The history of Italian cuisine spans centuries and cultures: from Greek to Roman, Byzantine to Jewish, past to present. This diversity is reflected in the richness of the regional Italian cuisines, which are handed down from generation to generation.
The foundation of Italian cuisine is the use of fresh, high quality products. In fact, many typical ingredients (such as parmesan, olive oil, ham and mozzarella) are certified internationally as DOP, or “Protected Designation of Origin”—a certification which ensures that the food is made by local farmers and artisans and is locally grown using traditional methods. The red and yellow insignia is a symbol of the Italian dedication to culinary excellence.
Many dishes are prepared differently in the various regions, and represent the local identity. The recipe for the most famous sauce for pasta, the ragù, is debated in many regions, in particular Emilia Romagna in Northern Italy (ragù alla Bolognese) and Campania in Southern Italy(ragù alla Napoletana). Ragù is a delicious minced meat sauce that is obtained by leaving the ingredients to cook on a sweet fire for many hours, which gives the meat the necessary time to absorb the sauce to its full flavor. Ragú is used as the basis for many traditional pastas including tagliatelle, fettuccine, gnocchi, lasagne and cannelloni.
My favourite ragù is ragú bianco, a white sauce without tomatoes especially well-known in Umbria and Emilia Romagna. My mother taught me how to cook it when I was a child, and it has always been one of my favourite dishes. When I left my family to study and work abroad, I had no choice but to learn how to make it by myself. Now, when I host Italian dinners with friends and classmates in Cambridge, the ragù bianco is one of the dishes I love to cook (and eat) the most!
For us Italians, preparing meals is more than necessity: it is the pleasure of sharing and communion with the people in our lives. From the selection of ingredients, to the preparation of dishes, meals represent a ritual—an act of love—that makes cooking and eating together the ultimate expression of communication, affection and unity.
This pandemic has made expressing that love in person more difficult. So instead, for my HKS family, I present it here.
Ingredients for 4 people
- 250 grams minced beef
- 150 grams pork sausage
- 200 grams bacon
- 500 grams pasta
- 2 celery sticks
- 2 carrots
- One small onion
- 50 grams unsalted butter
- Glass of white wine
- Glass of extra virgin olive oil
- 4 sprigs of rosemary
- 6 sage leaves
- 2 laurel/bay leaves
- Black pepper
- Water or broth (about 500mL)
- Parmesan cheese
- In a frying pan, heat the olive oil and add celery and carrots, finely chopped.
- Add the chopped onion and mix. Let it cook for a few minutes on low heat.
- Then add the rosemary and the finely cut sage leaves. Also add the whole laurel leaves.
- Cut the bacon into little cubes and brown it together with the vegetables, mixing them with a spatula.
- Cut the sausage lengthwise with a small knife and remove the outer casing. Crumble the sausage and add it to the mixture of vegetables and bacon, mixing with a spatula.
- Add the minced beef, and the white wine.
- Continue cooking on medium heat
- When the wine has evaporated, season with salt and pepper, add the butter and cook over low heat for about two hours, adding water or broth as necessary.
- After two or three hours the ragù is ready. Please note that it should not be too liquidy.
- Cook the pasta (about 500g for 4 people) al dente and transfer it directly to the frying pan with the meat sauce.
- Add parmesan cheese and serve.
The ragù can be kept in the refrigerator for 3 days, or it can be frozen. It is particularly good with fresh pasta, such as tagliatelle or fettuccine, but I also love it with a pasta called “ruote pazze” (crazy wheel) from the Benedetto Cavalieri Mill and Pasta Factory. Ruote pazze is a type of pasta that resembles thick little wheels with spokes, made with durum wheat.