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
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
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.