When I can’t sleep (which is often), I read recipes or watch You Tube cooking videos with Juliet snoring contentedly by my side. I usually select a cooking theme and then I’m good for hours.
During one recent insomnia-stained night, I came across this recipe for Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese on the New York Times’ cooking site and the next day I transformed it into what I think is a pretty delicious vegetarian Italian sauce. My Costco carries chantrelle mushrooms seasonally and I used them and a few baby bella mushrooms to give this sauce a meaty kick. (The original recipe calls for 3/4 pound of ground beef chuck.) I added some spices, too.
The history of spaghetti is pretty interesting. While much is made of the story of Marco Polo bringing spaghetti back to Venice from his wanderings in China, food historians believe that pasta’s origins in Europe are much older, dating back to the Roman Empire when Romans ate a soft-wheat pasta called lagane (that’s where we get the word lasagna) . That pasta was oven-baked, though, rather than boiled. Modern-day spaghetti is made of hard-wheat semolina and historical records indicate that, by the 9th Century, the Arabs were consuming a hard-wheat pasta dish, itriya, that was shaped into strings. Itriya was one of the main sources of nutrition for Arab traders who carried it with them on their journeys and who probably introduced the pasta into Spain and Italy. Early in the 12th Century Abu Abdullah Mohammed Al Edrisi, a North Africa-born and Spanish-educated geographer to Sicily’s Norman King Roger II (what kind of name is Roger for a King?), penned (you guessed it!) The Book of Roger in which he detailed spaghetti production in the Sicilian town of Trabia. Subsequently, spaghetti was carried around the world during the Age of Discovery. By the 19th Century, semolina pasta was being mass produced in Italy and, when Italians migrated to North America, they brought pasta with them.
In modern times, spaghetti is ubiquitous in America. From that famous and endearing Lady and The Tramp spaghetti scene to the gloppy canned Chef Boyardee spaghetti that my mother served to the trattorias that inhabit every upscale dining area in America, spaghetti (and pasta generally) has insinuated itself into every corner of American life. Americans are pikers, though, when compared with Italians who consume sixty pounds of pasta a year; we consume a measly twenty pounds per person per year.
In addition to the fascinating history of spaghetti, there is some great spaghetti trivia out there.
The Buca di Beppo Restaurant in Garden Grove, California, for example, set a world record in 2010 when it filled an above-ground swimming pool with 13,780 pounds of spaghetti. The restaurant bested the previous record of 9767 pounds of pasta in a pool that was set in Doha, Qatar. (If you are sitting there reading this and getting a little huffy over the apparent food waste, don’t. Buca di Beppo donated the spaghetti to be used as animal food. Picture Bessie and Clarabelle out there in the pasture living it up and slurping spaghetti to their sweet little bovine hearts’ content.)
I think the award for the best spaghetti trivia, though, has to go to those crazy joksters at the BBC in Great Britain. In 1957, the BBC staged an elaborate April Fool’s Day hoax with a broadcast about the annual spaghetti harvest in Switzerland. Their broadcast showed a family from Ticino, Switzerland, harvesting long strands of spaghetti from spaghetti trees. It was a joke worthy of Monty Python. Some straight-laced viewers complained that the BBC shouldn’t noodle around with the news (sorry!), but others contacted the network to inquire where they could buy spaghetti trees. Here is a still photo from the BBC spoof and one of the Buca di Beppo spaghetti extravaganza.
I’ll end this here with my favorite pasta photo. I remember getting teary as a young girl when Lady shared her spaghetti with Tramp. That had to be what true love was like, I thought. Come to think of it, I still get a little weepy over Lady and Tramp and I still believe in true love.
The link to the original recipe in the New York Times appears at the end of this post.
A delicious mushroom-laden take on traditional spaghetti bolognese.
30 minPrep Time
30 minCook Time
1 hrTotal Time
- 1 T. vegetable oil
- 3 T. buttter plus 1 T. for tossing the pasta
- 1/2 C. chopped onion
- 2/3 C. chopped celery
- 2/3 C. chopped carrot
- 3 C. chopped chantrelle mushrooms (if available. If not, substitute baby bellas or use a mixture of both)
- Black pepper
- 1 C. whole milk
- Whole nutmeg
- 1 C. dry white wine
- 28 oz. canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice (San Marzano tomatoes, if possible)
- Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- 1 t. Italian seasoning
- 1 t. granulated garlic
- 1 t. whole fennel seeds
- Heat oil and butter in a large pan and sauté onion over medium heat until translucent. Add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about two minutes more, stirring to be sure vegetables are well-coated with butter.
- Add chopped mushrooms, a generous pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Stir and sauté the mushrooms. Add the spices.
- Add the milk and simmer until milk is reduced by half. Add 1/8 t. freshly grated nutmeg and stir.
- Add the white wine and simmer until wine is reduced by half. Add tomatoes and stir. When the mixture begins to bubble, turn the heat down and let the sauce cook at a low simmer. You can add additional water to the mixture if it reduces too much. Cook for thirty minutes.
- Serve over pasta. Garnish with basil leaves and grated cheese.
Here is the link to the original recipe:http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015181-marcella-hazans-bolognese-sauce