Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Angelo's Sauce From the archives....


Or
How to cook Spaghetti Bolognese

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On working road trip around Australia in the late seventies I found myself applying for a temporary cooks’ position in the town of Kalgoorlie. The celebrated but run-down Hannans’ Hotel had advertised for a relief cook for two weeks and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience that wild gold town on my way to the West Coast.
After a brief interview I was told to be at the hotel at 10am the following day to meet Angelo the chef who would brief me before he left on his annual break.
Angelo was already in the spotless kitchen dressed in crisp, starched, perfect chef’s whites stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce with an aroma that still lingers in my memory after more than 25 years.
He had a timeless presence, a tall man with perfectly groomed white hair and an aristocratic face that was hard to date. I guess Angelo was over sixty but how old, was a bit of a mystery, he looked like Burt Lancaster. In a gentle voice that had an echo of a Latin accent he began to explain the job. The hotel he said had a group of riggers in residence that were on full board so breakfast, a take away lunch and an evening meal had to be ready every day for them. The riggers were a multi-cultural bunch with Koreans, Slavs, and a couple of Poms, two Japanese and a few Germans along with a small core of Aussies. Despite the lack of Italians he assured me that while I could cook whatever I liked, if I included a good spaghetti Bolognese all would be well. And as he stirred his sauce he began to reveal the secrets.
Begin in a big thick pot with good onions slowly melted in a mixture of olive oil and bacon fat. Crush your garlic in salt and add it on low heat taking care not to burn it in the slightest way. Add a very coarsely ground mixture of pork neck, veal shin and gravy beef of roughly equal proportions, in small quantities to brown each bit without stewing.

At this point he stopped to stir his sauce on the stove and very carefully pushed down the ring of residue around the top of the aromatic sauce and proceeded to brush down any that remained with a wet pastry brush. As a young inexperienced cook I was impressed and intrigued.
After you have browned all the meat, he continued; add a mixture of finely chopped carrot and a little celery, about half the amount of vegetables as meat. Add some minced chicken livers that have had the gall bladder or any staining removed. Stir carefully and brush down the sides as you go.
He said that the reason would reveal itself when the sauce was complete. At this point add some tomato paste diluted with a good red wine and sweetened with a little sugar. Add a further generous amount of the red wine with a couple of dried bay leaves, some whole peppercorns and a couple of crushed juniper berries. Add a big piece of rind from some Italian Parmesan cheese and some skin from a piece of Prosciutto. Add a little freshly grated nutmeg. Keep stirring and brushing down the sides.
After explaining all the housekeeping and shopping duties associated with the job, the sauce he was cooking was nearly complete; he offered me a taste and adjusted the seasoning with salt, a generous amount of freshly grated pepper and a touch of Tabasco sauce. After a short time, another tasting and a final brushing down of the sides it was finished. He put on a large pot of water to boil and proceeded to grate some Parmesan. The cheese was wrapped in an old calico bag and it was here that I first learned about quality Grana and Parmagianno Reggianno the only two cheeses worthy of good Italian “sugo” or sauce.
The white powdery stuff in packets that masqueraded as Parmesan cheese in the seventies has done more to put innocent novices off Italian cooking than anything else- Beware of Imitations.
[Mediterranean Wholesalers in Sydney Road Brunswick is worth a detour as the price elsewhere can be very steep.]

After removing the cheese and prosciutto rinds and the bay leaves he poured the completed sauce from the large pot. All the scraping, stirring and brushing had left a completely clean pot that needed only a quick rinse. The brushing down of the caramelised residues had captured all the complex nuances. The depth of flavour was unforgettable.
He explained how it was important to cook the dried, or any pasta in a large quantity of salty water on a high rolling boil and to reheat cooked pasta by dipping into hot water was beyond the pale in his kitchen. After a quick tour of the larder and a strong espresso he was off.

During his absence the back door to the kitchen was host to a number of rather nuggetty dusty blokes and some interesting ‘painted ladies’ looking for Angelo? Every day he would get visitors who, when told that Angelo was away, looked disappointed and often cursed their misfortune at having missed the cook.
The two weeks went by quickly. The riggers liked my food but always returned to Angelo’s sauce after a day or so.
Angelo’s sauce lent a magical intoxication to the already well oiled riggers. After dinner in the bar they began to tell me of their homelands and the wonderful foods that revealed a nostalgic almost Proustian remembrance of the flavours of home.
During these late night ramblings a glimpse of the way that multi-cultural Australian cooking would develop was revealed to this inexperienced novice cook.

Then late one night as I was cleaning up he returned, dressed in a very smooth double-breasted Hong Kong suit and silver tie.
Well how was it? He asked.
I filled him in on the not inconsiderable gossip around the hotel. One of the riggers had won Tatts; the publican’s wife had discovered his mistress, the price of gold was up- all the usual stuff. I made him a coffee and told him of all his mysterious visitors.
Over a bottle of Veccio Romana brandy he explained his story. For over 40 years he had been cooking on the diggings and small prospectors had entrusted him with their secret strikes. Each year on his holiday he smuggled them to Asia and returned with the “duty free” proceeds. He thanked me for holding the fort and gave me a small nugget as a memento. He was off to see his ‘painted ladies’ in the infamous Hay Street who had also trusted the big continental cook with their local currency.

So forgetaboutit!

8 comments:

stickyfingers said...

George, that is the lovliest story I have read in absolutely ages. And with so many people recording their 'Spag Bog' online at the moment, so very timely. It's a dish that is both as simple or as complicated as the people who enjoy it. I'm often tempted to slip Paprikas in it but pull back at the last moment - LOL! Köszönöm!

Thermomixer said...

Great work.
It's a wonder you remembered anything after a bottle of Vecchio Romano. Love the idea of the fegatini in the sugo and juniper berries. You never stop learning.
What's the nugget worth now??

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Ms.Sticky Szivesen!

Thermo Have to admit I sold it for my first ticket to Europe years ago.

t h e - g o b b l e r said...

Excellent story George.
He sounded like a link to another age & time.
I reckon that was two weeks well spent!

neil said...

Wonder what they do with their nuggets these days. I can just imagine the airport metal detector having a meltdown if a latter day Angelo sauntered through.

Thermomixer said...

I get more enjoyment out of your story each time I read it George. Buying more pastry brushes to wash down the Thermomix - it chews them up!!.

Neil, I don't think the metal detectors worry that much about gold - I've seen lots of women laden down with jewels waltzing thru airport security, while I have to take off my belt with its steel buckle. Maybe they just want to see my pants drop - ah ... no, don't think so.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Thanks All
The West was quite wild back then. I will try to write up some cooks stories more from those days...
Cooking for Nunzio in Freo
and the
Balladonia Blues or
How I nearly became a roadie for Joe Crocker on the Nullabor.

Stephanie said...

Sensational George B. Pitch it to E. With the recipe.