There are tears of joy, sorrow, disappointment, anger, crocodile tears and even chopped vegetable tears. These are traditional tears, a subtle alchemy given by chopped onions, wooden cutting board and a sharp knife. Before blenders there was this ancient ritual of hand-made battuto – vegetables minced by hand on a cutting board that year after year would slowly take a welcoming shape, becoming like a womb.
The battuto is a metaphor for life. You have many ingredients on a chopping board, they are colourful and with different textures, they seem not able to mingle into a single preparation, they tend to run away in each direction. Yet with patience, work, attention, care and even more patience to catch a runaway carrot, after a few minutes of work a heterogeneous collection of vegetables becomes a battuto made by the book, the starting point of many traditional recipes.
This is what Gabriella Ganugi, author of the book La bambina che contava le formiche. Meditazioni in cucina did. In her book Gabriella writes with honesty about her childhood in her grandma’s garden counting the ants, about the Florence flood, her ended marriage, her work and how she picked up the pieces of her life and put them back together in a new mosaic, more colourful and exciting, something to identify with and to be proud of.
The passion for cooking and for family recipes, from her grandmother, her mother, her recipes as a young bride and later as a confident woman, the recipes are the red thread of this book, a way to enjoy memories and experiences. Today Gabriella is the founder of Palazzi Florence Association for International Education, which counts among the many activities Apicius, an international hospitality school. Can you see how she used her skills to make an unforgettable battuto, the starting point of many recipes and so many different lives?
I had no doubt when it came to choose a recipe from the book, it would be the sugo finto, literally a fake sauce, a vegetable tomato sauce which pretends to be a meat sauce. It pretends it so well that even you, who made it, are persuaded.
Everything starts from there, a generous dash od a good extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of a saucepan. It is an old time recipe, so no questioning on the amount of olive oil used, believe me. Add the minced vegetables and cook on low flame until soft and golden. Add half a glass of your favourite red wine and let it reduce, it will give body and character to the sauce, then finish with some pureed tomatoes, which will cook slowly until it becomes a thick and tasty sauce, perfect for a dish of pasta to be shared with your friends.
Sugo finto - The vegetarian version of a meat sauce
- 1 red onion
- 1 stalk of celery
- 1 large carrot
- 1 sprig of parsley
- 4 or 5 sage leaves
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 glass of red wine
- 400 g of peeled tomatoes
- Make a battuto: mince carrot, onion, celery, parsley, sage and rosemary, then sautée over low heat for about ten minutes with enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of a saucepan.
- When the vegetables are golden, pour in the red wine and let it reduce on low heat.
- Add the pureed tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Stir carefully. Cook over low heat for about 45 minutes, until dense and flavourful.
Now, which is the crucial test of any sauce? you make the scarpetta! if once you have finished your dish of pasta you inspect the tablecloth in front of you looking for a piece of crusty bread to mop up the sauce left in the plate, then it means that yes, you are definitely a gourmet, but also that the sauce was really good. I could not resist, as I could not resist tasting the sauce directly from the saucepan with the same piece of crusty bread.