If you’re not from the UK, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Mary Berry. I know of her, but I’d never spot her in an identity parade, that’s for sure. She’s a ‘celebrity cook,’ and in general such people wind me up to the point of apoplectic seizure, so I tend to avoid them.
In the minds of most of the population, she was elevated almost to sainthood during her stint on The Great British Bake Off, a television cookery competition that gripped the nation for a titanic seven seasons. As you will have guessed, I’ve never seen it, but Ms Berry achieved superstar status followed by beatification. She’s now fallen from grace, following a heinous crime.
What on earth did she do to blot her copybook so badly? It’s so hard to write about this, the sins are so horrific. She suggested adding white wine instead of red to her ragú alla Bolognese. And single cream. And cooking it in the oven! Oh the shame of it. Break out the sackcloth and ashes, and get scourging yourself, Mary. Strap on a cilice while you’re at it.
Predictably, the sky fell in. The Twitter mobs emerged with pitchforks and burning torches to storm the castle and kill the monster. There’d have been less of a reaction if St Mary had fessed up to being a porn star in an earlier life. Somebody even claimed there was a ‘registered’ recipe for this ragú that she had violated.
Since all cooking is a bit empirical, I’m guessing there are as many recipes for this as there are Italian grandmothers, and fortunately we had one Antonio Carluccio leap on his white charger and come thundering over the horizon to the rescue. He’s an Italian restaurateur, has written over 20 cookery books, done television series, the whole nine yards, so he knows what he’s talking about. Here’s his take on things. I’ll paraphrase a bit.
Some people use minced pork or veal, and that’s fine. Some use minced lamb, and that’s fine. In northern Italy, they use minced beef, and that’s fine. Some people use tomato puree, and that’s fine. Some use tinned tomatoes, and that’s fine. Don’t add herbs apart from a bay leaf during cooking, and it will be fine. Some people like to add cream rather than the more traditional egg beaten with the pasta water and parmesan, and that’s fine.
The only thing he took issue with was a minor one. He didn’t like the idea of shoving it in the oven, being very fond of the soporific, boiling-mudpool ‘glop’ sound it makes when cooked slowly on the stove.
He also recommends pappardelle instead of spaghetti, since it retains the sauce better. This of course gives the lie to those Italians who claim pasta is about the pasta, not the sauce.