Growing up, one of my favorite things to ask for when my family went to a restaurant was "meat sauce". Meat sauce on spaghetti. Meat sauce on ravioli. Meat sauce on veal cutlets. I'd even ask for meat sauce on top of chicken parmesan! Well, I've grown up and matured (OK, somewhat). In this article I'll show you how to make a grown-up version of "meat sauce"--Ragù alla Bolognese.
One of the very first meals we had during our Voyage to Italy was Pici al Ragù... a Tuscan version of Spaghetti Bolognese. We had just gotten off the train from Rome in the small Tuscan town of Chiusi Scalo ("Scalo" designates the part of a town that surrounds a railway station). Chiusi proper, an historic Tuscan town with proud roots back to the Etruscans, was up on the nearby hilltop.
We were so weary from having traveled about 16 hours or more, first by air to Rome and then by train from Rome to Chiusi, where we were to pick up our rental car. And at this point we were also famished--needing to re-fuel. When we got off the train, the Hertz office was closed for riposa (a 3 hour siesta), so we had planned to have lunch while we waited. Believe it or not, I had already picked out the trattoria that we would eat at, selected weeks before while fine-tuning the details on my Google Earth maps... we would eat our first Italian meal at Trattoria Porsenna, one block from the train station. It was a fantastic choice. With only 12 tables and a casual country style, we order a bottle of gassata for the table and waited for our meals. When the Pici al Ragù came, I couldn't believe how delicious it was.
By the way... Pici is a sort of thick, hand rolled spaghetti. Ragù is basically a meat sauce, the best of which is Ragù alla Bolognese, which originated in Bologna but is found all over Italy nowadays. People will tell you that "spaghetti Bolognese" doesn't exist in Italy--but it does. The sauce will just be called "Ragù" instead of "Bolognese", as in "Spaghetti al Ragù", and typically in place of spaghetti the dish is usually served with tagliatelle, a long, flat, fresh pasta noodle--"Tagliatelle al Ragù".
Historic records even prove that in centuries past, spaghetti (dried) was commonly used with a Ragù sauce anyway. (NOTE: In the weeks that followed, we saw "Spaghetti alla Bolognese" listed on many menus). So, whatever the name, and no matter what type of pasta you put under it, I knew that this was the Ragù I wanted to duplicate when I returned back home.
2 pounds ground beef (80% or less fat)
1/4 pound speck (cut 1/4" thick), 1/4" dice (Speck is a smoked prosciutto)
1 large Vidalia onion (or 2 large yellow onions)
1 teaspoon sugar (for sauteing onions)
4 tablespoons canola oil (for sauteing)
3 carrots, 1/4" dice
3 celery stalks, 1/4" dice
4 garlic cloves, smashed then diced
5 bay leaves (remove after cooking)
1-1/2 tablespoons thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1-tablespoon dried basil
1 cup full bodied red wine (Primativo, Montepulciano, Chianti, etc.)
1-28 ounce can Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes
1-6 ounce can tomato paste
1 cup heavy cream
This recipe will make enough Bolognese sauce for several meals. It also freezes very well.
If you would like to make fresh tagliatelle to go with your Bolognese sauce, read Making Fresh Pasta at Home: Not a Necessity, but a Tradition.
Or, try making our Torta Rigatoni Piede Bolognese al Forno - Baked Standing Rigatoni Pie with Bolognese. Or, try Baked Standing Rigatoni in a Mug. It's also wonderful spread on a bruschetta for a small lunch or snack.
The ridiculous notion that any restaurant needs a water sommelier seems like a bit on a hidden camera show. But it's not. It's really a thing. Or at least, this German guy Martin Riese thinks it is. He is wildly promoting the idea, and talks of each water's "terrior" (as in, the land and climate wine varieties are growing in). He is surely in the press enough to keep his job at a chic California dining spot, while he also hawks his own brand of water--"Beverly 90H20 Crafted Spring Water". "Crafted?" Really?
Now I'm not saying that some waters--especially mineral spring waters--can carry a strong taste of odd minerals, salts, sulfur or magnesium. (Most don't, and the ones that do are used to move one's bowels). But seriously? Do people really need a sommelier to help pair a water to go with food or (get this) with the wine they are drinking? When I lived in France years ago, I quickly learned that the Vittel ads showing arrows going into a man's mouth and coming out of his crotch meant something: That this particularly awful tasting stuff makes you pee like crazy--something the French think is simply wonderful. I stayed away from that brand after learning my painful lesson.
Most bottled waters sold in the U.S. are not mineral waters anyway. Many have very natural sounding names that give the impression they come directly from some pristine high mountain spring. But then you discover that they come from the municipal water source of someplace like Newark, New Jersey.
In Italy, the choices are many, but did I sense a drastic change in flavor between brand names? Not really. So in restaurants the only question asked was, "acqua naturale o gassata?" Plain water or gassy. The taste was always the same. Wet water or with bubbles. Am I thirsty or do I want to burp after my meal? That's the real question.
Water water everywhere and we have to bottle it, brand it and hire someone to tell us which one to drink...