Pasta Bolognese…or Tagliatelle al Ragù

Pasta Bolognese

I have been craving authentic Italian fare…Pasta Bolognese in particular. One might think that with the myriad restaurants here in the United States that it would not be a difficult task to find a place serving the real deal…not so. I won’t mention any names, but one restaurant in downtown Dallas proclaiming to serve authentic Italian food brought me their version. It consisted of spaghetti topped with a red sauce which had ground beef added. This, my friends, is NOT authentic Pasta Bolognese.

Pasta Bolognese, or “Tagliatelle al Ragù”

In the Italian town of Bologna, Pasta Bolognese is simply known as ‘ragù’…or “Tagliatelle al ragù” – with ragù referring to a meat sauce. Here in the United States we think of this sauce as being more tomato based with meat added [as it was presented to me in the restaurant in Dallas]. However, an authentic Bolognese ragù is mainly meat with a very small percentage of tomato added for flavoring – be it in fresh, puree, or sauce form. In fact, the original recipe had no tomato. Zero. Tomatoes were eventually added, though certainly not as a main ingredient. Never as a main ingredient.

Just as important as the sauce is the pasta served with it. A wider egg noodle is preferred because it allows for the sauce to properly adhere to it. Tagliatelle is the traditional pasta of choice. It offers a more robust noodle than fettuccine, though fettuccine will also work. And to be clear, fresh pasta is best here. This is one of those times it is worth it to spend the extra time for a ‘fatto in casa’ (homemade). Trust me, you will thank me later. Well, perhaps not, but I’d like to think you will. 😉 

Authentic Versions

I cannot offer up THE ONE authentic recipe for Bolognese. Bolognese in Tuscany can vary from household to household, Nonna to Nonna, each proclaiming theirs to be the best and most authentic version. However, there are many common traits interwoven throughout each of those recipes. They typically begin with a sofritto. Sofritto is a diced mixture of onion, carrots and celery. Surprisingly, garlic is not often added to a Bolognese sauce. And neither are most other spices. That would be a “no” to oregano, thyme, basil, even red pepper flakes…pretty much anything but salt and pepper. 

As I mentioned above, tomatoes are only added for flavor, they are not meant to be the base of the sauce. I use canned whole tomatoes in my version, San Marzano when I can get them. Wine may or may not be added…some recipes call for red, some white, some none at all. This is where I’d like to point out then when there’s an option to go with wine, go with wine!

A mixture of ground meats is typical: veal, pork and beef are common. I can’t always find ground veal, but I definitely mix in some ground pork or sausage with my ground beef.

And finally, whole milk – not cream – is added as the meat cooks to tenderize the meat and mellow the flavors. The first time I made this sauce I added the milk at the end of the cooking time, per the recipe I found. Upon further research I learned the meat is to be cooked in the milk. It tenderized it as it simmers. This is what I did the second time I made it…and I’ll admit, it was better. I have made it that way ever since.

Pasta Bolognese: A Recipe

Here is a link to a recipe on Food Nouveau for Pasta Bolognese. After concluding my research, this one is one of the most authentic versions I have found. It does include garlic [not authentic] – but to be honest, so does the version I make. I love garlic in the ragù…heck, I love garlic, period. What can I say? I use red wine in lieu of white…just a personal preference and what I normally drink and have on hand. In my research, I saw many recipes which used either one interchangeably. Lastly, I add pancetta or bacon in with the meat when it cooks. I like the depth of flavor it offers. And, well…bacon. Enough said!

Fresh Pasta – a Huge Difference!

I make my own pasta for this. I don’t always use homemade pasta when I cook Italian fare, but for this I am convinced it is an enhancement. The fresh pasta seems to soak up the flavor better than dried…and the wider noodles hold the sauce and allow for that perfect bite. I do not have a cutter for tagliatelle, so I often cut it by hand; if I am in a hurry I use the fettuccini attachment to my set.

Flour makes all the difference here. I have tried all-purpose flour but the pasta comes out much drier and has a different texture. The best is the Italian ’00’ flour (this, I’m convinced, makes all the difference!). The only other ingredients are fresh eggs (from pastured hens is my preference), salt, and if needed, water. My pasta recipe comes from “The Silver Spoon” cookbook [click on Silver Spoon for the recipe I use] and goes together in minutes. With this special attachment to my Kitchen Aid mixer*, it rolls out in no time.

I get it if you aren’t willing to make it by hand. I really do. It can be a bit much. But perhaps not as much as you may think. I sure hope you’ll try it at least once. For me, there was no turning back…and it gets easier and faster each time I make it.

Time to Serve Dinner!

Essential [IMHO]: have a large chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano on hand to serve with this. And even though it is practically forbidden, I offer red pepper flakes on the side. Like garlic, it’s a personal preference I have.

Pasta Bolognese
Parmigiano- Reggiano and red pepper flakes

The meal would not be complete without a beautiful bottle of fine Italian red wine. I mean, really, if you are going to spend ALL DAY cooking such a divine meal, why serve it with box pasta and cheap wine?

Wine for Pasta Bolognese

DOUBLE IT…OR EVEN TRIPLE IT

And one FINAL TIP (I promise): If you are going to go to all of this trouble, cooking all day long, why not double or triple the recipe and put some away in the freezer? It holds well, and it is perfect to have on hand for last minute guests or some evening when you just don’t feel like cooking yet want a hearty meal. A no brainer…

Buon Apetito!

*Please note, I get no money from any of my links; just want to let you know what I use and prefer. If you have your own devices and methods which you prefer I say go for it! My links are solely for information purposes.

Italian Valentine’s Dinner: Ossobuco!

Ossobuco dinner - Millefoglie dessert

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I hosted a Valentine’s Dinner with a group of dear friends. My in-laws were also in town, and we were so happy to have them join us as well!! We get together with this group often, usually in one pot-luck fashion or another. We love to eat! One of the couples hosted a beer-pairing dinner for New Year’s Eve where each set of guests brought a dish paired with a beer. My husband and I were traveling, so we missed out on all of the fun.

To remedy that, we decided to host our own dinner.

We chose an Italian theme (what else?) for this Valentine’s Dinner to celebrate the love of enduring friendship. The idea was for guests to bring an Italian themed course paired with an Italian wine. I had them sign up for dishes so we didn’t have duplicates of one course and none of another.

The courses included: an appetizer tray (antipasta), breads, salad, a pasta course (primi), a main course (secondi) with sides (contorni), and finally, dessert (dolce).  One guest brought an Aperol spritzer as a starter cocktail, so we all sipped on that as we nibbled on the antipasta.

Antipasta

The antipasta was a typical assortment of Italian cheeses and meats, with some olives and vegetables as well. What made it stand out was the homemade ricotta cheese. Yes, you read that correctly! One of my guests made ricotta cheese from scratch. And it was delicious! What was even better than the ricotta itself? That would be the look of pride on his face as he presented that platter, all of us ooh-ing and aah-ing over it as we sampled our first bites. Priceless!

From there the plan was to have each person serve their course paired with the wine they chose to go along with it. Well, sometimes things don’t work out as planned. The hour grew late, and we eventually decided to plate everything at once. Everyone pitched in to streamline the process, and soon we were ready to sit down and dig in.

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Did someone say Ossobuco?

I prepared Ossobuco, a new-to-me dish. Of course I had heard of it…I don’t mean it was totally new to me. But can you believe I had never eaten it…not one bite? I had always wanted to try it, but for some reason I never did. Not sure why, but hey, things happen. It took me almost fifty years to get to it, but finally, here I am!

It was a gamble to make it since I didn’t even really know how it was supposed to taste. However, I read through many recipes, both online and in my various Italian cookbooks. The technique sounded very much like a braised pork dish I often prepare, only using veal shank in lieu of pork shoulder.

In the end I mixed and matched recipes to fit the flavor profile I was seeking, making notes as I went along. I decided to prepare it the day before the dinner. Several versions I had read said it could be made in advance, so I gave it a shot. The morning of the dinner I had an orientation to attend for several hours, and I was worried I would not have time to make it otherwise. Plus, I was also in charge of dessert, which I planned to make the day of the dinner. Every little bit counts time wise, eh?

Ossobuco

All I had to do the day of for this dish was to reheat it in a low oven for about an hour, and just before serving I added the gremolata, a mixture of parsley, garlic and lemon zest. Yum!!

Pane, Insalata, Primi, Secondi, DOLCE!

With the Ossobuco we had a couple of different breads and Caesar salad (with homemade dressing – delicious!). One couple brought homemade fettuccine which was tossed with pesto; another couple brought a couple of side dishes: one was eggplant rounds, anther was a caramelized turnip side…so tasty!

Ossobuco dinner - Pasta Course

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Ossobuco dinner
Somehow all the women ended up at the same table surrounding one [lucky] man! 😉 The rest of the men ended up at the second [and louder] table.

DOLCE!

Did I mention dessert? Ah, yes, dolce, as in “la dolce vita”…”the sweet life.” It is always good to save room for dessert.

Last December (2015), my husband and I renewed our wedding vows in Italy for our 25th anniversary. We did this in one of the churches in the town his Italian family still resides in today. They arranged a multi-course feast after the ceremony at one of the local restaurants within the walls of town. For dessert we had a typical Italian millefoglie served at weddings all over Italy.

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Millefoglie

I decided to do a version of that cake for our guests. I began with a store-bought puff pastry. I found a butter based version at my local Whole Foods which worked perfectly. In lieu of one large cake, I decided to make individual cakes. I used cookie cutters to cut out heart-shaped crusts for the layers, then I baked them in the oven.

The cake has pastry cream layered with the puff pastry, so while the pastry was in the oven I whipped up a batch and set it aside to cool. Once cooled, I lightened it with whipped cream…it was now ready to use.

The last step was putting it all together. Since this was a scaled down version, I used two layers of puff pastry rather than the three I had originally planned. I layered with the pastry first, then the cream, I added raspberries on top of the cream, then topped it with the second piece of puff pastry. This received one more layer of pastry cream, then I dusted half of the heart with ground pistachios, the other half with ground dried raspberries. It made a beautiful presentation…and tasted just like I remembered!

Ossobuco dinner - dolce

And below is the cake we had for our renewal celebration…

25th-anniversary-cake

I think I did a pretty decent rendition! I did not have baked crumbs to add to the sides, and they were too small to do a proper whipped cream edging (I tried; the first half I piped using a small tip…didn’t look as nice as leaving it plain).

Buon Appetito!

Update: “Around the Kitchen Table” Photos!!

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Pork Shoulder Roast slowly braised with carrots, rutabaga and onions; Creamy Polenta topped with sautéed mushrooms, shallots and goat cheese; Green Salad with a Lemon-Thyme Dressing; Cloverleaf Potato Rolls

Just a quick update to Sunday’s post…

On Sunday I mentioned my menu for our virtual Sunday meal together to celebrate the launch of “Around the Kitchen Table.” Today I leave you with Continue reading

Lemonade: Use Your Lemons Wisely!!

lemons for lemonade

Yesterday was a day that involved making a bit of lemonade – see ‘recipe’ below. 😉  I spent most of my day waiting on someone to come out to the house to finish the final piece of a project. He had made an appointment…said he would be here between 11:00-12:00. When 1:30 arrived and I still had not even heard from him, I contacted the company. They told me he should be there already. Long story short, Continue reading

Popcorn: Economical – and Healthy – Snacking!

Popcorn

Holiday Eating is Over…Popcorn to the Rescue!

My holidays were filled with family and friends…and lots of food. Good food. Food that I don’t eat as an everyday thing. Cookies, Fruitcake, Candy…Eggnog, a variety of breads, lots of cheeses and other rich cream-based goodies. There were potlucks and formal sit down dinners. All filled with things I don’t eat on a normal basis. And this is where popcorn enters the picture… Continue reading