Bolognese as Therapy, or The Importance of Ragu-Time | The Futurist Cookbook

Bolognese as Therapy, or The Importance of Ragu-Time

Food

The most intimidating lecturer I had at university spoke three languages and was very into Futurism. He suggested that we visit the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in North London and I did because I was desperate for him to like me. I went with low expectations, but left with a newfound love of Futurist painting. And a panini.

In a seminar, he showed us a Futurist book he’d made; the pages contained no text but had a small alcove carved into their centre that contained a match. The spine of the book was made of a coarse material on which to strike the match. It was a perfect symbol of the Futurists’ dedication to modernity, technology and violence.

A primarily Italian movement, Futurism was founded in 1909 by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and encompassed every medium of art, extending to architecture, fashion, interior design and even food.

Futurist cooking introduced the idea of technology (centrifugal autoclaves, vacuum stills, ultra-violet rays) into the kitchen, alongside multi-sensory experience. This included touching silk or sandpaper with one hand whilst eating with the other, waiters spraying perfume and timely interventions of music or poetry at the table. The Futurist Cookbook was published in 1932, but its contemporary influence – most notably on Heston Blumenthal – are obvious in today’s gastronomic landscape.

In their quest to abolish all links to tradition, Futurists also resolved to eradicate pasta from Italian kitchens. Marinetti believed that pasta “makes people heavy, brutish, deludes them into thinking it is nutritious, makes them skeptical, slow, pessimistic.” Furthermore, “Any pastascuittist who honestly examines his conscience at the moment he ingurgitates his biquotidian pyramid of pasta will find within the gloomy satisfaction of stopping up a black hole. This voracious hole is an incurable sadness of his. He may delude himself, but nothing can fill it. Only a Futurist meal can lift his spirits.”

Despite my desire for intellectual acceptance, this anti-pasta campaign was the end of my concurrence with Futurism. That, alongside Marinetti’s Fascist affiliations, made him a less-than-ideal role model in the kitchen, or in any other room.

There was some small method to his overarching madness, particularly in relation to the sluggish effects of pasta, as echoed in today’s plethora of no-carb diets. I think he is wrong, however, in his assertion that pasta cannot fill the black hole. It is clear to me that the black hole is filled so perfectly by pasta that the dish has gone beyond a comfort eat to a comfort cook; the mere preparation of Marinetti’s-most-hated is a salve for my soul.

It’s five thirty on a Sunday evening and I’m ill, so I’ve decided to make spaghetti bolognese. As further declaration of my anti-Futurist tendencies, everything I cook takes a long time because I’m rubbish at chopping and I know that you can’t beat the flavour gained by a slow simmer. Bolognese is peak lengthy-cook and exactly what the doctor ordered.

I’ve never read a bolognese recipe and am not a purist when it comes to ingredients, but I like to let it simmer for a full hour once everything’s in the pot. This hour is where the magic happens.

I’m no scientist and my kitchen is devoid of centrifuge, but I can guarantee that this hour will exponentially develop all flavour molecules and taste atoms, giving your finished dish a yumminess factor of ten (maybe I am a scientist?). And the truly magic thing about this hour is that you can get on with something else while your food blips merrily along. A glass of wine, a good book/bad TV, maybe some light stretches – this is multi-tasking at its most satisfying.

I grew up watching my mum ignoring cooking times, substituting ingredients and cutting methodical corners (“you don’t need to use three separate bowls Delia, you can just stick it all in one bowl and stir harder”) so I’m a tad laissez-faire myself when it comes to the kitchen.

All home cooks know the art of trial and error. As writer and avid home cook Laurie Colwin puts it, “We learn by doing. If you never stuff a chicken with paté, you will never know that it is an unwise thing to do.”

But, with Marinetti cast aside, I’m on the lookout for a new gastronomic idol. There’s Colwin herself of course, with her enviably ramshackle culinary prowess, where mistakes are all part of the experience and every failed flan brings you closer to Laurie. And Nigella’s domestic goddess is perhaps the most coveted style of all – taken with or without the irony, as the mood strikes you.

I’m basically a sucker for being told how to live my life by people with better taste. So when I wake up on Friday mornings, two e-newsletters await me; Gwyneth Paltrow’s insipid, rich-person-inspo mailer, Goop and Jessica Valenti’s gloriously unpretentious, feminist-foodie weekly, Eat Me. The refreshing cynicism of the latter very much cancels out the saccharine unattainability of the former. But neither of them are quite me.

It is only tonight, as I absent-mindedly stir my bolognese, forty-five minutes into the hallowed sixty, that I realise the hour is a style all of its own. Not perfect, sure, but also not open to misconstrued sexism like Nigella, elitism like Gwyneth or suspicious nationalism like Filippo. It is unadulterated succour; a culinary languor that will soothe and restore before you’ve even taken your first bite.

Image: The Revolt, Luigi Russolo, 1911

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