Joe Petrasek’s cooking is anything but hum-drum. As the associate principal percussionist with the Kansas City Symphony since 2009, Petrasek gets into a rhythm when cooking with his wife, Jessica Petrasek.
The Petraseks count on spending time cooking together in their Kansas City kitchen to relax and entertain friends. “Cooking is a huge collaboration between us, and the teamwork we build in the kitchen also carries into performing together,” says Jessica, who is a regular substitute flutist for the Symphony. “The timing and preparation of our meals together are essential and a way for us to reconnect.”
Q: When it comes to cooking, do you march to the beat of your own drum?
A: I would describe my cooking style as collaborative with Jess, as she and I really work as a team. Personally, I really enjoy learning cooking techniques, such as braising a cut of meat, which can then be applied to not only making this ragu, but also preparing beef short ribs.
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Learning about using the combination of chopped carrots, celery and onion — also known as mirepoix — adds a balance of flavor to stocks, sauces and soups, and is used across a variety of cuisines. For me, I like practicing and trying to master the fundamentals, which helps me to be a better cook across many gastronomical genres.
Q: So are there similarities between making beautiful meals and music?
A: In music, if you understand and practice the basics of timing, rhythm and intonation, you can apply these techniques to both classic and jazz genres alike.
In the same way with food, you have to be mindful of the timing, so all the elements come together on the plate. Especially if you’re cooking with someone, it’s important that there’s a flow or rhythm between cooking tasks.
Jess and I really learned to cook together, so for us, it’s an activity with an end result we enjoy sharing between ourselves and with others. Intonation in cooking is important so that you’re hitting all the right notes and aren’t too heavy-handed with a single spice — you want everything to blend in harmony.
Q: When you entertain people for dinner, is it like you’re performing a culinary concert?
A: So many people who are musicians also have an appreciation of good food, so we enjoy having friends eat with us who are, in turn, an enthusiastic audience. Any time you perform, there is always an element of nervousness, because you want to do your best, and the same principle applies to serving a delicious meal.
As with a music concert, people may go in with an expectation as to what they are going to eat, but it’s always fun to put your own signature on a dish. Jess improvises more than I do, but we make a good duo.
Q: Why did you choose this lamb ragu recipe to share?
A: For our honeymoon, Jess and I traveled to Italy, and that’s really where we fell in love with homemade pasta. We make our own pappardelle to go with the lamb ragu, which really makes this a special dish. We enjoy making pasta, which like honing any other skill in the kitchen, takes practice and getting the ratio of flour to eggs to liquid exactly right.
When you put a lot of time and energy into all the little components of a dish, it really elevates the final product. The ragu is not a bottled sauce bearing the name, it is an Italian sauce that includes meat, onion, tomato, red wine and served over pasta. We came up with this recipe based on the braising technique of the lamb and a basic Bolognese sauce.
Playing music for me is presenting something of myself — built on the practice of fundamental skills — that is hopefully emotional, artistic and transcendent for the audience. I can only hope people who share a meal I’ve helped prepare also appreciate and savor my epicurean endeavors.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Sounds of the season
Enjoy the holidays with the Kansas City Symphony. Go to kcsymphony.org or call 816-471-0400 for ticket information.
Lamb Ragù Pappardelle
Makes 8 servings
1 pound boneless lamb shoulder
3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided use
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sage leaves
1 (750-milliliter) bottle Merlot
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 (16-ounce) package pappardelle
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, divided use
4 fresh basil leaves, cut in a chiffonade
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Season lamb with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and set aside.
On the stovetop, heat a Dutch oven over high heat. When very hot, add grapeseed oil and sear each side of lamb, until the outside is a golden brown. Place lamb on a platter and allow meat to rest.
Turn heat down to medium and add 1 tablespoon olive oil, onion, carrot and celery to Dutch oven. Sauté at least 5 minutes, or until vegetables are soft.
Place lamb back into Dutch oven. Place rosemary, thyme and sage in a piece of cheesecloth and tie it into a bundle, to create an herb sachet. Add herbs and Merlot to pot.
Bring wine to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn heat down to low and allow contents to simmer. Use a wooden spoon to scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Place the lid tightly on top of Dutch oven, and braise in oven for at least 2 1/2 hours, or until lamb is tender and easily shreds.
Carefully remove pot from oven and place on stovetop over low heat.
Using tongs, take lamb out of the braising liquid and place onto a cutting board to shred the meat and discard any fat and the herb sachet.
Add meat back to pot and stir in tomato paste. Season with remaining 1 teaspoon salt and place lid back onto pot and allow contents to simmer for at least another 30 minutes, or up to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Prepare pasta according to package directions while sauce is simmering. Drain al dente pasta into a colander and place onto serving platter.
Top with lamb ragu and garnish with cheese and fresh basil. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 472 calories (44 percent from fat), 15 grams total fat (5.5 grams saturated), 36 milligrams cholesterol, 51.5 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 737.5 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.