In Lynne Rossetto's Kasper's loving valentine to Italy's Emilia-Romagna's region, The Splendid Table, Rossetto Kasper writes of a furious debate that ensued after one of Italy's premiere gastronomic societies, L'Academia Italiana della Cucina posted an "official ragu sauce from Bologna." Many Bolognese were insulted that they were not consulted. The worth of using milk versus cream raged. Editorials were written about the inclusion of nutmeg. "It shouldn't be there!" versus "Of course it should!"
I was so enchanted with the notion of restaurants, homes, shops and cafes debating the issue of "an official Bolognese Ragu Sauce" that I included the arguments in my children's play The Bread, The Bracelet and the Dove (set in Bologna). On their own, many of my young performers researched the beginnings of Bolognese Ragu. Brought up in the Midwest, they were astonished to discover that ragu is not... not.... not a tomato sauce. You can use tomatoes (I do) but they are broken down and flavor and color the meat but definitely do not sauce it. The tomatoes enchant but do not smother.
Whether you use pork or a skirt steak or turkey sausage, milk or cream, add nutmeg or do without, this sauce dares winter to come into the kitchen. On a weekend, I will do a slow-simmering ragu - taking advantage of a free 3-4 hours. During the week, I make this quicker one which takes 75-90 minutes. (I said it was quicker - I didn't say it was quick.)
A ragu consists of chopped meats and sauteed vegetables cooked in a liquid (broth, wine or a combination). After simmering for hours, a little cream or milk would be added stretching yet another pasta dish into a rich, satisfying meal. It may have had humble beginnings but it earns a prize in creativity. It's ingenuous how peasant cooks took meat scraps and fashioned a luxurious meal. Feel free to substitute at will. Use all broth instead of wine. Mix up the meats. The recipe invites creativity, stirs debate and nourishes body and spirit.
Fettuccine with Ragu Ingredients (adapted from Tastes of Italia) - serves 6
1 pound fettuccine (cooked according to package directions or homemade)
6 ounces dried procini mushrooms
1 cup beef broth or red wine
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 pound Italian turkey sausage - crumbled (or Italian pork sausage or a skirt steak)
1/2 cup dry red wine (or more beef broth if you do not cook with wine)
3 teaspoons tomato paste
1-15 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (2 cups of fresh cherry or grape tomatoes could also be used - slice them in half)
1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1/3-1/2 cup milk or half-and-half or cream
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for topping
Fettuccine with Ragu Preparation
- Soak the mushrooms in beef broth for 30 minutes.
- In a large skillet, heat butter on medium heat. Ad the onion and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the sausage and brown it (about 5 minutes).
- Add the wine, the mushrooms with broth, tomato paste and tomatoes. Mix well. Bring to a boil and then simmer for one hour - stirring occasionally. The tomatoes will break down, and as under an enchantment become one with the meat.
- Stir in the milk and nutmeg and simmer for ten minutes.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve passing Parmigiano-Reggiano separately.