Bolognese Meat Sauce

Gentl and Hyers / Sauces and Shapes
Ragù di carne (bolognese) 
(Bolognese meat sauce)

The authentic Bolognese sauce has become a sort of Holy Grail for Italian-food lovers, who comb Internet boards and English-language cookbooks for the "authentic" version. But often what they find is something no self-respecting Bolognese would recognize. Tomatoes? Never! (A little tomato paste for color doesn't count.) Garlic? Never ever! "Bolognese" is not a synonym for "meat sauce" but a specific meat sauce from a particular place where garlic and tomatoes are not part of the tradition. Nor is spaghetti.

The Bolognesi, says Oretta, who is one herself, are very traditionalist in the kitchen and would appear to be no less fixated (her word) on the authenticity of their ragù than everybody else. They have gone so far as to register with a notary the "true and authentic" recipe for ragù, which is the one we give here. They have also registered the filling of authentic tortellini and the dimensions of tagliatelle, so "fixated" does seem to be accurate.

Few dishes on earth are as satisfying as a good ragù, meaning the real thing, like this one. It's virtually all crumbled meat, dark and meat-colored with reddish highlights. You'll be tempted to eat it with a fork right out of the pot before it ever catches a whiff of the pasta.

This recipe yields about 4 cups (700 grams), the correct amount for Lasagne alla bolognese.

Pasta shapes: Need we mention that ragù is not served on spaghetti except to tourists? For that matter, in Bologna, traditionally spaghetti isn't served to anybody at all, much less with ragù. Rather, ragù is practically prescribed by law for Emilian egg tagliatelle and lasagne alla bolognese. It is also excellent with other types of egg pasta, such as pappardelle, fettuccine, homemade farfalle, or wide maltagliati, and on ravioli di ricotta e spinaci.

For the condimento:
  • 2 ounces (60 grams) pancetta
  • 1 onion, white or yellow
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 rib celery
  • 3 tablespoons (40 grams) unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, preferably lightly fruity
  • 5 ounces (150 grams) ground pork
  • 5 ounces (150 grams) ground beef (any lean cut)
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) chicken livers, trimmed and coarsely chopped
  • 2 1/2 ounces (70 grams) unsliced prosciutto di Parma, diced
  • 1/2 cup (100 milliliters) dry red wine
  • 1 level tablespoon (10 grams) tomato paste dissolved in 1 cup (200 milliliters) warm water
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (100 milliliters) whole milk
To make the dish:
  • 1 pound (450 grams) fresh egg pasta
  • 10 rounded tablespoons (100 grams) grated parmigiano-reggiano
Mince the pancetta, onion, carrot, and celery together (in the food processor if desired). Put the butter, oil, and pancetta mixture in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta just begins to brown, about 5 or 6 minutes.

Add the ground meats, chicken livers, and prosciutto. Cook gently, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, to brown everything evenly. Add the wine, turn up the heat, and let it evaporate, about 2 minutes. Add the dissolved tomato paste.

Simmer, covered, over low heat for about an hour and a half. At that point, the sauce should have a nice red color and have almost no liquid.

Add a level teaspoon of salt and a few grindings of pepper and cook slowly, covered, for another hour or so. Every so often, lift the lid and add a little of the milk until it is used up. Taste if you dare. You may want a second little spoonful, and then a third.

* * *

Make-ahead note: The process can be interrupted at this point and the sauce kept in the refrigerator for two or three days, tightly covered, or frozen. The sauce will certainly be tastier the second day.

* * *

Bring 5 quarts (5 liters) of water to a boil in an 8-quart (8-liter) pot over high heat. Add 3 tablespoons kosher salt, then add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Fresh tagliatelle will cook in only a couple of minutes.

Warm a serving bowl or platter in a low oven. If the oven is not practical, warm the bowl just before use with hot water, even a ladleful of the pasta cooking water.

Drain and transfer the pasta to the heated serving bowl or platter. Sprinkle first with the grated cheese, then add the sauce and mix well. Serve immediately.

* * *

Wine suggestion: Sangiovese di Romagna from Fattoria Zerbina

 

From Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way by Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

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