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a plate with tagliatelle alla Bolognese, easy, neat and more pasta than sauce

Spaghetti Bolognese

a plate brimful of spaghetti bolognese with grated cheese on topA man ordered a ‘spaghetti Bolognese’ in a Belgian inn, and did not like what he got served, actually he utterly disliked it.

Among the complaints: bell peppers among the ingredients, too much meat and the fact that the over-boiled spaghetti came with Swiss cheese on top instead of Parmesan. The man was an Italian and after leaving the establishment he was still fuming. So he somehow redirected his rage in such a way I read about it in my morning paper.

Even the mayor of Bologna in person engaged in the heated debate and formally forbade the misuse of the dish bearing the city’s name. Whoever prepared, ordered or ate a spaghetti Bolognese not conform to the rules, would be trespassing.

Confused conformity

strange lookin sushi with barbecue sauce drizzled over itWhy on earth does an Italian order a spaghetti bolognese in a Belgian inn? Was he merely looking for trouble? Or was it the irresistible nostalgia for Italian food? Was he no longer able to stand the unrefined peasant kitchen that does not features pasta? Would a Japanese order sushi in an all you can eat joint on the High street of average British city and complain about the quality? Or would a Greek complain that the manufactured moussaka she picked up at the supermarket did not even resemble the one her mother used to make? Should food not travel or when it does, come with a certificate of authencity?

Local color-Couleur local

Apart from local ingredients there are the local tastes, and it is towards these imported food tend to conform. A usually slow process of change, where dishes become less sharp, loses laborious procedures or grafted on existing dishes. Whether this is mastering or mangling, is up to people who find time to judge. This syncretism as anthropologist call it happens when various layers overlapping form a new reality.

Vulgarity of bygone virginity

Let’s go back to the place of origin, Bologna in our case. Is there such a thing as an original recipe? And have changes occurred over time? Have some of the ingredients altered? And the way of cooking? So where shall the limits be set? Can meat for example be ground or should it be cut up? What is generally considered as ‘the original’ version is no more than the version we remember, the one we grew up with. Different though from three generations ago, and different from what it will be in the future. Holding on to such a short lapse of time, pinning it down as invariable, building a shrine around it, seems a trifle silly. Silly, my eye, the Bolognese thought…

Recipe according to the Bolognese

a view on the city of Bologna taken from a tower, overseen the whole cityRegistered at the chamber of commerce, of all places, rests the original recipe.

A group of impassioned traditionalists decided on the ingredients and preparation. It is rather funny that this original recipe is the result of long discussions, internal fractions and opening to possible variations. A consensus recipe, so to speak. It seems to content more than it disappoints and, more important, it rules the infamous ‘spaghetti bolognese’, so loved and adored in Northern Europe, as invalid. Here are the basic points: the meat should be two thirds grounded beef, shoulder more specifically, and one third pancetta. Tomato sauce, carrots, celery, onion, so no bell pepper, nor other vegetables.

They use white wine and milk, full fat milk. The cooking process must last at least two hours. There is no clarity on the amount of seasoning or seasoning in general.

Evolutionism vs creationism

The very exiting debate whether humanity and the world was created in seven days or is a result of slow evolution can be applied to food and cooking as well. Did, one day, a person prepared a dish, like it, then named and shared it with the rest of the world? Possible. Everybody cooked it equally good, resulting in a uniform dish, handed down from one to the next generation. Possible. The fact that suspiciously similar dishes exist is pure coincidence. Possible. Is that the reason glass bells can be spotted in the culinary landscape? Possible.

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