You say tomayto, and I say tomahto

One of the joys of spending time in Bologna is that I don’t need an excuse to order dishes with bolognese sauce every day. And one of the joys of growing old is that I can claim to do this in the name of “research”. Stuff and nonsense, as you well know. The main reason I have had some bolognese sauce every day is that I love it. Especially when it is well made.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Just what is a well-made bolognese? If you look up wikipedia, this is what you get. The article starts off with the following:

Bolognese sauce (ragù alla bolognese in Italian, also known by its French name sauce bolognaise) is a meat based sauce for pasta originating in Bologna, Italy. Bolognese sauce is sometimes taken to be a tomato sauce but authentic recipes have only a small amount of tomato.

…authentic recipes have only a small amount of tomato. Okay, let’s park that thought for a moment.

The article then goes on to say:

The recipe, issued in 1982 by the Bolognese delegation of Accademia Italiana della Cucina, confines the ingredients to beef, pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, meat broth, white wine, and (optionally) milk or cream. However, different recipes, far from the Bolognese tradition, make use of chopped pork, chicken or goose liver along with the beef or veal for variety, or use butter with olive oil. Prosciutto, mortadella, or porcini fresh mushrooms may be added to the soffritto to enrich the sauce.

Okay, so it would appear that tomato paste is definitely part of the “official” recipe. So let’s then take a look at what the Accademia Italiana della Cucina actually has to say about this. More precisely, let’s take a look at what the Accademia says about Emilia-Romagna ragu sauces:

Pomodoro maturi (oppure pelati o concentrato).  So we still have the tomato, with different options.

So then I took a look at Heston Blumenthal’s Spaghetti Bolognese recipe. And a few more. And it confused me.

Everything I looked at had quite a bit of tomato in it. Yet the locals (and even Wikipedia for that matter) keep stating “only a small amount of tomato”.

I guess it’s all down to taste. You say tomahto and I say tomayto.

After five days, I know what I like. For me, the stuff that looks like this:

tastes infinitely better than the stuff that looks like this:

[Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia]. All I know is that the bolognese sauce I really like doesn’t have any red about it, the tomato is either in small amounts or slow-cooked to extinction.

As I said before, it’s a matter of taste. So I am looking for recipes that are low in tomato. Of course there are a million other things that matter, people use different meats, different spices, different ways of cooking. I’m just trying to simplify things for myself  by concentrating on the behaviour of one ingredient: the tomato. Fresh or not? Hand-peeled and hand-pressed or not? And how much. Pomodoro is assumed, I guess.

Comments please. As usual I will learn from them, and share what I learn.

Chewing over jhal moori and chicken tikka masala

Culture shock is a strange thing. When I came to the UK in 1980, there were many things I had to get used to, and many things I got wrong; I’ve shared some of my thoughts with you over the years. But not this one.

You know, the scariest thing I had to overcome, in the context of culture shock, was this: getting used to Western cuisine. No, not what you think. Calcutta is a pretty cosmopolitan city, I’d been used to western cuisine.

What I hadn’t been prepared for was the way people here cooked Indian cuisine. That hurt. It really hurt. In the early years, everywhere I went, people were hospitable to me. Extremely hospitable. So much so that everyone tried to provide me with “Indian” food. And it was expected that I ate it.

It’s kinda hard to describe the feeling I had, when I went into a pub with friends, and it was time to order food. I was expected to order the “curry” on the menu. Which meant saying a little prayer and then manfully working through meat with apples and raisins, with a bit of stale curry powder thrown in, and if you were lucky, a large dollop of turmeric for colouring (which had the salutary effect of killing all other tastes for a short while).

Those were the days. We hadn’t really learnt about curry here at that time. [Actually the same could be said about wine. Those were the days indeed, when Black Tower and Blue Nun and screw-top warm Lambrusco were readily available, when French wine was conspicious in its absence, and the New World had not yet arrived. I remember a particularly bilious Bulgarian Laski Riesling that would have worked well as a paintstripper…]

Then the Invasion from Sylhet arrived, and we moved to Curry Awareness Phase Two. Now, when I went with friends to an “Indian” restaurant, I had to explain to them that for me, it was like being invited to a European restaurant. How would you feel if you went to a restaurant that served smorgasbord, paella, gnocchi, chateaubriand and wiener schnitzel? What would you think?

I had to explain to them that the Indian restaurant was actually Bangladeshi, and that the chefs had created an “Indian” set of dishes suitable for the western palate. That the vindaloo tasted nothing like the vindaloo I’d had in Goa, that vindaloo itself had nothing to do with degree of hotness. That chicken kashmir and meat madras were dreamt up by people who could not point to Kashmir or Madras on a map.

But at least the cuisine was edible, and I started enjoying myself at Indian restaurants.

Now? Now life is fantastic. I can eat good Indian food anytime I want, there are good North Indian restaurants, good South Indian vegetarian restaurants, good Bengali fare, even good Nepali fare.

And during this time, this strange beast called the Chicken Tikka Masala has become, and now stayed, Top of the Pops.

Which makes this video of how to make it interesting to watch. Actually it’s an excuse for showing the video. I haven’t tried the recipe, I have no idea how good it is, but I do like the way they present it.

Talking about recipes, here is one that I do want to try. CY Gopinath on jhal moori. I’ve met CY many years ago, he probably doesn’t remember. But the jhal moori he describes is the jhal moori I remember, so I intend to try and make it.

Musing about food and diet

I love food. I was brought up in a home where we really enjoyed eating, aided and abetted by our having fairly good metabolisms. I learnt to cook at an early age: early dishes were concentrated around potatoes, chillies, eggs and onions, all of which i still love. Over the years I’ve learnt to experiment more and more, and today I’d feel confident about cooking most things. With some glaring exceptions, of course. I couldn’t cook pasta to save my life, just never been interested; and the same goes for most puddings or desserts. That’s a bit strange I know, I can’t quite figure out why: I enjoy eating pasta, I enjoy eating puddings, it’s just something about them that makes me not enjoy cooking them. So I don’t.

The years have been kind to me; I’ve had a good constitution and largely been well; I’ve had jobs that have allowed me to travel and sample foods from many nations; and I’ve been able to afford to go to many restaurants and meet many chefs, really engage them in conversation, learn from them. At least one of them, Richard Corrigan, I count as a personal and close friend; he is just such a fantastic cook and such a nice man. If you haven’t been to Lindsay House…… more of that later.

More recently, what with the heart attack last December, the weight loss that followed, the pharmacological and lifestyle responses needed, the weight gain that followed, I’ve been needing to think harder about weight and diet and nutrition. And in that frame of mind I came across this photoset:


I am told the photos are taken from a book called Hungry Planet: What The World Eats, which you can buy here. My thanks to the authors and photographers for making the set available. Really made me think about what I eat, above and beyond what nutritionists or dietitians have told me.

What do you think?