A couple of years ago I met the most remarkably intelligent 11 year old boy I have ever encountered. He literally left me speechless and it was all I could do to not feel like an idiot in front of him. He had come to the hospital where I work to visit his grandmother who had just had surgery.
When I walked into my patient’s room on the third day of being her nurse, the room was filled with family members. The patient introduced me to her family and when she introduced her grandson, she told me that he liked to cook. Making small-talk with the boy, I asked him what was his favorite thing to cook. Of course I expected to hear something like ‘macaroni and cheese with ketchup’, but no, oh no-no-no, not this kid. “Well,” he said as he looked up at me from his grandmother’s wheelchair as if he was about to do a class presentation, “I like to make linguine Bolognese.”
What? Those words didn’t sound anything like ‘mac and cheese with ketchup’. As my brain worked quickly to recover, I thought about the fact that Bolognese is generally made with red wine and I found myself honestly afraid at the thought of an 11 year old working with alcohol. The mother/nurse in me was getting ready to haul every adult in that child’s family to the woodshed if he said anything about using wine.
Calculating, but with a cheerful voice I said, “That’s so interesting. I’ve just read a number of recipes for Bolognese. How do you make yours?
“Well,” he said, “I start with…” ….wait for it, here it comes…. “red wine vinegar….”.
“The kid’s a genus!!!!!” I thought. And then I wanted to hug him to pieces for thinking of a way to get around using wine. We talked off and on for the rest of my shift whenever I would come in to care for his grandmother. I asked him if he ever used the internet to look up recipes or to learn about food. “Oh yes,” he replied nonchalantly. “I read different recipes, then open up Word, and write my own recipe.
“I write mine by hand on scraps of paper or in a notebook, if I can find where I left it last,” I thought. “So, do you want a career as a chef?” I asked innocently on one of my visits to his grandmother’s room. “No,” he stated matter of fact. “Cooking is my hobby. I want to be a defense lawyer.”
I could feel that proverbial feather knocking me over once again. “Well, honey, if that’s what you want to do, then it is the right thing for you. Go where your heart tells you to go. Always do your best and work hard.” A faint smile crossed the boy’s face and he nodded as he spun his grandmother’s wheelchair around to watch some TV.
Okay, so if an 11 year old boy can make Bolognese, then surely I can make Bolognese. However, I am really going out on a limb here with this recipe since I have a brother in-law who is Italian and I have a friend at work who is Italian. Mama mia!
I have studied many recipes for Bolognese, including the official recipe accepted by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cuisine). It was registered on October 17, 1982 as the authentic recipe for Bolognese Ragù. Just FYI. You can find the original recipe at the end of this post.
One of the interesting things that I learned in my research is that Americans often make this sauce with more tomatoes and tomato products than do the Italians. We so often think of Italian food as being tomato based, and certainly Italy took the humble tomato and turned it in to something miraculous. Those lovely San Marzano tomatoes which are so sought after in Italian cuisine are grown in the volcanic soil near Mt. Vesuvius. That soil elevates the tomato to something akin to perfection. Soil is everything to a tomato, but that is a topic for another time.
I had a hard time not adding more tomatoes to this recipe, but I reminded myself that I’d end up with a typical spaghetti sauce instead of a Bolognese. So, I reigned myself in. The more I read about Bolognese Ragù, the more intimidated I became by it, to the point of almost walking away. This food blogging thing can be scary business; everyone has an opinion and whether it is a recipe for chocolate chip cookies or Bolognese, there will be someone who will say, “THAT’s not the right way!”
It is with a fair amount of trepidation that I am making this post, especially since I switched out the wine with a good quality balsamic vinegar and beef broth. Although a true Bolognese does not have herbs or spices in it, I did sneak in a little nutmeg. And some garlic. Is there a cuisine on the planet that does not use garlic? I’m being serious with that question because I really don’t know the answer. Anyone?
In the end, I found that I am absolutely in love with this Bolognese Ragù. I am amazed at the flavor impact of such simple ingredients. This is now on my craving list. When you make this sauce, please be certain to let it cook at a low simmer for the stated 2-3 hours. The flavor development is well worth your time.
The following is the official Bolognese Ragu recipe approved by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cuisine)
- 300 g beef cartella (thin beef skirt)
- 150 g pancetta, dried
- 50 g carrot
- 50 g celery stalk
- 50 g onion
- 5 spoons tomato sauce or 20 g triple tomato puree
- 1 cup (250 mL) whole milk
- Half cup of still, dry white or dry red wine
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Cut the pancetta into little cubes and melt in a saucepan. Finely chop the soffritto of vegetables with the mezzaluna and leave to stew until soft. Next, add the ground beef and leave to gently come up to simmering point, stirring constantly until it splutters. Add the wine and tomato puree (cut with a little broth) and leave to simmer for around two hours. Add the milk little by little. Season with salt and pepper according to taste.
The classic recipe recommends the addition of ‘a panna di cottura’ of a litre of whole milk near the end of the cooking. This is whole milk reduced in a saucepan to at least half its volume.
From Terri: Note that the above classic recipe includes neither garlic nor herbs. I couldn’t help myself. I had to have garlic. Also, an Italian acquaintance from long ago taught me about using a little nutmeg in some of my Italian cooking; I think that it tastes great in this dish.
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