Spaghetti bolognesi takes us back to our pasta roots, with some familiar traits and some interesting twists.
The ragù is most similar to l’Accademia’s, but with the clearest distinction coming from the pork content. The dish is porky. In fact, it is very porky.
Searching for the words to describe how much the dish tastes of pork is difficult, because how do you describe pork in the first place?
It has a mildly sweet and savoury flavour and leaves a little bit of something on your teeth, like tannins from a red wine. Pork is an acidic meat and provides a tiny bit of a tang and somehow tastes a bit herby, even when no herbs are added.
I’m not sure how well these adjectives are going to describe the taste of the spaghetti bolognesi, but if you know pork well, then you should be able to picture the taste.
One thing it isn’t, is tomatoey. The volume of watered down tomato paste is quickly dispersed and adds to the ambiance rather than dominating the taste.
This wasn’t a problem and once again has me questioning what is the perfect measure of tomatoey-ness for a bolognese.
I was disappointed by the dish’s treatment of our cartello di manzo. The beef was dominated by its pork overlords, and barely noticeable in the final ensemble.
I understand that bolognesi is supposed to represent something more than just a tasty dish, but I would have preferred to preserve my cow diaphragm for another occasion rather than have it lost in the noise of pig squeals.
Surprisingly I don’t have too many bad words to say about the peas.
They looked exactly like I imagined - overcooked and uninviting - but didn’t distract from the flavour.
I sampled the occasional pea on its own, and although the texture was something I could live without, they didn’t have an adverse effect on my taste buds.
It is similar to the way carrots have appeared in our previous bologneses. You do occasionally taste a chunk on its own, but after the low and slow boil of a good ragù, the carrot has given a lot to the sauce and taken just as much back.
It’s hard to determine where the sauce stops and where the carrots or peas start.
After such a long cook, spaghetti bolognesi is dry. It is a trait I’ve come to appreciate more and more as I’ve sampled a greater variety of ragùs.
When we pulled together our l’Accademia bolognese, I was relieved to see the addition of milk, because it brought the dish closer to my preconceptions of bolognese being a “saucey” dish.
However, more and more I think that is the wrong way to view the ragù. The lack of moisture results in a richer sauce, and if the sauce is good, surely this should be encouraged.
The biggest disappointment was the Garofalo spaghetti. As a leading character, it was more like the Gruffalo’s Child than the Gruffalo.
I was expecting the spaghetti to need longer on the hob to counteract the high protein content of the pasta, but it was al dente in no time and I could see no discernible difference to the texture of the spaghetti, when compared to the Di Cecco brand we’ve been using up to this point.
Nothing in the taste suggested this was any different to the “normal” spaghetti. Maybe this is an entry level brand of Gragnano pasta and I should have held out for one of the more prestigious varieties.
I think it is also worth pointing out that with such a dry ragù, I did not feel like the spaghetti struggled to hold onto the sauce.
Anything that was lost was easily recovered with a little bit of fork work. This has confirmed for me that the requirement to have a flat and wide pasta like tagliatelle with a ragù is overplayed.
How much you end up enjoying spaghetti bolognesi will probably come down to how much you like your ragù to be filled with pork.
This has been a useful exercise in the way that it has confirmed my preference. I really love the slightly crunchy, salty flavour from a pancetta-laden bolognese, but that’s pretty much where I’m willing to stop. For me, a good bolognese is all about the cow, an animal much more adept at serving up a meaty treat.
Confirming this knowledge is useful as I start to ponder my perfect bolognese.