Lucio Fanni. I know, I know, technically I didn't cook with him in Italy. But I took a quick side trip recently through Santa Cruz and went by Cafe Lucio to say hello and grab a bowl of pasta. (Lucio is on the right)
Before I left for Italy, I commented on a change Lucio made to his fusilli con tonno. He made a couple tweeks that re-invented the dish. Now for his latest tweek, his rigatoni bolognese. The sauce in the past had always been heavy on sage flavors and incredibly thick with meat. Today the recipe has been adapted to carry significantly more bay leaf, finished with basil, and have less meaty thickness almost a loosness due to tomatoes.
The use of bay leaf in Italy, especially Southern Italy was ubiquitous. It imparts a sweetness to sauces and is a welcome addition to grilled meats. It doesn't have the same potency as rosemary and it's not as floral as oregano. Using fresh bay leaf rather than those desiccated leaves you find in the store make all the difference.
I have been making various styles of bolognese over the past several months. In fact, I just had Chiarello's Pappardelle Bolognese at Bottega in Yountville. I think what I have come across is real style differences and a greater understanding of the flexibility of bolognese or heavily meat based sauces.
All the sauces I've had recently have been well prepared. As my tastes change over time, I have found that I have a real appreciation for the incorporation of mushrooms, white wine, and sage into my meat based sauces. Lucio's original sauce from Al Dente is what stuck in my food memory. The bolognese sauces I made in Italy stuck as outstanding. The use of bay leaf I didn't experience much in Northern Italy. Using lots of tomato is irregular when making a meat based sauce, except in the States.
It's difficult for me to argue with The Master and perhaps he is catering to his base in Santa Cruz. Perhaps he's just experimenting. His pasta was $19 which is steep. I hope there are not evil forces at work behind the scenes forcing him to adapt to an American palate and pay the rent. Yes, of course I'll be back to try something else. His re-creation of the fusilli con tonno was masterful.