Monday, July 20, 2009

Spaghetti Bolognese is very flexible...

M and I had an itch for pasta yesterday. So we decided to make some homemade pasta and a Spaghetti Bolognese -- or in simple plain English spaghetti and meat sauce.

After reading about a Medici-era Bolognese recipe in Bill Buford's Heat, and eating the pasta ragu at Antica Trattoria at Union & Polk Street, I wanted to make a meat sauce that was different from what I ate back NJ growing up. The meat sauces I'd eaten as a kid was very meaty, but very sweet from added sugar, and very tangy from the tomatoes they used. It was also heavier than a brick. All those very strong ingredients (fatty meat, white sugar, big tangy tomatoes), created a sauce that was at times overwhelming.

The sauce at Antica Trattoria was a little more like a brown meat gravy with lots of herbs -- which made it much lighter tasting and flavorful than you would expect. The Medici-era Bolognese cited in Heat had cardammon and cinnamon in it.

Doing some research in my Saveur Cooks Italian cookbook, I noticed two different sets of meat sauce recipes. One was very simple, used with a pumpkin gnocci. The other more complex, used in a spinach lasagna. The following is a hybrid of the two.

One onion
Three stalks of celery
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 lb of ground chuck
1/4 lb of ground pork
1 can of tomato paste
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 cup of red wine
bay leaves
salt & pepper to taste

Fundamental to all Bolognese recipes is meat, tomatoes, and onions. From there, there is plenty of room for experimentation. In my case, the glass of red wine imparted a sweetness and richness to the sauce that took away much of the tartness of the tomatoes. It was very different from the meat sauces I grew up with back in NJ. It paired well with M's homemade pasta -- which had a kind of chewiness that mated well with the texture of the sauce.

Using this as a base recipe, I can make future versions of it with cardamon/cinammon to give it a slight sweetness (a la the Medici recipe), but also add either bacon or pancetta in the beginning (to give saltiness & smokiness).

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