According to a recent survey of Italians about the worst culinary crimes that get committed against their cuisine, the most egregious food felony in the world is putting ketchup on pasta.
Another sin that is generally frowned upon has to do with a specific pasta dish: spaghetti Bolognese.
For Italian pasta purists like former Bologna mayor Virginio Merola and many others, spaghetti Bolognese isn’t a classic — it’s an affront to the cuisine. Reason being? Spaghetti doesn’t hold meaty Bolognese sauce nearly as well as its carb-ier cousins tagliatelle, fettuccine and rigatoni and only got involved with Bolognese because American and British soldiers passing through Bologna during World War II didn’t know what sort of pasta to use when trying to recreate the dish after arriving home.
When Marc Forgione, the youngest American chef to earn consecutive Michelin stars as well (as the youngest Iron Chef in history), had Bolognese in Bologna while backpacking through Europe as a 20-year-old, he retained that spaghetti was not anywhere near his plate. That’s why the Bolognese that makes its way onto plates at restaurants he runs like Peasant in NoLiTa in New York City is also always made traditionally and spaghetti-free.
“Bolognese has gotten very bastardized. I don’t know how many people follow the traditional steps from Italy,” he tells InsideHook. “I look at Bolognese as one of the mother sauces of Italian cooking. Some people just make ground beef and add tomato sauce and they think that’s Bolognese. It’s not. That’s like saying a slice of bread with tomato sauce and cheese on it is pizza.”
For Forge, who also has fond memories of the smell of meats braising for ragù at his grandpa’s house, Bolognese means a meaty mixture of beef, pork and veal as well as other cured meats accompanied by ingredients like San Marzano tomatoes, onions, carrots and red wine. As for pasta, that’s gonna be tagliatelle or rigatoni.
“Tagliatelle Bolognese is the dish that represents Bologna as a city. If you’re serving it and everyone has an individual bowl, I recommend doing the tagliatelle. The tagliatelle is a nod to tradition,” Forgione says. “If you’re serving it family-style, I think the rigatoni is easier to spoon out onto people’s plates. Rigatoni is great because it has the ridges and it holds sauce. Sometimes the sauce gets stuck in the middle of it too. A mouthful of proper Bolognese is something that every foodie in the world should experience. You get the beef, the pork, the veal and all the different textures and flavors from the vegetables. To me, it’s like heaven.”
And if you’re hoping to get heavenly at home, Forgione says don’t be afraid to try… breakfast Bolognese?
“It goes really well if you make some garlic bread and use it almost as a dip or make a bruschetta out of it,” he says. “I’ve poached eggs in it in the morning. You heat up the sauce and just crack an egg into it. Once you learn how to make it, you can take it out whenever you want to have some fun. It doesn’t just have to be with pasta. There’s always some kind of version whether it’s in my house or in a restaurant. I never make a small batch of bolognese when I’m at home. When you make a big batch, you can freeze it. It does really well in the freezer.”
Start clearing some room in yours…
Marc Forgione’s Bolognese
- 1 lb. pork shoulder, ground
- 1 lb. beef chuck, ground
- 1 lb. veal chuck, ground
- 4 celery stalks
- 1 carrot
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 5-ounce piece of prosciutto
- 5-ounce piece of pancetta
- 5-ounce piece of mortadella
- 1 ½ cup dry red wine
- 2 cups chopped San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 ½ cups chicken stock
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup parmesan, plus more to finish grated
- 1/3 cup pecorino, grated
- 1 lb. of your favorite pasta (We recommend rigatoni)
- Using a meat grinder or grinder attachment fitted with a large die, grind the pork shoulder, beef and veal into a large bowl. Without cleaning the grinder, pass the prosciutto, pancetta and mortadella twice into a medium bowl. Without cleaning the grinder, pass the celery, carrots and onion through the grinder into another large bowl.
- In a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and cook the prosciutto, pancetta, and mortadella until the fat has rendered, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add the ground vegetables and cook on low heat until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add the ground meats and cook until all the juices have released, about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook until the mixture is reduced by half.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and chicken stock and simmer for 3.5 hours or until it reaches your preferred consistency.
- When finished cooking, add parmesan and pecorino and mix until fully combined.
- Keep 2 cups of sauce in the pot and transfer the extra sauce to a container to store for later. (It also freezes well). Add the butter to the pot with the bolognese and stir to emulsify.
- To finish: After cooking pasta, transfer pasta from cooking water directly into the pot with the bolognese and toss to coat. Add some pasta cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce. Serve immediately with more parmesan grated on top. The recipe makes four quarts.
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