Ragu Alla Bolognese del mio Zio – Bolognese Sauce

Spaghetti Bolognese

Everybody has their own version of Bolognese, or Ragu as we call it in my house.  My recipe, handed down from three generations, stays true to my uncle Gianni’s version.  As I’ve mentioned before, my family is from Ferrara and Bologna, the food capital of Italy.  With such amazing products as Parmigiano, Mortadella, Balsamic Vinegar, Tortellini and Ravioli coming from my region, Emilia-Romagna, it indeed is a wonderful place to visit and have family!

One of my first food memories is Ragu, my mother made it every week, and when I met my uncle in 1986, I also tasted his version, passed down to him from his mother, who owned a restaurant in a little town outside of Bologna.  Cut to 26 years later, I now make it very often, because alas, it is my daughter’s favorite (along with Carbonara).  So needless to say, I can make this with my eyes closed.

There is something so comforting to me about Ragu.  Just the cooking process screams comfort, and time-honored tradition.  I like to use a mix of pork and veal, pancetta, and white wine.  And I let it simmer for three hours or more, if I have the time.  As my uncle explained to me, his mother taught him how to make this when he was 12 years old, and said, start out on a large flame, and keep moving it to smaller, and smaller flames so it can simmer delicately for hours.  And the smells wafting from the kitchen….divine.  For me, it always tastes better than next day, when the flavors have fully developed, but my daughter can’t wait to have it the moment it’s done.

Ragu Bolognese

It seems like a daunting long process, but actually, once you are done with the preparation, all you have to do is sit back and let it bubble, and just enjoy the warmth in your kitchen like I do.

Ragu alla Bolognese

2 slices pancetta, minced

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, minced finely

1 large carrot, minced finely or grated

1 celery rib (0ptional….some people don’t like the taste) minced finely

1 heaping tbsp tomato paste

1 garlic clove, with skin

300 g ground veal (or 600 g ground veal if you don’t eat pork)

300 g ground pork

1 large glass white wine (if you don’t have white, or it’s really cold, you can add red)

425 ml pureed tomatoes

4 cups beef stock

Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, over medium low heat, warm up your olive oil.  Add the pancetta, onion, carrot and celery (if using).  Add the salt and  cook for about 10-15 minutes, until softened and translucent.  Add the tomato paste, garlic and mix well.  Cook for another 5 minutes, to let it caramelize.  Add the veal and pork, raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring constantly to break it up and make sure it cooks through.  Add the wine, and let it reduce, stirring to remove all the brown bits, about 8-10 minutes.

When the wine is completely reduced, add the tomatoes and beef stock, mix well.  Let it come to a boil, let boil for about 5 minutes, and lower the heat to medium low, and cook covered for about 30 minutes.  Switch it to your lowest flame, uncover, and let simmer for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.  Adjust the seasonings, and add the fresh cracked pepper.

Let cool and refrigerate overnight so that the flavors meld.  If you can’t wait, by all means, serve it up over your favorite pasta.  Mine is tagliatelle or pappardelle, but over spaghetti is perfect, or rigatoni.  It is also heavenly in Lasagna or cannelloni.  Or you can reduce it further to use it as a filling for ravioli, which would be the Brasato filling (braised beef).

 

From my zio’s kitchen to yours,

Carla

Naples Pt. 3 – PIZZA PIZZA PIZZA…..AND MORE PIZZA!

Brandi Pizzeria Naples Italy

Mind you, that was NOT the pizza we ate.  I am sure that one was good too, though.

Our main quest in Napoli, was to eat pizza.  Yes, I know it’s a shallow quest, not like searching for the Holy Grail, but it was OUR Holy Grail!!!

Our first day we wanted to go to Gino Sorbillo, which had been recommended to us by the hotel.  After wandering aimlessly up and down the street (passing it a few times, mind you, and this was something of a recurrence on our trip) we finally found it, super excited because we had been told it was THE BEST pizza in Naples.  It was closed.  For two weeks.  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!  No problem, there are about 75,000 pizza places in Napoli.

Our next stop, either Da Michele or Di Matteo.  We had read about both in the guide-book, but we chose Di Matteo because of proximity.  Honestly, we walked right past this place and had not the guy at the door showed us where to go in, we would have missed it.  A very small and unassuming place, no frills, no fuss.  Just paper napkins, plastic cups and a fork and knife.  I wanted to try the original, the Margherita, to have a base on what to make my further decisions on.  But, I couldn’t help ordering it with Bufala mozzarella.  Paolo chose to have the 4 Stagioni, with black olives, artichokes, ham and mushrooms.  Normal mozzarella too.

Pizzeria Di Matteo

Bufala mozzarella Margherita

 

Pizzeria Di Matteo

4 Stagioni Pizza

 

Oh, my, God.  What a pizza!  This is not your crispy- crust- like- the- rest- of- Italy- Pizza.  This is the original, soft, chewy dough, fluffier crust.  You can like it better or not, but either way, this is the real deal.  The tomato sauce was to die for, and needless to say, my Bufala mozzarella was just sublime.  And at 4 euros……I think that is a steal!   This was definitely a contender, a pizza to mark all other pizza’s we had by.  My score: 9 out of 10

The next pizza, was only had by Paolo.  That was my, I’m going to be good day.  (Mind you it only lasted a day.)  We went close to our hotel, to a place called O’Munaciello.  There, Paolo decided he wanted to have the Alla Diavola, which had a spicy pepperoni on it.

 

Ristorante O'Munaciello

Diavola Pizza

 

This was good, but by no means the best.  The crust was slightly thicker and puffier.  It really reminded me of American pizza’s, in that sense.  It was good, but as you can see, the cheese was kind of plopped in the middle, and the pepperoni was a bit dry after being in the oven.  I would give it a 6 out of 10.

Our next pizza venture was at a place called Matozzi.   Not to be confused with Matozzi Ristorante Europa, which apparently is very expensive, this was on a small square on Via Toledo.  We sat outside, and ordered our pizza’s, Paolo choosing now the Bufala mozzarella with cherry tomatoes, and I chose the 4 Stagioni.  Ok, so the problems started really early in this place.  Paolo received his pizza and beer in like 5 minutes, and I was still waiting for my water.  We asked the waiter several times, but he kept on blaming the pizzaiolo, which also turned out to be the owner of the restaurant.  So, they finally brought my water out five minutes later, but they had forgotten to make my pizza.  You know those cartoons when steam is coming out of someone’s ears?  Well, that is me when I am hungry.  And I was VERY hungry.  But I played it cool.   So I finally got my pizza, but Paolo was done with his.  So much for eating together.

Ristorante Pizzeria Matozzi Via Toledo

Bufala and Cherry Tomato Pizza

 

Ristorante Pizzeria Matozzi Via Toledo

4 Stagioni

 

The pizza was good.  But not my favorite, by far.  The ham was great, it had a wonderful smoky flavor, but there wasn’t enough cheese, and too much crust.  And since I think they forgot about it in the oven again, it was a bit burnt.  So, for that, 5 out of 10.

Our last night there, a taxi driver asked us if we had eaten pizza, and we started to list off all the places where we had been.  He said to us, that we couldn’t leave without trying Pizzeria Brandi, which is the birthplace of the Pizza Margherita, 150 years ago.  Well….obviously we didn’t want to miss that!

The next day, off we went, not really expecting too much.  I mean, a pizza is a pizza is a pizza.  Whoa Nelly.  We were so wrong.  Ok, the place already was great.  Real tablecloths.  AIR CONDITIONING.  Oh, yeah, a singer too.  The pizza’s were slightly more expensive, the basic ones starting out at 7 euros, but that is still darn cheap in my book.  So Paolo and I ordered a variation on one of our favorite Pizza’s, that is the Rucola and Prosciutto.  The difference was, his had cherry tomatoes, mine had bufala mozzarella.  So, we get our pizza’s, take the first bite………….

Pizzeria Brandi Naples Italy

 

Pizzeria Brandi Naples Italy

 

We both looked up at each other and made all sorts of silly faces, those that you do when your mouth is full and you know you are tasting the most amazing thing.  HOLY. COW.  THIS IS PIZZA.  THIS IS PIZZA HEAVEN.  PIZZA PERFECTION.  PIZZA….ok, ok, you get the point.  10 out of 10.  (just had to add that in)

You ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE TO GOTTA BETTER get yourself to Pizzeria Brandi on Via Chiaia in Naples.  If you don’t, your trip will be wasted.  Ok, maybe you aren’t a pizza nut like us and you came here for the art.  But, if you remotely like pizza…..YOU MUST COME HERE!!!!!  I wish I could teletransport myself there now.  The first picture is the both of us congratulating the Pizzaiolo.  They were so pleased that some waiters and staff got into the picture too.

So, that is our quest for pizza.  And we found it.  THE HOLY GRAIL OF PIZZAS.

Tomorrow my friends, I am hopping on a plane, destination…..Miami, my birthplace!  So, I will be posting some local delicacies from there!

See you on the other side of the Atlantic!

Carla

 

 

Naples and The Amalfi Coast Pt. 2

Neapolitan Food

Eating in Italy is a religious experience.  Eating in Campania, well…..let’s just say it is one of a kind.  What is great about the food in Naples and it’s surroundings you say?  Wellllllll…….Let’s start off with the basics.  Tomatoes.  The best tomatoes in the world come from this area.  Namingly, the “Pommodori di San Marzano”

Tomatoes, Italy, Campania, San Marzano

This is the queen bee of sauce tomatoes.  Much like the roma, or plum, it is slightly longer and thinner, and juicy so perfect for that “Marinara” sauce on your pizza, or pasta.

Then there’s “Mozzarella di Bufala”.  This also hails from this region.  Delicious, sometimes tangy taste of pure Buffalo milk.

Mozzarella Cheese, Bufala, Italy, Campania

And then of course there’s “Pasta di Grangnano  trafilata al Bronzo”…..which is basically, excuse my home region of Emilia-Romagna, the best dry pasta, or Pasta Asciutta, your money can buy.

Faella, Pasta, Grangnano, Italy, Campania

And of course, I cannot forget all the seafood.  From squid, mussels, clams, octopus, and the queen of the sea, Ricciola, or Greater Amber Jack as we would call it.

But there is also the lemons….to make Limoncello, Granita, Salads, Lemonade……it is really a rich and diverse food basket that serves all of Italy, and the world.

Well, you know that one of the main reasons I went there was to eat.  So eat we did.  Here is the best of the best that we found in Napoli and around!

Our first night we were basically directed by a young lad to try “Oste Pazzo” restaurant, near the Lungomare and right below the “Castell dell’ Ovo”.

The waiters basically harassed (well, not too much, I mean, in terms of food you really don’t have to push me too far) to try the “Antipasto Tipico Napoletano”  This was basically comprised of a few octopus and squid salads with the typical “Fritti misti di pesce”.  That is mixed fried seafood.  I love me some fried food.  And it was awesome.

Fried Mixed Seafood, Italy, Naples

On the left is fried baby squid, quite like what we get here in Spain, but they were absolutely tiny and tender, and the batter was crazy good, crunchy, just a tad spicy, perfect.  In the middle we had two fritters with “neonati”, basically little fish in a delicious parsley spiked batter.  And on the right, fried white anchovies.  Paolo, my sweetie, wasn’t a big fan of these, he thought it was too fishy.  I however, loved it.  Something about munching on these, or any anchovy, is truly delicious.

Next up on the friend band wagon, is the Arancini.  I love arancini, and have featured them before on my blog.  But I have always eaten the Sicilian variety.  Never had I tried the Neapolitan ones.

Arancini, Fried Rice Balls, Italy, NapoliOn the left is the anemic looking “Arancino Bianco”, or white arancino, and on the right is the, you guessed it, “Arancino Rosso”, red arancino.  I was in for a huge surprise.  What looked like the bland, plain white arancino, turned out to be the tastiest one!  The white one stuffed with a pork sausage type of filling, and the rice was chock full of pepper and cheese.  It was absolutely amazing.  The red one, on the other hand, was more balanced, but also, less flavourful.  It is red because they cooked the rice with tomato sauce, and then it stuffed with a tomato meat sauce.  Both were delicious, but the white one won!

Neapolitans love their fried food.  Nary a street corner or restaurant menu that wasn’t filled with these guilty pleasures! Even for breakfast.  Upon arriving to the hotel we were instructed to go to a café called “Scaturchio”, a hundred year old café that has some pretty amazing pastries, and Napoli’s most famous, the Sfogliata.  Sfogliata is a filo-type pastry filled with sweet ricotta and candied fruits.  And one of the bonuses, is it’s served warm!

Scaturchio, Pastries, Naples, Italy

The pastry selection at Scaturchio

Sfogliata Pastry

Sfogliata Pastry from Scaturchio

It was delicious!  Crispy and buttery on the outside, warm, dense and moist on the inside.  Perfectly warm, so all you had to do was enjoy it without letting a drop of the ricotta fall!

In Capri, I mentioned we had a lunch with a view.  But obviously one of the things I wanted to eat in Capri was the Caprese Salad…..I mean, that is its birthplace!  So simple, but let me tell you, it was the best Caprese I have ever had.

Caprese SaladGorgeous, juicy, vine ripe “Cuore di Bue” tomatoes, with perfect spheres of “Mozzarella di Bufala”, accompanied only by a bit of rucola, extra virgin olive oil, and some salt and freshly cracked pepper.  Perfection on a plate!

We also enjoyed the “Insalata di Polipo con Agrumi”.  Octopus salad with citrus fruits.  This dish was made for summer in Naples.  Meaty, tender octopus bathed in lemon juice.  So refreshing for the unbearable heat!

Octopus salad with lemon dressingPaolo decided to go for the pasta, which was equally delicious, but I was trying to be “good” that day.  He had a very typical pasta that I have only tasted on this trip, called Sciallatielle.  This is a thick, flat, medium long noodle.  This pasta had been made fresh that day, and topped with Shrimp and cherry tomato sauce.

Sciallatielle Pasta with ShrimpThe shrimp in Naples are less briny than our mediterranean counterparts, equally delicious, but sweeter, and it complements the absolute star of this dish, the tomatoes.  Bursting with flavor!

Now the dessert here at Punta Tragara deserves special mention.  I was not very impressed by the title, Almond Crumble with Limoncello pastry cream.  But Holy Moses!!!!!  What an incredible dessert it is!  It is part lemon meringue, part lemon curd, part cheesecake crust!  All topped with the most beautiful and colorful summer berries.

Almond crumble with Limoncello Pastry Cream

In Positano, we went to a restaurant called “Le Tre Sorelle” that a friend of mine recommended.  It was a perfect beach-side lunch.  Although, Paolo chose the better (in terms of beachy-ness) option, but I just couldn’t be that close to Sorrento and not have “Gnocchi alla Sorrentina” which has to be one of my favorite dishes in the world.

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina is gnocchi with a tomato and mozzarella sauce.  But this was definitely the best I have tasted.  Again, it comes down to the tomatoes my friends……I am having withdrawal symptoms already.

Paolo ordered the fish, with an “Aqua Pazza” Sauce.  The fish was perfectly cooked, fork tender and juicy.  Again….with amazing tomatoes and this time, potatoes!

Fish with Aqua PazzaThe presentation is gorgeous too, I have to say.

 

Oh my goodness….I can’t believe I forgot our starter at Tre Sorelle…..Zucchini Flowers stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto.  Just sublime.  I mean, it doesn’t get any better than this lunch.  Until the next one I guess.  Ok, I am a sucker, they are all really good.

Zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and prosciutto

 

And on our last night, we went uphill in one of Naples’ ritzier and more residential areas to a restaurant called “La Sacrestia”.  The menu looked amazing, the views were breathtaking, of the bay and Vesuvius.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of the view, because the sun had already set….but here’s one so you can imagine!

Bay of Naples Also unfortunately, the restaurant was due to close the next day for holidays, so they didn’t have many of the dishes on the menu.  One of the dishes I wanted to eat was the Ricciola, the fish I had spoken about before.  But instead, they brought out a little tasting dish of pasta that really amazed me!  And I ended up recreating it at home.  I was really, really surprised because when they described it, it just sounded, well, blah.  It was Pasta with Mussels, Cherry tomatoes, Pepperoncino and Pecorino.

I loved it.  Obviously, the ingredients are the best of the best, so why bother adding more things that are unnecessary?  Gorgeous.

Well kids, I hope you enjoyed my culinary extravaganza of a trip through Campania.  Tomorrow…….PIZZA!

Carla

 

 

Naples and The Amalfi Coast Pt. 1

Napoli, Historic City Center, Campania, Italy, Streets

La Bella Napoli

Napoli.  What can I say?  A city full of contradictions.  A true diamond in the rough.  Behind every scruffy door, lies a sparkling interior.  A city with hundreds of years of history, all layered on top of each other, like a rickety tower of Jenga.  It is a mystery, and we barely scratched the surface.

Naples, Italy, Historic City Center

Flanked by the bounty of the Gulf, and the destructiveness of Vesuvius, it is a city that has a weathered, hardened appearance, that is visible on the locals faces.  Fiercely proud of their heritage, Neapolitans welcome you but they also take advantage of you.  I guess it is just second nature, being that it has been settled, conquered, pillaged, brought down yet somehow, it still manages to survive.  To stay strong.  And to stay true to their nature, whatever it may be.

Naples, Campania, Italy, Vesuvius, Lungomare

Lungomare with Vesuvius in the background

Napoli is a city that begs you to discover it.  We, obviously tried, but it will take many, many trips to truly get down to its true heart and soul.  After having said that, I think we did a pretty good job of traipsing around as much as we could with our limited time.  In 5 full days, we ate our way through Campania, ferried to Capri, miraculously survived driving out of the city and the “Blue Ribbon Drive” to Positano, and transported ourselves 1,933 years to witness the tragic glory of Pompeii.  Not bad for a 5 day sojourn, huh?

Our first day was dedicated to seeing the sights in the city, since our flight landed at 7:30 am, and we arrived at the hotel an hour later, and our room would not be ready until 12.  Tired and bleary eyed, we did our best to walk the streets and take in all the sights.  It was shocking, at best, and sometimes downright nerve-racking.  A total chaos of vendors, scooters packed with people whizzing in between us, tourists, kids playing ball, it was all too much to take in that early morning!  But throughout our trip we became experts at crossing roads, managing the chaos of the streets, and even driving.

Naples, Napoli, Campania, Italy, City CenterOn our second day, we escaped the heat of the city and took a ferry to Capri.  Oh wow.  I have no words for how beautiful this little island is.  It is a rocky, flower filled, spectacular little outpost in the Gulf of Naples.  Meandering through the tiny streets of Capri Town, I felt immediately overwhelmed by its natural beauty.  Impossible cliffs rising out of the azure waters, houses perched on teeny ledges, and flowers flowers flowers everywhere!  We wanted to see the Faraglioni, and ended up having lunch at a hotel, and then sneaking into their pool!

Capri, Italy

Capri, Shopping, Italy

Crowded streets in Capri Town

 

Capri, Italy, Faraglioni

Capri, Italy, Hotels

Capri, Italy, Flowers

Capri, Italy, Hotel Punta Tragara

Hotel Punta Tragara Swimming Pool

 

Capri, Italy

The third day, we needed to escape from the heat, again.  When I said Pamplona was hot, I didn’t know what hot really was.  This was 2 steps closer to hell!  I have never sweat so much in my entire life, and we needlessly parked way up in Positano, and had to take about a million stairs to get down to the beach.  I wasn’t happy until we were in the water, where we languidly dreamed of a swim up bar in the middle of the ocean.  The jet set on their yachts sure know what they are doing, let me tell you.  But we had a wonderful day nonetheless!

Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Sorrento, Amalfi Coast

Lemons, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Now THAT is a lemon!

 

Vendor, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Granita and Chilli Pepper Vendor on the street

 

Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Positano

Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Positano, Beach, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Beach time in Positano

Our second to last day, we decided to go to Pompeii.  How amazing.  How vast.  How HOT.  Again.  But it was just so amazing being able to walk these streets that have remained intact for almost 2000 years.  If you can get to Naples, you must visit Pompeii.

Pompeii, Campania, Italy, Vesuvius

Pompeii, Medusa, Frescoes, Italy, Campania

A fresco of Medusa in the House Of Meneandro

Pompeii, Italy, Campania

The inner garden of the House of Meneandro

Pompeii, Campania, Italy

Villa of Mysteries, Villa dei Misteri, Affreschi, Frescoes, Pompeii, Italy, Campania

One of the well-preserved frescoes in the Villa of Mysteries

Vesuviues, Pompeii, Campania, Italy

Vesuvius

Tomorrow, I will post about our top food moments……and I have decided to dedicate a complete post to our quest for the perfect Pizza….we had a REALLY good time doing that!

I hope that my pictures can transmit to you the wonder that is Napoli and the Amalfi Coast.  Amazing 5 days!

Carla