Sunday, January 08, 2006

Anna's Pasta Sauce

I'm half-Italian (on my mother's side), which means that from a very early age I became aware of a curious phenomenon: the stark difference between Italian cuisine, and Australian interpretations of the same. For instance, "Spaghetti Bolognese" . . . well, strictly-speaking it doesn't exist in Italy--the Italians eat their ragù "with ribbon pasta, such as tagliatelle or pappardelle, or a heavier tube shape such as bucatini"; while "Spag Bol"--variations on a basic theme of mince, bottled tomato pasta sauce, water and perhaps (if one is feeling adventurous) chopped carrot and celery, is painfully Anglo-Australian, and about as bland a dish as you're ever likely to encounter.

Why is this so? Though pasta has been available in some form in Australia since at least the mid-19th century, Italian pasta didn't really make its presence felt until the post-WWII influx of migrants from Southern Europe introduced Mediterranean cuisine to the Australian palate (which has taken some adjusting). Since this coincided with the arrival of American fast-food and supermarket chains, not to mention a booming post-war economy, the traditional "slow foods" of Europe had to be translated into what was becoming in Australia a "fast food" culture. (And in those days, "fast food" also meant the need to have something hot waiting on the stove for when hubby arrived home from work.) That the White Australia Policy wasn't effectively abolished until the 1970s is also significant: the Australian "fast food" culture that was emerging in the post-war period was still highly Anglocentric and xenophobic. Hence it has been difficult, until quite recently, to sample decent Italian food in Australian suburbia outside of a few isolated pockets--my grandparents' kitchen being one of them.

And from that kitchen I now present to you "Anna's Pasta Sauce" (named after my aunty, who passed it on to me). It isn't a ragù--I'll have to get back to you on that one--but it is authentic. The secret, you see, is in a little parcel of herbs and vegetables that you prepare ahead, freeze, and use as required.

"Parcel" mixture (makes 2)
1/2 carrot
1 whole bunch parsley (Italian)
5 or 6 basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 onion
1/2 celery stick

Place into food processor and process until ground. Freeze unused portion for next time

olive oil
500g beef mince
parsley (lots)
Parmesan or Romano cheese
a couple of slices of bread, crusts removed, soaked in milk for 1/2 an hour

Roll into balls

The sauce
one "parcel"
extra virgin olive oil
fried onion
350g pork ribs, cooked (or, if you prefer, 350g spicy Italian sausages, cooked)
1 bottle passata
1 can tomatoes (diced/crushed)
1/2 passata bottle water
1 glass red wine
1 tsp sugar

Bring to boil, then low-medium for at least one hour, or until meatballs are cooked.

You'll think you've died and gone to heaven.