The title would make purists cringe, and in a way that’s the purpose! However, I must say that I consider myself to be a purist , preferring the purest flavor and taste of food be it a shot of espresso or a steak ! But spices have the power to elevate something commonplace to extraordinary. Maybe its partly because we don’t pay conscious attention to olfactory stimulus (i.e. the sense of smell). This post combines some of the things I hold really really dear in life – food is of course one of them but its blended with a deep interest in chemistry, arts, history and philosophy. It also unifies a spice (vanilla) from the Americas with a sauce from Europe (the Bolognese) with a spice from Asia (cinnamon). That’s diplomacy on a plate, an answer to friends who complain that an easy solution to political problems are difficult! If the philosophical underpinnings doesn’t interest you, skip the next section and go directly to the recipe section. You can still have a wonderful plate of pasta. Its great for entertaining guests or friends. Place a pod of vanilla, a stick of cinnamon and a twig of rosemary at the center of the table, its an awesome prop believe me!
The beginning of this recipe goes back to my adolescent years, when you’re trying to find your identity in this world. Its easy to get lost in contradicting thoughts and the flood of hormones. But that was when I discovered that there was art in chemistry and chemistry in art. Thanks to the influence some wonderful teachers and mentors, I was lucky to explore two apparently unrelated fields in those formative years. Fast forward a decade and a half , and that belief that chemistry and art are inseparable, has come to influence my cooking style. In fact, it has come to define how I experiment with traditional recipes. The Ragu Bolognese for me represents a convenience (you can actually cook it and keep the sauce frozen for use later) and a belief in the philosophy of cooking (a dish that essentially cooks by itself after you’ve done the initial prep work). Its something that I crave for when the weather gets cold and I tend to associate the flavor with dairy and bakery (its actually over and above the cheese and the wheat in the pasta). This added by the fact that my regular walking commute to work passes a bakery (the smells are again evocative of childhood where my ancestral home had a bakery next door), I almost began sketching a recipe in my subconscious thoughts. Vanilla and Cinnamon are regularly used in baking, which gave me the idea of using it for the Bolognese sauce. What I can say from experience is that the vanilla (unless it overpowers the existing flavors) merges with the cinnamon to enhance the savory flavors of the sauce. That’s why it’s important to take out the vanilla pod before it starts to become dominant. Unfortunately, I don’t have a set recipe for determining what quantity might be appropriate and when it starts to overpower. Its important to regularly monitor the sauce. As for the cinnamon, it can stay in the sauce for the whole duration because the mirepoix consists of root veggies (carrot and onion) which reinforces the earthy aromas (probably the same class of underlying chemicals). The Bay Leaf acts a bridge binding the subterranean with whats over the ground. The use of Oaked Chardonnay also plays an important role in enhancing the dairy flavor. Though I particularly dislike the Oaked whites (for me Chablis epitomizes Chardonnay), it has a “dairy finish” which would once again blend well with the whole “theme of the dish”. I think something that is less dry and has those dairy notes would work even better in this dish but still in the process of experimenting , so any suggestions would be awesome!
- Ground beef 250gm
- Ground pork 250gm
- Tagliatelle 80~100gm per person (awesome if you can find or even better make it fresh!)
- The Mirepoix (Onion, Carrot and Celery in 2:1:1 proportion ... I used one large onion)
- Garlic (2 large gloves minced)
- Chicken stock (1 cube)
- Milk (about 200ml)
- Tomato puree (1 tablespoon)
- Oaked Chardonnay 300ml (it plays an important role in the overall flavor profile)
- 1 Bay Leaf
- Rosemary (1 sprig)
- 1 Cinnamon stick (about 2inches long)
- 1/4th pod of Vanilla
- Salt and Pepper for seasoning
- Basil leaves and some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano for the garnish
- Start by sweating the carrot and onions over medium heat and adding the celery after about 10 mins along with the garlic.
- Once the mirepoix has softened, add the meat with some salt to extract the moisture. Cook till almost all the moisture has evaporated and the fat begins to render.
- De-glaze with the milk and cook till the milk has evaporated. At this point add the tomato puree cooking it out before adding the wine. Turn on the heat to boil off the alcohol.
- Add the vanilla pod and bay leaf, and cook over medium heat for about 5 mins.
- Then add the stock and the cinnamon stick. I try to slow cook it at least for 2 hours and fish out the vanilla pod half a way through the cooking process. For the pasta, slightly undercook it (by about 30 secs) before putting it in a pan with the sauce to allow it to soak up all the goodness.
For serving, plate up the pasta will some fresh basil and grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top. The vanilla pod, cinnamon stick and rosemary prop on the table can be a great prop. This time, I paired with a Cabernet Syrah (which itself had vanilla notes) and that was a particularly lucky choice because I didn’t have any Italian wines at home. Its interesting to note that the vanilla plays a sort of “Dark Knight-ish” role in this dish. Its not recognizable but it plays its part in elevating the whole experience. Its not the flavor that you need right now but the one the one that you deserve 😉