Everybody has their own version of Bolognese, or Ragu as we call it in my house. My recipe, handed down from three generations, stays true to my uncle Gianni’s version. As I’ve mentioned before, my family is from Ferrara and Bologna, the food capital of Italy. With such amazing products as Parmigiano, Mortadella, Balsamic Vinegar, Tortellini and Ravioli coming from my region, Emilia-Romagna, it indeed is a wonderful place to visit and have family!
One of my first food memories is Ragu, my mother made it every week, and when I met my uncle in 1986, I also tasted his version, passed down to him from his mother, who owned a restaurant in a little town outside of Bologna. Cut to 26 years later, I now make it very often, because alas, it is my daughter’s favorite (along with Carbonara). So needless to say, I can make this with my eyes closed.
There is something so comforting to me about Ragu. Just the cooking process screams comfort, and time-honored tradition. I like to use a mix of pork and veal, pancetta, and white wine. And I let it simmer for three hours or more, if I have the time. As my uncle explained to me, his mother taught him how to make this when he was 12 years old, and said, start out on a large flame, and keep moving it to smaller, and smaller flames so it can simmer delicately for hours. And the smells wafting from the kitchen….divine. For me, it always tastes better than next day, when the flavors have fully developed, but my daughter can’t wait to have it the moment it’s done.
It seems like a daunting long process, but actually, once you are done with the preparation, all you have to do is sit back and let it bubble, and just enjoy the warmth in your kitchen like I do.
Ragu alla Bolognese
2 slices pancetta, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, minced finely
1 large carrot, minced finely or grated
1 celery rib (0ptional….some people don’t like the taste) minced finely
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 garlic clove, with skin
300 g ground veal (or 600 g ground veal if you don’t eat pork)
300 g ground pork
1 large glass white wine (if you don’t have white, or it’s really cold, you can add red)
425 ml pureed tomatoes
4 cups beef stock
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a large stock pot, over medium low heat, warm up your olive oil. Add the pancetta, onion, carrot and celery (if using). Add the salt and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until softened and translucent. Add the tomato paste, garlic and mix well. Cook for another 5 minutes, to let it caramelize. Add the veal and pork, raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring constantly to break it up and make sure it cooks through. Add the wine, and let it reduce, stirring to remove all the brown bits, about 8-10 minutes.
When the wine is completely reduced, add the tomatoes and beef stock, mix well. Let it come to a boil, let boil for about 5 minutes, and lower the heat to medium low, and cook covered for about 30 minutes. Switch it to your lowest flame, uncover, and let simmer for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Adjust the seasonings, and add the fresh cracked pepper.
Let cool and refrigerate overnight so that the flavors meld. If you can’t wait, by all means, serve it up over your favorite pasta. Mine is tagliatelle or pappardelle, but over spaghetti is perfect, or rigatoni. It is also heavenly in Lasagna or cannelloni. Or you can reduce it further to use it as a filling for ravioli, which would be the Brasato filling (braised beef).
From my zio’s kitchen to yours,