July 5, 2019
To pick a favorite food is nearly impossible for me. The array of foods I enjoy expands far beyond the chicken tenders I called favorite in 3rd grade. The pizza of 5th grade was a big jump, for I enjoyed it with mushrooms on top. Middle school brought on the semi-unusual choice of Caesar salad, but mostly for the parmesan cheese commonly grated on top. In high school I began to come into my own and enjoyed cooking seafood with my mother, the salmon was always a winner. Today I look back on all of those items and try to choose what stands out above the others and I cannot decide. These are all of my favorites, but they were all a different version of me, from a different time. My all-time favorite has to connect each version of me. It came down to only one: my grandmother’s pasta with meat sauce. I think every Italian-American family can agree that their family recipe for pasta sauce is the best. I think it is fair to say that none of those families are wrong. That is because deep rooted family recipes are the best, and not necessarily because of what they taste like. My grandmother’s sauce is the best because it brings my family together. My family is really big and often we do not get to spend a lot of time as one. She makes it for the most special occasions: holidays, birthdays, snow days (Pittsburgh, PA, it gets really cold), and family gatherings. Walking into her house while the sauce is cooking down is walking through the gates of heaven. Pasta with the meat sauce is also my favorite because of the delicate balance between the sweetness in the carrots and tomatoes and the savory aspects of the meat and wine. Also, I tend to eat a lot, so the heftiness of a big plate of pasta with meat sauce is always a welcome meal. A big dish is the ultimate comfort food for me because it feels, smells, and tastes like home. The process of cooking the sauce is beautiful in of itself. The slow cooking of the sauce while adding the ingredients one by one fuses the flavors together and creates a perfect harmony. My grandmother has found perfection in her dish and I aspire to follow in her path.
The closest comparison to my grandmother’s sauce is a traditional Bolognese. Bolognese is a meat-based tomato sauce that is slowly cooked to perfection. The first mention of a meat-based sauce served with pasta is from a cookbook by Pellegrino Artusi in 1891 called “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di magiare bane” or The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating well. Artusi spent most of his time in Italy in the Northern city of Bologna and credits the heartiness of the food to the climate and geography of the region. The climate of Northern Italy is more rugged than the South, and Pellegrino as a result made the connection between the ruggedness of the region to the heartiness and ruggedness in the food. This is perfectly reflected in Bolognese because it is a heavy and meaty dish that warms the body and soul. This comes into play in my grandmother’s sauce because the Italian part of my family comes from Northern Italy. To say the dish warms the soul is true because it creates an air of happiness and leaves one stuffed. Traditionally, Bolognese is served with a flat pasta such as the egg and flour-based tagliatelle, and my grandmother follows in this fashion with rigatoni. The perfect finish to the pasta is shredded parmesan on top.
Below is a picture of my grandmother, siblings, cousins and I (the sauce’s biggest fans). Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of us making the sauce. Also included is an image of a generic Bolognese.
Ingredients for a Traditional Bolognese Sauce:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 ½ pounds 80/20 ground beef
- ½ pounds ground pork
- 6 ounces pancetta, chopped finely
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 11 ounces large onion, finely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 6 ounces (1 large) carrot, finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, grated or finely chopped
- 1 cup white wine, or red if you prefer
- 3 1/2 cups good quality can tomato puree, 28 ounces
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup beef stock
It is important to remember that the method of cooking is significant and can vary. A traditional Bolognese is cooked slowly at a low temperature.