My love for the Italian kitchen has partly originated from a woman whom I’ve never had the pleasure to meet: Biba Caggiano. She is an Italian from Bologna who moved to the USA in 1960 and later opened her own restaurant in Sacramento (where I have eaten in 2009, but sadly she wasn’t around herself because she was sick at the time — best authentic Italian food I’ve eaten in the USA despite her absence) and wrote many cookbooks. I received one of her first books, Modern Italian Cooking as a birthday gift in 1998. Trying the recipes in this book played a big role in developing my passion for cooking. I learned a lot of what I know about Italian cooking from that book. The good thing was that I used the book in the original language, English. Since I couldn’t read Italian at the time, most Italian cookbooks written by Italians I could read had been translated into English or Dutch. Translated cookbooks are almost always useless because the translators have not gone through the effort of making all the translated recipes again to check the translation. Since Biba wrote her book in English, that problem wasn’t there with her books. I still haven’t tried all of her recipes, and today I tried a new one that I really liked from one of her latest books (“Biba’s Italy”, 2006): spinach tagliatelle with pork ragù. This is a traditional dish from Biba’s home city of Bologna, also home of the famous Bolognese sauce that is made with veal or beef and tomatoes. This white ragù is made with pork and milk, and just a tiny bit of tomato and therefore has a lighter creamier taste. Here’s my version. This makes 4 servings of ragù, but you could easily double the recipe and freeze what’s left.
For 4 servings of ragù bianco
500 grams (1.1 lbs) ground pork shoulder
60 grams (2 oz) sliced prosciutto, chopped
60 grams (2 oz) sliced pancetta, chopped
50 grams (2 oz) finely minced onion
25 grams (1 oz) finely minced carrot
25 grams (1 oz) finely minced celery
60 ml (1/4 cup) dry white wine
2 Tbsp butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 heaped tsp double-concentrated tomato paste
120 ml (1/2 cup) chicken stock
250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
For 4 servings of tagliatelle verdi
400 grams semolina flour
200 grams fresh spinach
Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
Heat the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Sauté pancetta, onion, carrot, and celery until soft and lightly golden (around 10 minutes).
Add ground pork and prosciutto and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Raise the heat and brown the meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.
Add the wine as soon as the meat is golden, stirring with a wooden spoon to get all the flavor that has attached to the bottom of the pan.
Whisk the chicken stock with the tomato paste, and add to the meat.
Add the milk as well, the meat should be just covered. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a bare simmer.
Partially cover the pan and let simmer for 2 hours, stirring every half hour or so and checking whether a bit more milk needs to be added.
The sauce should become thick, not watery. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Meanwhile, prepare fresh spinach tagliatelle following my instructions for making fresh pasta.
Cook the tagliatelle al dente in salted boiling water. Reserve some of the cooking water and drain. Add the tagliatelle to the sauce with a handful of freshly grated parmigiano. Add a few tablespoons of cooking water and toss to mix.
Serve at once on preheated plates, sprinkled with freshly grated parmigiano.
This pairs with a very light red with low acidity such as Dolcetto di Dogliani or a full-bodied aged Italian white such as Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Riserva (5 years old or so). A younger white would be too acidic and stronger reds would overpower the sauce.