JUMP TO RECIPE -
I got this wonderful book from my mother in law. It’s called Napoli in Bocca, written by Antonella Santolini, published in 1980 and it looks like it was from early 1900s.
Quaint doesn’t even start to describe it: the paper is thick dark parchment, the recipes look like handwritten, there are lovely sketches illustrating the book and the language of the English versions is simply beautiful. The recipes are authentically weird: you know it must be a true indigenous dish if it doesn’t resemble its bastardised pan-European version in the ingredients’ list. Pizza features peeled, sliced tomatoes – no faffing about with sauce. Spaghetti is really called vermicelli. There’s no minestrone because ‘minestra’ means just ‘soup’, but there is tripe soup and fried pork soup – who knew?
Carne al ragu – we are not in Bologna anymore, Toto – sounds astonishing to a pan-European reader whose concept of a spag bol is pasta drowned in what is effectively a burger dispersed in bad tomato sauce. Ragu de Napoli does not contain meat (you read right). A hefty chunk of beef is cooked for hours with aromatics then removed, leaving richly flavoured sauce used to enrich (not smother) pasta served as a starter. The meat is served for the main course. Naturally. That’s the right Italian way we see and approve but follow the worse way: a bucketful of pasta swimming in sauce, and eaten as a main course.
So halfway house, I thought, not to introduce too dramatic a change: keep the beef mince in but follow the flavouring and method instructions. It came out supremely tasty. The amount of about 3-4 tablespoons of the sauce per person gives the perfect balance between Italian sparsity and British overload. The pasta tastes fantastic but you can hardly see the sauce or the meat – which is the whole point. See, approve and follow.
- 1 tbsp. oil
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 1 celery stick, finely diced
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves smashed and chopped roughly
- 250g (½ pound) minced beef
- 150g (¼ pound) minced pork
- 1 tbsp. sea salt flakes
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 250ml (1 cup) red wine
- a pinch of nutmeg
- 500ml (2 cups) tomato sauce or 2 tins of chopped, peeled Italian tomatoes
- 4-5 sprigs of basil, leaves only
- 250ml (1 cup) beef stock
- 2 tsp tomato powder or tomato puree
- 90g (3oz.) pasta per person
- 30g (2 tbsp.) grated Parmesan
Heat the oil and butter in a large pan or skillet, add the onion and fry it on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and garlic and cook for 10 minutes until softened but not browned. Mix the mince and stir the salt and pepper into it. Turn up the heat a little, add the mince and mash it with fork to separate. Cook it for 5 minutes until it browns a little and takes on cooked appearance.
Add the wine, turn up heat and bubble until it evaporates. Add the pinch of nutmeg. Pour in the tomato sauce, add half the basil leaves roughly torn and give it a good stir. Cook the sauce for 3 – 4 hours on very low heat, covered with a lid from halfway through the time. Add some stock if it gets too thick. At the end of the cooking taste the sauce for salt and tomato flavour, adjust the seasoning and let it stand off the heat for 15 minutes while you cook pasta according to the packet instructions.
Drain the pasta and toss it with 3-4 tbsp. of the sauce per person.