Ragu Bolognese

Congratulations to Chris Baca!

I was about to post this earlier, and I’m sure it will be buried by the posts from Sarah and Steve about the fantastic time they had this weekend at the WRBC 2008, but I can’t help myself.

The latest issue of one of my favorite magazines, Saveur, has dedicated a good part of itself to one of the most nebulous condiments on the face of the planet, Ragu Bolognese. On a side note, they also did a great article about Ethiopian cuisine, which in my opinion, is some of the most delicious food in the world. Ragu Bolognese is the ultimate in condiment. There are infinite variations for capturing it’s greatness, but, as I discovered, you can also mess it up nice and good.

So, about a month ago, I was visiting the former Barista Magazine World Headquarters, and decided to throw and impromptu dinner gathering. Sarah and Ken were gracious enough to not only let me stay in the HQ guest room, but also let me invite a few of my dear friends to dinner. The menu was very simple: Ragu Bolognese tossed with Parpedelle(an underated, but wonderful pasta).

The list was short, but the cooking time long, and in the end, I butchered the recipe. What should be a complex, long list of flavor descriptions degenerated into “sloppy joe mix”(quoted by one of my guests). Delicious, but not what I was hoping for.

I scoured the entire issue of Saveur to find some common ground with my sauce. Also, I consulted the fabulous cookbooks of Mario Batali and Marcella Hazan(Marcella’s recipes kept me going through the winter). After a bit of trial and error, I am now confident in a recipe for delicious ragu I will share with you, dear readers.

This is largely based on a few variations of Mario Batali’s recipe, but it is delicious and simple. Make sure you have some time on your hands, because it takes a while to do it proper, like all things should:

Ragu Bolognese (Batali Bastard Version)

1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions(finely chopped)
4 celery stalks(finely chopped)
3 carrots(finely chopped)
5 cloves of garlic(sliced)
1 pound ground beef(grass-fed or organic)
1 pound ground pork(niman ranch preferred)
1/4 pound pancetta or flat-back bacon(ground or chopped very fine)
1 cup of raw or organic whole milk
1 7-ounce can of tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine

1. Heat Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot with olive oil and butter over medium heat(if using an electric range, use medium-high heat)

2. Add carrots, onions, celery, and garlic. Sweat, but do not brown. This should take 15-30 minutes. The battuto(veggies) should become translucent, but never brown. If it browns, start over.

3. Add beef, pork, pancetta mix. Lower heat ever so slightly, and cook for 1 hour, or until seriously browned and crackling like popcorn.

4. Add tomato paste and stir in well. Cook for 45 minutes, because you are caramelizing the tomato paste to take away acidity and bring forth sweetness.

5. Add milk. Allow milk to evaporate, which should take 5 minutes. As Mario Batali explains it, the milk should act as a deglaze, absorbing all those little bits of delicious caramelization(sound familiar?)

6. Add 1 or slightly more cups of white wine. Be sure to make sure it covers all of the sauce. Reduce until it is gone. Lower heat significantly and cook for 1 hour.

7. Check for seasoning and then toss with fresh pasta of your choice(tagliatelle or parpadelle recommended)

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