When I grew up, eating pasta wasn’t that common in the Netherlands. We had the occasional spaghetti Bolognese every now and then, and that was it. The Bolognese sauce came from a package: it contained a mysterious red powder that only needed water to become sauce. As a child, I was amazed by this miracle. But, of course, then I was a child and reasoned like a child. Growing up, I made a firm resolution a few years back to get rid of the packages. No more artificial flavors! And both my body and cooking are the better for it.
I’ve made pasta with red sauce since my decision against package. But that was just plain red sauce. It looked like what we got from the package but it tasted loads better. Still, there is one thing… I haven’t had pasta Bolognese since! Last summer, I brought back pasta from Italia, Tuscan pici. And the Tuscans always offer pici with ragù. Exactly: ragù the official name for Bolognese! That was the invitation I needed to work on a time-consuming but basic Italian dish. If a cheap restaurant in Buonconvento can do it, than so can I.
Making ragù (p. 61 of The Silver Spoon) turned out to be fun… chopping up onions, carrot, celery and slowly cooking them. With every new step, new flavors ascend from the pot on the stove. Be sure to pay attention when you add the garlic! And after vegetables, water and wine you basically just wait for an hour and a half. And then of course, the proof of the sauce is in the eating. First I tried the sauce: so much deeper and richer than you’d expect from plain red sauce as people name-call it! The freshness of the celery gives it a twist quite unexpected for someone whose last Bolognese sauce came from a package. The full-bodied flavor of the sauce lingers on the palate. For a second, I wondered if the sauce needs pasta at all. But since I brought the pici all the way from Tuscany to the rectory, here we go! I started out with one bundle of the pasta, since it cooks for 22 minutes and I know it has quite a volume after that time. After tossing the sauce and pasta together, I couldn’t resist the temptation to sprinkle some grated Parmesan on top of it all. The pasta was just about done, with one or two pieces still being a bit chalky. But all in all: it was bliss, especially because the sun shone in my face as I was eating. How could I not be happy and feel as if I was in Italy.
When measuring, don't forget how much larger the pici gets once it's cooked!
Two last notes: if you get your hand on pici, use it. It is a thick pasta that can be challenging to wrap around your fork. But remember that a knife was never meant to cut pasta. You will hurt the feelings of generations of Italian cooks, grandmothers and priests. Now you wouldn’t want to do that, would you? Second: don’t worry about making too much sauce, it holds well in the freezer. Oh, and last but not least: always have grated Parmesan at hand when eating pasta!