Updated 2013-01-02 00:40:22 ID=671:1

© 2012 The Romantic Table
©2012 The Romantic Table, Bolognese Ragu 2012-12-23 23:53:33:349
©2012 The Romantic Table

The first and foremost secret to a TRUE Bolognese Ragu is that it must be slowly simmered over a medium-low heat for two to three hours or more. This is one recipe that you shouldn't rush!

Cooler Rainy-Season Recipes to Savor for Generations

We're finally in the midst of our much cooler temperatures and our rainy season! This is my favorite time of year for cooking! After several months of "restrained-cooking" due to the warm temperatures, now that we're in the midst of Winter--and much cooler temperatures, there are "no rules barred" on some REAL kitchen-cooking of all our favorite and most-loved recipes. Wait until you see what new recipes I've got for this time of year!

In 1997, to celebrate our 25th Anniversary, Larry and I, both with cooking backgrounds, decided to go to cooking school --but just not any cooking school! We both wanted to learn the "tricks of the trade" of Italian cooking--FROM Italians in Bologna, Italy (also known as the "Gastronomical Capital" of Italy!) What a fantastic learning-experience that was! --And lots of fun too! And we met some great people there as well!

My first recipe, Bolognese Ragu Romantic Table Style, is a traditional Bolognese Ragu based on a traditional recipe of Bologna from one of Italy's most famed meat-market-trattoria, a multi-generation-run butcher-shop that over their generations of ownership also evolved into also a trattoria called Tamburini's.

Tamburini's is a fabulous place to discover and sample all sorts of unusual meats, cheeses, Italian sauces and aromas that we never have the opportunity to savor here in the U.S. It's also where the "locals" hang out. When you're in the mood for something sensational, the food doesn't get more authentic Bolognese than at Tamburini's!

Our recipe is based on a traditional recipe from Tamburini's. In fact, It was Tamburini's that encouraged our chef-instructor, Mary Beth Clark, a former Food Writer and Editor from New York, who now lives in Bologna to open a cooking school there. Her hands-on instructors are local men and women who make the famed foods for the Bologna restaurants.

And NO! Bolognese Ragu is NOT tomato sauce with hamburger meat! What Heresy! What an abomination! Any cook that could call "ground hamburger meat sauce" a Bolognese sauce should be run out of town!--Or at least barred from further cooking anything Italian in a kitchen!

Ragus are BIG sauces! By that I mean They're big on flavor! -They're big on aromas! They're big on creating unforgettable memories! And they're big -or special-enough- for very special occasions! --Perfect to be served as a special meal for your favorite friends and families during the holidays and for special events!

I started with the traditional true Bolognese Ragu recipe that we learned in Italy and altered it by using ingredients available here on the Central Coast. Yes, we are still a bit behind the East Coast in some specialty items shipped from Italy. For instance, the traditional recipe calls for pancetta. We personally prefer proscuitto over the pancetta for its fresher flavor. Local pancetta -when available, tastes very gamey and is a much heavier-tasting meat than the Italian version. In moderation in other recipes, pancetta is great, but not when you're doing a "crescendo" of balancing subtle flavors for one of the world's best ragus!

So what makes a "true Ragu?" The first and foremost quality that ALL TRUE ragus have, is that they're all very slowly simmered over a medium-low heat for at least two- three hours or more. So this is one recipe that you shouldn't rush!

Turn on the radio or stereo, get some mellow seasonal tunes on, roll-up your sleeves and enjoy the whole process -the great recipe, the wonderfully-fresh meats and fresh aromatic vegetables and spices. --Put your love into it! It'll show in the final product! But DON'T rush it! The longer a true ragu simmers, the better and more complex will be the taste! It's not uncommon for Italian cooks letting their ragus cook all day, with an occasional stir and fine-tuning of the spices!

A true ragu usually begins by using a trito of aromatic vegetables such as diced onion, carrots and celery-parsley sauteed in Olive or Canola oil until softened and lightly translucent to become the basis to build the ragu. Then one adds the different meats and slowly simmers together.

One usually deglazes the meats and aromatic vegetables with a good wine. What type of wine is dependent upon the type of meat you're using. Next, a broth, milk or cream is added and merged together with the meat-trito foundation. Depending upon the type of meat you're cooking, you can add a little tomato or other ingredient to enlarge the flavor and texture of the sauce.

The Bologonese Ragu recipe combines a basic trito of carrots, celery and onion, cooked in canola oil. One doesn't use extra virgin olive oil as is customary, because you're using subtle flavors to merge into one dynamic creation, and olive oils can be a little strong and might interfere with the flavors.

After the trito is softened and starting to get some soul, you add the prosciutto, then pork and veal and simmer for a several minutes. Then you deglaze with a good white wine such as a Fume' Blanc --one that you would want to drink!--And cook the wine liquid down a bit.

Next comes the drained canned whole tomatoes, that have been coarsely chopped --but not too many- you do NOT want it to be a "tomato-sauce!".

©2012 The Romantic Table 2012-12-23 23:55:29:350
©2012 The Romantic Table

Braised Quail is a real show-stopper for when you want to serve something very special and elegant.
Seasoning is next --just a bit because it WILL intensify!"- with salt, freshly cracked Black Pepper and a dash or so of quality ground nutmeg. Then let it simmer on very low at least for 2- 2 1/2 hours, covered, stirring occasionally until the sauce starts to thicken.

Now I know many of you out there know that I prefer "consumer-friendly recipes." I acknowledge that this recipe DOES require more effort! But My God! The intensity of this sauce is ageless and memorable! And if you're smart --and calculating as I am, you make enough to make several meals--it freezes (as most ragus do) beautifully! So I rationalize the time, effort and expense.

You will too once you taste it!

We have three other spectacular TRUE ragus: Duck Ragu , Lamb Ragu , and Venison Ragu with Soft Polenta also in our recipe list. I LOVE ALL these too! If I had to choose my favorite -I don't know if I could! Each one has its merits for its particular "in-season" time of year.- All three have wondrous merits!

The Duck Ragu is so delicious with its thyme, basil and fennel spices! The Venison Ragu is out of the world delicious as well as unusual, using cloves, cinnamon and rosemary as its spices. But for novices to try first, you can't beat the Lamb Ragu! It's a simpler recipe to put together, with less clean-up, as well as more straight-forward to make using more conventional techniques and spicing of garlic, rosemary, Italian parsley and crushed red pepper

Our other "BIG-FLAVORED" entree with eye-appeal is our Braised Quail Hunter Style. This is a real show-stopper when you want to serve something very special and elegant. We made this for our 40th Anniversary celebration this year.

©2012 The Romantic Table, Acorn Squash and Pappardelle with a Sage Parmesan Cream Sauce 2012-12-29 19:53:25:351
©2012 The Romantic Table

Acorn Squash and Pappardelle with a Sage Parmesan Cream Sauce is a very mellow pasta dish made with cooked and lightly sauteed chunks of acorn squash served with a wide noodle like papparadelle.
If you're lucky enough to have a hunter-friend that goes quail-hunting, and gives you a few of the catch, you might be able to make it with fresh quail. But otherwise, there are a few good American companies that fast-freeze their farmed-quail after cleaning so all you have to do is to defrost it and braise it gently in wine. We especially love to serve this on grilled polenta--very showy indeed! --And Oh! so good!

Now this is a case where I do use the local pancetta, but not in a traditional way. Traditionally the little birds are roasted individually wrapped in pancetta. I prefer to brown the quail then slowly braise the quail in wine, diced pancetta with a little bit of smoked bacon and shallot as my base. The smoked bacon gives the recipe a little bit of a campfire aroma in tribute to our hunters -even if they "bagged" little birds at the local supermarket!

For a pasta we offer you Acorn Squash with A Butter and Parmesan Sage Sauce. One of my all-time friends-relatives sent us a fabulous butternut-squash infused Pappardelle pasta for our 40th Anniversary --and we LOVE the taste of butternut squash! So I got my brain working thinking how best to use this fantastic pasta. My thoughts couldn't help but think of another one of my favorite recipes - Cappallacci de Zucca with Butter-Walnut Sage Sauce. and my first instinct was that I could use this pasta, with this new sauce to create the same flavors with half the work! --And my instincts were right! This is a delicious sauce--especially when teamed-up with the right pasta! This is a very mellow pasta dish made with cooked and lightly sauteed chunks of acorn squash served with a wide noodle like papparadelle. The acorn squash gives the pasta a sweet slightly nutty taste with goes very well with the sage spice of the sauce.

Most grocery-stores have Acorn Squash available most of the year-though Fall and Winter, they're at their peak flavor. This combination makes a delightful meal when one's abstaining due to religious or health reasons such as Christmas Eve's dinner prior to the Christmas Day feast. --When ever you serve this, it's so good and is certain to get raves from your guests!

Enjoy your cool weather!

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A tip from Sue!

No cheese on seafood please!

When serving an Italian seafood dish, unless the recipe specifically calls for cheese, grated Parmesan cheese on top is not a good idea!

The pungent taste of Parmesan is usually too strong for the delicate fish flavors.