The Perfect Ragù alla Bolognese

Spaghetti alla Bolognese

Spaghetti alla Bolognese

Usually for this blog, I document my attempts to make recipes I’ve never tried with ingredients that are new to me. I must confess that I have been working on perfecting a Bolognese sauce for years. I think I’ve finally got it.

This Bolognese sauce has a secret ingredient that you won’t find in most Bolognese sauces. But we’ll get to that later.

First a little background.

For a long time, I was dissatisfied with the results of my Bolognese attempts. The sauces always seemed relatively tasteless and never thick enough. My normal approach was to brown onions and ground beef, add dried herbs (like oregano and such), add a jar of prepared sauce (like Classico) and let it simmer for a long time. I thought that the longer it simmered, the tastier it would be, and that was a little bit true, but not all that much. I tried adding garlic and then adding more and more garlic, to give it flavor. It worked a little, but it seemed that the garlic flavor just disappeared. I tried adding red wine. That worked a little too. I tried adding lots of olive oil once. Again, it enhanced the flavor a bit, but it came at a cost and didn’t give the dramatic flavor I was after.

Crushed Rosemary - The Secret Ingredient

Crushed Rosemary - The "Secret" Ingredient

Then I stumbled onto two ingredients that really made the difference. First, I started adding rosemary. That surprising flavor (for spaghetti sauce) definitely gave it the little punch I was looking for. That is my secret ingredient. But the ingredient that truly elevated my efforts? Tomato paste. It makes the sauce thicker, more intensely tomato-flavored, and comes in these really cute little cans.

Now, with this recipe, I move beyond these two special ingredients and add a few more. First, I use San Marzano tomatoes. Tyler Florence recommends these avidly, so I thought I’d give them a try. Imported from Italy, these canned tomatoes are harder to find and more expensive than their counterparts, but I was able to find a can for $4.99, so I went with it.

San Marzano Tomatoes

San Marzano Tomatoes

The other ingredient I use that I haven’t tried before is heavy cream. The inspiration for this move was an issue of Saveur Magazine devoted to Classic Pasta. In Nancy Harmon Jenkin’s article about the history of classic Bolognese sauce from the city of Ragù, she quotes chef Anna Maria Monari as saying, “Milk is the secret of a good ragù.” So I thought I’d give it a try this time.

So here is the recipe.

It took about 4 hours from start to finish, but at least 2.5 of them were spent letting the sauce simmer.

Amy Wilson’s Ragù alla Bolognese

MAKES 8 CUPS

3 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried, crushed rosemary
2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 lbs ground beef chuck
2 cups beef stock
1½ cups dry red wine
1 28 oz can of whole, peeled, San Marazano tomatoes, drained and crushed
1 6 oz can tomato paste
½ cup heavy whipping cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt butter and heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring frequently for one minute. Add onions and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Raise heat to medium-high. Add beef, and cook, breaking up the meat with the tip of a spoon or spatula until just cooked through, about 8 minutes. Drain excess fat. Add beef stock, and simmer until stock has evaporated, about 20 minutes.

Add the onions, carrots, garlic and rosemary back into the pot with the beef. Add red wine and simmer, stirring occasionally, until wine has evaporated 5 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and simmer until tomatoes break down, about 15 minutes. Stir in tomato paste until blended. Stir in whipping cream and reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, until very thick, about 3 hours. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with fresh tagliatelle and fresh grated asiago cheese

Chopped Onions and Carrots

Chopped Onions and Carrots

Melting the Butter in the Oil

Melting the Butter in the Oil

1. Melt butter and heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add garlic and rosemary. Cook, stirring frequently for one minute.

Onions and Carrots Sautéeing

Onions and Carrots Sautéeing

2. Add onions and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Beef Browning

Beef Browning

3. Raise heat to medium-high. Add beef, and cook, breaking up the meat with the tip of a spoon or spatula until just cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Straining the Beef

Straining the Beef

4. Drain excess fat.

Reducing the Stock

Reducing the Stock

5. Add beef stock, and simmer until stock has evaporated, about 20 minutes.

Add the onions, carrots, red wine and reduce

Add the onions, carrots, red wine and reduce

6. Add the onions, carrots, garlic and rosemary back into the pot with the beef. Add red wine and simmer, stirring occasionally, until wine has evaporated 5 minutes.

Tomatoes go in

Tomatoes go in

7. Stir in tomatoes and simmer until tomatoes break down, about 15 minutes. Stir in tomato paste until blended.

The Cream Mixed In

The Cream Mixed In

8. Stir in whipping cream and reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, until very thick, about 3 hours.

Its Almost Done

It's Almost Done

9. Season with salt and pepper.

The Finished Dish

The Finished Dish

10. Serve with fresh tagliatelle (if you can find it. I tried, but the closest thing I could find was $12 per pound so I just went with regular spaghetti) and fresh grated asiago cheese

I thought I’d add this Tyler Florence Video where he makes Fettucine Diablo. There is no meat in the sauce, so it’s not a Bolognese, but he uses San Marzano tomatoes and talks about the importance of allowing the sauce to thicken. It’s a great video. Watch videos like this at StreamingGourmet.

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3 thoughts on “The Perfect Ragù alla Bolognese

  1. Anne Walter

    Hey there —

    OK, so I know we probably don’t want to engage in the Ragu wars, but I’ll offer my twists:
    1) use meats other than or in addition to the beef like pork or veal (I think that with a meat sauce you’re better off increasing the cost/quality of the meat than of the tomatoes)
    2) add celery with the carrots and onions – the classic mirepoix – increase the garlic, and cook all together to help avoid browning the garlic
    3) I’m a no cream person, but I’m sure this doesn’t hurt
    4) all olive oil and no butter
    5) cook the meat first and saute the vegetables in the same pan – basically use the veggies and then wine to deglaze the pan

  2. Amy Post author

    I love the idea of a Ragu war. That’s really what Ragu is all about, I’ve come to understand.

    You’re right about the celery. The only reason I didn’t add celery is that my husband absolutely abhors it. I should have mentioned that, though.

    And yes, other meats are also a plus. Pancetta is also often recommended, but I hesitated. Since I buy ground chuck almost every week, I wanted to develop a recipe I could make on the fly.

    I really like what butter does to onions, so I’m not sure I could give up the butter. I think I like what butter does to onions even more than I like what ground chuck fat does to onions. I’ll have to try it and see.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Alessandro

    Wow! Granted I’m hungry, but this looks like a phenomenal recipe. Might just print this out and give it a try this week even. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Does it take a few attempts to perfect the intangibles, or do you find it a forgiving recipe? Eager to try (and taste)!

    Alessandro

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