Kitztbühel, Austria is a place I long to return to. It’s a charming little town full of history and home to some pretty good skiing. It’s also where we my husband and I were introduced to one of our favorite artists, Alfons Walde. Walde studied painting in the early 2oth century and was a pioneer artist in terms of using skiing as a subject in painting. His use of light and color really capture the whimsical quality of certain works that I’m attracted to. Of course, his work is beyond our budget, but I digress. This post is really about a ragù…
It was also on this same trip that I ate spaghetti with bolognese ragù almost everyday. I couldn’t get enough of it. There was a restaurant in Kitzbühel that served this dish just the way I like it: Al dente pasta with a meaty sauce that was neither too acidic nor too sweet, the perfect balance. Kitzbühel was quite the unlikely (but pleasantly surprising) place to find this namesake dish of Bologna (the capital of Emilia Romagna), itself the food capital of the world.
Over the last few years I’ve tried many different recipes, taking from each the ingredients and the proportions that worked for me until, eventually, I could call the dish my own. I’ve read that no two bolognese ragù recipes will ever be exactly the same and that even two sisters who grew up in the same household could take away from their mother’s instruction something entirely unique.
If you’ve never made this ragù before, be forewarned that this is traditionally a meat-based, not tomato-based, sauce. The richness of the dish comes from the long simmering of a combination of meats, sometimes even including pancetta. The tomato component comes from some paste that is added instead of tomato sauce. However, I have taken liberties with my version and have added a bit more tomatoes than an Italian nonna might use. After hours of simmering though, my ragù is still on the drier side so I hope I haven’t challenged the integrity of a traditional preparation.
*Please note that this recipe makes A LOT of sauce (and a little goes a long way). I made a big batch for a get-together and these are the quantities I measured. Rest assured that this can easily be scaled down as the proportions are very forgiving. Freeze the unused portion. Otherwise, the recipe can be halved with good results.
Ragù alla Bolognese
- 2 lbs ground pork
- 1 lb ground turkey
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 2 28 oz cans San Marzano tomatoes or diced tomatoes (if you use whole tomatoes, run through a food mill to remove seeds) This may seem like a lot but it’s not. I added only one can first and used up the second can in 1/2 cup increments as the ragù continued to simmer and reduce.
- 1 cup porcini liquid (from soaking porcinis below. Strain with a fine sieve or paper towel before adding to saucepan to separate the sandy deposits)
- 3/4 cup dried porcini (about 1 ounce), soaked in lukewarm water for 20 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, rinse and chop fine. (I won’t make the ragù without this)
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 3-4 ribs celery, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 – 1 1/4 cups chicken stock (You can substitute red wine for some of this stock. I’ve found that omitting it doesn’t compromise the flavor of the ragù)
- 1/4 cup milk (optional, but this actually helps to smooth out the meatiness of the ragù)
- Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil
Sauté the chopped vegetables in olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat for 6 – 7 minutes. Raise the heat to high and add the ground meat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, and making sure to break up the meat (a potato masher is good for this) until the meat is light golden in color. This may take 6-8 minutes. Add the porcini mushrooms and wine, if using. Cook until the wine almost all reduced then add the tomato paste, tomatoes, porcini liquid, and stock. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium and partially cover. Allow to simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. If you’re using the milk, add it during the last half hour of cooking.
After this time, the sauce should have a medium-thick consistency. If it’s too dry for you at this point, add more water or stock and/or canned tomatoes. I let the ragù rest overnight and ended up adding the second can of tomatoes the following morning. You may find that you won’t need to add the second can anymore. Honestly, I continued to add the second can because I thought that I may not have made enough sauce. As I noted above, I added in small increments because I didn’t want to compromise the meaty flavor by drowning it in tomatoes. The extra hour of simmering worked out well, though.
Serve with your favorite pasta.