Once we had everything chopped and ground, then browned and simmered on the stove (for five to seven hours!), We rolled and cut the tagliatelle by hand – leaving the pasta machine in the cupboard, like Funke’s evangelized.
That evening we sat down with friends around the table to enjoy what we had achieved. The ragu was so spectacularly delicious – and so rich that no one could imagine the seconds.
Before the Extreme Bolognese weekend, when the urge for ragu hit me, I usually improvised one, or I turned to Marcella Hazan’s famous version of “The Classic Italian Cookbook”, or one. of the three iterations of Lidia Bastianich in “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine”. “
Now, a burning question (no, simmering!) Grabbed me: What is the best Bolognese recipe of all? I was cooking my way in search of an answer.
What all three definitions have in common is that ragu bolognese is a simmered sauce made from ground meat, plus carrots, onions, and celery (collectively called soffritto) browned in fat and usually broth or broth. Tomatoes were not originally included. On the meat side, Artusi has called for veal and a bit of pancetta, while the Accademia calls for beef and pancetta. Although Artusi did not specify a cooking time, a very long simmer is a requirement: the Accademia called for two hours after the meat had browned; many other recipes take three hours or more.
These days, the most respected versions call for ground beef and often pork, plus pancetta. It all starts with a combination of olive oil, butter and / or pancetta or some other pork fat. They all ask for soffritto and tomato, and two or three of the following: wine, broth and milk.
I focused on the recipes. Hazan and Funke were to be included. I would also like to try the two traditional recipes from Bastianich’s book. Thomas McNaughton’s recipe seemed worth a try: he’s the renowned chef of Flour + Water in San Francisco, deeply inspired by his time in Bologna. And the Washington Post’s Domenica Marchetti’s recipe won over.
For two months, I cooked each, eating and evaluating half the night it was cooked, and freezing the other half.
Straight out of the stove, I loved them all. The two richest – Funke and Marchetti – made the biggest impression. Marchetti’s was sumptuous, with a deep flavor achieved by very slow and long browning of the meat. I tasted it just before adding the unusual finish – cream and julienne mortadella – and passed out. I liked the frills, but eventually found them free. McNaughton’s, which hasn’t made much noise in recipe circles, has been a hit with sleepers – not striking, but classic tasting and very good. Of the two Bastianich entrees, we all preferred the one with wine, which was deeply flavorful but not overly rich.
Hazan was familiar and delicious to all of us, but the best choice only for my son’s girlfriend. It was the only ragu with just beef, and without pork or broth. This was the only recipe in which the soffritto was not finely chopped, so the vegetables did not melt in the sauce like they did with others. It was also remarkably more tomato and carrot, crisper in flavor, but less deep.
I considered my three favorites: Marchetti, Bastianich and McNaughton. I couldn’t pick one as the best; there was something I would change in each. So I stepped back, put my notes into a spreadsheet (to the amusement of my cell mates – uh, my family), and created my own recipe.
Here is what I learned:
- It is best to eat ragu bolognese on the day it is prepared. Despite what many Italian cookbook authors say, it loses its liveliness in the freezer.
- White wine is a must. Its pleasant acidity enhances the flavor of the ragu, while the tannins of the red wine weigh it down.
- I prefer the milk simmered in the cream sauce added at the end.
- Tomatoes (crushed, ground or mashed) in the ratio of about a cup to two pounds of ground meat, plus a little paste, for an extra umami, are ideal.
- Long, slow browning adds precious depth. I preferred Marchetti’s simple approach to Bastianich’s, which required special attention for 45 minutes.
- Butter tastes better at home than olive oil to start the soffritto. The homemade beef broth (which Marchetti asks for) makes a great stew, but I didn’t find enough of a difference between this and the good quality purchased chicken broth.
- A few non-universal touches add something worthwhile: garlic (which I only found in the Bastianich recipe, and which would no doubt be ridiculed in Bologna) and nutmeg.
I was expecting a revolt when I told my family that another ragu was coming soon, I got cheers.
Slamming lips, twirling forks, floating grated Parmesan, they gave the new recipe their unanimous approval.
Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.
- 4 ounces of pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 3 large cloves of garlic
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion (8-9 ounces), very finely chopped (see top note)
- 1 medium carrot (4 to 5 ounces), very finely chopped (see top note)
- 1 large or 2 small stalks of celery with tender leaves, if applicable (about 3 ounces), very finely chopped
- 1 pound of ground beef (80/20, ideally grass-fed)
- 1 pound of ground pork (ideally pasture raised)
- 3 cups good quality store-bought chicken broth or homemade beef broth
- 1 cup of dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1 pinch of grated nutmeg
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 cup canned tomato puree (like the Pomi brand) or whole tomatoes and San Marzano fruit juice, milled or mashed in a food processor or blender
- Freshly ground black pepper
In a mini food processor, combine the pancetta and garlic, beat several times to break up the pieces, then mix until it becomes a smooth paste.
Scrape the dough into a large, wide casserole dish or other heavy-bottomed saucepan, along with 2 tablespoons of butter. Melt them together over medium heat, spreading the dough with a wooden spoon so that its fat begins to melt. Cook until fat is almost completely melted, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the onion, carrot and celery – the soffritto – and cook slowly over medium-low heat, stirring often enough that the soffritto does not brown – until the onion is tender, translucent and pale golden , about 15 minutes.
Add the ground beef and pork to the pot, increase the heat to medium and break up the meat as much as possible with a wooden spoon. Once the meat begins to sizzle slightly, reduce the heat to medium-low. Let the meat brown slowly, stirring occasionally and continuing to break up any remaining lumps, for about 1 hour, until evenly browned and browned.
When the meat is almost done browning, in a medium saucepan over high heat, heat the broth until it simmers; cover and keep warm over low heat until ready to use.
Increase the heat under the browned meat to medium-high and stir in the wine, scraping up any pieces or browned deposits from the bottom of the pan. Cook and stir until wine is almost completely soaked and evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in salt and nutmeg, reduce heat to medium-low and add milk, cook and stir until barely visible, about 3 minutes.
Measure out 2 cups of hot broth and dissolve the tomato paste in it. Stir the broth with the batter into the meat sauce, then stir in the tomato puree. (Keep any unused broth on hand in the pot in case you need to reheat it and add more to the sauce later.) Partially cover the pot and let the sauce simmer slowly and gently, stirring occasionally. over time, until thick and all ingredients begin to melt together, about 2 hours.
Stir the sauce – if it starts to look dry, reheat the remaining chicken broth, add a little more, about 1/2 cup, and stir. Continue to simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally and adding a little more hot broth or water as needed to keep the sauce sumptuously creamy, until the vegetables have completely melted in the sauce. about 1 hour.
Cut the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into a few pieces and add them to the sauce; add about 20 freshly ground black peppercorns and stir it as well. Taste and season to taste with more salt and / or pepper, if desired.
(Based on 12 servings, approximately 1/2 cup of sauce)
Calories: 336; Total fat: 25 g; Saturated fat: 11 g; Cholesterol: 77 mg; Sodium: 593 mg; Carbohydrates: 8 g; Dietary fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 4 g; Protein: 16 g.
Recipe by Leslie Brenner, former Dallas Morning News restaurant critic and former Los Angeles Times editor-in-chief, is the founder of Cooks Without Borders.