Tagliatelle al ragu

As a student I perfected my own version of spag bol – who doesn’t! It came to mind as I had another of those dinners coming up when I couldn’t really be away from my guests before or during the meal and needed something hot and delicious in a pot to plonk in the middle of the kitchen table. Spag bol seemed like a good option but given my recent cooking escapades it seemed appropriate to search for a ‘proper’ spaghetti bolognese recipe. And that is how I came across tagliatelle al ragu, which is apparently how the real Italians do it. One of the surprises was the amount of vegetables that went into the pot – I was doing 4 times the recipe below. Another surprise was the subtlety of the flavours and juiciness of the meat. This is no spag bol!

The recipe that appealed to me most was from Gustoso:

Italy’s most loved but misinterpreted dish has to be tagliatelle al ragu. When it left Italy’s shores it somehow become spaghetti bolognese. The real bolognese dish is made by tossing a little rich, slow-cooked ragu (a meat sauce, usually veal and pork) through fresh egg noodles.

There’s a number of tricks to an outstanding ragu sauce. First you really need to let it simmer for a good 3 hours to allow all the flavours to meld together and fill your house with divine smells. A dash of milk is added to the ragu sauce to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and wine.

My own trick for browning minced meat is to do it in red wine instead of using oil. The flavour is noticeably richer and arguably healthier – substituting fat with alcohol…

Ingredients:
Serves 4

30g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 carrot finely chopped or grated
90g pancetta or bacon, finely chopped
220g minced ground veal or beef (I used half pork/half beef mince)
220g minced ground pork
2 sprigs of oregano, chopped or 1/4 tsp dried oregano
pinch of nutmeg
½ cup dry white wine
3/4 cup milk, or soy milk
400g tin chopped tomatoes or fresh (I used tinned ones)
250ml beef stock (I didn’t use stock, there was plenty of liquid).
400g tagliatelle
grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion, celery, carrot and pancetta. Cook over a moderate heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Add the minced beef, pork and oregano to the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper and the nutmeg. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mince has browned slightly.

Pour in the wine, increase the heat and boil over high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the wine has been absorbed. Stir in the milk and reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the tomato and half the stock, partially cover the pan and leave to simmer gently over very low heat for 3 hours. Add more of the stock as it is needed to keep the sauce moist.

Meanwhile, cook the tagliatelle in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the tageliatelle, toss with the sauce and serve with grated Parmesan.

Quick stir-fried pork with peppers, carrots & cashews

This is one of those dishes I make when I have bits of vegetables left in the fridge, a few peppers about to wilt, a carrot, bits of ginger, fresh chillis etc. It can take anything that is crunchy after stir-frying and the meat can be beef or pork. I use Ken Hom’s marinade from Chinese Cookery, which I don’t think would work that well with chicken.

Tonight I used what was in the fridge:
1 yellow pepper chopped into square chunks
1 small carrot roll cut
2 fresh red chilli finely chopped
1 1/2 inch fresh ginger finely chopped
1 large pork steak cut into strips
1 small onion sliced lengthways
1 clove garlic finelly chopped
handful of cashew nuts ideally roasted or dry-fried beforehand
(other ingredients I could have used from my cupboard – canned water chesnuts or bamboo shoots)

Marinade:
1 tsp cornflour
2 tsp Shaoxing wine
2 tsp soya sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt

Cut the meat in narrow strips 1 1/2 inch long, mix well with the marinade and set aside in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Heat groundnut oil in a wok until smokes and flash fry chilli, garlic and ginger for a minute. Add meat and continue to fry it on high, for about 2-3 minutes or until you can’t see any raw or pink bits. Add the chopped vegetables and cook for another 2 minutes or longer – reaching the fine line between the meat being done and the vegetables still being crispy. If things look a bit dry, I add several squirts of catsup, the asian brown variety – I bought mine at local M&S and it’s called Kecap Manis (can’t find it anywhere online).

I normally serve this with basmati rice (Waitrose aromatic), adding turmeric to the boiling water for colour. I find jasmine tea to be the best drink accompanying chinese food in general.