Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The World’s Best Spaghetti Bolognaise :

In my last blog's rather unconvincing contribution to the world of cuisine (an idea for a recipe which I then suggested that you might not want to cook) I promised something rather special, a good old kitchen standby raised to the level of the sublime. No young man should leave home, no student should arrive at college, no young woman should get married without knowing how to cook the wonderfully ubiquitous spaghetti bolognaise.

As is my previous blog, I’m not going to claim any personal credit. If you like Italian food, ask Santa for Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy, Food and Stories. So much more than a cookbook, you can read it as easily as a novel. Bolognaise is actually the French term for several dishes inspired by Italian cookery, especially that of the city of Bologna. In Italy, this becomes alla bolognese and the sauce is known as a ragù, which is itself a corruption of the French word ragoût, hence ragù alla bolognese. In fact, this version is actually ragù di maiale (pork ragù).
In place of minced beef, it uses finely diced pork.

And you don’t even get to serve it up with spaghetti: Giorgio suggests thicker pasta like pappadelle, tagliatelle or short pasta; we used radiatori (literally, ‘radiators”) which actually looked like tripe.

Why the pork version? We’ve recently slaughtered this year’s pigs and I do the butchery myself. At the rear of the animal, tucked inside the ribcage, one either side of the spine, is a long muscle called the tenderloin, filet mignon in French. With a bit of care, it’s easily separated from the carcass. We have four now sitting in labelled plastic bags in the freezer. Like its bovine equivalent, the filet steak, it’s a very tender, lean meat but with less flavour than other parts of the animal. We need to cook it carefully to avoid it drying out and flavour it. We thought that a long, slow cook in a tomatoey sauce would be just the thing and put Jane Grigson’s excellent Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery aside, turning instead to Giorgio’s book.

He gives you extra chef’s tips such as leaving your meat out of the fridge to come to room temperature, “so that it will sear, rather than ‘boil’ when it goes into the pan.” Further precise instructions are given to ensure the meat cooks correctly without burning the vegetables until it’s time to add the wine. The list of ingredients (for 8 servings) says, simply, “one bottle of red wine”: that’s my type of cooking! Having added it, it has to reduce right down before adding a litre of tomato passata: we proudly used our own delicious sauce. Can you imagine what this, plus a further hour and a half of oh-so-gentle-cooking, does to that tender filet mignon?
The sauce is richer that a Russian oligarch and the meat melts as easily as a polar icecap being globally warmed. Simply, it is divinely sublime!

We’ve got some good friends of ours, Phil, Sid and their three delightful children who’ve come from England to stay for Christmas … so that we can head the other way to spend the holiday with our parents. It’s the first time in two years that Gabrielle and I have taken a holiday together for over two years (since our honeymoon, in fact) it’s like that when you have animals!
To all our readers, we wish you Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année.