September 1 is almost upon us (three sleeps to be precise), and all I can think about is Bolognese and my impending challenge. Excited? Yes. Nervous? A little. Will I be able to judge each Bolognese dish honestly and fairly? I hope so. I’ve come up with a detailed judging criteria to help me achieve this. Each dish will be scored out of 20 according to four elements; presentation, texture, flavour and portion size.
I’m not going to beat around the bush – Spaghetti Bolognese aint the most pretty dish in the world, but there are a few appearance factors I find important. Firstly, the colour of the pasta and sauce is telling. A bright red sauce isn’t a good sign for me – it often means there is too much tomato and/or the sauce is not developed enough. On the other hand, too dark of a brown colour is also a troubling sign indicating too much of a meaty taste and not enough tomato. As for the pasta, the more amber in colour the better (though many use dried pasta, and this I have no problem with). Another presentation factor is whether the sauce is dolloped on top, or stirred through. I am a stir through purist.
Texture is next on my list. The pasta must be al dente – it should have a bounciness and chewiness to it. Under no circumstances should the Spaghetti stick together. As for the sauce – I love a melt in the mouth type – little chunks of Bolognese which just dissolve on the tongue. The sauce shouldn’t be too thick, nor should it be too runny (it will just sink to the bottom). Each string of Spaghetti should be coated with sauce and sprinkled with little balls of flavoured tomatoey meaty goodness, and if chunks need to be chewed we’re in trouble. At the other extreme, all chunk and not enough sauce makes a dry Bolognese. A good test is to dip a piece of buttered bread into the sauce – if it comes out with a mixture of sauce and chunks there you’ll find a big smile on my face.
Most important of all is the flavour. I like a ballsy rich sauce with a hint of sweetness. There should be a delicate balance of tomato and meat – one should not overpower the other, and the flavours should be well developed (two-three hour minimum cooking time is a good rule). I will also be looking for a balance of subtle acidity. Things like seasoning and aftertaste will be considered here too.
And finally, the portion size and pasta-to-sauce ratio. I like a bit of Bolognese left at the bottom of the bowl, but not too much. There is an element of joy using a piece of buttered bread to mop up the remnants of sauce.
So there you have it – an insight into this Bolognese lover’s ideal Spaghetti Bolognese. Whose Spaghetti Bolognese will come out on top? Follow the journey, starting in a few days.