Ragu alla Bolognese – the Good Old Fashion Way

Bolognese is taken very seriously in Italy and rightly so – it is very delicious when done properly but it’s a shame it has been bastardized so much. If the people of Bologna could see what’s served under the name of Bolognese in a lot of places they would either die or send mama death squads armed with rolling pins to do justice to their local pride. Also, a ragu is best served on fresh egg pasta, especially tagliatelle or pappardelle. You can also serve it with short pasta such as penne, farfalle or fusilli or even gnocchi.

Sometimes, learning about the origin of a dish is the first step in figuring out how to make it properly. Bill Buford in the book ‘Heat’ describes it so well: “Fundamentally, a ragù is an equation involving a solid (meat) and a liquid (broth or wine), plus a slow heat, until you reach a result that is neither solid nor liquid. The most famous ragù is Bolognese, although there is not one Bolognese but many. Gianni Valdiserri confessed to me when I was in Porretta that when he and Betta married – Betta pregnant, sixteen years old, and still in school – he was concerned that he hadn’t tasted her ragù. This ragù, which she’d learned from an aunt, had been passed down through many generations of her family and would be different from the ragù that Gianni had grown up eating, his mother’s, which was profound and complex and touched something deep in his soul. He also knew that he’d never be able to teach Betta to make someone else’s. A ragù, he said, was a very personal thing. So imagine his happiness when he first ate a ragù made by Betta and discovered that yes, it was different from his mother’s – and better.”

…He married her without having tasted her ragu?!.. Gianni was clearly out of his mind! I mean guys… don’t fall into the trap of not tasting a girl’s ragu before the first date. That’s just CRAZY!!

Ragu alla Bolognese

serves 8

4 lbs mix of ground beef, pork and veal (1/3 each)
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
sprig of rosemary and sprig of sage, tied together
4 garlic cloves
1 bottle of red wine
2 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cups tomato passata/sauce
salt and pepper

To serve

pasta, preferably pappardelle, tagliatelle or short pasta
freshly grated pecorino or locatelli cheese

Take the meat out of the fridge and lay it on a tray and let it come to room temperature, so that it will sear rather than steam when it goes into the pan.

Heat the oil in a wide-bottomed saucepan, add the vegetables, herbs and whole garlic cloves, and sweat over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes without allowing it to color ( you will need to keep stirring).

Season the meat with salt and pepper and add to the pan of vegetables, making sure that the meat is covering the base of the pan. Leave for about 5 to 6 minutes, so that the meat seals underneath and heats through completely, before you start stirring (otherwise it will ooze protein and liquid and it will steam rather than sear). Take care, though, that the vegetables don’t burn – add a little more oil, if necessary, to stop this happening.

Stir the meat and vegetables every few minutes for about 10 to 12 minutes, until the meat starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. At this point, the meat is ready to take the wine.

Add the wine and let it reduce right down to virtually nothing, then add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes, stirring all the time.

Add the passata with, 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil then turn down to simmer and cook for about 1 1/2 hours, adding a little extra water if necessary from time to time, until you have a thick sauce.

When you are ready to serve the ragu, cook your pasta and drain, reserving some cooking water. Add the pasta to the ragu and toss well, adding some of the cooking water, if necessary, to loosen the sauce. Serve with freshly grated pecorino or locatelli.

Once you try this, you won’t go back to your old ways of making a Bolognese. Yes, it’s that good! Mark the date on your calendars as a benchmark, a turning point in your life. The beginning of the new You.

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  • Claude-Olivier

    Et avec ca un grand vin du Piemont et c’est le paradis sur Terre…ah la bolognèse, la vraie, c’est vraiment autre chose! bonne journée, ciao

  • Manggy

    That’s just mean, Zenman >:( After your comments about Italians I will be expecting those knives on my doorstep any time soon 😛 (by the way, there’s a cheese called Locatelli?)

    Oh nooo! I’m not supposed to use spaghetti?! How can we not have English “Spag Bol” then? With fusilli, it becomes “FusBol!” :) But I agree, it should hold a bit of sauce– bucatini is also great. The recipe looks fantastic!

  • Peter M

    I can appreciate Italians going nuts when they see bastardized italian dishes (same thing happens with Greek food).

    Personally, I make mine without celery but otherwise I’d no problems eating or making a traditional Bolognese.

  • Ann

    Your bolognese looks delicious, but I am not ashamed to admit that I also like Jack’s British Spag Bol, even if it does have brown sauce in it.

    Definitely agree on the choice of pasta, though.

  • Meghan

    From an italian girl… this bolognese looks pretty darn GREAT!!!

  • F.O.T.

    This looks great, but what do you mean by 4 lbs ground beef, preferably neck? Preferably neck? Is that exactly what I ask the butcher? Will he look at me weird? What, exactly, does cow neck beef look like?

  • claire

    Formidable, mais dis donc mon grand, ton bouquet garni, tu le ligotes avec un élastique en caoutchouc? est-ce que c’est ça, finalement, le secret du goût du vrai ragù?

  • Elle

    I’m going to make this, because you told me to and I completely trust you. But it’ll have to be after my cold and fever is gone. In the meantime, I’ll keep a look out for the mama death squads, because…who knew???

  • Zen Chef

    Claude, je te fais confiance sur le choix du vin. :-)

    Manggy, hahaha. Let’s have some fusbol then! Yes, there’s a cheese called Locatelli. It’s my favorite thing to put on pasta.

    Peter, I know. Don’t mess with the Greeks either when it comes to food, right? Haha

    Ann, can you believe in never had spagbol? Am I missing out on some rare culinary delight? :-)

    Meghan. Damn that feels good! :-)

    F.O.T. You keep changing your name on me! :-) Neck will look just like ground beef except it has a deeper beefy flavor and a good marble. If your butcher look at you funny, change butcher. Hehe.

    Claire. Sacrilege!! Du caoutchouc dans ma Bolognese? Jamais! Je n’avais plus de ficelle alors j’ai utilisé mes lacets de chaussures. :-) Nike est bien meilleur que Reebook, by the way. P’tit goût sympa. Hehe. D’accord mon canard?

    Elle. Feel better! Thank you for trusting me. :-) Now, can I borrow your car? Hehe. Try this, you won’t be disappointed.

  • F.O.T.

    But my picture stays the same! Thanks for the info!

  • SCB

    Zen! The best Bolognese in town (according to ME) was always at Emilio Ballato’s (Houston bet Mott/Mulberry). Although it’s been a while, I bet it’s still excellent. Let me know if you want to go taste it 😉

  • Mike of Mike’s Table

    This looks delicious. My burger plans for the evening seem woefully lacking now as my stomach growls for bolognese.

  • glamah16

    Your a riot.Thanks for the real deal on a proper Bolognese.I will sneer at anyone that serves me a spaghetti version.

  • Nina’s Kitchen (Nina Timm)

    You did not mention where Giorgio washes his hair, if ever….
    I agree, the secret is in the slow heat, I think…..

  • b

    I had the very question that F.O.T. did and thanks for answering it! That beef neck threw me for a loop!

    Wow… and who knew that a woman’s ragu could be a substantial condition for marriage?! :)

  • doggybloggy

    thats similar to my bolognese – minus the ground neck and minus the locatelli and minus the rosemary and sage….ok ok its nothing like what I make…but my last name is close to in sound to ‘gorgonzola’

  • Chef Erik

    Sounds great, I will have to try it with veggie beef(I know your salivating). Very nice recipe.

  • cakewardrobe

    After seeing this, all of the sudden, my dinner doesn’t look so good :(

  • Kevin

    That bolognese sounds tasty

  • Chicken & Waffles

    I never really knew what a ragout was, but thanks for clarifying its role as a rookie aphrodisiac. Messy, yes, but if it can contain such a riotous bolognese sauce, imagine what it could do as a martial device!

  • waliz

    the way u make blognese make me ashame of my blognese…i was lucky i have no italian friends to taste my cooking…!

  • Emiline

    I lOVE your recipes – this looks wonderful! A whole bottle of wine = yes!
    I agree about the spaghetti, too. I prefer other pasta, anyway. Like rigatoni!

    Had my first soba noodles today, but that’s not Italian. Duh.

  • Jenny

    I know that I haven’t had “real” bolognese and boy am I missing out from the looks of this! Master chef is at it again!

    Parlez vous Francais? Drats, that’s all I remember from high school!

  • Tartelette

    I have been asked if I could make crepes or Bechamel on a first date but never Bolognese… :)
    Looks wonderful Chef!

  • Dirty Kitchen Secrets

    Hehe that’s funny…great minds think alike! Looks delicious!

  • AzAzura

    Bolognese reminds me of my uni days, it gorgeous and I can cook it fairly well as I am a minced person, throw me a ragu and I am all yours and even looking at this picture of your ragu, I am wondering if we were meant to be :)

    Hope you are well, xo

  • Jack

    Well of course we know it takes this much care, love, time and cheesy surname action to make a killer, genuine bolognese but when you need to knock out a quickie after a hard day at work… ya gotta cut a few corners, right?

    Having said that, I’m putting this on my “Gotta try that” list!

  • Helene

    Now you’re talking. I have to make this before I die. And that Giorgio looks pretty cute.

  • Vicarious Foodie

    Four pounds of beef? Wow that’s a lot! I’m sure it’s worth it though. I really love bolognese sauce and I suppose I should start making it the proper way.

  • cakebrain

    It’s nice to see this kind of passion concerning traditional recipes. Your bolognese sauce looks like it can evoke some passion on the tastebuds too!

  • foodhuntress79

    Blogognese makes sense! Hahaaa.. Yes, I have a penchant for traditional recipes too… and for chefs with unshaven face who shower in the kitchen sink and ocassionally smoke hand- rolled cigarettes. And if he can make a great bolognese like this… what else is missing? 😉

  • Chicken & Waffles

    Chunky meaty goodness! I would like to bathe in it. I mean, it has to be good for the complexion, no? Look at Sophia Loren.

  • Sarah

    I wish you hadn’t escaped to the warm trenches of tropical landscape. I need a bit more information on a passata! Is this something exquisite that you can purchase? Or is there no comparison to a homemade passata for this particular bolognese recipe? My time is fleeting this week, but I have all the herbs and ingredients ready to prepare this recipe, minus the passata, whatever that is! Help, asap!

  • F.O.T.

    Hi Sarah,
    I asked this same question and this is what he told me:

    “You can use canned plum tomatoes processed in a blender. Passata is a raw tomato sauce. You can also use a tomato sauce in a jar if you prefer, they both work. “

    Good luck!

  • http://fuhkit.com JD

    Can you recommend a good red to use for this recipe? Something affordable. I tend to have trouble when it comes to choosing wines for cooking. thanks Z

  • http://www.fuhkit.com JD

    Thank you for the recommendations on wines. Oddly enough I had a Brunello di Montalcino 1997 catching dust in the wine fridge. It worked perfectly and the final product was great. The only thing I would do differently next time, would be to add some additional diced tomato.

  • Jackie

    I’ve made this many times, a couple days ago I made it with rabbit, and a few very minor modifications to accomodate the meat, and it came out delicious.  Thanks so much for yet another delicious recipe!