How absurd does it seem to mix a traditional Italian dish with a traditional French dish?
If I was to call my mushroom ragout a ragu, technically that would be incorrect….. however, cuisines and traditional dishes are becoming so intertwined sometimes we don’t know what comes from where and who did what first.
As history would recall, say around late 18th Century when Napoleon and his posse charged into Northern Italy…….. ragù was inspired somewhat by ragout.
The Italians were eating their pasta with more of a meat broth but ragout, a fish, vegetable or meat stew provided the inspiration and backbone for that meat broth which became a traditional, wonderful and rich sauce for pasta. And the most famous ragù of all – ragù alla bolognose which is NOT served with spaghetti and does not comprise of minced beef!
Despite the French invading in the 1790’s, there is evidence that Alberto Avisi, a chef for the Cardinal of Imola, was playing around with this mixed meat (veal, pork, beef) slow cooked stew tickled with cinnamon notes as early as 1785. So, my question to you is what came first in Italy? The ragout or the ragù? I’ll leave that one to you. (And it rhymes!)
NOW, bring on the gnocchi – the type that was traditionally made in the time of the Roman Empire. When potatoes didn’t exist until the Colombian Exchange of the 16th Century where a shipment of maize, potatoes, tomatoes and communicable diseases arrived in Europe. Before this transference of staple foods from the Americas, the Romans were making gnocchi from flour and water and that eventually evolved into the glorious addition of eggs, cheese and butter.
Gnocchi alla Romana is made from semolina – a product that is not exactly flour but a course product that is derived from the milling process of durum wheat (the wheat that is used to make pasta). Mix that semolina with whole milk, eggs, Parmesan cheese and you have a dish as comforting as mac and cheese.
I digress….. I just love food history but here is the recipe, my version of mixed mushroom ragout/ragu with Roman style gnocchi.
Enjoy with a nice glass of French or Italian red!
Serves: 4 people
Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Eating Time: no time at all
Gnocchi alla Romana
250g semolina (unbleached)
950mls full cream milk
1-2 bay leaves
120g grated parmesan cheese
3 egg yolks
100g salted butter
Sea salt to taste
Put the milk and bay leaves in a medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil
Turn off the heat, remove the bay leaves and slowly add in the semolina while whisking constantly
When all the semolina is incorporated, use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the pan
Add in 50g of the grated parmesan cheese and 30g butter. Mix well and then finally add in the egg yolks one at a time until all ingredients are combined
Add a little salt taste
Transfer the gnocchi mixture into a non-stick tin or alternatively brush the tin with olive oil. (I used a 22cm x 30cm x 5cm baking pan)
Flatten out the mixture until even and smooth, cover with cling film and refrigerate for about an hour until firm
When the mixture is set, turn out and cut shapes with a cookie cutter or knife. ( I used a 5cm round cookie cutter)
Place in a baking pan or medium casserole dish, slightly overlapping the gnocchi pieces.
Brush each piece with the left-over butter and sprinkle generously with parmesan cheese
Place in the oven on bake/grill setting for about 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is nice and golden. Serve the gnocchi while hot!!!
Mixed Mushroom Ragout
A god slurp of olive oil
A good chunk of butter (30g)
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
180g (medium) yellow onion, sliced
150g oyster mushrooms
100g shitake mushrooms
200g portobello mushrooms
10g dried porcini (soaked in 300mls hot water)
50g/ 2 heaped tablespoons tomato paste
300mls/ 1½ cups good red wine
Small handful of chopped flat leaf parsley
7 stalks of thyme
Place butter and oil in a saucepan on a medium heat
Add in chopped onions and cook until translucent
Add in the garlic until fragrant
Throw in all the mushrooms and mix through. The porcini mushrooms can do with about 5 minutes of soaking in hot water before adding to the pot
Add wine, a few sprigs of thyme and tomato paste
Simmer the mixture and reduce until most of the liquid has evaporated, leaving a thick stew
Take out the thyme sprigs
Throw in a few thyme leaves and chopped parsley
Serve immediately with the gnocchi