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RBR Tailgating: Your Favorite Thing

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This is the biggest game of the season. Make the experience perfect.

For the national championship game you want everything to be bigger, more spectacular, even grandiose. The stakes are higher. The potential bragging rights are immeasurable. And sure, Bryant-Denny seats 38,421 more fans than University of Phoenix Stadium, but the t.v. (television) audience may be the largest of the season.

So is it too much to expect that as fans we step in and show the world that we tailgate to a hereto unimaginable standard?

As it turns out it is, for several reasons.

I'm assuming that no more than eight of the people reading this live within a few hours' drive to Glendale. Of those eight, maybe five of you are able to make it to the game. To you five I wish nothing but tailgating bliss and champagne dreams. Crowd around the grill and char meats to your heart's content. As for the rest of us...

Most of us are staying home. Even those that are lucky enough to go to the game would do well to abandon any thoughts of tailgating and trust the Glendale/Phoenix Zagat Guide to find a decent restaurant and/or hope they make decent stadium dogs in Arizona. The logistics involved in throwing together a proper cookout in a foreign land are just too daunting.

For starters, none of these...

Grills

...will fit in an overhead compartment. I checked.

Carry On Limits

Even boxed, the Weber Original Kettle Grill comes in at 39.5"x27"x22.5".

Of course you could buy a grill when you arrive but then you start to remember all the other accoutrements that make tailgating such a pleasure. Before you know it you're buying folding chairs, drink coolers, ice coolers, food coolers, spatulas, a table, etc. None of that stuff is coming back with you on the plane. What is purchased in Glendale stays in Glendale. Seems like quite an investment for a single meal.

If you do decide to splurge on all this equipment for a one time cookout, be sure and add a few Clemson Tigers flags or hats to your shopping list and leave them hanging on the backs of the folding chairs right before you head into the stadium. That way, when you abandon your tailgate for someone else to clean up, our fan base won't get the blame.

But like I said, most of us are staying home or watching at a friend's place. I can suggest a recipe and I'll wager that I can suggest one that a great many of you would really enjoy. But this is for the national championship game. This event is mighty. This week's tailgate should be something that makes everyone's pre-game.

This week I suggest you make Your Favorite Thing.

New York Strip with garlic butter? Pizza with pepperoni and sausage? Fried chicken? Blue cheese burgers? Make 'em. If your favorite thing is a chocolate éclair dipped in mayonnaise I pity you, but make it. We are playing for a freaking national championship! Opportunities to indulge in food, fun, and football on this scale only come around four out of every seven years. Don't squander this.

I can be pretty capricious when it comes to my Your Favorite Thing. It's always going to involve tomato sauce and usually will involve pasta but it could be one of many combinations at any given time. But lately I've been playing around with Italian meat sauces, so why not make the granddaddy of them all?

Rigatoni Bolognese

1 ½ lb. Ground Chuck or ½ Ground Chuck, ½ lb. Ground Pork, and ½ lb. Ground Veal

½ Yellow Onion, diced

Amount equal to Onion of Celery, diced

Same amount of Carrot, diced

2-3 Cloves Garlic, minced

1 cup Whole Milk

1 cup Dry White Wine

Nutmeg

1 28 ounce can Whole Tomatoes with their juices, torn by hand

2 glugs Olive Oil

3-4 tbsp. Butter

1 lb. Rigatoni

Salt and Pepper to taste

Butter in Dutch Oven

I chose to use the glorious new Dutch oven I got for Christmas, but any similarly sized pan will do. Add to it a few glugs of olive oil and 2 tbsps. of butter over medium-high heat.

Onions in D Oven

Toss in the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the celery, carrots, and onion and soften - about five minutes.

Veg in D Oven

Next add the meat(s) with some salt and a grind or two of pepper and brown. Next add the milk and about 1/8 tsp. of grated nutmeg. Reduce for five minutes and add the wine.

Milk WIne

Reduce for another five minutes and then add the tomatoes. Stir, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a very gentle simmer.

Tomatoes in

Stirring frequently, let it simmer for three hours, uncovered, adding water as needed to keep from scalding.

There are a few don'ts that apply to this sauce that don't apply to every tomato based pasta sauce. The first two are going to come across as heretical, but if you calm down and think about things, both make sense.

One: Do not add red pepper flakes. I know. Red pepper flakes, or at least some form of heat go hand and hand with the brilliantly acidic flavor of tomatoes. Capsaicin bearing peppers and tomatoes made the long voyage from the New World to Italy together. Having one without the other is like breaking up a moderately happy nuclear family. But this sauce is not about heat. It's about sweet. Milk fats and carrots are added to downplay acidity. Let them do their jobs.

Two: Do not go fiddling about and decide to add bacon. I've tried. Disaster. It's almost axiomatic that bacon improves everything. This sauce is the reason the "almost" is there. Even a few lardons take all the layers of colorful flavor - dairy, wine, tomato, savory meats -and reduces them to a monochrome of smoked pork.

Three: Almost every recipe for slowly cooked meat sauce advises that when the clear fat separates from the rest of the ingredients the dish is done. You can see what they mean in the picture below. A spoon dragged through the sauce should leave a trail of transparent liquid in its wake.

Fat Seperation

In this case that separation is indicative of nothing. In fact, that picture was taken less than an hour into the absolutely necessary (not kidding about this) three hour cook time. What we are looking to do is reincorporate that fat into the liquid. Don't trust the spoon test.

On that note, let's get back to the dos as opposed to the don'ts.

The last fifteen or twenty minutes of cooking will require a little more attention. Up until this point, simmering with the occasional stirring and adding water as needed sufficed. You need to midwife the sauce at the end.

Stir as needed, adding water only to keep from scalding rather than in anticipation of it. The sauce should begin to thicken considerably until you reach the magic moment where when pulled from the edge of the pan a gap remains for a second or two before slowly filling in. Now, assuming it's been three hours, you have something amazing. Salt to taste.

Final Sauce

Meanwhile, cook a pound of rigatoni in heavily salted water, drain when al dente, and toss with the remaining butter. Serve with a chiffonade of fresh basil and a few gratings of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. Pair with a full red from the Piedmont (the Italian one, not the Piedmont by Clemson.) Try it, I'll guarantee you will love it.

Plated

That's my Your Favorite Thing. Let us know what yours is in the comments.

Roll Tide, no injuries, and bring home #16.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: To check out any and all of Ben's tailgating delectable recipes, check out our Food section.]