Sunday, January 3, 2016

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

If someone were to ask me what pasta dish would I order at an Italian restaurant, I would reply "the Bolognese."  A "Bolognese," which is also referred to as a "ragu," is a sauce of chopped meat and vegetables cooked in a liquid, such as water or wine.  The sauce is perhaps the most familiar dish from the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna.  And, if it is done right, the Bolognese is perhaps one of the best pasta sauces ever created, not only in Italy, but perhaps the entire world (at least in my humble opinion).  

Speaking of origins, the earliest documented recipe for a Bolognese dates back to the late 1700s.   Lynn Rossetto Kasper writes in her book, The Splendid Table, that Alberto Alvisi, a cook to the Cardinal of Imola, made a sauce that he called "ragu for maccheroni."  The first published recipe was written by Pellegrino Artusi in his 1891 cookbook, La Scienza in Cucina e L'Arte di Mangiare Bene ("The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well").  The recipe called for veal fillets, butter, onions and carrots.  The ingredients were to be minced finely, cooked in the butter, and then covered with a broth.   Artusi also suggested adding mushrooms to improve the taste, as well as cream to make a smoother sauce.  

A lot of time has passed since Artusi published his recipe.  With time, comes change.  At some point over the years, decades and centuries, cooks began to use other proteins, such as beef and pork.   They also substituted water or wine for the broth.  The changes went beyond mere substitutions. Cooks decided to add other ingredients, such as tomato paste.  Many of these changes were probably brought about by necessity, such as the availability of cost of beef.  Other changes were probably made to alter the taste, such as the use of wine over broth.  In the end, these changes produced a sauce made with minced meat, onions, carrots, celery and tomato paste, all of which are cooked in a liquid of the cook's choice.  

One final note about this recipe.  Traditionally, a Bolognese is served with Tagliatelle pasta, which is the traditional type of pasta in Emilia-Romagna.  Tagliatelle is a long, flat pasta.  The flatness of the pasta is the key.  You want a surface that can serve as a canvas for the sauce.  Tagliatelle can be a little hard to find, especially if you do not have an Italian store near you.  If you can't find that pasta, you can use Fettuccine or even Pappardelle.  Just avoid the dried pasta.  A Bolognese should only grace fresh pasta.   It definitely costs more to buy fresh pasta.  However, trust me.  It is definitely worth the cost.  

Recipe from Oscar Farinetti, How to Eataly at pg. 56
Serves 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 small carrot, minced
1 rib celery, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
4 ounces ground veal
4 ounces ground pork
4 ounces ground beef
Fine sea salt, to taste
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken or beef stock
Coarse sea salt for pasta cooking water
Fresh tagliatelle
Grated grana cheese, for serving

1.  In a heavy Dutch oven or large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil.  Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and fragrant, about 2 minutes more.

2.  Crumble the veal, pork and beef into the pot.  Season with fine sea salt.  Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat has rendered most of its fat and is just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.  Spoon out and discard some of the rendered fat, but leave enough to cover the bottom of the pan.  (This will depend upon the meat that you are using - there may not be an excessive amount of fat.)

3.  Add the wine and increase the heat to medium.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine has evaporated, about 6 minutes.

4.  Decrease the heat to low, add the tomato paste, stir to combine and cook, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add the stock and adjust the heat if necessary to reach a gentle simmer.  Simmer until the stock has reduced but the sauce is still moist, about 45 minutes longer.  Taste the sauce, adjust the seasoning if necessary and remove from the heat.

5.  Bring a large pot of water to boil for pasta.  When the water is boiling, salt it with coarse salt and add the pasta.  Cook until the pasta rises to the surface of the water.  

6.  Smear a small amount of the sauce on the bottom of a warmed pasta serving bowl. 

7.  When the pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander, then transfer it immediately to the serving bowl.  Top with the remaining sauce and toss vigorously to combine.  Serve immediately with grated cheese on the table.


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