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The Ultimate Bolognese Sauce

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I started looking for a good recipe for bolognese, and was surprised to find recipes that do not call for milk or wine, each of which I thought was a requirement to turn an ordinary meat sauce into a bolognese. Oh well.

I'd love some recipe recommendations.

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Marcella Hazan has one classic ragu, which I've used successfully for years. I've found an important aspect of making this sauce to be a very gentle treatment of the ground meat(s). Also, the longer you cook it at a very low simmer, the better it will be. I use it both on its own, and as a point of departure for more adventurous recipes.

Bugialli draws fine distinctions between Bolognese sauce and ragu, and then between types of ragu, saying one of the latter uses milk or cream and omits wine. Hazan uses both milk and wine, emphasizing that the meat must be cooked in the milk before the tomatoes are added. She calls her recipe Ragu, which she translates as Meat Sauce, Bolognese Style. Ada Boni uses exactly the same title, but instructs adding the milk or cream later in the cooking. She also includes bacon and sausage, and even suggests the possibility of adding mushrooms.

If anyone can offer more primary sources, this would make an interesting inquiry. Specifically, I am wondering to what degree the cooks of Bologna make the same distinctions as Bugialli, and whether they allow for the variations mentioned here and elsewhere. Any experts out there?


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Lynne Rossetto Kasper has a long section on Ragu Bolognese in The Splendid Table, Recipes from Emilia-Romagna. Bologna's chapter of L'Accademia Italiana della Cucina chose one recipe as being the most typical example of Ragu Bolognese which of course led to a big argument in Bologna. The Academy believed that ragu bolognese began as a country dish. Kasper, instead, believes that ragu bolognese was developed in palaces, not on farms, and evolved from stews mentioned in Renaissance cookbooks and on into the 18th century. She states that Italy's stews were similar to French ragouts of the period and that it became fashionable to call these stews ragus after the French ragouts. Using less meat and serving the ragu over pasta (to stretch the number of people the dish would feed) became popular among the less affluent during the late 1800s.

To support her theory (which is a lot more detailed in the book), she gives recipes for The Cardinal's Ragu from the late 18th century (some fat, minced onion, diced skirt steak, cinnamon, salt, pepper, stock and a little flour); Baroque Ragu (pancetta, sausage, diced chicken thighs, giblets or ground pork, chopped chuck, stock, tomato paste, heavy cream and wine); and then the Classic Ragu Bolognese selected by the Academy: diced pork fatback is sauteed until its fat is almost all rendered, diced celery, carrot and onion are added and sauted, coarsely ground skirt steak or chuck is stirred in and browned and then white wine and a little tomato paste diluted in stock is added. The sauce is cooked very slowly for 2 hours, with tablespoons of milk being stirred in from time to time. Just at the end, reduced heavy cream is added.

She then gives a modern version, using olive oil and a small amount of pancetta in place of the fatback and eliminating the heavy cream; as well as recipes for Country-Style Ragu (red wine, milk, stock and a few plum tomatoes plus meat...) and Game Ragu (this one sounds delicious -- small cubes of venison, hare, wild board, wild rabbit or elk, cooked with onion, carrot, rosemary and sage in a little tomato paste, wine vinegar, red wine and stock, with ground cloves and cinnamon).

I've just looked at Hazen's recipe, and it looks tastier than Kasper's 2 ragu bolognese recipes; as you said, Hazen cooks the meat in the milk before adding the wine and uses some canned plum tomatoes instead of the tomato paste.

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Very interesting. Thanks. Is it hoping for too much that Ms. Kasper's ideas are footnoted? Do I understand correctly that similar stews to those being made in Italy during the 15th & 16th century were also being made in France at the same time, and that these were called ragouts in France at that time? Or is she saying that the fashion to call them ragus in Italy came in the 18th century, at which time they were being called ragouts in France? I wonder what the Italians were calling the stews before the use of the word ragu? I guess I should buy the book.

Better idea: go to Bologna. Talk to lots of cooks. Eat lots of ragu.


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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No footnotes, although there is a bibliography of books in Italian. She says, "The important questions are: When did Italy's stews become ragu? Did the name come from France? And when did Italian ragu first sauce pasta?" Essentially she seems to propose that while Renaissance Italian meat stews (chunky meat stews, sometimes with nuts and fruit, cooked in a strong broth and sweet or tart wine, with Middle Eastern seasonings) and French ragouts may have been influenced by each other, applying the name "ragu" to Italian stews with sauces came about because all things French had become popular in Italy in the late 1700s. She doesn't say what Italian stews were called before being called ragus.

Her argument is slightly garbled, and is in contrast to the Academy's belief that Ragu Bolognese began as a "humble dish in Bologna's farm kitchens a century ago" using tough meat, salt pork and vegetables. The cream was actually a by-product -- fresh milk was preserved by long heating, in which the cream separated and coagulated on the milk's surface. The cream was then skimmed. It was used in ragu to enrich the sauce and eliminate the need for broth which was a meat product and costly. "Using cream created a sauce so rich and filling that only a little was needed for saucing enough tagliatelle to feed a large family."

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Thanks again. My instinct, based on no facts, is that there are elements of truth in both ideas: 500 years ago, stews became ragouts and ragus, likely cross influenced between France and Italy. With the cultural influence of the French court, fashion for the French language and nomenclature probably held sway. Then, in the 19th century, the Academy's view of farm origins may have offered its contribution to the mix. In any event, the end result is in my freezer right now and I'm getting hungry thinking about it.


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Lifted form Molto's trip to Bologna, Italy. I think it's the official recipe as listed on the town hall(or pretty darn close)

Bolognese Sauce (Ragu Bolognese):

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium onions, finely chopped

4 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 carrot, scraped and finely chopped

5 cloves garlic, sliced

1 pound ground veal

1 pound ground pork

1/2 pound ground beef

1/4 pound pancetta, minced

1/2 cup milk

1 (16-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, with the juices

1 cup dry white wine

2 cups brodo, recipe follows

Salt and pepper

In a 6 to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and sweat over medium heat until vegetables are translucent. Add veal, pork, beef, and pancetta to the vegetables, brown over high heat, stirring to keep meat from sticking together for about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the milk and simmer until almost dry, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer 15 minutes. Add the wine and brodo, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until flavors are developed. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.

Yield: 6 1/2 cups, about 10 to 12 servings

Brodo:

1 pound beef scraps

1 pound beef or veal bones

1 pound beef tongue, cut into 4 or 5 pieces

1 (4 to 5 pound) stewing hen, cut into 6 pieces

1 onion, coarsely chopped

1 carrot, coarsely chopped

1 celery rib, coarsely chopped

10 to 12 quarts cold water

Salt and pepper

Place the beef, bones, tongue, chicken pieces, onion, carrot, and celery in a large soup pot, cover with the water and bring almost to a boil, very slowly. Reduce the heat to simmer before the mixture boils, and allow to cook for 4 hours, skimming off the foam and any excess fat that rises to the surface. After 4 hours, remove from heat, strain the liquid twice, first through a conical sieve and second through cheesecloth, and allow to cool. Refrigerate stock in small containers for up to a week or freeze for up to a month.

Yield: 4 servings

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

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One social fact is well documented: throughout Europe the peasants who worked in the rich men's kitchens learned their masters' techniques and took them home, where they were adapted to more humble fare. Thus, over a period of several centuries, it can be difficult if not impossible to arrive at a *class* origin for many recipes.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Talking recipe, now: Bugialli specifically mentions garlic as belonging to Sauce Bolognese, as opposed to Ragu. He seems to be the only one mentioned so far making this distinction. Others stipulate rendering the fat of pancetta or bacon first, so as to have it available to brown the meat, rather than adding it at the same time as the meat.


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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I tried the aformentioned Molto's Bolognese (it's also in his Babbo cookbook) with some homemade papprdelle and it was fantastic. According to him the true bolognese is not a tomato beef Ragu it is more of a pink meat sauce made with white wine milk and some tomatoes. The meat is usually acombination of veal, prok and pancetta (All Ground of course)

FM


E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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three cloves garlic

mire pois proportionate to three 28 oz cans of crushed tomatos

kosher salt, black pepper, dried oregano, basil

three pounds ground beef

whole milk

Brown meat in pan and set aside.

In olive oil, saute the garlic til it gets a bit golden then remove. Add mire pois and cook til tender. Add meat to the pot and cover with whole milk. Simmer til the milk is fairly translucent. Add tomatos and season.

Simmer til its done.

The most fancy and proper recipe it isnt...but my Boss likes it...and at work its *HIS* kitchen....he just lets me use it.

Of course he ALWAYS gets his Fusili with it.

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I've been stuck in the office for the past three days, so almost no time to post....but later perhaps.

The version I most often make includes all of the above in Mario B's. recipe but is a little more detailed. For example, it includes mortadella as a substitute for the pancetta.

Ragu bolognese, when made properly, is noted for the "sweetness" inherent in its flavor, which comes from the inclusion of ground (or shredded) pork and a tiny amount of milk. Bugialli, Hazan and Kasper all offer authentic versions of the sauce, although I prefer Julia Della Croce...but that's just me.

I should add that when making the ragu, don't forget to include the leaves of the celery stalk -- this will impart an extra level of herbaceousness to the final product.

One version of ragu bolognese is made from cubes of beef, veal and pork that have been cooked separately, and snipped or shredded to pieces using kitchen shears. The shredded meat is then combined with the sauce or cooked further with the sauce.

Will post sometime this weekend, when I have time. No clue as to when that will be...

SA

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o.k. I'm working on the Molto recipe right now. Not doing too well, I'm afraid. I've got a pot full of browned, ground meat (maybe I started with a half pound too much) swimming in a reddish watery "broth". Nothing about it is creamy or resembles the bolognese that I love.

Damn.

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Here is the version I usually make (although I skip the mortadella), from "The Classic Italian Cookbook" by Julia Della Croce (DK Publishing, 1996):

1 c. fresh or canned drained tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, with juice reserved

2 T. unsalted butter

1/2 T. EVOO

1 oz. pancetta, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 small celery rib with leaves, finely chopped

1 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

6 oz. lean ground beef

3 oz. ground pork

1 oz. mortadella, finely chopped, optional

salt, to taste

1/3 c. good quality dry white wine

1/3 c. milk

good pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

2 T. tomato paste

2/3 c. meat broth or good stock

1 quantity pasta fresca cut into tagliatelle, or 1 1/2 lb. dried pasta such as fusilli or orecchiette

freshly ground white or black pepper, to taste

freshly grated Parmesan (pref. parmagianno reggiano)

1. Strain tomato juice and discard seeds. Set aside the chopped tomatoes and their juice.

2. In a large heavy-bottomed pan or deep skillet, melt 1 1/2 T. of butter with the oil. Stir in the pancetta and saute until lightly colored.

3. Add the onion, celery, carrot and parsley, and saute until softened but not browned, about 12 minutes. Keep the heat very low, and add the ground meat, mortadella (if using), and the salt. Allow the meat to color lightly, about two minutes, and use a wooden spoon to break up the chunks.

4. Pour in the wine. Simmer very gently until the alcohol evaporates and the liquid begins to be absorbed, about 3 minutes.

5. Add the milk and nutmeg, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, dissolved in 1/4 c. of broth. Add the tomatoes and juice. As soon as the sauce begins to simmer, turn the heat down as low as possible. Cover partially and cook for at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining broth as the sauce cooks.

6. When the sauce is thick, creamy, and fragrant, remove it from heat and stir in the remaining butter and pepper. Check the seasoning.

7. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a rapid boil. Cover the pot, and as soon as the water returns to a boil, remove the lid and stir again. Cook the fresh pasta for 10 seconds after the water has returned to the boil, then drain immediately, or cook the dried pasta until al dente, then drain.

8. Transfer the pasta to a warm serving bowl, toss with the sauce, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8.

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The basics are ground beef, ground pork, carrot, celery, onion, bacon or pancetta, beef stock, and ground tomatos. However, variations include bay leaves, tomato paste, white wine, red wine, cream, etc...

What are your recipes, thoughts, techniques... ?


-- Jason

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I have never been tempted to stray far from Marcella's recipe in The Classic Italian Cook Book.

Except to use both pork and beef, naturally.

Ditto. Marcella's recipe rules. I've tried several others but I now use Marcella's exclusively.

The only modification I make is that I cook the sauce a good hour or two longer than she suggests.


"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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I have never been tempted to stray far from Marcella's recipe in The Classic Italian Cook Book.

I have never read this, what seasoning does she use? Red or white wine? Does she add cream?


-- Jason

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White wine and milk. She's also very specific about which goes first. I believe the order is wine then milk then tomatoes but I'll check when I get home tonight. I'll report back. Also, she uses a minimal amount of tomatoes in relation to the meat. It's all about the meat.

I think bolognese will be this Sunday's dinner.


"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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No veal? I sometimes make an all-beef Bolognese and then I use red wine, otherwise white. I like the onions, celery and carrots really fine- I'll use the processor or my ulu to get them minced, but I've seen other sauces where they are just in small chunks. Definitely milk and butter. Ditto the bay leaf.

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White wine and milk. She's also very specific about which goes first. I believe the order is wine then milk then tomatoes but I'll check when I get home tonight. I'll report back. Also, she uses a minimal amount of tomatoes in relation to the meat. It's all about the meat.

My recipe, which is really a combination of a few, adds the wine just after browning the meat to burn off the alcohal. The cream is added last, shortly before serving.

EDITED for spelling.


Edited by itch22 (log)

-- Jason

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Cream is too rich for this dish, IMO. I soften a fine dice of onion, carrots and celery (at 2:1:1) in copious amounts of evoo and butter (at 1:1), then throw in home ground beef, veal, pork and pancetta (at 3:3:3:1). Once the meats have lost their red color, in goes white wine to barely cover. After that cooks out, in goes plenty of milk, several Parmigiano rinds from the freezer and maybe a tablespoon of tomato paste. This simmers for several hours (often in the Crock Pot). Towards the end, I'll add a tiny grating of nutmeg and correct the seasonings. It's done when the fat starts to separate from the meat. I might swirl in a little butter just before serving.

To my mind, the three critical things are 1. grinding your own meat; 2. using milk as the primary liquid; and 3. going easy on the tomato.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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