Bologna (Italy) is a light hearted, happy city with friendly people. Referred to as “La Grassa” (the fat one) Bologna sits at the center of Italy’s culinary heartland, Emilia Romagna. It is a city that serves up abundant food in the dozens of cafes and trattoria that line the streets.
Aside from the ancient University, Italy’s oldest, Bologna is best know for an enviable variety of pasta and most famously, its wonderful ragù---the rich meat sauce we know as Bolognese.
A rich ragù is a culinary wonder….tossed with silky homemade pasta, it is a marriage made in heaven. The Bolognese claim a true ragù cannot be made anywhere else. That may be so but, with a little care, we can come very close.
Four things to remember in order to produce a delicious ragù :
- The meat must be sautéed just long enough to barely lose its raw red color. Do not try to brown it.
- The meat must be cooked in milk before tomatoes are added. This tenderizes the meat and adds a delicate sweetness.
- The sauce must cook at the barest simmer for a good 3-4 hours. Do not try to rush this. The longer the better.
- The best pasta for ragù is fresh pasta and the best fresh pasta is tagliatelle…long flat ribbons of pasta similar to, but denser than, fettucine.
(4 generous portions)3 TBS sweet butter
3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
½ cup finely diced onions
½ cup finely diced carrots
½ cup finely diced celery
2 cloves finely minced garlic
2 links sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing and crumbled
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup dry white wine
½ cup whole milk
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp fresh thyme, lightly chopped
1-28 ounce can San Marzano peeled tomatoes, crushed with their juices
- Select a heavy deep pot (I use my Le Creuset). Set it over medium low heat and add the butter and oil.
- When the butter has melted, add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 3 mins.
- Add the celery, carrots and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are just soft.
- Add the meats and the salt and cook just until the beef looses its red raw color.
- Add the wine, turn the heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine has evaporated.
- Add the milk, nutmeg, pepper and thyme, turn the heat down to medium and cook until the milk has evaporated. Stir frequently.
- Add the tomatoes and their juices and stir well.
- Turn the heat down to keep the sauce at the laziest simmer, just an occasional bubble
- Cook, partially covered, for 3-4 hours. Stir occasionally. Taste and correct for salt.
- Bring 4-5 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 1/2 TBS salt and gently drop in enough fresh pasta for four generous servings. Stir with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil, count to 5, then immediately drain the pasta.
- Spoon some of the ragù in the bottom of a warmed platter or serving bowl. Add the drained pasta. Pour more sauce over the top, add 1 TBS softened sweet butter and and good handful of freshly grated Parmesan. Toss & serve without delay. Mangiare e godere.