Il Ragù alla Bolognese

Tagliatelle al Ragù at a restaurant in Bologna

While I was studying in Bologna this past summer, I stumbled upon an Italian cookbook called “Sfida al Mattarello:  I segreti della sfoglia bolognese.”  I’m no expert in the Italian language, but I believe that more or less translates to “Challenge by the Rolling Pin:  The secrets of Bolognese pasta.”  It was written by Margherita and Valeria Simili, better known as Sorelle Simili, twins born in Bologna famous for their expertise in traditional Bolognese cooking.  Even though it is written in Italian, my fluency in Spanish along with an online dictionary was enough to figure out what the recipe more or less said.

Their detailed recipe micromanages every step giving the impression that this is harder to make than it actually is.  This reinforces my anecdotal observation that for Italians, cooking is as much a ritual as it is a process.  However, if Sorelle Simili tells me that I absolutely have to pour the wine at the edge of the pan so that it is warm by the time it gets to the meat in the center because we do not want cold wine to touch the meat while it cooks, I listen even if it makes absolutely no sense to me.

Diced onion, celery, and carrot

25 grams of butter (about 2 tablespoons)
50 grams of pancetta or prosciutto diced
500 grams of lean ground beef (about 1.1 pounds)
500 grams of tomato sauce (either canned or make your own sauce by peeling the tomatoes, removing the seeds and blending the left over tomato “meat”)
2 tablespoons of diced onions
2 tablespoons of diced celery
2 tablespoons of diced carrot
1 chicken liver diced
1/2 cup of dry white wine (one good enough to drink)
2 cups of whole milk
2 cups of beef broth
Salt, pepper, a little bit of nutmeg, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil

First, mix the tomato sauce and broth in a small sauce pan and keep it on a low flame.  Also, add the milk to a sauce pan and put it on a low flame until it is warm.

Now, In a wide shallow pan (to allow moisture to evaporate more quickly), add the butter and the oil and cook on a medium flame until the butter melts.  Next, add the onion and cook slowly.  At first you’ll notice the sharp scent of the onion that eventually turns sweet.

Only when the onion has lost its sharp scent and turned sweet do you add the celery and after a minute, the carrot.  Cooking the vegetables in this way supposedly prevents everything from tasting like onion.  I told you they micromanage!

Once mixed, add the pancetta/prosciutto and allow to cook for a minute.

Now, the bizarre part,.  Well, bizarre to me anyway.  Move the vegetables to the border of the pan.  Add the liver to center of the pan and carefully stir.  Make sure the vegetables do not touch the uncooked liver otherwise your ragù will have an overwhelming liver flavor.

Only when the liver has completely changed color, signal that the liver has cooked all the way through, do you mix everything together.

Move everything to the edge of the pan again.  Increase the flame to high and add a third of the ground beef to the center of the pan, stirring it constantly.  This allows the moisture to evaporate as quickly as possible.

When the meat has partially changed color, free up the center of the pan again, and add another third of the ground beef to the center.  Stir as you did before.  Repeat with the last third of the ground beef.

When the beef has fully cooked, add a third of the white wine to the edge of the pan.  This allows the white wine to warm up before it touches the cooked beef.  Wait until the white wine has evaporated before adding the next third.  This will happen not when you no longer see any liquid, but rather when you no longer smell the wine.  Repeat this process until the wine is gone.

Now add the warm milk in two or three passes.

Salt and pepper to taste and add just a little nutmeg.

Transfer everything to a deep pot to prevent the moisture from evaporating too quickly.  Add the tomato sauce and beef broth.  Allow it to simmer for about 2 hours or until it thickens to your liking.  If you’re using this sauce with tagliatelle, it should be very thick.

Since the process can be a little time consuming, you can always double or triple the recipe and freeze the sauce for later.  This sauce goes great with fresh tagliatelle, spaghetti or other noodle-like pastas.

You just made traditional Bolognese ragù!  What do you think?  A little too much micromanaging?  What pastas do you like to use with your ragù?

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3 thoughts on “Il Ragù alla Bolognese

    • It tasted fantastic! Just like in Bologna, actually. Thanks for pointing out the book to me. 😉 It depends on how much sauce you like in your pasta, but it serves about a pound to a pound and a half of pasta.

  1. Mmmmm, looks good! I think if I make it, I will add all the veggies and meat at once. Then I will add the wine and milk slowly to the mixture. We can compare to see how the two versions differ in taste.

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