes until the meat starts to brown. Leave the meat in the pan and add the stock, cream, herbs and tomato paste. Simmer gently for about one hour until the sauce has reduced by about half and the meat is tender. Add the vegetables back into the dish and simmer an additional five minutes. Pour the sauce over wide-cut handmade noodles or your favorite dry pasta. Garnish with a generous helping of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, parsley and freshly ground black pepper.
This sauce keeps for 5-7 days in the fridge, and often improves in flavor with age. Other variations use ground beef, prosciutto and wild or domestic mushrooms.
Jeff Owen's work in the kitchen and what he puts on diners' plates exemplifies professionalism in every way. Owen's menus change seasonally, and he borrows flavors from all over the world — his current lineup touches on Thailand, New Orleans, Italy, Canada, Japan and Greece. Owen excels at transforming those heartwarming comfort foods into something uncommonly good.
Below, Owen offers a recipe perfectly suited for a chilly winter night — a hearty, rich dish that is bound to stick to your ribs. Make this dish for any of the guests you're entertaining this holiday season, and you may have a difficult time getting anyone to leave. DW.
3 pounds beef short ribs, cut in half (3-inch blocks)