Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cooking from home: Traditional Medici Style Ragu

Ragu Bolognese with chopped beef chicken and bacon

I have been planning on making this Bolognese for a couple of years but I had never really had the time to make it work. My first love of a true Ragu came from reading Bill Buford’s book Heat. In it he describes working for the famed Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini. He goes through a nearly day long process of browning, frying, stirring, and slowly adding wine to create an ancient Medici recipe. This eventually ended in him setting himself on fire. I wanted to repeat this dish, without the setting on fire… Unless it was absolutely necessary to the recipe which I didn’t think it was.

I started with three different meats, bacon, chicken breast and ground beef. The traditional recipe calls for at least one cured meat usually pancetta and at least 3 different animals. Dario’s recipe called for whatever scraps they could pull together from his world famous butcher shop. After hand dicing the chicken and the bacon, put them into the pot with the hamburger, and the already cooked down onions celery and carrots. After salting liberally turned the heat up to medium and started stirring, and stirring, and stirring. For 2 hours I stirred the meat cooking in its own juices. it would have been on the edge of burning without constant stirring. It was messy, it splashed everywhere, coated the whole kitchen in grease. It was wonderful and amazing.

After the end of two hours it was a coarse gray pebbly dry mess at the bottom of the pot. I was careful never to let the meat truly burn, but basically force dehydrated the meat until not a whit of moisture was left. Here comes a very important part, we add a whole 4oz can of tomato paste and allow it to fry with the fat at the bottom of the pan. This is a very important step! Allowing the tomato paste to caramelize and develop some more smoky flavors will pay you back many-fold in the end.

Now comes the best part. Adding the water back in! But why would we add water? That’s silly, we add back water in the form of wine! I upended one glass less then a 1.75 bottle of nice peppery red Italian wine nothing too forward, but something I would like to drink in quantity at a nice Italian dinner. Of course, one glass less than a bottle, because the chef needs to do quality control experiments on the wine. Some recipes call for one glass less then a bottle and some call for a whole bottle and a few splashes from a new bottle for the same reason.

Now we have a very wet, alcohol soaked mess in the pot. It’s time to cook off all that alcohol and let the flavors from the meat and the wine develop together. Put a lid lightly on the pot and allow it to simmer, stirring often until the sauce has reduced 20-40%. This will take another 1-3 hours.

After all this work you'll have a beautiful brown thick chunky mass of deliciousness. Served over a nice bowl of pasta, this is heaven. As always cook the pasta until it's almost done, then ladle a few ounces of ragu to the bottom of a saute pan and toss the pasta on top of that. A little bit of the cloudy pasta water and it will all come together and finish cooking the noodles.(I like orecchiette or campanelle little ears or little bells to hold the sauce better.)

Of course you don't have to go with the standard traditional preparations. This is a ragu hash. Sauteed potatoes, onions and red peppers with paprika, herbs and a pretty little garnish. YUM!

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