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/pork 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 pork 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 rather 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 (cartella and bavetta in Italian), 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. I suggest also to avoid 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 make 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). Also to cut the meat with a knife it’s not an uncommon option. Pancetta is also usually used, depending on how much fat the meat you choose has. If you choose cuts which are already rich in fat, you can also avoid or reduce the pancetta amount, you have to be able to understand what you have each time.
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 usually there are not herbs/spices in the traditional recipes, sometimes you will find just a hint of nutmeg, or a couple of cloves or some fresh bay leaves (I like those), but usually they are not used. And no basil.
Milk: traditionally it is used in Bologna, and in the past it also helped to make softer the tougher meat they used to use back then. But nowadays, especially in other parts of Italy, many people don’t use it. As you prefer.
One last thing: spaghetti are not the usual choice in Italy for this sauce. On the day when you prepare ragù, especially if you have guests, the tradition wants absolutely homemade fresh Tagliatelle which are definitely the best choice in my opinion (and not only) 🙂 or something similar, pappardelle for example, or mafalde, etc. in alternative the Lasagne, but that’s another recipe for another post 🙂 (personally, if I don’t want to make tagliatelle rather than spaghetti I prefer rigatoni, penne, conchiglioni, paccheri).
Also in the good 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 😀 there you will find spaghetti very probably, because in those places they give to tourists what they erroneously expect to find.
After this deep introduction 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 (13-14 people):
- 1,5 Kg minced beef (read above for details)
- 300 g pancetta, preferably not smoked but “dolce (sweet)”, as we call it in Italy (read above for details)
- 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
- 2 big carrots
- 2 ribs of celery
- 60 g butter
- 500 ml tomato sauce (thick/well reduced and not too much liquid, or you can substitute the sauce with about double amount of the following tomato concentrate)
- 2 full tablespoon of triple tomato concentrate
- 2 full glasses of wine (red or white is at your choice)
- 300-400 ml fresh milk, not skimmed (warm or at least at room temperature, not cold from the fridge), but for me it’s good also without (read above)
- 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 (that’s great, just it takes more time), so don’t use the disk with the smallest perforations, but one larger. I used the 6 mm disk. You can mince the pancetta together with the beef meat, or cut it small and use it separately, as you prefer.
- For a “gourmet” result I suggest 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 in this case better two). Take a large pan, add a little drizzle of oil or fat 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, this will bring more flavor (remember, there must be enough fat, otherwise it will get too dry). For all this amount of meat this first step took about 40-45 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 (but all this 2nd step is “optional”, and I suggest to do it if you have time 🙂 otherwise you can also simply proceed as usual, browning the meat in one pot and in just 10-15 minutes, and then proceed from the step 4: it will be good like it has always been).
- While I was browning the meat I also started to cook the vegetables in a cocotte. Peel the onions, the carrots and the ribs of celery, 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. Take care not to burn them.
- Now that the meat is well browned pour it 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 on low.
- When the wine has reduced add the tomato sauce and the triple tomato concentrate (you can also just use triple tomato concentrate, in that case use more than 2 spoons obviously, 4 or 5). Stir and from now 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 gradually the milk (in 2-3 steps) and mix well until completely absorbed. The use of milk has also a technical reason: meat was tough in the past and milk breaks down its fibers. It’s also a contrast with the acidity of the tomato, and the final result will be nicely balanced. But as I wrote earlier, you can choose to use it or not.
- 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). Why do I add salt just now and not earlier? Because in such recipes that cook slowly for long time the flavors get more concentrated and you could risk to have a very salty final result, so it’s better to add the salt when you are close to the end. All together, I cooked it for about 4 hours since the beginning.
- Now boil the pasta (as I said the tradition wants homemade Tagliatelle, just so you know), drain it when it’s cooked 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 all this time!
As I said, I suggest to prepare in large quantity, so you can divide it and store it in the freezer. In this way you will have one of the best “fast food” in the world 🙂
Beef: Angus from “Terra Pannonia”
Pasta: Mafalde from Pastificio Gentile