Tag Archives: ragu alla bolognese

Just don’t call it Bolognese

25 Apr

There isn’t a tomato in sight here. Those reddish/orangeish spots you see? Carrots. Not tomatoes. Like I said.

Aside from that single omission, what we have here is your basic (and very tasty) Bolognese sauce, or, more properly, ragu.

Except that this isn’t a Bolognese ragu at all. Because a Bolognese must include at least a little bit of tomato. You can call it a Bolognese if it doesn’t have tomato, as many people do. But you—and they—would be wrong to do so.

You want a true Bolognese? Then click right here and I’ll show you one. Otherwise bear with me while we prepare what most people call a “White Bolognese.” Most people, that is, except for the ones in Bologna, Italy, home to the classic ragu. And me, of course.

This is pretty simple stuff. Two large carrots, three celery stalks, a medium-size onion and around 1/4 pound of pancetta, all diced pretty fine.

In a dutch oven slowly brown the pancetta in olive oil at a low heat.

When the pancetta has lightly browned (not too crispy) add the vegetables and 1/2 cup of dry white wine or vermouth and cook at medium to high heat until the wine has evaporated.

Here I’ve finely diced 1 pound of beef (boneless short rib here) and around 1/4 pound of pork (boneless rib). Feel free to use just a pound of beef (even ground), as I was just playing around by adding a little pork. Hell, I’d planned on throwing in a couple chicken livers but forgot that I’d bought them and so they stayed in the fridge. Dammit!

Once the wine evaporates add the meat and allow it to brown lightly.

The add around two cups of homemade stock (I used chicken stock, but only because I didn’t have any beef stock left in the freezer).

As the sauce is simmering (at medium-low heat) keep a small pot filled with a quart of whole milk on extremely low heat. Every 15 minutes or so stir in a little milk until it’s used up. In around two hours the sauce will be done.

Even though I wasn’t making a Bolognese I thought it’d be nice to use one of the brass pasta cutters we picked up in Bologna last year. But you go ahead and use any pasta you like.

This is a shot of the unadulterated end result, but I highly recommend topping the pasta with some Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Oh, and if you’re not in a hurry, prepare the sauce a day in advance, not the day you want to eat it. This is definitely the kind of thing that improves overnight.

No matter what you call it.

Ragu alla Bolognese

14 Dec


Pay attention because this is important: It only looks like a pasta course you have seen me prepare here a couple hundred times before.

But it isn’t. Until a few weeks ago I didn’t even know such a thing as this existed. I swear.

What you have here is the official, government-sanctioned recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese, commonly referred to as Bolognese Sauce. The recipe was “notarized and deposited” in the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Bologna on October 17th, 1982, by “solemn decree” of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (the Italian Academy of Cuisine).  

Who knew?

Turns out, not many. My friend Biancamaria is from Bologna and she never heard of any “official” Ragu alla Bolognese recipe. Which is saying something because, as she tells me, “when I was a child every Sunday we had ragu.” 

I didn’t catch up with Bianca on a recent visit to Bologna (she’s living in the English countryside now with Massimo and their daughter Delfina) but on at least four occasions I got to sample authentic Ragu alla Bolognese. And it’s nothing like many of the so-called Bolognese sauces you’ll come across elsewhere. 

For starters, a lot of “Bolognese” sauces are basically tomato sauces that have meat in them. A real Bolognese is a meat sauce that has only a touch of tomato. The earliest examples of Ragu alla Bolognese didn’t include any tomato at all. And forget about using pasta shapes like spaghetti; nobody in Bologna would even think of pairing their ancient ragu with anything but a flat, fresh pasta such as tagliatelle. Just ask for tagliatelle at a restaurant in Bologna and watch what you get. Same thing if you ask only for ragu.

Anyway, and as you no doubt have surmised, I just had to give the “notorized” recipe a shot. I’ve reprinted it in its entirety below, but here is the link as well. Just a note about the ingredients: My quantities are not exactly those shown in the recipe. I have, however, made the necessary adjustments to follow the recipe as closely as possible.



Start out by finely chopping equal amounts of onion, carrot and celery. Here we’ve got just under 3 ounces of each.



Finely dice around 1/2 lb. of pancetta and then brown in a Dutch oven that’s large enough to accommodate all the recipe’s ingredients.



Add the onion, carrot and celery to the browned pancetta and saute until the vegetables are nicely softened.



Okay, about the meat. The recipe calls for ground skirt steak, but skirt wasn’t available and so I went with tender hanger steak instead. Rather than grind the meat I decided to very finely dice it, as I have seen both approaches taken. This is one pound of beef.



Once the vegetables have softened add the beef and allow it to brown.



Then add 1/2 cup of wine (I went with white but red is also approved) and, here’s the tricky part, a small amount of tomato. The recipe calls for either tomato sauce or highly concentrated tomato paste. I made a small quantity of very simple tomato sauce and added around a cup here. I also added a little homemade beef stock, as this is also mentioned in the recipe.



At this point things are supposed to simmer for two hours, at a low flame. But don’t expect to make yourself scarce for these couple hours. Because little by little you’ll need to stir in very small amounts of whole milk, at fairly regular intervals, until you’ve gone through one full cup.



Speaking of milk, an “optional but advisable” addition to the sanctioned recipe is panna di cottura. Basically that means whole milk that has been slowly simmered to half its original volume. That’s around 1 1/3 quarts of milk you see in the pot there. While the sauce was slowly simmering so was the milk, until it was halved. 

After two hours of simmering (and only a slight addition of salt and pepper to taste) this is what the ragu looked like. But we aren’t finished yet.



The next step is to slowly stir in the panna di cottura (the reduced whole milk). Since this step was “advisable” I decided to throw caution to the wind and use up all the milk.

I know, this looks awfully cream sauce-like, doesn’t it. I was nervous too.



But it turns out I didn’t need to be. This was a damned fine ragu that I’ll be working on until it tastes like I’m back in Bologna. 

If that doesn’t work, there’s always Alitalia.

The Official Ragu alla Bolognese
Reprinted from Accademia Italiana della Cucina. 

Ingredients

300 gr. beef cartella (thin skirt)
150 gr. pancetta, dried
50 gr. carrot
50 gr. celery stalk
50 gr. onion
5 spoons tomato sauce or 20 gr. triple tomato extract
1 cup whole milk
Half cup white or red wine, dry and not frizzante
Salt and pepper, to taste.


Procedure

The pancetta, cut into little cubes and chopped with a mezzaluna chopping knife, is melted in a saucepan; the vegetables, once again well chopped with the mezzaluna, are then added and everything is left to stew softly. Next the ground beef is added and is left on the stovetop, while being stirred constantly, until it sputters. The wine and the tomato cut with a little broth are added and everything left to simmer for around two hours, adding little by little the milk and adjusting the salt and black pepper. Optional but advisable is the addition of the panna di cottura of a litre of whole milk at the end of the cooking.