Sunday, March 19, 2006

How many Hours?

Yesterday night (a very precious weekend night, mind you), I spent more than three hours simmering a pasta sauce. Hailing from the very famous region of Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy, the Ragu alla Bolognese is a slow-simmered meat-based pasta sauce, and should not be confused with those quick tomato-based sauces normally served over spaghetti.
Ragu alla Bolognese
Truth be told, there have been many occasions in the past with time being in short supply, when I have reached for a bottle of commercial Ragu spaghetti sauce and dumped the same into the saucepan together with my ground beef and diced carrots and happily announced to my not-so-discerning hubby that we were having Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner in half an hour's time! Unfortunately, I can't get away with such shortcuts anymore as he has wised up, thanks to an Italian we met at dinner the other night. When dinner conversation moved to bolognese sauces, the defining question was how long it took to create this sauce originating from Bologna. "A minimum of 3 hours," says one dinner guest, and in fact, the Italian recommended up to 4 hours on a slow slow fire. Hmm, hubby was giving me that quizzical look!

So, last night I decided to make up for all the years of harmless 'deceit' by preparing true Bolognese style meat sauce. The following Bolognese recipe is adapted from Tyler Florence's Eat this Book with added touches from various other recipes (and believe me, there are a lot of bolognese recipes out there):
  • finely chop 2 celery stalks, 2 peeled carrots and 1 medium-sized onion (and if you have a food processor, chopping all these is a breeze)
  • heat 4 to 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and add minced garlic (from 5 to 6 cloves), the chopped onion, celery and carrots, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes or so until the vegetables are tender
  • increase heat and add to pan 1 pound of ground beef - Tyler's recipe also calls for another pound of ground veal, but I decided to use 4 chilli-pork sausages instead (sausage casing removed and meat chopped)
  • cook meat until no longer pink, and add 1 cup of white wine, simmering until evaporated
  • add 2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed and 4 cups of chicken stock (and this is where Tyler's recipe differ from some of the more traditional bolognese recipes, which only use a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and no more than 2 cups of broth, beef or chicken)
  • season with salt and pepper, and at this stage, I also added in about a tablespoon of ground nutmeg (taken off Marcella Hazan's recipe for bolognese sauce, and who is Marcella Hazan, you ask? Well, I didn't know until the night before that she is allegedly America's matriarch of authentic Italian cooking, with quite a few books under her authorship, the latest being Marcella Says...: Italian Cooking Wisdom.. - hmm, time to check out the local library and Kinokuniya bookstore
  • lower heat and slowly simmer for two to two and a half hours, stirring every now and then until the sauce thickens (and thanks to Tyler's recipe requiring 4 cups of broth, there is no way one can shorten this step as it will take all of two hours and more to reduce the pan's contents to a thick sauce-like consistency)
  • add 1 cup of milk (which is supposed to make the meat tender) and simmer again for another 30 minutes (although, I have seen recipes where the milk is added much earlier, after the cup of wine has evaporated and before the broth and tomatoes are added)
A simple list of ingredients (not too difficult to locate in any supermarket), a short list of instructions (none that require too much kitchen acrobatics) - the only exacting part of this recipe is the luxury of time required for its slow simmering process, in order for the meat to impart its wonderful flavors into the sauce and develop into this rich and aromatic onslaught to the senses. Your kitchen will smell tantalizing and any attempt to avoid dipping a spoon into the pot every now and then is mortally impossible.

Although the sauce can be eaten on the day that it is cooked, I chose to exercise great control and set the whole pot aside for dinner this evening instead. Left overnight, the flavors continue to develop, with the minced beef remaining tender and not in the least dry. A wonderful dinner with hubby having second helpings, I think I'm forgiven!

The ideal pasta to accompany this thick sauce is the tagliatelle, flat ribbons of pasta which are broad enough to capture the Bolognese sauce with each bite, without having the sauce slither off and left behind on the plate. Unfortunately, I didn't have any available at home and had to make do instead with fettucine, another flat-style ribbon pasta but slightly thicker than tagliatelle. The traditional cheese to serve with this wonderful aromatic meaty dish, is none other than grated Parmigiano Reggiano, a hard piquant cheese from the same region.

The above recipe was enough to feed at least 6 persons, with sufficient leftovers (to be kept in the freezer) which I estimate should be just enough to make lasagna for two persons in the course of this week. Now, all I need to do is find the right recipe for that bechamel sauce!


Blogger shaz said...

hihi. thanks for the link! happy blogging! shaz

3/20/2006 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous pfong said...

Ah Cath, I too have been susisting in the dark ages of the Ragu bottle. But can I stay in the darkness for long now you've shown me the glorious light? :-)

3/20/2006 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous slurp! said...

it seems months, or perhaps years ago since I have my last delicious pasta. now u really got me drooling again. do u happen to have any leftover sauce? :P

3/20/2006 11:18:00 PM  
Blogger eatzycath said...

ur welcomed, shaz, and sama-sama to u also!

lolz, pfong, loved your allegory to the dark ages and enlightenment..nearly makes me feel like a saviour (*grin* *grin* *lolzzzz*)

dear slurp, yes, I do but am hoarding it for the lasagna that's calling out for the ragu sauce!

3/20/2006 11:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Tu Cong Van said...

Wow, Yum. This is my favorite dish.

3/21/2006 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

bechamel, hmm.....think there's only one recipe.....clarified butter, add in sieve flour (ratio 1:1 flour:butter)mixed well and cooked for 1 - 2 minutes or until you get a nutty aroma ( sign that flour is cooked ) add in fresh milk to desire thickness. It should not be runny though.

Easy right ? season after that with white pepper. No salt needed if you use salted butter or in ur case for lasagna - sauce is good enough.

enjoy ! wish i'm near you....

3/21/2006 07:31:00 PM  
Blogger eatzycath said...

thanks VG, and your new Wordpress blog looks good, have you shifted over permanently?

knew I could count on you, foodcrazee, to have such a bechamel recipe on hand.. sounds really easy, will try this weekend and let u know! thanks :)

3/21/2006 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

u r most welcome :)

3/22/2006 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc said...

Hi Cath, I am just a random reader and I really enjoyed your post. I have a question: Where can you find good Parmesan cheese in Singapore? The ones at home normally taste horrid and manufactured...

3/23/2006 06:19:00 AM  
Blogger J said...

h cath, that looks totally wonderful - the very definition and essence of slow food...and worth every last minute you spent slaving away at the stove!

3/23/2006 09:12:00 PM  
Blogger eatzycath said...

hi marc, thanks for dropping by, and hope to see you more often. Forget the parmesan cheese that comes packed in a green cylinder - just go to the fresh cheese section in any Cold Storage or Jason's supermarket and look for the cheese wedges from Parmigiano Reggiano, buy yourself a cheese grater, and grate your own lovely granular strong sharp tasting parmesan cheese (perfect topping for pasta) and sometimes, I even use a vegetable shave to get very thin shaved slices to go with my green salads...

thanks, J, agree totally - food cooked this slowly does distill down to its very essence :)

3/24/2006 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger Eggy said...

This is one of my fave recipes. Slow really is best. YUM

3/24/2006 10:21:00 PM  

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