They say “the first bite is with the eye”.
On this basis Alvisi’s ragù could have gone straight from the table to the bin, without passing my lips. The sauce looked pale, insipid and downright inedible.
The garganelli rescued the appearance to a certain extent. It’s a good design of pasta, and looks like you’ve put in a lot more effort into its preparation than you actually have.
I prepared the ragù with the core ingredients to start, only bringing forward the addition of mushrooms from the optional ingredients. As I slowly added the flour-broth-flour-broth combination to the pork, onion and mushrooms I was hit by a familiar flavour.
This smelt like the filling of a chicken and mushroom pie!
Looking at the ingredient list this isn’t too surprising. That smell of flour and stock over a mystery meat and mushrooms could have come from a baker’s microwave.
Adding the pepper and cinnamon did almost nothing to the flavour, so I doubled down on the quantities. This gave me a faint whiff that we’d at least attempted to elevate the ragù above pie filling status.
However, the minced black truffles were like a flavour bomb that obliterated the burgeoning spice taste.
The black truffle stole the show (the “show” being a Tuesday night amatuer dramatics dress rehearsal in Scarborough). The taste is as subtle as a sledgehammer, but did push the ragù in a different direction. It tasted much richer as a result and brought us closer to the decadence you might expect for a future pope’s lunch.
There was potentially a slight execution error on my part. I had used a small pan, thinking this was more likely the style of the time. As a result, the minced pork stewed a bit more than it browned. In the end, I don’t think this would have made a huge difference to the taste but might have made the ragù look slightly easier on the eye.
I’d also missed the mark with cooking my garganelli, but this time to my advantage.
I’d given the fresh pasta 13 minutes, which I had assumed would result in overcooked mush, replicating the style of the time. Not even close! My pasta was so thick and firm that at the end of 13 minutes I was left with something just on the soft side of al dente. My garganelli had that slightly firm, chewy, meatiness of an almost perfectly cooked thick pasta.
I would have been better off eating a bowl full of this garganelli with a little olive oil or butter, than waste it on the Cardinal’s Ragù.
So, the dish lived up to expectations somewhat. It did taste like old people’s food!
If you’d asked a British great grandmother to prepare a bolognese, it is most likely she’d have fallen back to what she knew best and made something similar to the Cardinal’s Ragù. It’s just a shame she didn’t wrap the ragù in pastry and serve it with a healthy portion of chips and peas.
Onwards and upwards, Bolognesi!