What do you cook when the person you delight in sharing the pleasures of the table with most isn’t with you? Sardines on toast, baked beans on toast, cheese on toast—you get the idea. I actually lose my appetite when CH isn’t around. The only thing that inspires me to get into the kitchen when he’s away is the prospect of cooking the meals that we will share when he returns. This accounts for the supply of duck leg confit, pork prime rib and Italian sausage stew, and home made stocks crowding our refrigerator and freezer right now. This past week, I had a craving for home made pasta, but going through all that trouble for just one person didn’t make sense given that I was also juggling a bunch of projects at work.
Nonetheless, the prospect of having home made pasta some time in the near future kept me going. I decided to attempt Giuliano Bugialli’s tagliatelle al ragù alla Bolognese because I love tomato-based pasta sauces, but CH doesn’t (he prefers his sauces cream-laden). Bugialli’s ragù offers a happy marriage of both. It also reminds me of a similar sauce the original chefs at La Smorfia on Purvis Street served in their seafood spaghetti when they first opened (sadly, this great restaurant is now long gone). It also gave me the opportunity to pull out my new KitchenAid meat grinder for a spin. It is truly easy to use as long as you remember to cut the meat into long strips that will fit easily into the feeding chute. Semi-freezing the meat makes it easier to cut into strips and freezing the strips after that also makes grinding them easier.
It took significantly longer to prepare this dish than the spaghetti Bolognese I used to make as a university student (back then, my taste preferences were limited to Dolmio’s), but I must declare that it was well worth the effort. The blend of ground bacon (it was easier to find than pancetta and prosciutto), pork and beef provided a tasty mix of richness, smokiness and subtle meatiness. The long, slow-cooking made it tender and moist. And the inclusion of stock and cream tempered some of the astringency (if one can describe it as that) of the tomatoes in the sauce. In all, it tasted like an enthusiastic welcome home to me. I hope CH thinks so too! (He’s actually standing behind me, reading this over my shoulder, nodding vigorously; he had some for lunch today and he said it was “awesome!”)
Tagliatelle al ragù alla Bolognese
Adapted from Bugialli on Pasta by Giuliano Bugialli
6-8 hearty portions
For the tagliatelle
615grams (4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
5 extra-large eggs
Pinch of salt
For the ragù alla Bolognese
200grams pancetta or prosciutto in one piece (I made do with bacon)
400grams stewing beef cubes
400grams stewing pork cubes
2 medium onions, peeled
2 medium-size carrots, peeled
2 celery stalks
115grams unsalted butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
800grams canned tomatoes (about 2 cans), preferably Italian, drained
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
1½ cups warm beef broth (preferably home made)
1½ cups heavy cream (preferably organic)
55grams unsalted butter
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Prepare the tagliatelle with the ingredients and quantities listed and following the instructions here. Stretch the dough to 1/16 inch thick (take it to the next to last setting on your pasta machine). Cut into tagliatelle approximately 15 inches long using the wider cutter on your machine.
Place the pancetta (or prosciutto or bacon), beef and pork in the freezer. When they are semi-frozen, cut them into narrow strips. Then freeze the strips. This will make them easier to grind. Coarsely grind the meat all together in a meat grinder or mince with a knife. Set aside.
Finely chop the onions, carrots, and celery stalks. Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-based pot (I like using enameled cast-iron) over medium heat. When the butter has melted and the oil mixture is warm, add the chopped vegetables and the ground meats. Sauté for 10 minutes stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Press drained canned tomatoes through a food mill (using the disk with the smallest holes) into a bowl made of non-reactive material (such as glass). Don’t include the liquid that the tomatoes are steeped in because it will leave you with too much moisture in your sauce.
Add the wine into the pot and let it evaporate for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg then add the beef broth (I cheated by using beef jus from Swiss Butchery). Cover the pot and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the cream, mix very well, lower the heat and reduce uncovered for 25 minutes.
When ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt to taste when the water reaches a boil and cook the tagliatelle for 1 to 3 minutes (depending on how dry the pasta is).
Place the butter in a large, warmed serving platter and sit it over the pot of boiling water to melt the butter. When ready, drain the pasta and transfer it to the platter. Mix very well with the melted butter then pour the sauce over it (this may be too much sauce for the amount of tagliatelle made, any leftovers can be frozen). Mix and serve immediately with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on the side.