Vegetable Ragù

Surprises come in all shapes and sizes but perhaps the best are when the surprise is a person and not a thing. Today, for Valentine’s Day I want to celebrate a different kind of love, the love we feel for friends and the bonds we create with them. This is a love letter of sorts, I used to write them regularly but I haven’t written one in long time.

When I first moved to Italy communication with friends and family back home was difficult, expensive and took ages. I essentially had two options: writing letters/postcards and calling. Email was still in its infancy and the Internet was no where near as widespread as it is now.

Writing letters and postcards was fun, I enjoyed choosing stationary but I hated the long waits between sending the letter off and getting a response. Often I was getting answers to questions that I didn’t remember asking.

Phone calls were prohibitively expensive. Pretty much the only person that called me was my Mom and I rarely called anyone.

Now the opposite is true. Everyone has at least one email account (I am too embarrassed to put the number that I have in writing), a Facebook, Twitter or My Space account, not to mention MSN, Yahoo, Skype and any of the other instant messaging and calling options that make communication instantaneous across the globe.

Very recently two old (as in they have been in my life for a long time – not that they are old, no, not at all, they are young, very young), very dear friends with whom I had unfortunately fallen out of touch with, found me thanks to this site and my presence in other corners of the World Wide Web.

It isn’t the first time that I have turned on my computer to find a surprise message or contact from a long lost friend or acquaintance, but it is certainly, for me at least, the instance that has had the most impact. Mostly because of how happy these particular contacts made me. How grateful I was to have been *found* (for the record I had Googled them on many occasions but they, unlike narcissistic little me, have literally no Internet presence whatsoever) and how thrilling it was to pick up our friendship again, almost as if it had never been interrupted.

For the first time in a very long time, it has made me really think about the way I communicate; with my family and friends back in Canada, with the many new *friends* that I have made but never met over the last 3 years, even with people that I interact with on a daily basis.

It also made me rethink the whys and wherefores of what I am doing. One of these two friends, who was actually in Italy when she found me, came to my home and we shared a meal and caught up on 14 years of living, loving and learning.

It was like travelling back in time for me. We talked ourselves hoarse and I am so grateful for the chance to re-connect.

In the long years of separation my friend became a vegetarian and as luck (or fate) would have it, I had recently made and jarred a vegetable ragù*. Our first course was a pasta dish, dressed with the vegetable ragù. The rest of the meal doesn’t really matter. I can’t even remember if I offered a dessert. I just remember the emotions, the delight, the sense of disbelief. Having an old friend from Canada (high school no less!) sitting in my kitchen was disorienting and slightly surreal but immensely satisfying.

So today when everyone else is writing for lovers I want to write for friends and I dedicate today’s post to old friends where ever they may be.

*A note on the word ragù (which is commonly used in Northern Italy, not so much in the South). Generally the word ragù refers to a sauce made up of many different ingredients but is nonetheless meat based. The term comes from the French ragoût (from the verb ragoûter which means to *reawaken the appetite*) and in some regions it continues to be spelled this way. In this recipe I have (quiet obviously) taken liberties with the ingredients, but I hope you will all find it in your hearts to forgive me.

Ingredients (for approximately a litre of sauce – freezes beautifully)

75 gr onions – diced

200 gr mushrooms – diced

100 gr carrots – diced

100 gr celery – diced

100 gr zucchini – diced

100 gr eggplant – diced

700 gr tomato paste

350 ml water

salt and pepper to taste

30 ml extra virgin olive oil

I try to dice the vegetables a small as possible but in the end you can adapt the size to your tastes.

In a large saucepan or stock pot heat the oil and sweat the onions over medium low heat.

Before they become translucent, add the carrots and celery.

Stir and cook the carrots and celery for a few minutes before adding the eggplant and zucchini.


Stir and let the vegetables cook for a few minutes, then add the mushrooms.

Over low heat let the vegetables cook for 15 to 20 minutes then add the tomato paste and water.

Stir well, cover and let simmer for 20 to 30 minutes over low heat.

Season to taste and server over your favourite pasta. In this case I used Bavette!

When seasoning sauce, it is important to do it at the end of cooking because if you add the salt too soon the taste will be off once most of the liquid evaporates!

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