More on ragu alla bolognese

When I wrote about my quest for the bolognese in the summer, some of you came to me and told me your secret ingredients, some sent in links, some even sent in treasured handed-down-over-generations recipes. I’m really grateful to all of you for taking the time and the effort; as I get around to trying them out, I will make sure I get back to you with the results.

The recipe for today’s attempt, shown above, is based on conversations with the chef in one of the restaurants in Bologna, I believe it was the Osteria dell’Orsa. Sadly I lost the scrap of paper he gave me for my notes, along with some of my other Bologna jottings, so I’ve tried to recall the recipe from memory.

What I could remember was the following: he recommended a 50:50 ratio of beef to pork; he suggested the use of white wine rather than red; asked me to quietly add half a glass of milk between the wine reduction and the tomato reduction and insisted on adding a crushed-to-powder chicken stock cube with some roasted garlic, once the tomatoes had been in for a while. So I then looked in epicurious for a recipe that came close, one that I felt I could play with in order to get close to what I remembered. And I found this one: Pasta with bolognese sauce, Gourmet, February 1997

I kept faith with that recipe as much as I could, just replacing the nutmegs with the garlic and chicken stock. Everything else was as per the Gourmet recipe; that way I could have some sense of ratios and proportions while trying to be faithful to the lost notes.

And you know what? It was worth it. It had the browny-dark-orangey colour I wanted (rather than the more common red of the over-tomatoed ragu); nearly two hours of cooking time, most of it on simmer, meant that the sauce was thick without being lumpy; the white wine seemed to work better with the pork, I could sense a difference from past attempts; and the late entry of the garlic gave the dish quite a good rounded balance.

One of the things I really liked about the recipe was the reduction-upon-reduction approach. Olive oil and butter; then wine; then milk; then tomatoes. It gave you a real sense of layering the sauce, brought the richness to life.

I’m sure every one of you has your own personal taste in ragu, so this is by no means an attempt to be definitive. But if you like your meat sauce to be low on the tomatoey-ness, if you like thick-but-not-lumpy sauce, and if you like your pork and your beef, then it’s worth trying out.

I’m really looking forward to the next ragu session, where I get the chance to use a recipe handed down by Jon Silk’s grandmother Emilia Bardelli. [Jon, thanks again for the recipe, looking forward to trying it out].

That glazed look

We like eating together as a family; there’s something about sharing food together on a regular basis, something I want to encourage within my family, something I want to encourage within all families.

Particularly in winter, we try and have a roast meal every now and then. But we’re not legalistic about it, we are quite capable of having a roast in the summer as well. More often than not, the meat du jour is chicken, we don’t have a great deal of red meat at home. Similarly, more often than not, the roast is had on a Sunday, after church, the traditional “Sunday roast” lunch.

All this changed some months ago, when the church we belong to ( began to have two services in the morning, at 9.30 and at 11.30; there’s always someone in the family involved in something in the “second service”, so it has meant that the Sunday roast became less frequent.

So we adapted. We felt like a roast. And so we had a roast. Today. Saturday. As an evening meal. My wife and I both like rack of lamb, so I thought I’d augment the chicken and vegetables (that she was preparing) with some glazed lamb; we have some house guests staying with us at present; this way we didn’t have to cook a ginormous chicken, something I didn’t really want to do.

Today I decided I’d try the honey-and-mustard-glaze treatment with some fresh lamb. I used the epicurious recipe as a starter, varying it only where I felt it was absolutely necessary. What did I vary? I dropped the canned beef broth and went for fresh beef gravy instead; did the same with the canned chicken broth, went for fresh chicken gravy instead; chopped small plum tomatoes instead of using the tomato paste; reduced the all-purpose flour quantities, raised the honey and mustard quantities. But in essence I stayed with the recipe, my variants were not material.

How was it? Well, take a look for yourself:

Glazed roasts are enjoyable only when the glaze really “catches”, so I was keen to get the honey and mustard to a crisp golden level. I’ve done it before, just not with honey and mustard, so I was patient enough with the basting, I had faith that the goldening would occur. And it did.

Especially with rack of lamb, I try and keep the fleshy part of the chop as pink as I can get away with, crisping the edges as much as possible. It means basting regularly during the roasting, every five minutes or so during the entire 35-minute session.

This is what the end-product looked like. Honey-and-mustard glazed rack of lamb with roast parsnips and potatoes, steamed carrots and fine green beans. It’s quite easy to do: the entire meal took about an hour to prepare and serve.

Prior to this, I’ve tended to use fruit-based glazes: apricot, quince, plum, that sort of thing. After today’s experience, I’m probably going to stay with “thinner” glazes, they take less time, they’re easier to manage and they’re probably better for me as well.

As with most things I’m interested in, when it comes to cooking I’m a passionate amateur. So I’d love to learn more from you. What have you learnt? Where do you go for your recipes? Are there handed-down-dor-generation recipes you’re prepared to share with us? Are there specific blogs you find interesting and useful in this respect?

Comments and advice welcome. In the meantime I hope I’ve been of some help. I’d also like comments on this post as well… what worked for you, what didn’t.

Pescado en tikin-xik

For many years now, we’ve tended to go on holiday with two other families we’re close to; the children have all grown up together, and when they’re happy, everyone’s happy.

Most of the time, we tend to do things together, fifteen people with an age range between eight and fifty. But we always make an exception: one night, we just go out as “adults”, the three sets of parents together. And last night was that night. We went to a place called Fonda San Miguel, specialising in Mexican food. While I’ve been there before, yesterday was special, special because of what I had as the main course, Mayan in origin.

It was called Pescado en Tikin-Xik, which apparently translates to “fish cooked in a dry-wing style”. It looks a bit like this:

[I didn’t take my camera with me, so what you’re seeing is a photograph accompanying the recipe I’m about to share with you.]

Since Tikin-Xik refers to a style of cooking, I assume it can be applied to anything, not just fish. Last night I was served black drum, which I understand is a local Texan saltwater fish line-caught, and it was amazing. Now the last time I spoke about food, one of the comments made hit home; it went something like “pictures good, recipes better”. So this time I’m providing a recipe as well. Here it is. While it’s not the recipe for the dish I was served, as far as I can make out the ingredients and treatment are very similar to what I had.

It looks like it would be real fun to cook, as long as you can get the ingredients. The red sauce (the recado rojo or achiote) seems makeable. Banana leaf is harder to get, but not impossible. The “butterflying” of the fish prior to its marination looks interesting and challenging; and dry-cooking the whole shebang over charcoal or a grill doesn’t look that hard either.

The way it was served to me, the entire package was tied up in cord as if it were a present. It felt like a present. It tasted like a present. I was definitely grateful for receiving it. And, as far as I can make out, it’s actually good for me as well.

Any adventurous cooks out there? Try it and let me know how you get on. And I’ll do the same.

The quest for that demmed, elusive bolognese

Had another worthwhile entrant today. Alberto Lombardi’s Taverna on 2nd St in Austin.

Garganelli e bolognese

I’d never really had good garganelli before, and, as was the case with the gramigna, I felt the pasta played a key role in setting off the sauce. As far as I could make out, there were two differences between garganelli and penne: one, the ends are parallel-cut for penne; and two, the fluting on the pasta tube is gentler on the garganelli.

Anyway, great sauce. Gentle, rich in flavour; a lingering aftertaste of good liver, grainy yet moist, sliding smoothly over the ridges on the pasta; light and easy, I could scrape the plate clean, no tell-tale oiliness remaining. And of course tending towards the golden yellow I like, rather than the common tomato-dominated red. I like my pomodoro on the side, not in the sauce.

Macarthur restaurants and gramigna alla salsiccia

I spent six days in Bologna looking for the best ragu in town. So many restaurants, so little time. It was an unscientific process. Read books, talk to people, decide where to go, order the dish, taste it, savour it, savour it some more, savour it until dish is empty, repeat cycle.

I never really expected a winner.

But there was one. Hands down. Gramigna alla salsiccia by the inimitable Gabriel at

Trattoria Meloncello, via Saragossa 240/a, Bologna 40135

This review gives you a feel for the place.

This photograph, by Alessandro Guerani, gives you a feel for what gramigna alla salsiccia looks like. [Incidentally, do visit his flickr pages and food blog. They’re worth it.]

Meloncello is a Macarthur restaurant. I’ll be back.