Full disclosure here ~ if I take my favorite jarred marinara sauce and doctor it up with browned ground beef, some onions and spices, Meathead thinks it’s the best pasta sauce he’s ever had. And it’s good, but it’s not Bolognese ragù. I’m not talking a quick 15 minute sauce here ~ this is a Classic Bolognese Ragù and it takes a couple of hours to come together.
I remember making a Bolognese sauce years ago and then I guess I just forgot about it. An authentic Bolognese ragù has some specific ingredients: ground meat, pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, meat broth, red wine, milk, salt and pepper. That’s it and that’s what I used for this Bolognese ragù.
I used ground beef and ground pork, or you could use ground veal instead of pork (pork is easier for me to find). The sauce starts with a soffritto of onion, carrot and celery. Then you basically start layering the flavors in and letting them simmer and develop. No chopped whole tomatoes in this sauce, just some tomato paste and chicken stock and a little red wine. After a long simmer, the ragù is finished off with some milk, and some more simmering.
The resulting flavor of this sauce is deeply complex, especially with relatively few ingredients and no garlic or spices. It’s traditional to toss it with pappardelle pasta, adding a little pasta water if it’s too thick. I had no pappardelle, but I had a rustic pasta called Cicatelli Molisani from Southern Italy, often tossed with a “ragout” sauce ~ perfect! Try and use a hearty pasta, like pappardelle or rigatoni, or like the one I used, to stand up to this meaty ragù.
I highly recommend trying a Classic Bolognese Ragù at home ~ it’s simple to make, full of rich flavor and well worth the time. I froze about half of it for later, and Meathead and I enjoyed a bowl of pasta, some crusty bread and a glass of wine. And, dare I say, each other’s company.
Buon appetito, Kelly
Another of my favorite sauces for pasta is Sunday Gravy. It, too, takes some time but is so worth it and perfect on a cold winter weekend.
Classic Bolognese Ragù
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped, about 1½ cups (see notes below)
- 2 ribs celery, finely chopped, about 1 cup (see notes below)
- 2 carrots, finely chopped, about ¾ cup (see notes below)
- 6 oz ground beef, 85% lean (I used ground sirloin)
- 6 oz ground pork (could use veal instead)
- 4 oz thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 3 cups (about) chicken stock, divided
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 lb pasta, preferably pappardelle, tagliatelle or fettuccine
- Grated Parmesan, for serving
- Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery and carrots and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes. Add beef, pork and pancetta and continue sautéing, breaking up the meat as it cooks to a small crumble, until browned, another 15 minutes.
- Add wine and boil for 1 minute, stirring and scraping up any browned bits. Add 2½ cups chicken stock and tomato paste, stir to combine. Reduce heat to very low and cook at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1½ hours. Season with salt and pepper.
- In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer. Gradually add hot milk to the sauce, a little at a time and stirring to blend. Cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer another 45 minutes until the milk is completely absorbed. If needed, add more stock by ¼-cupfuls to thin (I did not find this necessary).
- Cook pasta in large pot of salted water until 1 minute shy of al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water. Transfer ragù to large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pasta and toss to coat. Add reserved pasta water, a little at a time, as necessary, if it seems too dry. Plate and serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
- I find the easiest way to get finely chopped vegetables for this soffritto is to use the food processor. Roughly chop the vegetables and process, one at a time, until very finely chopped.
- I froze some of the Bolognese and when I thawed and reheated it, I used some more chicken stock to thin the sauce a bit.
*Adapted from Bon Appétit, May, 2011