|WAITER: Buon giorno.||
|AB: Ahh, buon giorno. Vorrei, per favore, gli spaghetti e salsa della carne.||
Ahh, good day.
I would like the spaghetti and
|W: Solo dispiace, la non che abbiamo su menu.||
I'm sorry we don't have that on the menu.
|AB: Lo ha mi no immaginato. Avete gli spaghetti?||
Yes, so I suspected.
|AB: [laughs nervously] Ed avete qual de tipo de salsa della carne?||
And do you have some sort
|W: Signore, siamo a Bologna. Abbiamo ragu alla Bolognese.||
Sir, this is Bologna. We have the
Now, in America, "ragu" might
not sound very special. But the word is actually derived from the French, "ragouter,"
meaning "to revive the taste," and it is actually special.
Now, in the case of Bologna, it is a meaty stew based on long-simmered aromatics: carrots, onions, celery, minced meat, a bit of tomato product, and oddly enough, milk. Although most Americans would not recognize it as a "meat sauce", ragu alla Bolognese is no doubt the rich uncle of our meat sauce. Which may explain why the English, who love spaghetti and meat sauce even more than Americans, call it "spag bol", which of course is slang for spaghetti Bolognese.
|W: Eh, pronto di ordinare, Signore?||
Will you be ordering today, sir?
|AB: Ahh, si, excuse. Vorrei il ragu alla Bolognese con gli spaghetti, per favore.||
Ahh yes, pardon me. I'll have the ragu alla Bolognese with spaghetti, please.
|W: Spaghetti. Ma, é sicuro?||
Spaghetti? Are you sure?
|AB: [laughs, nervously again] Certamente sono sicuro. Sono Americano.||
Of course, I'm sure. I'm an American.
W: Di questo non che dubbio.
[The question is not in doubt]
That's for sure.
AB: [as waiter leaves] Yeah.
No matter what comes out through that door, I guarantee you, it won't look like what you and I think it ought to look like.
|W: [serves AB two dishes] Ecco, spaghetti é ragu alla Bolognese.||Spaghetti and ragu alla Bolognese|
|AB: Li voglio misto insieme.||I want them together.|
|W: Allora la mescoli le. Buon giorno.||
Then put them together yourself.|
|AB: [somewhat dejectedly] Buon giorno.||Good day.|
Here's what it comes down to. Spaghetti, long strands of durum wheat pasta, extruded, dried, then boiled, and ragu alla Bolognese, a chunky, heavy meat stew, are physically incompatible. In Italy, spaghetti is tossed with oil, cheese and herbs, while heavy sauces are married to big, tube shapes, or fresh ribbons like tagliatelle. So how did a dish that's unheard of in Italy become the poster dish for Italian cuisine in the U.S.? Well the answer can be found on a small island, but I don't mean Capri.
I mean Ellis. From 1892 to
1954, some 12 million immigrants began their American experience here. Some were
rich, others poor beyond imagining. Many had their identities changed, while
some lost them altogether.
Now culturally, Ellis was an engine of homogenization. You might walk in Tuscan, Sicilian, or Venetian, but you walked out Italian, and the "American" came later on. Bound by little more than a common language, many of these strangers in a strange land settled in tight-knit communities inside larger urban landscapes. No longer forced to dine on black bread and beans, the cooks of such "Little Italys" began to innovate giving birth to many of the dishes that Americans consider to be Italian today. What's more, many of these new dishes quickly moved onto the plates of mainstream America, compliments of an active, motivated, and highly organized Italian-American manufacturing community.
GUEST: Library Patron
[whispering] A good example, the powerful National Macaroni Manufacturer's Association, which was like an extruded pasta cartel in the old days. Now during the 1920's, they published and distributed W.A.S.P. friendly recip ...
... recipes, including a wildly popular one for something called Italian
spaghetti and meatballs, which was basically meat sauce. What was
interesting is that it was cooked and served as a casserole.
Fascinating! The association also offered up, shall we say, fanciful
food mythologies in their magazine, "Macaroni Journal." In fact, an
Association writer may have actually ...
... may have actually invented the whole Marco Polo-bringing-pasta-to-Venice-from-China legend. Nice piece of viral marketing, that.
Italian Spaghetti and Meatballs
But the full Americanization of Italian-American cuisine would actually have to wait until 1953 when a U.S. Army hospital cook, named Garibaldi Lapolla, wrote "Italian Cooking for the American Kitchen." Which despite vast popularity, was about as Italian as Florence ... Henderson! Hah hah hah hah.
P: [gets up, exasperated, and walks off]
of the 1920's boiled cauldrons of pasta in their windows.
A plate with sauce, sold for around 35 cents.
[the following price list is the same as was first seen in the Tamale episode]
CTR. CUT PORK RIB CHOP ... $4.19/lb PORK LOIN CHOP ........... $4.29/lb HAM STEAK ................ $1.29/lb FLANK STEAK .............. $6.99/lb
HAMBURGER ................ $3.29/lb GROUND MEAT .............. $1.99/lb GROUND PORK .............. $1.79/lb LEAN GROUND PORK ......... $2.99/lb
American mutts like me were raised on fire-engine red meat sauces built out of hamburger. Now the thing about hamburger is that ... Well, what you have to understand is that hamburger can ...
AB: Well, you know, you tell 'em:
BUTCHER: The federal government guidelines say that neither hamburger nor ground meat can contain any more than 30 percent fat.
AB: Whoa, then what's the difference between them?
B: Beef fat can be added to hamburger, but not to ground meat.
AB: Ah, what about ground round, ground chuck, or ground sirloin?
B: The only rule there is is that anything in the mixture, lean and fat alike, come from that cut, and still it can contain up to 30 percent fat.
AB: Ah, but what if the meat in question is labeled as being a certain percent "lean"?
B: That's where it gets complicated. Because of what the legal definition of what "lean" is, which, since 1993, has been about three percent fat. So, depending on the meat, you may need a calculator to get it straight.
AB: Okay, what about ground pork?
B: The standard is 20 percent. If it's labeled "lean," it contains less than 17 percent fat, but it can come from anywhere on the pig.
AB: Okay, thanks.
Now, this is exactly why I buy 'cuts' and ask for them to be custom ground. It's the only way to really be sure. Now, since we have all the time in the world, I figure we might as well use cuts that can actually profit from long cooking, namely, shoulders.
AB: So, Ma'am, I'm going to go with eight ounces of beef chuck, and the same eight ounces of pork butt.
But, don't worry, it's not actually, you know. It's shoulder too.
AB: And, would you grind them for me?
B: Coarse or fine?
AB: Ooh, excellent question. Love to hear that. I will take a coarse grind, please.
However, in some shops, that
would be referred to as a chili grind. Same thing, don't worry.
Now while she's doing that, we will look into some seasoning meat, okay. We need some other meat to bring flavor to the party. A cured pork product would be appropriate. Now, authenticity would almost demand the use of pancetta, a tightly rolled form of bacon that is air-dried, unsmoked. But I like the smoke, so I'm going to go with six ounces, that's about five rashers of big, thick-cut slab American bacon.
MAMA: [tending a large pot]
To some folks, the image of a sauce pot burbling long and low on a back burner, tended by someone's lovin' Mama is comforting and magical: an emotional postcard from the era of hearth and home.
WITCH: [enters and takes over the pot]
But for others, it's a sickly reminder of spooky childhood stories of witches, tending cauldrons in moonlit clearings, where not all magic is good, or good eats.
MAMA & WITCH: [both compete for the pot by continually adding their own ingredients]
Either way, one-pot sauces are really a tradition borne of necessity. See, even in the early 20th century, many people only had fuel to heat one pot. These days, most of us can heat several at a time. Two different temperatures, no less, a fact that I plan to take full advantage of.
AB: Now, excuse me, ladies, I cook alone!
Here we have an 8-quart cast
iron Dutch oven, known far and wide for its ability to cook low and slow. We'll
also be employing the 4-quart straight sided stainless steel sauté pan, known
far and wide for its ability to take high levels of heat, and for giving quick
Our strategy is going to be to build the sauce over here [in the Dutch oven], but we're going to feed it ingredients from here [the sauté pan]. That way, we'll always have the flavors kind of at their peak, and doneness will hopefully be all synched up so the sauce can be all it can be. Now it's important that the sauté pan go on whatever your beefiest burner is. Mine is over here. The Dutch oven can go on a relatively low burner.
|I'm going to go ahead and get this [Dutch oven] going to low, and the first ingredient, naturally, will be the bacon. Now remember we've got six ounces here, cut into strips. I'm going to render that out nice and slow.||
6 Ounces Thick Cut Bacon,
Cut into 1-Inch Pieces
Meanwhile finely chop two whole onions and three stalks of celery. Then mince three cloves of garlic, and then slice two more.
|Last, but not least, one star anise pod and three whole cloves go into a small cotton spice bag. You can find these on the Internet. And then just smack the bejeepers out of it.||
1 Whole Star Anise
+ 3 Whole Cloves
|When the bacon is done, get it out and drain it on some paper towels. Now that we have the nice hot fat, the onion will go into that, along with, let's say a teaspoon and a half of salt. Just eyeball that. And half a teaspoon of black pepper. Oh, and of course, our spice bag.||
2 Large Onions, Finely
1½ tsp. Kosher Salt
½ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
Now that goes in, low heat, until the onions break down and caramelize. It's going to take 45 minutes to an hour, and you're going to have to stir every few minutes to keep burning at bay.
|In the meantime, place your sauté pan over the highest heat that you can possibly manage, and add one tablespoon of olive oil. Not extra virgin olive oil, just good old fashioned olive oil, because that can take the heat.||1 Tbs. Olive Oil|
|The meat, in the refrigerator, remember we got a coarse grind on both the butt and the chuck. So we want to get this into the hottest pan we can, because we're looking for the Maillard reaction, okay? We want all the flavor that will be produced from fast, high browning, okay? And if you want to, you can bring that to room temperature before cooking, but it's not really necessary with these temperatures. So into the pan, and if it doesn't sizzle right away, then odds are good you do not have enough heat. And I want to keep this moving for at least four to five minutes, otherwise you might have liquid puddle up, and that would give us stewing, not the searing we desire.||
8 Ounces Pork Butt,
[later] All right, the meat is good and brown, so move that to a colander set over a bowl. Let it drain until we are ready to implement it further.
|Now, the pan goes right back on the heat. Now if we've done our job properly, there will be plenty of nice little brown bits there, stuck to the bottom of the pan. That is flavor we don't want to waste. So we deglaze with one half cup of white wine. That's right, in this case I'm using a chardonnay. Now I know red is all that's synonymous with Italian. But what we really need here is some sweetness, some kind of woody flavor, and some bright acidity. Red's full of bossy stuff, like tannins and stuff, that tend towards astringency when cooked. We don't need that. So, scrape and boil until all the stuck-on bits are gone, and then kill the heat.||½ Cup White Wine|
The Maillard reaction
refers to the browning of proteins and
carbohydrates in meats, resulting in pleasingly complex flavors.
|All right, as you can see by looking down into our Dutch oven, the onions have greatly reduced, but they're nice and mahogany brown. So, it's time to bring on the second wave of aromatics. The celery—remember, three stalks, finely chopped—and garlic, three of our total of five cloves, minced. They go right in, and just continue cooking over the low heat for 30 minutes, or until you can smell garlic and celery all the way out in the yard.||
3 Stalks Celery, Finely
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
This would, by the way, be a
nice time to crank up some Puccini. You know, just for atmosphere. [a scratchy
instrumental version of "O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi begins to play]
Okay, the fat soluble flavors from the spices have been extracted, so I'm going to go ahead and remove the little sack. Next, the meat goes into the Dutch oven, and the reduced wine, with all the juicy little bits, that goes in too. Now we're still maintaining this over low heat.
|Now we're going to add another half cup of the wine, and three quarters of a cup of canned evaporated milk. Not, I repeat, not sweetened condensed milk, okay? Evaporated milk is really just milk that's been cooked and canned. And I like it because it has considerable flavor and body and it won't curdle when it meets up with the acid in the wine, and that's critical. Also going to add three cups of beef broth, and this can be canned or cartoned. There, perfect. Oh, and this is where I usually add a little Boletus edulis.||
½ Cup White Wine
¾ Cup Evaporated Milk
3 Cups Beef Broth
|Behold, the porcini mushroom. Unique in the fungal world, not only for its size, but its high concentration of meaty flavors, which are due in large part to a concentration of amino acids, including glutamic acid, the active ingredient in MSG.||
Big Size &
|Now porcinis, which are quite rare in this country, in the fresh form at least, also contain high amounts of sulfur compounds, capable of creating meaty aromas. Luckily, the meaty attributes of most mushrooms, and porcinis in particular, are preserved by drying.||
High Amounts of
Meaty Mushroom Attributes
|A mere ounce of dried porcini, chopped fine, will add an earthy depth to all that meaty goodness. But odds are, no one will ever know it's there.||
1 Ounce Dried Porcini
Now you're going to let this
heat very slowly, and cook very slowly, covered, over low heat for three hours.
That's right, hours. The goal is to slowly break down the connective tissue
that's still in the meat, thus extracting all of the gelatin possible. Remember,
at this point, it's basically a stew, and stews take time. Just remember, lift
the lid every half hour and give it a stir.
All right, the Dutch oven has been perking away for an hour and a half, so we'll give that a stir, and then turn our attention .... [to the lid that won't go on] down ... to the sauté pan. Now we are going to build the tomato–herb–acid part of the sauce. The way I see this, it's really the pickiest part of the process, because it involves very careful reductions. So I want to keep that out of the meat until we are completely—well, I'm—completely happy with it.
|So, one tablespoon of olive oil goes over medium heat, along with some more garlic. Two cloves this time, sliced, and just keep that moving around until it's fragrant. Thirty to 45 seconds, tops.||
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, Sliced
|There, now add two 28-ounce cans of tomatoes diced, not crushed. There. Along with one tablespoon of dried oregano, and two teaspoons each of dried marjoram and dried basil. There. Just stir that in and let this cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, 25 to 30 minutes.||
2 28-Ounce Cans Diced
1 Tbs. Dried Oregano
2 tsp. Dried Marjoram +
|All right, decrease the heat to low, and stir in two tablespoons of tomato paste, and one tablespoon of sherry vinegar, which is just as sweet as balsamic, just not as, well, grotesquely overused. I also like to give this about a teaspoon shot of Worcestershire sauce, a personal favorite of mine, and another quarter cup of white wine to help bring out the alcohol-soluble flavors in the tomatoes. And, then I add one tablespoon of a secret ingredient. I'm not going to show you. No, no, get away, I'm not going to show you. All right, it's ketchup. There's just no replacing it, I'm afraid. All right, let this simmer nice and low for 30 minutes. Oh, and go ahead and give the meat another stir so that it doesn't stick. There.||
2 Tbs. Tomato Paste
1 Tbs. Sherry Vinegar
1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
¼ Cup White Wine
1 Tbs. Ketchup
|Okay, the final adjustment to the tomato team, and this is a little bit unusual. Add another tablespoon of olive oil, okay. And then turn the heat up to medium high. We're going to fry this stuff to give it an even deeper flavor and caramelize some of the sugars that are in there. Just keep it moving for two to three minutes, or it will stick, and it will burn.||1 Tbs. Olive Oil|
There, that has got as much flavor in it as we can possibly develop. So we now move that into the meat mixture, and we'll finally have a finished sauce. Believe me, this has all been worth it. Now we're going to keep this barely simmering until the pasta is done, uncovered, please.
Tightly sealed meat sauce will keep in the freezer for up to six months.
As we discovered earlier, when in Bologna you will no doubt enjoy meat sauces tossed with wide noodles, like fettuccine and tagliatelle. But this is America, and like the English before us, we want our spaghetti, and we're going to have it. But you know what, at least make it a nice Italian spaghetti, because they tend to be a little bit thicker than our domestic product. Now for six people, I'm going to go with half a pound, because I actually like to serve a little bit more sauce than noodles.
|For any amount of pasta under a pound, I boil a gallon of water. And the way I figure it, pasta needs plenty of room to move around so that it cooks evenly and does not stick. Also, a lot of water means a lot of heat. A lot of heat means quick cooking, and I think that leads to a more toothsome product. Notice also, please, I like a big, but narrow pot. I think that that enhances the convective action of the water, minimizes evaporation, and also helps to prevent boil-overs. I also like a lot of salt. I go with two tablespoons of kosher salt per gallon of water. After all, this is the only opportunity we are going to have to season the inside of the noodles.||
1 Gallon Water
2 Tbs. Kosher Salt
|The salt's in, rolling boil, spaghetti goes in all at once. And I like to keep it moving in just the first few moments, because a lot of sticking can happen here. Make sure you've got high heat to bring the boil back as soon as possible, and drop the heat to maintain it. Before we go setting a timer, keep in mind that this is an agricultural product, okay? Differences in the wheat harvest, or how long the noodles have been on the shelf, can all affect cooking time. But, five minutes is a pretty good place to start. I'll be back.||½ Pound Spaghetti|
All right, time's up. We
taste. Now what I'm looking for here is not al dente, but something just shy of
al dente. I actually want just a hair of crunch still on the back of my teeth.
Only one way to find out. [tastes] Perfect. We drain.
And move the noodles straight into the meat sauce. That's right, we are not going to serve the sauce over the pasta as you see done so often. You see, by allowing the noodles to finish cooking, say, four to five minutes over low heat in the sauce, they'll actually drink up some of that goodness that we have worked so hard to make. And, some of the starch coat from the noodles will bond, lightly, to the meat sauce, and that's going to help to make up for the fact that, well, technically speaking, these two just aren't very physically compatible.
|One other break with tradition: parmesan cheese—I don't know, I've got about a third of a cup here—usually sprinkled on at the last moment. Not me. It all goes in. And that way, we get the flavors to meld.||
1/3 Cup Parmesan Cheese,
[holding the finished dish]
Well, I hope that the last half hour has snapped a new heading line on your
appetite's GPS, which, at this very moment, should be guiding you home. Now I
know it's easy in this age of edible irony to pass on a good old plate of
spaghetti as, I don't know, a quaint anachronism of a naive culinary age. Easy,
but dead stinkin' wrong.
See you next time on Good Eats.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 05/01/2011