Sunday, 21 November 2010

Foodie Experience#1: There's no such Thing as Italian Food and Ragu Alla Nonna!!

First of all, thanks to everyone for the lovely comments.
I do intend on going back to Italy over and over again, and the experience will always stay with me.

On the plus side, Iloveflavourme Jr has never been so happy and that in itself made the move well worth it.

Before I start sharing my foodie experiences in Italy, allow me to add a small disclaimer:
These are the accounts of my experiences. They are totally subjective and are solely a reflection of what I experienced while living in Modena, from a Brit's point of view.
You might agree or disagree and any comments are most welcome as I would like to know about your views and experiences too!

Also I will endevour to post on my Italian Foodie Experiences every Sunday so I do hope you come back for more!

Now on with my First Foodie experience in Italy or to be more precise, a lesson that changed my perspective on Italian Food for life.

Picture this, here's me an amateur foodie about to board the plane to Modena, Italy. Daydreaming about luscious seafood dishes, pasta covered in sumptuous vegetable sauces and a whole array of Mediterranean dishes to taste over and over again to my heart's content!

Having experienced the Mediterranean Diet, first hand, after living in Spain and Portugal, I expected something similar from the Italian cuisine.
Little did I know what I was about to experience.

You see, for those of you who are not familiar with Italian history-I wasn't!-you would be right to assume that Italy has always been one nation.
In fact, Italy is a very young nation! 149 years old to be more precise!

Italy was, up until 1861 divided into many regions that were ruled independently. It was also under the domination of the Austrians, amongst many others, in the North and of the Spanish in the south.

Why is this relevant, you may ask. Well this would explain the reason why, upon arriving in Modena, I realised for the first time in my life, that there is no such thing as Italian food!

Because these regions had been independent for so long and had had so many foreign influences, they developed their own cuisine and style of cooking independently too.
You can say there is Bolognese food, Parma food, Venetian food, Sicilian food, Caprese food...the list is as long as the number of regions.
In fact, variations in the recipes even change within the region, from town to town, village to village and even family to family.

There are of course some common threads. Most pasta dishes start with a soffritto base-finely chopped garlic, carrots, onions and celery-but even this can change and many people choose to omit one or two of the basic ingredients according to taste.

Another interesting fact is that most of the dishes adapted in the States, are based in the cuisine from the South of Italy rather than the North.
You see the cuisine in the South of Italy was inspired by their Spanish influence and is the Italian adaptation of the Mediterranean Diet.

And this is precisely what I expected upon arriving in Modena. Little did I know that Modena was in fact the land of Pork and Cheese.
Yes, hardly any fish or vegetables...

Pork is the meat of choice and cured in many different ways. Such as the famous Parma Ham
and Mortadella
 And of course the cheese, no Grana Padano here, only the best Parmigiano Reggiano is allowed.

These are all local products of course.
The Italians are fiercely proud of their regional products and base all of their local cuisine on these.
I rarely came across a Chinese takeaway, and there was only one Indian restaurant in the whole of Modena.
Their fast food of choice (and they would hang me for calling it fast food) is Pizza-almost as thin as paper-and Tigelle.

Over the 9 months I spent in Modena, I learned a lot about the regional food-Emilia-Romagna-and how to make delicious ragu and pasta dishes.
I learnt very little about Italian food but learned to appreciate the love they have for all that is local and regional and how to make the most of it.

Guess I will just have to go back and learn some more abut the other regions! Any excuse!!!

Now on with the most controversial dish of the region: Ragu Bolognese.
There are so many variations from family to family it is hard to pin down the one recipe!

After having tried many different versions, I found the one, I share here with you as the most delicious!!

The recipe was given to me by my friend's mother and although it is takes some time and effort I can assure you it's incredibly creamy and flavourful.
My friend's mum also gave me a few tips I shall share with you.

Use only Pork mince-it really does give it another dimension of flavour.
The sauce is ready when you can stand your spoon in it.
And most importantly, do not use too many tomatoes. It's supposed to be a meat sauce not a Tomato sauce.

Since this is her version of Ragu Bolognese, I decided to call it Ragu alla Nonna, because, after all the one thing I learned is that there is no such thing as Italian food, there is food that the Italian Family makes!

Thank you Nonna Bosi!!



500 gs of minced pork
100mls of extra virgin olive oil
1 finely chopped celery stick
1 finely chopped medium onion
1 finely chopped carrot
3 minced cloves of garlic
(you could use a food processor to chop all of the above)
1 or 2 bay leaves
250gs of chopped pancetta or smoked bacon
100mls of full fat milk 
200mls of white wine (I prefer it to red as its lighter)
200mls of passata or one tin of chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
100 gs of grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Pasta of your choice (Linguine holds the sauce better than spaghetti. It's traditionally served with taglietelle))
Freshly grated parmigiano to serve


1. Heat the oil in a Large Pot or frying pan over a medium heat. Add the pancetta and fry gently until slightly crisp.
Add your chopped onion, celery and carrot and fry for another 3 minutes until soft.
Add your garlic and fry for another 2 minutes.
 2-Add your Pork mince and break apart with your spoon whilst browning it. Fry until all the mince has browned.
Add your glass of milk-it softens the meat and adds creaminess.
Cook on a low heat until all the milk has disappeared-15 to 20 minutes
Add your wine and bay leaf and cook until all the wine has evaporated-about 20 mins.
3.Add your passata, 100gs of grated Parmigiano and season to taste. 
4.Lower the heat, cover the pot/frying pan and cook for 2 hours or until you can stand your spoon in the sauce.
It should look like this:
Cook your pasta for 2 minutes under the recommended time. Reserve some of the pasta water aside.
Pour the pasta into the sauce, mix it well, add the water, cover and cook  on a very low heat for 3 minutes.
This will allow the pasta to absorb all the sauce. 
Serve immediately with Lots of Parmigiano.
Buono Appetito!!

Spaghetti Bolognese on Foodista


  1. A personel childhood favorite of mine that reminds me of the most cherished memories! I so love mortadella, we love the little pistachios in there! I so love the cheese these look marvelous, I can't get locatelli here which is my favorite but an awesome post love this pasta dish! so glad you posted this! We used the pork too and your version is almost exactly like my mom's xxxooo have a great weekend!

  2. Love the ragu and will try your recipe. It will be fiun to listen to your stories unfold on Sundays. The majority of Italian-American cooking is indeed southern Italian. From 1880-1910, a whopping 4 million Italians emigrated to the USA. Another 1 million followed in the following years - the majority were from southern Italy and the poorest towns. Northern Italian cuisine was a huge surprise to me (and a delight).

  3. great post and so interesting love Claudia's insight as well :-)

    your a star


  4. I love ragu sauce...and your sounds very yummie :-) And mortadella, we used to eat so often back in just brought me so many memories of my childhood.

  5. A wonderful post! Thankyou!

  6. This looks delicious,Ruth! Rich and comforting!Love it!

  7. Great info here. Have an enjoyable holiday shopping season.

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  9. After spending 4 weeks in Italy recently I could never claim to be an expert on Italian food, its regions or its culture but it sure was fun to have a glimpse of Italian life. In a cooking class in a small town in Irpinia we made a ragu but with veal rolls. Love your classic recipe.