Firming Agents & Ragù alla Bolognese – Proper Italian!

WP_20150807_15_56_11_ProI was in two minds as to whether I should/would post this particular recipe but looking on the internet and in the shops I decided I would do so. Driven by authenticity, ragù alla bolognese appears to have been changed out of all recognition with jars of artificial tasting sauces lining the supermarket shelves. One item that seems to appear in all the varieties I checked is SUGAR! yet the original 18th century recipe does not contain Sugar, nor Basil, nor Thyme, nor Oregano nor a ‘Firming Agent’, which seemed to feature in some of the jarred varieties.WP_20150807_16_26_48_ProThis version of ragù alla bolognese is not exact, there is one ingredient I missed out (well forgot actually), the milk. I believe that adding the milk would have balanced the acidity from the Tomatoes but the judge of my cooking creations said it tasted fantastic, so I managed to get away with it!

This dish takes a MINIMUM of 2 hours to make, mostly in the slow cooking but the starting point is preparing a Soffritto or Mirepoix, a mixture of finely chopped Onions, Carrots and Celery. You can see how fine you need to go in the picture above, I used approximately 1 stick of Celery, half a Carrot and half a large white Onion. You also need to chop up 6 slices of smoked Pancetta, Italian cured Bacon.WP_20150807_16_29_06_ProThe Pancetta needs frying first in some Olive Oil, we use it a lot in our household and have found that the Organic Olive Oil from Riverford is very good value for money, originating from Puglia we use it quite a lot. A recent study has proved that next to Lard, Olive Oil comes 2nd in the ‘good for frying’ league with other oils such as vegetable coming lower due to their production of aldehydes when heated, you can find the details HERE, its really interesting.WP_20150807_16_38_55_ProOnce the Pancetta has crisped up, add the Onion and cook slowly for about 5 minutes , you want just a bit of colour as in the picture above, before you add the carrot continuing to cook on a medium heat.WP_20150807_16_46_44_ProFinally add the Celery and 2 Cloves of Garlic, I tend to grate my on a long Microban, which usually results in the skin being left behind and works better than any crusher I have tried, alternatively you can use some sea salt and a knife if you prefer.WP_20150807_16_54_46_ProI strongly believe food and cooking needs a lot of respect, what you put in, in terms of effort will repay you with great results.  So when you come to add the Mince (I used 1/2 Kg of Beef), please don’t ‘whack it in and mush it up with a spoon’, it only takes a few minutes to gently separate the grains and cook a bit at a time so you don’t get any clumps, it’s much nicer. Then add a tablespoon of Tomato Paste and cook out for a few minutes.WP_20150807_17_00_42_ProNow for the Wine, I chose a really nice Primitivo from Puglia, two decent sized glasses are needed, turn the heat up high to enable the alcohol to burn off, which should only take a minute or so, then turn the heat back down and add a tin of chopped Tomatoes, then season with Salt and Black Pepper.

You want a slow simmer, for about 2 hours in order to enable the sauce to thicken, I left my pot covered for the first hour with a cartouche over the ragù and uncovered for the second hour.WP_20150807_20_04_50_ProThis meaty rich sauce is NOT served with Spaghetti (we are not making Spag Bol, it’s a British invention), the reason is because it does not have the surface area for the sauce to stick, you should be using Tagliatelle which is what is used in the traditional dish.

Mine took about 7 minutes to get to just ‘al dente’ which is what we are looking for, not soggy and sloppy.WP_20150807_20_18_49_ProTo serve place about 2/3 of the Tagliatelle on the plate, pile some ragù on top and then grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, then add the remainder of the Tagliatelle, some more ragù and then grate some more Parmigiano-Reggiano to finish, job done.

So rather than use a shop bought jar of ‘stuff’ that bears no resemblance whatsoever to a ragù alla bolognese,  have a go at the real thing and delight those taste buds. Apart from some knife work and a slow cook it’s really easy and VERY VERY tasty so please give it a go, next time I might remember to add the touch of milk at the end……..

…………………………….Until next time………………………..L8ers………

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