The Ultimate Ragù alla Bolognese, sultry moist tender luscious meat sauce. Made with ground beef slow cooked with pancetta, soffritto, passata, wine, vegeatble broth, and milk. Not to mention, love, to an end result of total deliciousness. Craving a wonderful meat sauce? You gotta try this traditional Italian ragù from Bologna!
Today we are going to take you to a city in northern Italy. The city of Bologna. This is where this recipe originated, hence the name Bolognese, the meat sauce of sauces. This is a traditional sauce of the "cucina Emiliana" and surely one that is greatly appreciated all over Italy and abroad. If you are ever there in Italy, well worth a try! However, for today, I am going to transport you there with this Ultimate Ragù alla Bolognese!
Ingredients for this Traditional Ragù alla Bolognese
The ingredient list for this Bolognese sauce is not long, but filled with good quality ingredients. It goes something like this:
- Grass fed ground beef
- Finely chopped carrot, celery, and onion (also called mirepoix or soffritto)
- Evo oil
- Red wine
- Vegetable broth
What is Passata you ask?
Passata is just the pureness of tomatoes. The tomatoes are strained through a food mill, which takes the skin and seeds out, and jarred. Just like my mom and dad used to do. It has no other additives or seasoning, and will produce the most rich and vibrant sauce. Usually found in the canned tomato section of your Italian grocery store, and always in a glass jar.
Why milk in a tomato meat sauce?
Most people react with an expression of curiosity when we tell them that you put milk in The Ultimate Ragù alla Bolognese. What does it do, well it makes for a creamier, less acidic, and flavorful sauce, and more so tenderizes the meat further. The end result, luxury on the tongue!
Here are the steps to making The Ultimate Ragù alla Bolognese
You're probably thinking that this is going to be complicated. However, we are going to show you that really the stovetop and a good cast pot do all the work. Planning and organizing play a key role and after 2 hours you have a wonderfully meaty comforting sauce to toss your pasta with. Here is how it is done:
- Firstly, we need to get a vegetable broth going. Some water in a soup pot, a stick of celery, one onion sliced in half, a tomato, and a carrot. I like to add just a bit of vegetable bouillon which brings a bit more flavor to the broth. Let that simmer on a low to medium heat for about 30 minutes.
- Secondly, break up your ground beef, finely chop the celery, onion, and carrot (soffritto). Furthermore, finely chop the pancetta. Optimally, the flat piece of whole pancetta are preferred, however, if all you can find is the rolled sliced one, that will work also.
- Thirdly, get a glass of wine ready, plus a glass of milk. The only seasoning you will need is salt and pepper. But that seasoning is done later just before the sauce is fully cooked. And only if it is needed.
- Drizzle oil into your cast pot. Toss in your chopped pancetta and render for a couple of minutes.
- Toss in finely chopped mirepoix and saute for about 10 minutes.
- Then add the ground beef. Make sure to really break up the beef with a wooden spoon. We want those morsels of beef to be pebble like.
- Fourthly, in goes the red wine. The key is to reduce the wine before we progress into the next steps. Usually, when you see the wine evaporated, we are ready to proceed.
Passata and broth
We are into the final stages of the sauce, these are the next steps:
- Before this sauce begins its slow cooking dance, we add the passata. Give it a good stir with a wooden spoon so the meat and tomatoes can get well acquainted.
- After, we add a couple ladles of the vegetable broth. Once the broth is done, turn the heat down to very low. We want to keep it warm so when we add it to the sauce it does not stop the cooking process. Now that the broth is in, give it a good stir. Cover completely and turn heat to a low simmer. Check on the sauce from time to time, stir it to make sure it is not burning or sticking to the bottom. Also, if it looks like it is evaporating too much, add some broth.
- Important, every 30 minutes take the lid off, add a ladle of broth, and stir. This sauce takes about 2 hours to cook so you will do this 3 times. You don't put any broth at the end.
In comes the milk for The Ultimate Ragù alla Bolognese
When the sauce has cooked for about 1 hour and 50 minutes, it is time to add the milk. We used 3.25% milk. You can use what you have on hand. I would not use skim milk as it would not produce the creaminess we want. Let that cook for 10 minutes then taste for seasoning. I always like some fresh grated pepper, and if it needs some salt, add at this time. The reason we don't salt in the beginning is that the pancetta is quite salty and we don't want to over salt. That you cannot recover from. However, if it is on the not enough salty side we can always add a bit at a time until desired seasoning is achieved.
The Ultimate Ragù alla Bolognese brings back memories
I remember when I was a child and it would be Sunday morning awakening to Italian music playing in the background. A playlist from "Panorama Italiano", an Italian program on the radio.
There was this robust smell coming from the kitchen and my brother and I would be waiting to have a sauce sandwich. My mother or father would be gone from the kitchen and we would both grab a piece of pagnotta bread and get the wood spoon and reach for the bottom of the pot to scoop up some meat and the thick tomato sauce and laying it on the bread folding it over and that was the end of that sandwich, gone in just a few seconds and the happiness on our faces unsurpassable with the outline of the rich tomatoes on our mouths!
Yes, this was the life until a shoe or a scream from my mother to get out of the kitchen broke our bliss and us laughing, and running away, true vigilantes we were, such great memories.
Pasta of choice
You may already know that us Italians live by the pasta/sauce bible and we don't stray from that discipline of what pasta goes with what sauce. The best and traditional choice for pasta with Ragù alla Bolognese is tagliatelle, but you could also use pappardelle, fettuccine, or spaghetti. Lastly, Ragù alla Bolognese is the perfect condiment for Lasagna.
A lovely Pairing
I am serving the dish with a nice homemade red wine, which I make every year with my father. My father was a wine maker in Italy where their vineyard produced 2000 to 3000 litres of wine a year. Funny, I am quite proud of that, and honored that my dad Americo passed the tradition to me. Quite an accomplishment.
I had the opportunity to see this place where my dad grew up, in the province of Frosinone, thanks to my beautiful wife which I am forever grateful. For what I felt there fueled a desire to keep the tradition of wine making alive in our family. Thanks to my dad for teaching me. I am pairing tonight's pasta dish with a rich Ruby Cabernet from our private stock of Nardelli wines.
I hope you enjoyed our time together and most of all, sit around the table with people that are important to you, sharing this wonderful labor of love, The Ultimate Ragù alla Bolognese!
- 2 Tbsp evo oil
- 150 g pancetta, minced
- soffritto (1 small onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery, finely chopped)
- 600 g ground beef (preferrably grass fed)
- 1 glass red wine
- 400 g tomato passata (1 tall jar)
- vegetable broth (1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 tomato, 1 celery)
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 glass (½ cup) milk
- Firstly, we need to get a vegetable broth going. Some water in a soup pot, a stick of celery, one onion sliced in half, a tomato, and a carrot. I like to add just a bit of vegetable bouillon which brings a bit more flavor to the broth. Let that simmer on a low to medium heat until it's done, about 30 minutes.
- Drizzle evo oil into a sauce pot on medium heat, add the minced pancetta and render for a couple of minutes.
- Toss in finely chopped mirepoix and saute for about 10 minutes.
- Add the ground beef, and break up with a wooden spoon. Saute for about 10 minutes.
- Add the wine and cook until wine evaporates.
- Pour in the passata, stir, then two ladles of broth.
- Stir again, turn the heat to low, cover with a lid and cook for 2 hours, stirring every half hour and adding a ladle of broth each time.
- Towards the end, taste for seasoning, and eventually adjust with salt and pepper.
- Add a glass of milk, stir, and cook for 10 more minutes.
Traditional pasta used is Tagliatelle. You could also use Pappardelle, Spaghetti, or Fettuccine. Ragù is also perfect in Lasagna.
You can omit the milk, if you wish.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 hours
- Category: Classic Italian
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: passata, ragu, bolognese, classic, italian, traditional, pasta, sauce, beef, pancetta
When I am not cooking, I enjoy playing musical instruments, singing, writing. I have learned over the years to live in gratitude and enjoy the moment.