It’s Masterchef Australia season here right now and it’s Italian Week. No one is more passionate about their food than the italians. There’s an indescribable pride when a recipe from a nonna is passed on in its full authenticity from generation to generation. I totally get it. My visits to Italy was always about food and I don’t remember ever having a single bad meal when I was there. Obviously we avoided tourist traps and sometimes braved the somewhat dodgy back alleys in search of the mom-and-pop type enoteca or trattoria where we have discovered countless amazing meals. Oh, Italy, I miss you so!
Great italian food is about good ingredients and getting the basics right. Many people would have their favourite pasta recipe in their back pockets. The humble ragu (a meat-based sauce) is probably one the favourites. My italian friend once told me that the ‘spaghetti bolognese’ that we have all come to know and love doesn’t really exist in Italy. Well, except in tourist trappy places of course. It should correctly be referred to as ‘pasta con ragu’ (pasta with meat sauce). So if you’re visiting Italy, and especially in Bologna, please don’t go asking for a spaghetti bolognese!
Here’s an article by Antonio Carluccio aptly titled ‘The secret of a perfect Spag bol? Don’t let a Brit cook it’. I had to laugh. This is the extent of the italian’s passion for food. It’s not fair as the Brits have come a long way and there are now so many great restaurants and in general a better understanding and love for good food in the country. The same can be said of Australia. However, I wouldn’t diss a passionate italian when it comes to food. So, here’s Antonio’s recipe for a basic ragu which I adapted and tripled to make a large batch.
- 55g (1.9oz) butter
- 55g (1.9oz) minced prosciutto fat or pancetta (I used bacon)
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 100g (3.5oz) minced lean veal or beef
- 100g (3.5oz) minced lean pork
- 1 glass of dry white wine
- A little beef or chicken stock
- 3 tbsp tomato paste (I added a tin of tomatoes as well…sorry Antonio!)
- salt and pepper
To make the ragu, heat the butter in a large pan, add the prosciutto fat or pancetta, carrot, celery and onion and fry gently for about 10 minutes.
Add the minced meats and stir with a wooden spoon to break them into smaller chunks.
Cook for about 15 minutes to brown the meat, then add the wine and bubble for a few minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate.
Stir in a little stock to prevent the mixture sticking to the pan. Stir in the tomato paste and dilute with a few tablespoons of stock. Leave to simmer for 90 minutes, adding more stock if the mixture becomes dry. Then add a little more stock to obtain a smooth consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.