“When you hear people speaking about Bolognese cuisine, be reverent, because it deserves it.” Pellegrino Artusi
As I sit home with the rest of the world, wondering if we’ll ever be able to use our suitcases again, I’m thinking about the happier days when we could travel. This time last year, as I was freely roaming Italy, I discovered an authentic recipe for a delicious bolognese sauce.
Bologna became one of my favorite cities in any country. Even though it wasn’t a coastal city, for some reason, it reminded me of Pensacola, where I grew up. They’re both very old historical cities . . . well, one is about 450 years old and the other was formed in 6th century BC — close! Every side street seemed to be lined with tiny cafes and fresh seafood, meat, flower and vegetable markets. Hardly anyone spoke English, so my Italian improved quite a bit while we interacted with locals. Nicknamed, “the City where Italians go to eat” we ate ourselves silly.
A man we met at the film festival in the Piazza Maggiori recommended Adesso Pasta Car Ristorante, (translation – Pasta now car restaurant) – ? which at first, looked like a tourist place because it had touches of Americana — like a real Jeep perched over the front door, but it was very much local with a huge crowd of young people running upstairs to the “club” area. Downstairs in the dining room, we were lucky to get a table with neighborhood residents meeting for an evening with friends.
The restaurant was inside this building just off the main Piazza. We were told F.G. Pasquini was an older restaurant that was previously in that location. Who knows?
I had the “Ragu” because “spaghetti Bolognese” wasn’t on the menu since it’s a tourist thing. If you ask for “Ragu” you’ll get the Bolognese. And . . . Mama Mia! It was simple, and yet complex with a million different flavors combined. It was honestly the best pasta dish I’d ever had – rivaled by a close second of the Carbonara with black truffles at the Mercato Centrale in Florence.
The chef came over to say “Buonasera,” but laughed when I asked for the recipe. “No-no-no!” He pointed to his head, meaning, it was just something he knew , probably from birth. I searched local bookstores for cookbooks with an authentic recipe, but couldn’t find anything. I also had to remember that whatever I bought had to fit in the suitcase!
I finally found this compact paperback in of all places, a museum gift shop.
The translation was a bit sketchy. I’ll try to leave the photo large so you can read it. If you can’t see it on your computer let me know and I’ll write it out in the comment section. Measurements and amounts? It’s like my Southern grandmother cooked — enough until it tastes right! The notes written in the margin were made as I consulted my new friend in Forte Dei Marmi . . . Simonetta Tarabella, the wife of my husband’s distant cousin.
Simonetta runs the restaurant’s kitchen at Hotel Tarabella where everything was made fresh from local ingredients. Here we are with her son, Matteo working out the translation issues with the recipe. Sometimes she’d nod in agreement with what was listed, other times, she’d scrunch up her nose and say, “No! No!” For instance, the recipe called for white wine, and she insisted it be red. I agree.
Simonetta wanted to know if I had “lardo” at my house. Their “lardo” is pancetta chopped into small pieces. If I can’t find it here, I use bacon. It’s the good flavor you need.
I came home and immediately began learning how to make my own pasta. I was pretty good, but the Italians get it so super thin, I don’t see how it doesn’t tear apart. Most of mine was okay — even described as “‘wonderful” by someone I know, but the first few batches were like trying to chew an army cot — a delicious army cot, mind you. Practice makes perfect.
And then for the sauce . . . I’ve made meat sauces over the years, but there are certain things that make this Bolognese excellent and uniquely Italian.
Here are my tips for creating a large pot of the best Bolognese sauce you’ll ever have.
1. Similar recipes often call for milk in order to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, but in this version, the carrots add sweetness. No milk needed.
2. Using two different kinds of meat gives it a richness. Pork and Beef. I also think using my Southern trick of sautéing the onions in bacon grease (another kind of “lardo” in Italian) gives it yet another meaty flavor.
3. Using an entire bottle of wine surprised me, but it works. None of the recipes I found stipulate exactly what variety to use, most just say “dry.” I’ve used a Merlot and Pinot Noir.
4. Don’t leave out the touch of nutmeg. It goes a long way for extra flavor. I think it’s the key ingredient for giving it a special flavor.
5. Cook for at least 3 hours or longer. Your house will smell great. Americans are in a hurry, but taking your time with this makes a huge difference. If it gets too thick, add more beef broth.
6. Start by using your largest pot. This makes a huge amount, but freezes well.