Throughout its history, Philadelphia has always been a place of neighborhoods, those most frequently identified by nationalities. Early immigrants from individual countries arrived, Irish, Germans, Welsh, Polish, and on, then together settled into sections of the many row homes that line along the city streets. It’s even so today as new immigrants arrive, Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodian and more. When I was growing up, South Philadelphia, the location of the famous ‘Rocky’ movie was always the Italian section. The Italian section hosts what now has become more commonly referred to as the 9th street market, but when I was growing up it was always called the ‘Italian Market.’ The Italian Market located on 9th Street, that is.
In between the corners of Italian restaurants that dotted the streets were the homes of the Italian families, many who even had second kitchens in the basements of their homes as to keep clean the main kitchen used as the actual family meal serving area where it was always noted that just hours after Sunday mass at the local parish church, course upon course was served at the weekly Sunday Dinner. One distinct flavor of the Sunday dinner always included, of course, tomato sauce, which was most always referred to in the Italian section as Tomato Gravy, otherwise the red sauce whose mother of the home was raved in any self-respecting family, as always preparing the best. You could even feel a bit of emotional tension between children whenever referring to their own mothers Tomato Gravy, even where families might be subtly criticized for preparing gravy that was too sweet, or too tart, and with everyone solemnly swearing that they would never, ever, eat anyone else’s Tomato Gravy except that of their own mothers.
This must have meant one exclusion, that being, eating out at any of the local Italian restaurants. I can’t imagine anyone saying, give me anything on the menu BoBo, all except that which has any tomato gravy, for in those days everything was swimming in it. I had two favorites at the Italian section restaurants in the city, Lasagna, and, Pasta Bolognese. Pasta Bolognese Style was not merely tomato gravy, nor was it your everyday tomato gravy in meat sauce. Pasta Bolognese Style was an elaborately composed tomato sauce with distinctive flavors all melodiously coming together between vegetables, mushrooms, and meat, and to me, it was heavenly. Some years later, upon ordering Pasta Bolognese as an adult, I became aware of some others among those distinctive ingredient flavors in the mix, the depth of dried porcini mushrooms, and fresh and dried herbs. Today, Pasta Bolognese is one of my absolute most favorite dishes to prepare, tending to each ingredient addition with distinctive flavors melodiously coming together, well, sort of like an Italian mother living in the Italian neighborhood section of the city preparing Sunday dinner, as part of course upon course. And that my friends, is what they call Amore.
- 4-5 tablespoons olive oil, approximately
- 1 large onion
- 2-3 stalks celery
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 1 cup fresh mushrooms, optional
- 6-8 pieces dried porcini
- strained soaking liquid from porcini mushrooms
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 can tomato paste
- handful thyme, leaves removed from stems, chopped
- 1 long sprig rosemary, leaves removed from stems, chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh dried oregano, leaves removed from stems, chopped, or scant teaspoon dried
- 2 bay leaves
- 3/4 pound beef cubes or piece of London Broil, diced into small pieces
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 can whole tomatoes
- 1 jar tomato sauce
- couple pinches coarse kosher salt, more or less to taste
- few grinds of fresh cracked pepper
- Place dried porcini mushrooms into a bowl, pour over 1 cup of boiling water and let sit. Brown diced beef in a large skillet with a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, transfer to a plate, reserve for later. Separately, coarse chop the onion, celery, carrots, mushrooms, garlic. One vegetable at a time- pulse each vegetable in the bowl of a food processor to a small dice. Pour olive oil into a heavy soup pot on very low heat and add in the onion, carrots, and celery, cook for ten minutes, tumble in the chopped fresh mushrooms, stir. Remove soaked porcini mushrooms from the soaking liquid, chop finely, add to vegetables, stir through. Strain the porcini liquid and reserve. Scrape garlic into the pot along with the thyme, rosemary, oregano, and bay leaves, stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add in the ground beef, stir, cook until just done then spoon in the browned diced beef cubes, pour in the red wine increase temperature to medium low heat, reducing the wine, around 5 minutes. Spoon in the tomato paste, stir, cook another couple of minutes then pour in the beef stock, porcini liquid, can of whole tomatoes. Simmer the sauce on low for at a least a half hour stirring intermittently before adding in the jar of tomato sauce and simmering another half an hour, more or less, until sauce is thickened with ingredients all blending well together. Sprinkle in a couple pinches of coarse kosher salt, stir and check seasoning. Grind in some fresh cracked pepper. Toss sauce with cooked fettuccine topping with some fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Bolognese Sauce improves flavor the following day and also freezes well.