Monday, August 25, 2014

Sunday Musings of Lasagna Bolognese

Although I am quick to characterize my self as an Italophile and absolutely love the Italian lifestyle, there are some things about Italian culture that I am less than ready to adopt.  Oh sure, I'd move to Rome tomorrow if circumstances permitted, but there is a regional pride and rigidity about food that does not fit my American melting pot mentality.

One trip across Italy and you come to realize that food is a highly regional thing and family pride in a recipe or a product runs deeper than my American brain can possibly comprehend.  While I understand that the regions of Italy (Tuscany, Emiglia Romana, Abruzzo, etc.) produce specific things that foot to their unique climate and terrain (not unlike Texas beef or Idaho potatoes), there is a microcosm that further divides that from village to village, even from family to family.  The bottom line is every body's nonna makes it best.

Where I struggle as an American recreating Italian food stateside is the concept of right, wrong and "never".  It is difficult for me to put aside freedom of choice and personal taste for the sake of purist pursuits.  Although, perhaps if I lived in Italy, where every ingredient is of the most spectacular taste and quality, I could follow a more purist path.  But that rigidity feels like it stifles creativity, which for an American with the typical "special snowflake" mentality feels like the man, harshing my mellow.  

Which brings me to today's recipe and the concept of wrong and never.  Some say that Bolognese sauce should not have garlic in it.  Some say that Lasagna Bolognese should never have mozzarella in it, only Besciamella, Bolognese sauce and Parmesan.  There are a million variations and each one probably has roots in the kitchen of someone's grandma. 

Mario Batali is the king of regional Italian cooking and a walking encyclopedia of the same. His Bolognese sauce includes tomato paste not canned tomatoes, white rather than red wine and no herbs of any kind.  If I had to guess, his is the more traditional Bolognese sauce of all the (American written) recipes out there.  If you are a purist and want to go with what is strictly authentic and true, then I would look to his recipe for guidance.

My "style" of cooking, if I may be bold enough to even suggest that I have one, is more about reading a lot of recipes, taking what I like from each and adapting to my taste.  Through trial and error, this is what works for me. Here are some pics of what I put in the Bolognese sauce that will become the base of my Lasagne Bolognese.  Which will, for the record, include some mozzarella cheese BUT  no ricotta, because THAT would be sacriliedge.

First, it must be stated that the creation of this sauce was preceded by a bowl of Corn Pops. Although Jules Winnfield declares hamburgers to be "the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast.", I am team Corn Pops.

OK, the veg scenario.  The usual suspects, plus garlic.  Mario allows one clove in his recipe, I went with three, because I'm sassy like that.

Totally non-traditional on the meat here.  I generally don't like ground pork, so I got me two gorgeous pork chops, cut the meat off and cubed it and browned it with the lovely bones.  The whole lot went in the pot. YES, I PUT BONES IN MY BOLOGNESE.  You wanna make something of it?

Beef. Ground. Just over a pound. Traditional 'cause rebelling 24X7 is not a sustainable model.

Vino. I went white.  Why? Because it was Italian and it was open. 'Nuff said.
About 3/4 of a cup, simmered down to a nice reduction.

Tomatoes are a controversial ingredient, as is basil.  Some recipes call for a little paste others for large cans of crushed.  Being that I had Dani Coop's courtesy of a recent trip to Eataly, I used them. One 14 ounce can, whizzed in the mini-chop.  The fresh tomatoes and basil were grown by me, aka. the worst thing to happen to gardening since locusts.  Am I going to use them?  You're damn right I am.

Not my fave ingredient in a Bolognese.  Only a half cup and simmered down well. 

I was light on the paste.  You can see the toothpaste tube fold at the bottom.  I squeezed out every last bit.  Maybe two tablespoons, if I was lucky.  Good thing I had the other tomatoes.

Everybody in the pool.  Basil is just bruised and thrown in whole.

Parsley also not common. Again, I grew it without killing it. I am therefore contractually obligated to use it. Chopped up and chucked in.

Milk.  Very important.  Added a half cup. 

I should probably note that I seasoned at every step with salt and pepper and at the end I threw in about a 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper.  I re-taste and adjust seasoning throughout the cooking process.

This sauce was used for a Lasagna Bolognese that I eat to have the sense memory of Florence in the Summer of 2012, where I first had it at Osteria Il Gatto E la Volpe.  That was where my Pedestrian Palate learned that there was a difference between the lasagna that I had eaten all my life and Lasagna Bolognese.  I fell in love at first bite.

Ain't she purty?

The bottom line is - do your thing in the kitchen.  After all, you're the one that's going to eat it.