by Henry Gould – Oct 25th, 2019
Ragu Bolognese, the slow cooked meat sauce typical of the city of Bologna, served often but not always with tagliatelle egg noodles, is well loved the world over. However, if you want to start a quick argument, try asking four Italian Nonna’s the “correct” way to make it. Questions like this are almost guaranteed to end in shouting, dramatic hand gestures, and hurt feelings.
Below is the version I like to cook, which I think would stand up nicely in any trattoria across Emilia-Romagna, and hopefully not offend too many grandmother’s. I’ve eaten ragu from Parma to Modena and this tastes just as good, if not better, so take that for what it’s worth…
There’s lots of debate around ragu Bolognese (milk, tomato, type of meat(s)). This version uses some milk, a little white wine, 3 different types of meat (sausage, beef, lamb) and a small spoon of tomato paste. If you want to add or subtract any of those, go right ahead.
- 6 Italian fennel sausages, uncased
- 250g ground beef
- 500g boneless stewing lamb, cut into tiny pieces
- 1 bottle dry white wine (Cono Sur Viognier is cheap and good for cooking)
- 500ml 2% milk
- 1/2 can tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp ground Coriander seeds
- 1 Nutmeg seed
- 1 large white onion, finely diced
- 1 large carrot, finely diced
- 2 sticks celery, finely diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely diced
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (for serving)
In a big pot, heat some olive oil and butter to melt, then add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic and begin to cook. Cook for 20 minutes slowly, making sure not to let the vegetables brown.
Add all the meats, season with salt and pepper, and start breaking up with a spatula or wooden spoon. This takes a while, you don’t want any big chunks of meat. Everything should be very finely broken up, so take the time to make sure it’s nice and broken up.
Turn the heat up and continue cooking. Add the bay leaves, coriander, and finely grate in half the Nutmeg seed. Now, this stage takes a while… like an hour. All the water will start releasing from the meat, and following that just the fat will be left, at which point you will keep stirring and cooking the meat until it start to brown. If the bottom of the pan seems too dry, add more butter and olive oil. If there’s not enough fat the meat will scorch to the bottom of the pan, ruining the sauce. Fat is your friend…
After ~1 hour, the meat should be starting to brown nicely. Add the tomato paste and start to fry it in the fat left in the pan. Keep stirring to caramalize all the meat in the tomato paste.
Then, add some white wine to deglaze the pan (~250 – 350ml), scraping everything off the bottom of the pot. Start with about 1/2 bottle of the wine, but use more if it seems too dry. Cook until almost all the wine has evaporated.
Then, add some milk (250 – 500ml) until the sauce looks quite loose, but not too watery. It should be reddy brown, like a brick. Lower the heat, cover with a lid, and allow to cook for an hour. After an hour, check the seasoning. Because you’re probably going to be eating this sauce with some sort of grain (pasta, risotto, polenta) you want it to be richly flavored and well seasoned. Season with salt and pepper.
If serving with pasta, add some of the ragu to a different pan and put on medium heat. Cook your pasta until 1 minute under package instructions, then toss the pasta in the ragu pan and cook for a final minute together. Toss in grated parmigiano reggiano and serve.