It’s named for the town of Bologna from which it hails and, though there are many variations on this recipe, this one follows all the rules of a classic ragù alla bolognese.
As in it uses cured pork (ideally something from the region like prosciutto), calls for a minced mirepoix, doesn’t use too many tomatoes, and has dairy added at the end (a key to make the sauce silky).
So, there are a lot of different takes on this out there but it's pretty simple: a ragù is a meat based sauce. It was traditionally made by the Italian working class as a way to get the most flavor out of the cuts of meat they could afford.
If you've cooked a bit of French food, you're probably thinking that the term ragout -- to reference a vegetable and meat stew -- and ragù are really similar. And it's with good reason: the Italian term is believed to have made its way from France to Italy and cemented itself in the Italian culinary scene around the Renaissance. Back then the sauce was more of a standalone dish but with time it got paired with pasta.
Like many traditional Italian recipes, there are countless variations. However, the prestigious institutions, the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, declared in 1982 that there are some foundational flavors to the dish. Meaning that to be called a Bolognese, the sauce should have ground meat (veal, beef, or pork), pancetta, carrots, celery, onions, wine, a touch of broth, some tomatoes, and a glass of heavy milk or cream.
The biggest things to remember when making this sauce are to get the highest quality ingredients you can find, to cook everything slowly, and to exercise restraint because it's definitely a less is more situation.
If you've had leftover sauce then you know that it gets better as it sits. And, if there's ever a time a sauce is better, it's with ragù alla bolognese. Make the sauce up to three days ahead of time and just rewarm it before you use it.
And, yes, if you’re making the lasagna, you will have extra -- feel free to toss it with tagliatelle for another traditional dish or freeze it to use it later.
Heads up that we made this recipe during our Cooking Club Lasagna Workshop. So, if you want to see it made step by step -- and get a glimpse of the menu we'd pair this with -- go ahead and check out the recording of the workshop.
Okay, now it's time to stock up your panty with all the Italian essential ingredients, then try your hand at making this.
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peeled and minced
ends trimmed and minced
peeled and minced
(ideally 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio)
(like a Chianti or Sangiovese)
(not tomato paste)
or store bought bone broth or homemade beef or chicken stock
or heavy cream
Brown The Prosciutto And Pancetta: If you can, buy the prosciutto and the pancetta each in 4 ounce pieces as it’ll make it easier to dice. Place both in the freezer for 5 minutes before cutting to make it easier to handle. Using a sharp knife or a serrated knife, dice them into very small pieces.
Add the olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven and heat over medium heat then stir in the diced prosciutto and pancetta to coat it in the oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has cooked off and the meats are golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Sweat The Vegetables: Stir in minced onion, celery, and carrots, reduce the heat to medium low, and let cook until the vegetables are translucent and soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Taste the vegetables and add salt and pepper (the pancetta and prosciutto bring a lot of salt so don’t be too aggressive).
Add The Ground Meat: Add the ground pork and ground beef and break it up with a spoon until the meat is relatively the same size. Add salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add in the wine and cook until it just starts to steam. Add in the tomatoes and the broth and stir to combine.
Simmer The Ragu: Let it cook, uncovered, over low heat so it just barely bubbles. Stir every 10 to 15 minutes and cook until it reduces and it all breaks down, about 4 to 5 hours.
Skim The Ragu: Use a spoon to remove any accumulated fat and discard it. Then, pour in the milk or cream, in four additions, over the last 20 to 30 minutes of cooking. Remove the ragu from the heat and add in more salt and pepper as desired.
Serve tossed with tagliatelle and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or use in the Lasagne alla Bolognese recipe.
The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. Store refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use. The sauce can also be frozen up to two months. Defrost and use as desired.
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