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The Ultimate Bolognese Sauce

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adam brings up something that makes me think: what are some of the actual goals of this sauce?

every time i've made it, it never meets my expectations. i think this is because my expectations are way out of wack. adam mentions the beef "breaking down". is this one of the goals?

I haven't had bolognese that has met expectations since having lasagne verde at a restaurant in Rome 11 years ago.

A few restaurants here have gotten close, but none equal to that lunch I had 11 years ago. It was unbelievably good and I'll remember it forever.

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

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Taking everyone's great advice, I made the bolognese with very little tomato and milk (among many other changes) but it was not as well liked as my original recipe. I liked the new one, but I can't say which was better because they were so different. :hmmm:

I think I will try to find a middle ground between the traditional meat ragu and the American tomato version.

*EDITED for spelling.

Edited by itch22 (log)

-- Jason

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my bolognese came out pretty good. i used some tips from this thread, with Marcella's recipe as a guideline (white wine, nutmeg, milk, beef, pork).

the dish, while not tomatoey, was very rich and had a good, deep flavor. took a few hours, and it didn't yeild much. i'll probably try to double the recipe next time.


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Looks good. It's probably just the photography but I would expect it to look more oily. Part of that fat separating from the meat goal discussed above.

And you're right, it never makes as much as you think. Lots of "shrinkage" as George Costanza would say.

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

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i was expecting a lot of oil as well. i did some skimming, but not a whole lot. although oil will add flavor and mouthfeel, and i wouldn't have been totally against a more oily dish, i was quite pleased with the lack of oiliness this time around. nuthin' a little drizzle of olive oil couldn't cure. :smile:

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The whole question of ``authentic" ragu Bolognese gets right to the heart of the Italian approach to cooking. In contrast with the strict codification of recipes for the classic French dishes such as tripes a la mode di Caen, for example

there are dozens if not hundred of variations on the basic ``Bolognese" theme.

Beyond a general agreement that one begins with a saute' of mirepoix, usually in butter or a combination of butter and olive oil together with some finely diced pancetta a subsequent deglazing with wine and the addition of chopped meats -- veal, beef, pork and the introduction of some stock (chicken, veal or beef), there's considerable-- and often vehement -- disagreement as to the other elements.

When I worked for an Italian multinational company, I had a Bolognese colleague that insisted that no tomato product was ever to be used. Others argue for the use of a bit of tomato paste; still others for puree in varying amounts.

Some say chicken livers are an essential component; not infrequently nutmeg and cloves are used in the seasoning.

For my taste, I believe a foundation of fine minced mirepoix inthe classic proportion prepared as described above, i.e. sauted in a butter/oil mi along with a handful of equally finely diced pancetta, is the essential element. Once the mixture is softened and reduced to near-caramelization, I add stir in a few tablespoons of tomato paste, turn up the heat as high as I dare for a minute or two and then immediately deglaze with white wine..... then on to the mixed chopped meats and I like the chicken liver addition. Once browned, more wine then chicken stock, seasonings: salt, pepper, nutmeg, bay leaf. Finish with a bit of cream.

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so is oiliness one of those goals that no one really mentioned the last time i asked? :biggrin:

According to Marcella, yes. She specifically notes the point at which the fat separates from the meat and NEVER skim it. That's where much of that bolognese flavor is and cannot be replaced by fresh olive oil.

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

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so is oiliness one of those goals that no one really mentioned the last time i asked? :biggrin:

See above my original post re: Skimming the surface of the sauce and frying off to bring out the fats that will be added to the pasta. :raz:

I mostly use the pork as a source of the fat, but you can use butter/cream. Olive oil if you must. Lardo is good, if not authentic.

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  • 5 years later...

i´m doing a research about bolognese sauce and would like to have some of your views and ideas.what do you use for the sofritto?what kind of meat?red or white wine?do you use milk?when do you add salt?do you use herbs?cooking time? lid or no lid?

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My answers-1) Onion, carrot, celery. 2) ground beef cheek-simply incomparable. 3)white for preference but whatever is on hand. 4)yes. 5)before adding liquid. 6)absolutely not. 7)5+ hours 8) it depends!

The less tomato the better, and none is superb.

Edited by muichoi (log)
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This should get lively.

For the most part I use Marcella Hazan's recipe from her Classic Italian Cookbook. I do like to use different meats than just beef, though, and typically have ground pork and pancetta.

what do you use for the sofritto?

Carrot, Onion, Celery, and to be heretical, a couple cloves of garlic. I whiz them all up in the food processor so they basically dissolve into the sauce after all that cooking.

red or white wine?

White, because it just blends in and adds acid notes. Red would just seem to call too much attention to itself.

do you use milk?

Yes, I think it's one of the main differentiating factors of Ragu Bolognese. It balances out the acid notes of the tomatoes and wine and adds a rich and unctuous note to the sauce that you don't get otherwise. There also seems to be some difference of opinion on when the milk should be added. Hazan (and I) do it at the beginning but in The Splendid Table Lynne Rossetto Kasper does some at the beginning and then at the end (when it's added at the end it's cream, I believe).

when do you add salt?

I do it in layers, so I salt the sofritto, then the meat (going easy if there's pancetta or prosciutto in the mix), then once the tomatoes are in. I do a final taste after it's reduced quite a bit to see what the salt level is.

do you use herbs?

No. Along with short cooking times for a Bolognese, the thing that most curdles my blood in recipes is when they toss in basil or oregano or even rosemary and sage. At the most you do some parsely but I never do.

However, I do add spices: nutmeg and just a dash of cinnamon to give in that faint, can't place it, familiar flavor and aroma.

cooking time?

Once the tomatoes are in, 3-4 hours minimum. I've experimented with tossing it in a very low oven overnight but I find that the meat gets too dried out that way.

To me Ragu Bolognese is a true example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. And the secret to getting it that way is the longer cooking time. Less than a couple hours if you're using canned tomatoes and you get something that tastes like tomato sauce with hamburger in it. Something really magical happens though around the three hour mark of cooking when it's reduced enough.

lid or no lid?

Uncovered, so it can reduce.

There's some other key differences I think you'll find if you haven't already in your research that may be worth asking about.

1) Canned tomatoes or tomato paste?

As you can see with muichoi above, there's quite a bit of difference of opintion on this one. I've experimented with both and find that I prefer canned tomatoes, but it almost seems like paste is more "traditional" or at least more widely used from the recipes I've seen. But I think that the canned tomatoes bring something else to the mix that tomato paste doesn't. But it's not a red sauce by any means, even with canned tomatoes: I cook and reduce the hell out of it to where it's a rusty brown at the end and the tomatoes haved completely broken down.

2) Browning the meat and aromatics or not:

That's another key difference I see. Again having done both I prefer Marcella's method where you don't brown either one. The meat is just cooked until it's lost its raw color. Mario and Kasper both brown the meat in its own fat that comes out.

3) Using broth or stock:

With tomato paste recipes the liquid of the sauce comes from stock or broth being added. With the canned tomatoes versions you don't really need it and again I prefer that way.

I think one thing that gets left out is how much cooking of the ingredients you initially do before you let it start simmering and reducing. The method I use is:

Butter and olive oil in a deep pan, let the foaming subside.

Add the soffritto and cook until the liquid of the soffritto (there will be quite a bit if it was zapped up in the food processor) cooks off.

Add the meat and spices and cook just to get the raw color out. I don't brown it.

Add the white wine and cook it almost completely away.

Add the milk and do the same.

Then the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and then let it go. Total cooking time to this point is typically 45 minutes.

Edited by Kevin72 (log)
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Nothing much has changed for me over what I wrote above.

My basic ragù formula is fine dice of onion, carrots and celery, both butter and olive oil, meat double-ground at home through the coarse disk, white wine, milk, not very much tomato paste, a long simmer (usually in the Crock Pot), and some spices (usually nutmeg) near the end. If I have any old rinds of parmigiano reggiano in the freezer, I'll toss them in the pot for the long simmer.

If I'm making ragù alla bolognese the meats are beef, pork and pancetta.

But I like to make ragù with duck meat and porcini, or with chicken hearts, gizzards and livers, or with lamb shoulder, etc. I've even made an interesting ragù using ground shrimp. Sometimes, depending on the meat and my desired effect, I am likely to leave out the tomato entirely. For example, a "white" ragù made with lamb shoulder is really nice. I like to make this with the addition of fennel in the sofrito and toasted/ground fennel seeds at the end, plus maybe a sprinkling of minced mint leaves over the plate.


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  • 1 month later...

I really don't know if that counts as bolognese, some italian mamma probably turns in her grave every time I make it, but thought I'd share my own interpretation...

It's an easy two part recipe I've concocted over time....

Firstly, the sauce: I use a home blender for ease, couple of cloves of garlic, medium onion, carrot, tinned/fresh (or combo) tomatoes, couple of large teaspoons tom puree, glug of red wine, whizz it up a bit so it's still rough, check seasoning. NB it's probably cheating doing it this way but it works and saves time.

Secondly, the meat: I use about a kg of coarse/fine minced beef, about 300grs of pork mince (or for the royale version, wild boar), brown the beef, add the pork, and (if you can get them) a rack of smoked pork ribs - do them in the oven for a bit so the meat comes off, or string them before, or do it afterwards. Just brown all the meat and then pour over the sauce you made in the blender...

Simmer for about 2hrs, stir in some basil at the end, lots of red wine, remember to check the seasoning.

I make this on sunday nights so it can simmer during Top Gear and then freeze it or eat it all week long, it's really good - give it a go!

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As a departure from my trusty ragu recipe ( Marcella Hazan - cooking for 3.5 to 5 hours over a really low flame does make a big difference) I recently tried Giorgio Locatelli's Ragu recipe with pretty good results. Quite a different approach....

- carrots, celery, whole garlic cloves and onion finely chopped and sweated over high heat

- minced beef (neck), preseasoned, added to pan. no stirring for 5-6 mins to allow it to sear. Stir for 10-12 mins until meat starts to stick to the bottom!

- add red wine (a whole bottle! for 2kg beef) and let it reduce down to virtually nothing

- add 1lt passata and 1 lt water

- bring to boil, turn down to simmer for 1.5 hrs

I sometimes use this recipe when I want a quick ragu :laugh:

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  • 9 months later...

So my ultimate bolognese recipe veers quite significantly from the traditional but I think, in a good way.

I use large chunks of meat instead of ground meat which is shredded at the end for a more interesting texture. I use red wine although I would be open to using white. I add just enough canned tomatoes & fried tomato paste so that it has a notable tomato note. I also throw in a bit of anchovy paste just to amp up the meaty flavor although the chicken livers might also serve the same role. I also add a shot of lemon juice at the end to brighten up the flavors.

Also, never broth or stock. The meatiness should come from the meat, not added liquids. I like to cook it down until it's pretty dry and loosen it up with some pasta water if it's needed.

Edited by Shalmanese (log)

PS: I am a guy.

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  • 2 weeks later...


Bugialli draws fine distinctions between Bolognese sauce and ragu, ...

I don't know Bugialli's work, but I do know Italian food terminology and this remark doesn’t make sense. Ragù is a generic term covering many types of more or less hearty sauces. In Bologna the meaty sauce you put on your tagliatelle every day is ragù, tout court, because all the Bolognesi already know that it is native to Bologna and don't need an adjective. People elsewhere emulating what they do in Bologna have to call it bolognese to distinguish it from their own or any other ragù. Come to think of it, I haven't seen bolognese, the word, on a menu for years, exc the spagbol class of tourist menu. My unscientific impression is that most Italians cook their own ragù and let the bolognesi cook theirs.

I just realized how old this post is, so if the above has been discussed to death in subsequent posts, come non detto.

Maureen B. Fant


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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 year later...

As I am writing this post a pot of Rigu alla Bolognese Tradizionale based on Lidia's Matticchio Bastianich's book "Lidia's Family Table" is slowly cooking on the stove, according to instructions not ready for finishing for some two hours- Looks good, will report back later.

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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