And also the day for the post on the “Bolognese Sauce” finally arrived 😀
What to write about this iconic and one of the most famous Italian recipes in the world? Thousands of posts have been written on the web, many of those not really respectful of the origins and the tradition of this amazing sauce.
I’m not writing anything new that for sure some other good Italian books/websites/blogs already wrote about, but I also wanted to show my version and as always with the traditional recipes I will start talking about some background history, which will help to understand the reasons of this and that 🙂 (if you are in hurry you can scroll down until the recipe, but I think it’s interesting to read)
This already excludes one ingredient that is often erroneously included in many Ragù recipes on not-Italian websites: the garlic 🙂 in that region is not an ingredient which is usually used in their traditional recipes.
As for other old traditional Italian recipes, the exact origin is not clear. Some sources cite information about a similar sauce back to the 16th century, in the kitchens of some noble families, where it was made without tomatoes (which in Italy appeared later), and it was something similar to the French ragouts.
Then with the time from the rich families this method entered in the peasants houses, helping them to obtain the best from the cheapest and poorest beef cuts (well, in most of cases probably old cows or oxen which were no more productive).
The only fat used was probably the pancetta (or rendered lard/pig fat), then later more people started to use also the butter, and nowadays a mix of the two is a common thing (some people use also pig sausages). The extra virgin olive oil instead no, it’s not traditionally part of this recipe, in the past it was an exclusive ingredient available only for the rich people, but Emilia Romagna region also today is not a region famous for the oil but for the pigs (Parma ham, for example) and the Parmigiano Reggiano 🙂
To find an “original recipe” once again it’s impossible, but, as for many other traditional Italian recipes, actually there is a recipe registered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in the 17th October 1982 at the Commerce Chamber in Bologna. Some experts, after long research and interviews on the territory, defined what could be an average of all the traditional recipes, and this registered recipe has to be intended more as a guideline to preserve and respect the tradition than as a strict rule to follow. Something can change, but with reason and measure.
The meat: as we said, in the origins probably old cows or oxen were used. Nowadays we use beef, and the traditional cuts are the ones from the belly, skirt or flank, which have a nice amount of fat (more the flank) and a nice beefy taste. Avoid the lean cuts, we need fat otherwise the ragù will be dry and not so good. Avoid also the prepared minced/ground meat in the supermarkets (you don’t know which cuts they used, and what they used), but ask to a trustworthy butcher to prepare it for you with those cuts, or do it yourself (a manual mincer to do it, in cast iron or other metal, it’s quite cheap and with about 20/25 euros you can find and it will last forever).
Moreover, in the past it was common to add also chicken giblets, nowadays only the livers are still used in some houses, and even if it’s not always reported in the most common recipes, in the area of origin is still common to use it and it adds an extra touch. Then every family added their special touch, and the figure of the the grandmothers had always the role to transmit as a “secret” this family knowledge to the nephews, creating that diversity typical of all the traditional Italian recipes 🙂 (while nowadays, with internet and TV, there is always a high risk of standardization in my opinion).
About the cooking time: this sauce requires a lot of time to be perfect, don’t try to escape it 🙂
Probably nowadays it’s enough less time than in the past, because now the available meat is often softer while in the past it was tougher, using older animals, and to simmer for 5/6 hours long it was normal. Moreover in the past this recipe was probably made on Sunday, and families were usually larger than nowadays, so it was prepared in bigger quantities and that also increased the cooking time. But you have to consider at least 2 to 3 hours to have a good job.
And there are not usually herbs/spices in the traditional recipes, sometimes you will find just a hint of nutmeg or a couple of bay leaves.
One last thing, spaghetti are not the usual choice in Italy for this sauce, or well they can be used during a week day if some ragù remained, but on the day when you prepare ragù, especially if you have guests, the tradition wants absolutely homemade fresh tagliatelle 🙂 or something similar, pappardelle for example, or mafalde, etc. in alternative the lasagne, but that’s another recipe for another post 🙂
Also in the restaurants you will find it served with the pasta I said, unless you unluckily enter in those city center restaurants which are focused on foreign tourists 😀
Let’s see the recipe now.
FOREWORD: the quantity used in this recipe it’s for a lot of people, but I use to prepare more and then I freeze it in smaller boxes, so I can eat it easily more times.
INGREDIENTS (12-15 people):
- 1,5 Kg minced beef (I used the flank, from free range Angus beef)
- 250 g pancetta, not smoked but “dolce (sweet)”, as we call it in Italy (or more if you use leaner cuts, but as I explained you shouldn’t choose lean cuts for a good result), in alternative if you don’t find it, so as a second choice, you could use some rendered lard.
- 1 or 2 chicken livers, optional (if you use it remove absolutely every trace of green bile, otherwise it will be very bitter)
- 2 white/golden onions
- 1 big carrot
- 2 ribs of celery
- 40 g butter
- 800 ml tomato sauce (better if thicker and not too much liquid)
- one tablespoon of triple tomato concentrate
- 2 glasses of wine (I prefer red, but also white is possible)
- 300 ml milk (warm or at least at room temperature, not cold from the fridge)
- freshly ground black pepper
- First of all, if it’s not ready, prepare your minced beef: consider that originally it was probably cut in small pieces with a knife, so don’t use the disk with the smallest perforations, but one larger. I used the 6 mm disk. And I minced the pancetta too together with the beef meat.
- We have to cook the meat at high heat and thanks to the Maillard reaction it will develop more taste, to do it we need high temperatures, so we have to do it separately from the vegetables otherwise we could burn them (traditionally, for practical reasons, just one pot is used, but I want to obtain the best from the meat and this way I think it’s better). Take a large pan, add a little drizzle of oil on the bottom just not to attach the meat and set the heat quite high. Then add the minced meat, squeeze it continuously with a wooden spoon so that there won’t be big pieces, and let all the water evaporate. Once all the liquids are gone, the Maillard reaction will take place. Keep stirring it regularly, every piece has to get a nice brown color (remember, there must be enough fat, otherwise it will get too dry). Don’t use salt now, it would take out all the liquids from the meat. For all this meat this first step took about 50 minutes. If you want to use also the chicken liver, crush it with the blade of a knife and remove the nerve fibers from the pieces of flesh and cut the pieces using a knife. If nerve fibers remain attached to the liver, it will not amalgamate well with the other ingredients. Add the liver just in the last minutes, when the meat is already brown.
- In the same time I was doing the meat I also started to cook the vegetables in a cocotte. Cut all the vegetables very small, and cook them at low heat in butter, with the cover on the cocotte, until they are soft. 30/40 minutes are needed, at very low heat. So vegetables and meat will be ready at about the same time.
- Now pour the meat in the cocotte with the vegetables, stir together, set the heat higher and add the wine. Let it simmer until the alcohol is gone, then set again the heat low.
- When the wine has reduced add the tomato sauce and the triple tomato concentrate (you can just use tomato sauce or just concentrate, in the second case more than what I wrote). Stir and let it simmer at very low heat, for at least 2 hours, covered. And stir on the bottom sometimes.
- When you see that the ragù is almost ready, add the milk and mix well. The use of milk has also a technical reason: meat was tough in the past and milk breaks down its fibers. But we still use it nowadays, also because it’s a contrast with the acidity of the tomato, and the final result will be perfectly balanced.
- Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper at your taste (in this case the pancetta already seasoned a lot, so I didn’t add much salt). All together, I cooked it for about 4 hours.
- Now boil the pasta, drain it when it’s ready and mix it in a large bowl together with the ragù you need, add a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano if you would like, and enjoy this extremely fulfilling dish! 🙂 it is always worth it!
Beef: Angus from “Terra Pannonia”
Pasta: Mafalde from Pastificio Gentile