Classic Ragù Bolognese
If I had an Italian nonna I’d like to think this is the Bolognese ragù recipe she would have passed down to me. It’s hearty and soul-satisfying and tastes of love in every bite.
(11/5/2019: This post has been updated with new images and a printable recipe. It also makes a big batch of sauce so feel free to cut by half.)
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.
Classic Ragù Bolognese
If I had an Italian nonna I'd like to think this is the Bolognese ragù recipe she would have passed down to me. It's hearty and soul-satisfying and tastes of love in every bite. This makes a large batch but it's easy to cut by half.
- 2 pounds ground pork
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 2 28-oz cans San Marzano tomatoes or diced tomatoes (See Note)
- 1 cup porcini mushroom liquid (see below)
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms soaked in warm water for 20 minutes
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 3-4 ribs celery, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/4 cups beef or chicken stock (or half red wine, half stock)
- 1/4 cup milk or half and half
- Olive oil
- kosher salt and pepper, to taste
- Parmigiano Reggiano for serving
After the dried mushrooms have soaked for 20 minutes and have softened, use a fork to remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid. You don't want to pick up any of the sandy sediment that has settled to the bottom. Set aside this liquid for use later. Chop the mushrooms finely and set aside.
Sauté the chopped vegetables in a few tablespoons olive oil in a large pot 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 10-15 minutes.
Add the porcini mushrooms and wine, if using. Cook until the wine has almost all reduced then add the tomato paste, tomatoes, porcini liquid, and stock. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to simmer 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.
The sauce will cook down a lot and consistent with tradition, is more meaty rather than full of tomato flavor. Serve with your favorite pasta. Any unused sauce can be frozen.
Tomatoes: if using canned whole San Marzano tomatoes pass them through a food mill first to separate the skin and seeds from the meat.