When I’m reading about a place or watching a movie set in a certain location, I often find myself craving the local food and the meals depicted in the story. The movie Chef had me thinking about cuban sandwiches for days, I craved ribs after watching House of Cards, and Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast made me want to drink way too much wine in a Parisian brasserie.
With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to share recipes to accompany the Hungry Traveler Interviews I post each month. When asked for a recipe to pair with her interview, Missy Hanley suggested Ragu alla Bolognese, or classic Italian meat sauce.
There are many traditional variations of bolognese, but the city of Bologna has actually registered a recipe which it considers to be the ‘official bolognese.’ It’s worth noting that many agree there is no one way to make the classic sauce, but in order for it to hold the name bolognese, it should stay true to the traditions of the Bologna area. I started with the official recipe and updated it, adding some pork and increasing the aromatics and herbs, and served the finished bolognese ladled over pappardelle pasta with a heavy dusting of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Don’t forget to read The Hungry Traveler Interview with Missy Hanley.
The sauce is easy to make but is a bit time consuming. The prep work is quick, basically just chopping some vegetables, but the cooking process is not something to rush. Taking the time to slowly soften the vegetables and get a nice brown sear on the meat will produce a more robust, flavorful sauce. Once you get to the simmering stage, it’s hands-off so you’re free to work on something else but you will still want to keep an eye on your sauce and give it the occasional stir. Bolognese is best for weekend cooking or a rainy day when you can relax by the stove all afternoon.
We often think of bolognese as something that’s paired with spaghetti, but it’s traditionally served with a thicker, sturdier noodle that can hold up to the meaty sauce. I recommend serving bolognese with tagliatelle, pappardelle, or rigatoni.
When it’s time to serve, you have two options. You can ladle the bolognese over a plate of cooked pasta and then finish with a generous handful of freshly grated parmesan. You can also toss the cooked noodles in a skillet with some butter, ladle in the sauce, and toss it all together to coat the pasta. Of course, you’ll want a generous sprinkle of cheese here too.
Jordan Hamons | The Hungry Traveler
4 hr, 20
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion (about 1 3/4 cups), finely diced
2 medium carrots (about 3/4 cup), finely diced
4 stalks celery (about 3/4 cup), finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2.5 ounces prosciutto, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1.5 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 cup dry white wine
14.5 ounces canned tomato puree, preferably San Marzano
2 cups whole milk
2 cups beef stock
2 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 pound pasta, cooked right before serving
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy sauce pan over medium-high heat. Once the butter is foamy and the oil is hot, add the onions and cook until they are soft and translucent, being sure to stir occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Once the onions are softened, add in the carrot, celery, and garlic. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper and, stirring occasionally, cook until they have softened, about 10 minutes.
Add the diced prosciutto to the pot and stir to incorporate into the vegetables. Let cook for 4 minutes or until the prosciutto has browned slightly. Stir in the tomato paste and let cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add half of the ground beef and let it cook until brown on the outside, breaking it up with the spoon while it cooks. Add the remaining ground beef and repeat the process of browning and breaking the meat up with a spoon. Once the beef has browned, add the ground pork and cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally and breaking up with the spoon. Be sure to take your time here and get nice color on the meat – this is where the flavor is developed.
Add the wine to the pot, scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan, and cook until it has reduced and is nearly completely evaporated, about 4-5 minutes.
Add the tomato puree, beef stock, milk, bay leaves, thyme, nutmeg and sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and let simmer covered for 3-4 hours or until the mixture has thickened to a spoon coating consistency, the flavors have married, and the meat is tender. If the mixture starts to look dry and separated during the simmering process, add 1/2 cup of water to bring it back together.
Once finished simmering, remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs and discard. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Give the sauce one final stir to incorporate.
To serve: Ladle the ragu alla bolognese over the cooked pasta and serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for the table. You can also serve the pasta coated with sauce by tossing the pasta and sauce together with a bit of butter in a large skillet and then topping with cheese.
The bolognese can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to four days or frozen for up to 3 months.
If you do not want to use pork products, the proscuitto can be omitted and an additional 1 pound of ground beef can be substituted for the ground pork.
Adapted from The Classic Bolognese Ragù according the Accademia Italiana della Cucina
John (Tim) O'Neill says