I was doing an apprenticeship of sorts in Chef Vincenzo's kitchen at Ristoranti Mediterraneo in Positano, as part of my Positano cooking holiday with Cooking Vacations
Apart from peeling mounds of garlic and cleaning loads of shrimp, I also learnt a few dishes from scratch. But more importantly, I picked up lots of tricks of the trade. The flavours, the colours, the smell, the sounds and the look of a dish.
Here's something Chef Vincenzo showed me that's probably the soul of Italian cooking: the basic Bolognese ragu. I've done this a few times at home before, with mixed results. I usually follow Bill Buford's highly entertaining account of learning Tuscan 'renaissance' ragu from Dario Cecchini
Chef Vincenzo followed more or less the same method. Use onions, carrots and celery as the base, add a few sprigs of bay leaf and sweat them in olive oil, add minced beef and stir stir stir till dry and gravelly, add red wine and let the wine evaporate, stir stir stir still dryish again, add tomatoes, season and simmer till reduced to the consistency you want, which should ideally be thickish, semi-dry and reddish-brown. Before tossing into the pasta, heat with a few drops of olive oil and perhaps a pinch of tomato sauce.
The secret of how long you simmer depends on your ingredients, your mood, which region of Italy you come from, which wine you have used, what you feel is the right consistency, and what to do if the consistency is not right. Whatever you do, DO NOT argue with an Italian when he tells you that his mama's ragu is the best.
Watch the slideshow
Goodfood in Italy series so far