In this bleak Covid winter, you, as How to eat (HTE), may consider spaghetti bolognese a comfort food. But, on closer inspection, spag bol does not promote peace of mind.
Instead, this bastard British creation is a sore on Anglo-Italian relations. In 2016, Antonio Carluccio reminded the Cheltenham Literary Festival that spaghetti Bolognese does not exist in Italy, where Bolognese is made without herbs or garlic, enriched with milk and served over fresh egg tagliatelle. In 1982, in an early and doomed attempt to prevent further deviations, a notarized prescription for ragù there bolognese, finalized by the Italian Academy of Cuisine, was deposited in the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna.
These two examples are typical of 40 years of pernicious reprimands. But to what end?
In the 1950s, the spag bol fusion of northern Bolognese and southern Neapolitan ragout (hence the tomato sauce and spaghetti) was quite possibly an excellent example of overbearing British chauvinism. We have form. But, in 2021, Britain would freely and happily admit that the spagbol is a bad cut and lock. No one who cooks it in Luton or Carlisle is making fun of Italian culture in a culturally insensitive way, nor is they making any claims of authenticity. They are just cooking tea. Thanks for the hybrid inspiration.
Couldn’t we ask for a truce? Can’t we accept that it is possible (as long as you don’t put peas in it) to see a concurrent value in ragù there bolognese, ragù there Neapolitan and spag bol, like cousins in a now distant family? Think of it as The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy. You can laugh at all of them while acknowledging that there is a hierarchy of sophistication that bottoms out in pleasant vulgarity.
Open your mind and it is possible to love all the variations of Bolognese. In fact, its iterations are a kind of liberation. When Heston Blumenthal criticizes our abuse of “one of the great bourgeois Italian dishes” or chefs insist on fresh pasta (the historic choice of the wealthy elite), he has an unfortunate undercurrent of class snobbery: a sense that we Unwashed large, they have ruined the “real” Bolognese by pairing it with the peasant cuisine of southern Italy or, worse, the abominations of British cuisine.
But food evolves, often out of financial necessity. Things change. Even in Italy, as Southerners migrate north and where, in Bologna, ragù has been served with spaghetti since the 16th century.
“I’ve borrowed this and that from hostile parties for many years,” Simon Schama wrote in 2008 of the Bolognese, presumably on a quiet day at Big Thoughts headquarters. But how should we use this Bolognese license, this freedom to rethink the spag bowl? HTE has some ideas.
All sane adults will agree that cooking pasta in sauce is a no-no. You are not a student. However, there is disagreement on whether to serve Bolognese. with a spoon over the pasta or scrambled, so it covers each strand, like with pesto.
HTE favors the top loaded spag bowl. The dish should have two different elements: pasta and sauce. The pasta should counteract the flavor of the sauce, in a format that allows you to choose the correct ratio of one to another. Mixing pasta with bolognese sauce is like baking the ingredients for a sandwich in bread. By design, it prevents you from finding a satisfactory balance between the two. Plus, the premixed spag bowl looks like a perfect doggie dinner.
The assumption, let’s call it the pasta fallacy, that bolognese should be served with pasta only is overruled by the potato waffle. I wouldn’t serve bolognese with mashed potatoes or a baked potato (too mushy, too dignified); But with something shiny and fried, like potato chips or potato waffles, it turns out to be revealing. You need that tougher fried edge as protection against the moist sauce that soaks through softer delivery vehicles like toast.
In the pasta realm, HTE doesn’t have anything else fusilli or farfalle (ultimately the right pasta is whatever you have), but tubular and / or hollow pasta (penne, rigatoni, conchiglie) are best avoided. You should try the Bolognese sauce First in every bite. It should be the main flavor, with the pasta appearing last. With leaky pasta, the gravy often gets lost in the nooks and crannies. It ends partially hidden. Outcast. Drowned.
Some type of noodle is preferable, with spaghetti being the number one option for several reasons. The thicker ribbons of fresh egg tagliatelle, fettuccine or, in particular, pappardelle are too creamy and too full of this rich sauce. Also, like the unconvincing snakes that attack the jungle adventurer in a 1950s B-movie, they have a tendency to flail uncontrollably when brought to the mouth.
In contrast, the spaghetti is exactly long and thick enough that with a safe twist of your fork, you can form a neat nest, making it easy to get the gravy in your mouth. Plus, in its earthy, cereal-based flavor, dry wheat pasta (roughly 1: 3 sauce to pasta by volume) is the perfect complement to the sauce’s densely savory flavors.
“Regarding the use of a fork plus a spoon to eat pasta”, announced the New York Times in 1982Having assembled a cast of experts to judge, “everyone at the table was unyielding. The spoons are for children, hobbyists and people with bad table manners in general ”.
Fortunately, the food writing has changed in the intervening years. It is less condescending. Less pompous. If you feel like a spoon helps you turn the pasta (you’ll need one to scrape off the last of it), use it. Personally, HTE works with one hand, only with a fork, resting the other elbow on the table. Italian food is the last word in casual, right?
A nonconformist option is using scissors to trim each biteA solution that is inspired, ridiculous, and, HTE can’t help but feel, will likely result in a trip to the ER.
At least it would save your clothes. No white T-shirt will survive a happily eaten spagbol and HTE has no interest in fueling the social and ecological ruin of fast fashion. Therefore, there are two options. Put your head over the bowl, to the extent that you might choke on the bolognese, sipping on the go, or relive the napkin tucked into the shirt: the adult bib. Yes, you’ll feel like a plum (or an aging mob boss in the dingy back room of a New Jersey trattoria), but you will emerge unscathed. Does HTE have napkins? Without a full closet audit, we will never know. That is why God invented kitchen paper.
The primacy of aged Parmesan cheese as a topping for pasta is strange. As you have observedDue to its lack of moisture, tightly rolled protein, and high melting point, Parmesan tends to denature into phlegmatic clumps or, where there isn’t enough heat, sit in a nice, flavor-poor snowdrift. Parmesan is great when cooked in dishes and sauces. But as a pasta garnish? It does not work. HTE is open to the idea of giving up cheese entirely. The Bolognese sauce can speak for itself. But, if you decide to complete your spag bowl, do so with a decent cheddar cheese, whose protein, water and fat content are more appropriate to create the required soft and elastic matrix.
Back to the sauce
This is how you eat, you don’t cook. But, for the record: stay away from the peas; using milk and cream is similar to putting a blanket inside a drum: they muffle the flavor; and minced pork or bacon are welcome, to add depth. Sweet corn, like Romesh Ranganathan, goes everywhere. Unlike Ranganathan, that’s not even remotely funny.
Time is the most important ingredient. Whether it’s lightly sweating the garlic or that essential onion, carrot, and celery soffritto, let the bolognese soak for hours over low heat or leave it in the fridge for a few days. Like later Scott Walker albums, a good spag bowl can’t be rushed. Speaking of avant-garde creations and the pursuit of flavor, HTE is ready to try this amazing recipe from actor Jason Isaacs, which, with its 10 cloves of garlic, chorizo, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, rice wine vinegar, panela and chili peppers, throws everything but the kitchen sink Bolognese.
Serving salads with hot pasta dishes should be a crime. But where there is sauce, there must be bread for scrubbing. Buttered white bread is traditional with spag bowl, or perhaps garlic, although many garlic breads have an impractical shape when it comes to cleaning a bowl. Note: Like cheese, ice cream, and chocolate, there is no objectively bad garlic bread. Even the worst example is, on a primary level, nice. In these dark times, if we can’t indulge ourselves with a little carbohydrate-carb action, what is life worth?
Bowl, not plate; fork; kitchen paper; dark t-shirt or sweatshirt.
Terrible Wednesday nights in February. Ideally, this requires you to move forward on closed Sunday afternoons. In an uncertain world, a freezer full of batch-cooked Bolognese is deeply comforting.
Lighter and undemanding red wines, dry palate-cleaning whites (a good lager will serve a similar purpose), sparkling water. With darker, meatier sauces, a smoked IPA (perhaps with a hint of rye) or an English bitter.
So spaghetti Bolognese – how do you eat yours?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism