Friday, September 17, 2010

Marcella's Tagliatelle with Bolognese Meat Sauce

  • I do love to cook. Especially when guests are expected, I like to try out recipes that either require a little more work or time, or are by their nature, extravagant. Like making a grand Paella, or a prime rib of beef with yorkshire pudding. That kind of thing. I guess it's the festive nature of the occasions when we get together with special friends or loved ones. I was given Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking one Christmas. It's an inspiring book full of authentic Italian recipes and useful techniques that capture the essence of true italian cooking, from a woman who is passionate about Cucina Italiana.

Marcella and her husband Victor, who are now both well into their 80's, live part of their year in Venice, Italy, and the other part of the year on Longboat Key, Florida. My parents spend half their year on Longboat Key too, and the whole family just got back from Venice earlier this year, so I feel a bond with Marcella, however tenuous that might be! 

One Autumn weekend when my husband and I were invited out of the city to a friend's cottage, we decided we'd make Marcella Hazan's Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce. We arrived early Friday afternoon, hours before the hosts and other 2 guests were expected. A bit embarrassing, but it gave us an opportunity to get a head start on the Bolognese, which we would be serving that night. 

The traditional recipe is a Ragu which originated in Bologna, and uses soft ribbon-like tagliatelle — not spaghetti! It's also sweeter than the typical North American sauce we all grew up with — cooking the meat in milk before adding the wine and tomatoes, protects it from the acidic bite of the latter, the result being a mellow, gentle and comfortable flavour. Surprisingly, it only takes about 1/2 hour to prepare, just a lot of chopping. But simmering is the key. Marcella recommends a simmering time of 3 hours, but if you have the time, let the sauce simmer over low heat for 4-6 hours. Just be sure to stir it regularly with a wooden spoon so that the sauce doesn't stick. The principle is simple: the longer the sauce simmers, the richer the flavour and consistency becomes. 

Judging from the Ragu with Tagliatelle we served that Friday night, it is worth the wait. There were no left overs and it was unanimously embraced as being truly outstanding by a table full of dedicated gastronomes. And as Marcella says, 
"There is no more perfect union in all gastronomy than the marriage of Bolognese ragu with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle."

  • Marcella Hazan's Tagliatelle with Bolognese Meat Sauce

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp butter plus 1 tablespoon for tossing with the pasta
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup chopped celery
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrot
  • 3/4 pound ground beef 
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk 
  • Whole nutmeg for grating
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds tagliatelle pasta
  • Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano at the table

  • Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in a heavy-bottomed pot and turn the heat to medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.

  • Add the meat, a large pinch of salt, and some freshly ground pepper. Crumble the meat up with a fork, stir well, and cook until the meat has lost its red raw color.

  • Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it bubbles away completely. Stir in about 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg.

  • Add the wine and let it simmer away until it has evaporated, then add in the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all the ingredients well. When they begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours (or more—she says more is better), stirring from time to time. If the sauce begins to dry out, add 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary to keep it from sticking. At the end, there should be no water left, and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

  • Toss with cooked, drained tagliatelle and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Serve freshly grated parmesan cheese on the side. And if you're feeling particularly naughty, an oven baked baguette with butter and garlic wouldn't go amiss!
    Serves 6