16 September 2010

AUNTIE PASTA: And a Good Ragu' to You Too

SARONNO, Italy - Now that summer is over I’m starting to think about cooking real food again and I happened to mention to my neighbor that I was thinking about making a fresh tomato sugo. She looked at me and said, “you mean   salsa, don’t you?”

Fresh from the farm tomatoes 

The whole idea of salsa and sugo has always confused me, but according to my neighbor salsa is sauce, like mayonnaise or Béarnaise, and sugo is juice. Which is all fine, but if that is true how come you put salsa al pomodoro on pasta but you would be run out of town if you poured tomato juice on pasta? She didn’t know the answer to that. “Some things just are,” she said.

In his cookbook “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well,” (1891), Pellegrino Artusi wrote that a sugo di pomodoro (tomato sauce) is made from tomatoes that are simply cooked and run through a food mill. At the most, he says, you can add a small rib of celery and a few parsley and basil leaves. Salsa, he claims, is made to accompany food like the salsa verde (green sauce) often served with boiled meat and the mayonnaise and salsa tonnata (tuna sauce) most often used in veal tonnata, both very popular dishes in Torino and in my house.

Yummy Pene all' Arrabbiata

To add to the confusion, there is also ragu'. Technically ragu' is a meat based sauce, and while sugo and salsa are often used interchangeably, sugo seems to be reserved for pasta.

In looking up ragu' recipes on the internet, there were a couple of things they all had in common. One is that they were all made with meat and two: they all required a very long cooking time, often up to six hours. And then I tuned into Nonna ed Io, (Grandma and Me) and watched Chef Adriana Montellanico teach Adriano Rosa, who in my opinion is not her grandson although I may be wrong, how to make ragu'.

Chef Adriana Montellanico and Adriano Rosa

There were a few things she did that surprised me. The first was after she chopped and cooked her soffrito, which is a mix of celery, onions and carrots, she set it aside. Then, in another pan, she began cooking her meat, which was chopped beef. If she added a little bit of olive oil to the pan before she started cooking the beef, I didn’t see it. When the beef was browned, she added the soffrito and mixed it into the meat. Then she added:
- about ¾ of a cup of white wine
- a couple of whole cloves
- and a bay leaf

In the meantime, the (fake) grandson put a can of whole tomatoes into a food processor and whizzed them. When they were almost smooth she added them to the meat mix, along with a few basil leaves, saying that the sauce/sugo now had to cook for at least a couple of hours.

 Italian Tomatoes

I had never heard of cooking the soffrito separately and adding it to the meat after the meat was cooked. I always cooked my meat in the soffrito. Another thing that surprised me was the idea of putting a couple of whole cloves and a bay leaf in tomato sauce, errr, sugo, and adding white wine. I always used red wine, but I was wrong about that. Italians do use white wine in tomato sauce, not red. But where was the garlic? Where was the oregano? I always thought those two ingredients were the backbone of the meat sauce, but I guess I am wrong again.

There were literally hundreds of sugo recipes on the internet, using all kinds of meat including lamb, duck, pork, veal, pancetta (bacon) and, of course, beef. Some recipes called for adding sugar to the sauce, others did not. I think it depends on how sweet your tomatoes are. And some recipes called for a few tablespoons of tomato paste, something my Grandmother always did. And she always used pieces of beef and pork, but Chef Adriana used plain old ground beef with no sugar, no tomato paste, no oregano and no garlic. Her (fake) grandson said it smelled yummy, so once again I end up more confused than when I started.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing about me... it was nice to discover I was on a blog of somebody else... eheh! That Ragu Sauce is awesome... and you should try it... because that’s how I cook it now... as she taught me.

    By Adriano Rosa