An eye-opening discovery in Tucci’s “Searching for Italy”
We’ve always cooked Bolognese, arguably the most famous of all pasta sauces, for several hours. Its rich meaty flavor developed slowly. And before an ounce of beef was added to the sauce, the holy trinity of Onions, Carrots, and Celery was cooked. Once the beef was browned a sizeable quantity of tomatoes was added. The result is not in question here. Bolognese made this way is simply delicious. But is it the genuine article? Or is it the entirely different one Stanley Tucci raved about on “Searching for Italy: Bologna”? And does it really take only 10 minutes to cook as Mr. Tucci marveled?
Pellegrino Artusi’s recipe for Bolognese
Who is Pelligrino Artusi? It is hard to imagine anyone having the influence over Italian home cooking than that of Pellegrino Artusi. Born in 1820, the son of a wealthy family, he made a fortune trading silks across Italy. At 45 he retired to focus on his real passions: Culture and Cuisine. He wrote several books and self-published 475 recipes collected from friends and acquaintances. But his most lasting gift to Italian home cooking was the publication of “La Scienza in Cucina e L’arte di Mangiare Bene” (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well). Written just 20 years after the unification of Italy, Artusi was the first to include recipes from all twenty regions of Italy in a single cookbook. He was then 71 years old.
“La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene” says a lot about its author
Artusi was a progressive who worshipped science. He filled his book with witty anecdotes. Each story revealed his wisdom and knowledge of Italian culture. When he couldn’t find a publisher, the life-long bachelor paid for the first 1000 copies of the book. It was wildly successful eventually translated into 7 languages, most recently Polish. Artusi was well-traveled throughout Italy but his recipes are primarily from Emilia Romagna where he was born and Tuscany, where he lived in Florence until his death at age 90. But it is in his hometown of Forlimpopoli where you’ll find Casa Artusi. After Artusi bequeathed his entire library of 28,000 books, the town created this center of gastronomic culture. It is devoted entirely to Italian Home Cookery and the source of today’s recipe for Bolognese.
What is the difference between this and other Bolognese recipes?
Artusi’s recipe differs from others, most notably in the meat department. He uses veal instead of beef. Veal cooks far more quickly than beef. But when Stanley cooked it with Barbara Asioli from Casa Artusi, it didn’t just take 10 minutes. A marvelous expert on Italian cooking herself, Letitizia Mattiacci, (Click on her name to see her wonderful blog) commented: “This is surely delicious but Artusi does not say to cook it 10 minutes. This recipe is nowadays named “ragù bianco” in Italy and it must cook at least one hour otherwise it tastes like fried meat. And that is perfectly fine but the Bolognese sauce is a ragù. The term ragù refers to slow cooking so if it’s made in 10 min it’s not a ragù nor is it a Bolognese! People will be up in arms in Bologna!” Artusi also adds nutmeg, a pinch of flour, and beef broth. What he doesn’t include are any of the following ingredients. There isn’t any garlic, no basil, no oregano, no parsley, no bay leaves, no rosemary, no thyme or sage, no anchovies, no fennel or star anise, no lemon zest, no cinnamon, no sugar, no peppers, no chili sauce or hot pepper flakes. And certainly, no tomatoes. At all. Do not expect this dish to taste at all like the Bolognese most of us have grown up with. This is subtler. The nutmeg gives it an earthy quality. It is a subtle dish, not a brash one.
What’s the key to a great Bolognese?
The key to a perfect bolognese is uniform texture. All of the main ingredients should be roughly the same size. This makes for a more pleasant eating experience. It helps evenly distribute the flavor and encourages the sauce to cling to each individual strand of pasta. About the all-important pasta: Despite years of people serving “Spaghetti Bolognese”, the sauce should ‘grip’ the pasta as Stanley Tucci described it. Ideally, you want a good amount of Bolognese sauce in every bit of pasta. Fresh pasta is a must here. (We buy ours at our Farmer’s Market. If you live near an Eataly, you’re in luck). Tagliatelle, Pappardelle, and Fettucine are all broad flat ribbons of pasta that will be sumptuously coated in the sauce. Here is the recipe and after it, some other takes on pasta you might enjoy.
Pelligrino Artusi's Bolognese
This original recipe for one of Italy's most famous pasta sauces breaks a lot of rules and does it with not a tomato in sight.
- 400g / 14 oz tagliatelle (or pappardelle or fettucine)
- 300 g / 11 oz lean veal (in one piece or ground)
- 50g / 4 oz pancetta
- 40g / 3 oz unsalted butter
- 1/2 onion
- 1 carrot
- 2 medium celery stalks
- 2 tsp flour
- 500ml / 1-pint good beef stock
- Black pepper
- Nutmeg (optional)
- Grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, to serve
- Step 1 Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil for the pasta.
- Step 2 Cut the veal into very small pieces and finely chop the pancetta, onion, carrot, and celery.
- Step 3 Heat the butter in a pan and add the veal, pancetta, and vegetables all at the same time, season with black pepper and a tiny pinch of salt.
- Step 4 Once the veal has browned in about an hour, add a sprinkle of flour, nutmeg if desired, and a ladle of stock.
- Step 5 Continue to cook for 10 minutes, continuing to add more stock as necessary.
- Step 6 In the meantime, cook the tagliatelle until al dente. Drain, toss together with the sauce and serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.