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~The Saucey Scoop on Sugo & Ragu (& Bolognese)~

IMG_4741Tomato sauce.  There isn't a cook that doesn't have at least one tomato sauce recipe in their repertoire.  In tomato-eating cultures, there are as many versions of tomato sauce as there are cooks.  They can be fresh or cooked, thick or thin, chunky or smooth, spicy or plain, simple or complex.  Some can be made in five minutes, others can take five hours.  Hot or cold, tomato sauce can be a condiment or a sauce for meat, poultry, fish, seafood or vegetable dishes, but, it is most commonly associated with Italian cuisine, more specifically, saucing Italian pasta dishes.

IMG_3536A little bit of tomato history with reference to Italy:

Yes, Italy has indeed made tomato sauce famous, which is interesting, because tomatoes were late to enter the Italian food world.  I'm not going to get us mired in too much history here, but, the English word "tomato" comes from the Spanish word "tomate", derived from the ancient Aztec word "tomati".  In 1519 Cortez discovered tomatoes growing in Montezuma's gardens and brought them back to Europe, where they were planted as "ornamental curiosities".  It is believed that the first varieties to come to Europe were yellow because in Spain and Italy they were called "pomi d'oro" which means "golden apple".  Italy began to embrace the tomato culinarily in the late 1600's, with the first tomato recipe (sauce "alla spagnuola", "in the Spanish style) appearing in a cookbook in Naples in 1692, and, the first recipe for pasta with tomato sauce appearing in a cookbook in Rome in 1790.  "Pomodoro" is the Italian word for "tomato"!

6a0120a8551282970b017ee9a89cc2970d#1.  "Gravy" = A long-simmered Italian meat/meat-based sauce.

Gravy gets better a day or two after cooking, &, it freezes really well too. 

For those of us with no ties to Italy, or did not grow up in an Italian-American family, the world of Italian tomato sauces can be a confusing one.  The first time I was invited for "Sunday gravy" (around the age of twelve), the last thing I expected to eat was pasta with tomato sauce.  Later in life, after marrying into an Italian family, I learned early that there is only one right way to make Italian tomato sauce:  the way that cook is cooking it.   They take their sauce personally.

#2. There is only one right way to make "the gravy"...  

... the way the cook who is cooking it cooks it (wink, wink)!

ETMA6gdqcThis post is not for Italian experts who know the culinary fine points of every region of Italy. This is for those who love the long-simmered Italian tomato sauces enough to want to know more without being bogged down in so much minutia it deters them from making their own Sunday gravy, their own "right way" version, for their own family.

The discussion of sugo and ragu came up at a class I was teaching a few weeks ago.  I was making bolognese sauce.  More than a few mentioned their appreciation of my happy-go-lucky approach to Italian cooking.  My philosophy: everyone should always familiarize themself with the definition of any dish. After that, there is room for improvisation and interpretation, as long as it stays within the parameters of the definition -- without being reckless.  

#3.  Call it sugo, ragu, or gravy (they're all similar)...

... these long-simmering, beloved sauces for pasta are legendary!

IMG_4710"Sugo" derives its name from the word "succo", meaning "juicy or juices".  In the case of this  IMG_4501 IMG_4585sauce, the juices refer to the pan drippings leftover from the cooking of a large piece of meat that gets shredded or minced after cooking it.  The vegetables for sugo, sometimes just onion and/or garlic (other times carrots, celery and onion), are usually sauted separately, either afterward in the pan drippings or separately in advance, before combining them with the tomatoes and shredded meat to prepare the sauce.  Sugo, while thick, is not quite as thick or complex as a ragu.  It's "juicier thick" rather than "creamier thick".

6a0120a8551282970b0168ebcb6373970c"Ragu" refers generically to "meat sauces" made with (depending upon the region), minced,  6a0120a8551282970b0168ebc977fc970c 6a0120a8551282970b016305d41ccd970dchopped, ground, or a variety of larger meat pieces at the outset, which are sauted with a "soffrito" (different proportions of carrots and celery to onions), which gives the flavors of the vegetables and the meat the opportunity to marry. "Neapolitan ragu" is a specialty of Naples.  It consists of soffrito, meat, tomatoes, red wine, and herbs/seasonings.  "Bolognese ragu" is prepared in the style of Bologna and the surrounding regions of Italy.  It consists of soffrito, meat, fewer tomatoes/tomato products, white wine, herbs/seasonings and cream.  Of the two, bolognese-style is considered the most decadent!

Create your own "my-way-or-the-highway gravy".  Sauce on!!!

IMG_4634"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipes, commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)


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