Less than a year ago, in a tiny Tuscan hill town, I wrote this sentence, “I am skeptical about the recipes; they are so simple. But they mock me by being delicious!” We had just finished a cooking class and Giovanna was our teacher.
At Podera Vignale, a small farm and agriturismo in rural Tuscany, Giovanna taught us to make traditional Italian: Tiramisu, Cantucci, and Ragù.
Keith and I spent nine weeks exploring Italy – 65 days to be exact. We began in Venice and ended in Rome. For us, the trip to Italy was long saved for and carefully planned. It satisfied our curiosity; it disappointed and delighted us. But, like you would imagine, it wasn’t the cities that we explored, like Florence and Rome, or even tiny, Tuscan towns like Civitella Marittima that made their way into our hearts. When we remember Italy, above all, we remember the wonderful people that we met along the way.
I want you to meet one of those people today, her name is Giovanna. Keith and I fell in love with she and her father on two of the best, and most memorable days of our trip.
First there was the cooking class with Giovanna, with gravity defying, dirt road adventures, hand-drawn fifty-eights to frighten flies, and mouth-watering recipes. You can read more about that here. The very next day we spent with Carlo, Giovanna’s father, zipping along rural Tuscan roads to organic vineyards and olive groves, with an emergency detour to the vet for a viper-bitten dog – again, more here.
For the last year, Giovanna and I have kept in close contact and have become good friends. We both enjoy sharing recipes on our food blogs (her blog is CRAZY about TUSCANY) and thought it would be fun to ‘swap recipes’ from time to time to explore seasons and ingredients through the eyes of our different countries and cultures. Today is our first attempt. Giovanna is sharing my Caesar Salad on her blog, and she’s been gracious to let me share her recipe for authentic Italian Ragù.
For this first swap, I asked Giovanna to share a little bit about her story so that you’ll feel like you know her. I loved what she wrote, so I’ll share it in her words:
I was born and grew up in Como. I started my biology degree at the university of Milan, but at a certain point decided to travel and have some other experiences. So I went to San Francisco to work in a marine biology rescue center, then on to Puglia, south of Italy, to do my final project or thesis for my biology degree. There I was studying a lone, sociable dolphin.
In Puglia I met my future husband and fell in love with him and in 2001 followed him to Tuscany. In that time, my father was opening the farmhouse so I decided to help him for a while, but then it became my job – forgetting about my studies and my university … I’ve lost the pleasure to study, I thought it was for nothing … bad mistake !!!
in 2006 i got married and in 2007 Marco was born. With the baby I could not work full time at the farmhouse, staying so far from my husband so I moved to Livorno. Together we looked for a house. We found a lovely house in Fauglia (Pisa) that we bought and it’s where we are living now. This house, my sweet home now, became my little nest and now it’s where I can think about my projects; where I can test recipes and write my blog; and where I often leave to go to Podere Vignali.
I love my life in Fauglia, that it’s in the province of Pisa but 20km from Livorno. I’ve met nice people and new friends. With 2 moms we started to walk around Pisa to discover new places and have a lot of fun. My life is now divided between Fauglia where I can have my “everyday” normal but nice routine, and Podere Vignali where I’m very happy to meet people from other countries and makes new friends, like you Marissa.
As you know, I love teaching cooking classes, knowing other’s mentality, countries, traditions and recipes. I like my life. I would like to travel more because I love to do it. But for now, with family, kid’s school and activities, and money problems period, it is not possible! But this year I finished all my university exams and in October I’ll begin my thesis at the university of Pisa … I hope next year university will be over !!!
When you read this recipe for Ragù, resist the first impression that it’s too simple, that the flavor will be bland – my first thoughts and oh, so wrong. (The same goes for Bucatini all’Amatriciana, Pasta Aglio e Olio and Cheesy Italian Meatballs too.) When you make it, resist the urge to add more flavors such as pepper or herbs. I promise that you’ll be rewarded with a complex, even magic, pasta sauce.
Authentic Italian Ragù
Cook this low and slow as Giovanna recommends. Really, 2 hours is reasonable. You won’t believe how something so simple can be so, incredibly, delicious.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 carrot chopped
- 1 rib celery chopped
- 1 lb ground beef
- 16 ounces tomato sauce
- 5 ounces red wine
- coarse salt
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery; cook and stir until the onion becomes translucent. Add ground beef, cook and stir until browned.
Add the red wine, stir, and let it evaporate. When all the liquid is gone, add tomato sauce, stir , season with coarse salt to state. Cover and let it cook very slow at low heat for about an hour or a little more … remember you have to follow slowly all the steps, never be in a hurry… about a couple of hours to prepare it!
Serve over broad, flat pasta – such as tagliatelle – cooked according to package directions.
Serves 4 to 6 (with 1 pound hot pasta, cooked al dente)