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leftover brisket ragù

on the Jewish New Year and eating meat after 10 years

While two weeks ago I was all-in on tomatoes, now I’m looking ahead to my favorite season of all: fall. In my house, fall doesn’t just start with pumpkin-flavored drinks, pine-scented candles, or pretty, jewel-toned foliage. It starts with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Like most celebrations, Rosh Hashanah revolves around food and family (quite possibly in that order). There are apples dipped in honey, pomegranate wedges bursting with ruby-red seeds, and round loaves of challah studded with raisins (all the in name of a sweet New Year!). And at the heart of it all, you’ll usually find an enormous platter of fork-tender braised brisket.

Why brisket, you might ask? For one, it’s implicitly kosher, coming from the front of the cow (long story short: kosher laws preclude eating certain meats altogether, like pork, as well as certain parts of an animal, like the rear). It’s also a tough cut of meat that requires slow and steady cooking—far less desirable than, say, a ribeye—which means it’s always been relatively cheap. And cheap is exactly what the historically poor Jewish communities of Eastern Europe needed. Fast forward a few centuries, and brisket is now so ingrained in Jewish culture that it’s prepared with pride rather than out of necessity.

My own relationship with brisket is a little complicated: I didn’t eat meat for 10 years. If you’ve been following my recipes for a while, you might have noticed that they’re almost entirely vegetarian. Some of my favorite creations came from those dietary parameters, like this meatless ragù that can still fully satisfy my carnivorous cravings. I even managed to make it through culinary school without tasting a good amount of my food (we cooked a lot of chicken and steak). So, why did I start eating meat again? Well, because of Rosh Hashanah.

The first year of the pandemic was, as it was for so many of us, the first time my husband and I spent the holidays on our own. My husband has always eaten meat (though much less often since we’ve been together), and there’s immense comfort in eating the food that reminds us of home, especially during difficult times. I could not in good conscience deprive him of a Rosh Hashanah brisket, so I didn’t. I made Melissa Clark’s Braised Brisket with Plums, Star Anise and Port from the New York Times. It filled my kitchen with the familiar sounds and smells of simmering wine and slow-roasting beef—just like home—and when it came time to eat, just the two of us, I put a slice on my plate.

I’ve since re-introduced meat into my diet, but it’s a rare addition, mostly reserved for special occasions and meaningful moments, like this Rosh Hashanah, which we’ll be spending with family again. You’ll find a handful of meat recipes in my upcoming cookbook, too, some of which are traditional Italian (like Bolognese—with some kosher-friendly adjustments) and others that are inspired by the Jewish culture that I hold so dear.

Alright, onto the recipe. In the spirit of the resourcefulness that’s central to so much of Jewish (and Italian) cooking, my favorite way to repurpose leftover brisket is, of course, to toss it with pasta. This ragù follows a simple, predictable structure, with a soffritto (or mirepoix—a mix of onions, carrots, and celery) as the base, plus some aromatics, wine, and tomatoes. Using the already-braised meat imparts deep, slow-cooked flavors in a fraction of time, while the tomatoes bring brightness and acidity so it’s not too heavy. The result is extremely delicious. And since we’re going for a leftovers vibe here, I went with dried pasta over fresh, but homemade ribbons of pappardelle or tagliatelle would be excellent, too.

If you’re not celebrating Rosh Hashanah, or if it’s your first time cooking brisket, I’ve included my recipe and tips below so you can make this whenever you like. It’s well worth the effort and a perfect recipe to keep in your fall/winter repertoire.

And with that: Shana Tova (Happy New Year)!

Leftover Brisket Ragù

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pasta social club
pasta social club
Meryl Feinstein