Like any good fella with OCD I try to be thorough. In addition to trying to understand the science and mechanics of cooking I have been fascinated by the history of food, particularly sauces.
Over the weekend I engaged in a conversation with a blogging buddy about Sauce Bolognese. She commented that the only must haves are chicken livers and cream. My contention was that pancetta and dairy were the only essentials. So. That tete’ de tete’ got me to thinking. Maybe I was wrong. Most of my info was from long ago readings and conversations I had with older cooks. I went back through my older books ( the ones I have still ) and the notebooks I could find and the inter net. What I determined was there is a whole bunch of disparate recipes for this one classic sauce from Northern Italy.
First thing I must say is Italy is just like most nations. Authentic cooking is not a recipe card you find from Betty Crocker. It covers a big area with different climates and different resources.
Back on topic. As far as I can tell the first written recipe of this sauce was by Pellegino Artusi in a book he authored in 1891. Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Living Well. Sometime in the 1980’s the Italian Academy of Cuisine translated and published a copy in the US. That is how I discovered it. I had a copy, but lost it. Amazon has it for $35. My copy cost maybe 8 bucks. I think he just called for minced beef and pork and a sofrito. The sofrito is a mixture of fine diced onion, celery and carrot. Culinary folks would call it a mirepoix. I have made this sauce a bunch of times. For personal use and for dinner service at various joints. For the most part my take on this comes from contemporary cookbooks and anecdote. Meaning I have talked with a bunch of cooking folks, both pro and amateur. This weekend I did peruse the ether world and determined that there is a bunch of different ways to build this dish.
So to the “bottom” line. Northern Italy is about beef and pig and dairy. So dairy should be a component to Bolognese. Some say cream, some say whole milk. Pancetta is almost a must, in my opinion. Beef and veal is considered appropriate, but also ground pork. The important thing is the cutting of the stuff. The pancetta should be 1/4 diced, the other meat should be minced as well as the veggies. The whole idea is to meld all the ingredients into a seamless taste. The fat used varies from olive oil to butter to lard. The pancetta should be crisp as should be the sofrito. After the minced meat is added a good beef stock as well as a good wine should be added and reduced a bit at a time. This sauce ain’t no 30 minute meal. The tomato is a secondary yet essential ingredient. The amount is small compared to some Italian recipes. You can use canned paste or peel and seed and reduce your own. As for the dairy that is added at the end. As for seasoning nutmeg is almost obligatory anything else is up to you. When it comes to the liver that is really an enrichment component. Liver is a rich addition to any sauce. The use is similar to the use of anchovy. In either event the livers should be cooked independent of the sauce. For what it is worth. I don’t always use chicken livers, but when I do I poach them in the same stock or wine I am using. Then either pulverize them in a processor or, if you want to be rustic use a mortar and pestle with a bit of poaching liquid and coarse salt.
Well I think I have abused this moment. You can find different recipes everywhere on the inter net. So go for it.