Under ordinary circumstances, I turn my nose up at local versions of spaghetti Bolognese. Time and again, I’ve stated – quite bluntly, actually – I don’t care much for the saccharine sweetness that goes into most renditions of this dish. It’s a classic case of seriously mucking up a very basic recipe that tastes magnificent if you’d just keep the damned thing simple and stick to the fundamentals.
Honestly, if you want a sweet hint in the taste of your classic red sauce, don’t – under any circumstances whatsoever – load the ragu with ketchup. Not tomato, not banana – just don’t – wait, make that never – put ketchup into your red sauce. It’s a travesty; a slur against everything that is good and wholesome. Yes, I’m starting to sound like a hard-core culinary purist here, but this is one cause for which I won’t get off my soapbox: there is no place for ketchup in a proper pasta sauce. End of story.
Now, if you want to add some sweetness to your Bolognese, add sweet elements to it: a bit of brown sugar to make the flavour of the tomatoes pop right out, let the sugars in a proper red wine do the trick, or use sausages with a sweet flavour profile like those made with fennel or, better yet, hamonado-style longganiza or a Spanish chorizo with a bit of caramel going on.
This is the principle behind today’s recipe for ragu di Marga (“Marga’s sauce”; my full given name is Maria Margarita, go figure…) which features sweet Aklanon longganiza, skinless pork links from the Central Philippines. These sausages are pink when raw, but cook to a gorgeous reddish-caramel colour; be sure the char them a bit on all sides as some charring amps up the flavours of the garlic, black pepper, and muscovado sugar used to season these links. When used in a pasta sauce, these sausages add a sweet, peppery nuance that perfectly balances the acidity of the tomato sauce and a scattering of pungent aged Edam completes a mouthwatering dish.
Try this at home for the weekend; it’s quite a treat. Oh, and if you haven’t got access to skinless longganiza, Aklanon or otherwise, use another sausage with a hint of sweetness.
Ragu di Marga
- 1/2 kilo spaghetti, prepared according to package instructions, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water
- 4 links skinless longganiza, coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup tomato-based pasta sauce
- 1 cup plain tomato sauce
- 1 eggplant, peeled and diced
- 1 pork bouillon cube
- 2 tablespoons Italian mixed herbs
- 2 tablespoons red wine
- 1 tablespoon muscovado or brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
- grated Edam or Parmesan cheese to serve
Set aside the spaghetti, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Pour in the oil. When it begins to sizzle, add the onion and cook till softened. Add the garlic and cook till browned at the edges. Add the eggplant and the sausage and cook until the former has softened and the latter has browned, about 2 minutes. Add the bouillon cube and herbs and cook till the bouillon as dissolved. Pour in the pasta cooking water and the wine; bring to a boil. Add the pasta sauce and tomato sauce; stir well and return to a boil. Add the brown sugar, pepper, and paprika; stir well and cook for another two or three minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a serving bowl.
Pour over individual portions of pasta and sprinkle over the grated cheese.