Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Tagliatelle with meat sauce - the famous ragù

This is what in the Anglo Saxon world is commonly referred to as Spaghetti Bolognese. But there is a world of difference between tagliatelle and spaghetti. Tagliatelle is an egg noodle which provides a sumptuous vehicle for the rich meat sauce. Spaghetti is pasta ascuitta – dried pasta made out of flour and water – ideally suited to both a smooth sauce like tomato and onion or a seafood sauce. Less straightforward is the matter of the sauce. There are probably more recipes for ragù than for any other item in the Italian culinary lexicon. There are historic, quasi-ideological disputes over the proper contents. Some people are adamant that it contains chicken livers, cream and bacon; others that it contains a mixture of minced beef and pork. Everyone is agreed that the culinary foundation of the ragu is the battuto (rather like the Spanish sofrito), made from fried onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Once you get the hang of it you will probably want to introduce your own variations on the ragu theme - like everyone in Bologna.

Anyway, here is our recipe. You cook it until the sauce is thick enough to coat the pasta. (At Gigina, the famous Bologna Ragù house, they make it a touch too dry for our liking. But theirs is a classic and you should try it next time you are in Bologna. Personally, I would recommend Locanda del Castello, Franco Rossi and above all Teresina on via Oberdan). On the other hand, you don’t want to end up with a shallow pool of unattached liquid under the pasta, a la Inglese. This will make enough for at least eight portions of sauce. It’s silly to go to all this trouble for a small amount when you can refrigerate or freeze some for another day. Sunday afternoon in a lot of Italian households is the time for making the week’s pasta sauces. Bottles or boxes of ragù, tomato sauce or mushroom sauce are stored in the fridge and brought out as the week progresses to make one of the fastest and most satisfying meals, a dish of pasta.

Ingredients (for 4)

Cooking hints: don’t rush the battuto and do brown the meat
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 3 hours

3 tbs olive oil
large knob of butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
3 sticks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1kg minced beef
salt and freshly ground pepper
150g smoked bacon, finely diced
2 bay leaves
250ml milk
250ml red wine
1 tin tomatoes, chopped
400g tagliatelle

1. Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy-based saucepan. Add the onions and gently fry over medium heat for about 7 minutes until soft and beginning to brown.
2. Add the celery, carrots and garlic, and cook for another couple of minutes.
3. Add the minced beef, a large pinch of salt, and freshly ground pepper. Stir over a high flame until the beef begins to brown. Add the bacon and cook until it begins to brown.
4. Add the bay leaves and milk, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the meat has absorbed the milk. Now grate in about 1/3 teaspoon of nutmeg.
5. Pour in the wine, then add the tomatoes with their juice, and stir thoroughly.
6. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and cook, uncovered, at a lazy simmer, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface, for 3 hours or more.
7. Now cook the tagliatelle – place it in a large pan of boiling water and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, or your own if it’s home made.
8. Drain the pasta and mix well with the sauce and serve.