I had a really hard time getting a handle on Heat, the latest offering for Cook the Books, the best darn food-blogger bookclub in the blogosphere. What was Buford doing? If he was writing a biography of Mario Batali, it was superficial. If he was going for a guts-&-all kitchen exposé, he just isn't Bourdain. If it was supposed to be a bildungsroman of his growth into cooking, well, he didn't give enough of himself to make me feel the journey. He spends too much time hiding in the shadow of (somewhat tediously) larger than life characters for me to really be that interested when he finally steps out into the sun.
Bildungsroman. Good grief it has been a long time since I needed to use that word in a sentence.
What Heat did have going for it was meat. I found Buford's Italian experiences to be the most interesting in the book. Learning to prepare meat from the Maestro and coming to understand how to use a knife, how to feel his way through, was the most emotionally engaging part for me. So I wanted to make a meat dish, and I wanted it to be Italian.
I was particularly interested in the ragu recipe. The idea that it is a meat sauce, not a meat & tomato sauce, just faintly tinted pink with tomato paste, was totally way out for me. So ragu bolognese it was. I cooked pork, veal & beef mince slowly, with pancetta, garlic and chicken livers. I added white wine, and when that was reduced I added milk. Some sprigs of fresh oregano. A grating of nutmeg. A squeeze of sundried tomato paste.
It ended up unlike any Bolognese sauce I have ever tasted. Very rich and intensely meaty. The flavour was so powerful that I just couldn't add as much sauce to the pasta as I usually would, bringing it closer to the Italian ideal. It won't replace my tomato-based sauce for regular use, but for an occasional, more luxurious treat, it is definitely one to remember.
ETA The recipe, by request!
Ragu Bolognese (makes loads, impossible to do in a small quantity!)
100g pancetta, cubed
2 shallots, finely minced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
500g minced beef (I used one with 10% fat)
500g minced pork (was 8% fat)
500g minced veal (15% fat - I only use high welfare rose veal)
300g chicken livers, cleaned and chopped
200ml white wine
200ml semi-skimmed milk
a sprig of fresh oregano
2tbs sundried tomato paste
Salt, pepper, nutmeg
In a large, heavy based saucepan over a low heat, stir the cubed pancetta until the fat starts to render out. If it seems a bit dry or starts to stick, add a bit of olive oil. Add the shallot and garlic, and when that starts to soften, add the beef, pork & veal. Stir gently, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until it is well-browned all over. This takes about half an hour. Add the chicken livers and wine and cook slowly, covered, for half an hour. Then add the milk and oregano and again cover and cook slowly for half an hour. Add the tomato paste, and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer another 10 minutes before serving.