Ragu alla Bolognese
Recipe by Gravity84
I follow, for the most part, Mario Batali's recipe. I take a few liberties myself so feel free to change things to suit your taste.
Let's get started:
- Meat - often pork shoulder, sometimes with beef or veal. Sometimes a little bit of liver is added. You can buy ground, I grind my own.
- Cured pork - I use home cured pancetta, you can also use salt pork or even bacon.
- Onion, Carrot, Celery - For the newbies, this is called a mirepoix
- Herbs - I like 2 Bay Leaves, a bit of oregano, and a bit of thyme, preferably fresh
- Tomato paste - You can go about this many ways. You can use store bought tomato paste, I had some tinned San Marzano tomatoes so I blended them and put them in a skillet and reduced to a paste while the meat was doing its thing, or if you have fresh paste tomatoes you can blanch, peel, foodmill, and reduce to a paste in a pan.
- Heavy Cream - you can use milk (Mario does), I like cream. You choose.
- Olive Oil
I used pork cushion meat. Cube and reserve the extra in freezer bags for another use.
Dice an onion
Grind up the meat. Obviously, you can skip this if you bought preground.
Sweat the onion in half butter, half olive oil. Mario stresses to not brown the onion, so watch the heat. Go until the onions are translucent. On medium heat this will take at least 10 minutes.
Add the rest of the mirepoix and allow to sweat further, probably another 5-10 min
Now, contrary to what I used to do, we add the meat directly to the sweated vegetables and crank the heat. I used to brown the meat first then sweat the veg. Mario says that the step after this is crucial so I do it this way. I'm sure it would taste fine the other way, too.
Don't forget the pancetta:
The addition of meat directly to the pan will result in some liquid release, this is fine and to be expected:
Eventually, though, all of the liquid will evaporate.
When the pot is dry add more fat if needed for good browning. Turn down heat to medium and allow the meat to brown, stirring intermittently. Not too little so that the bottom doesn't burn, but not too much such that it never gets a chance to caramelize. Eventually it will have a nice layer of brown bits on the bottom called fond.
One of the fundamental flavors of this dish is the contribution of the caramelized bits, or fond, at the bottom of the pot. Because of this, you cannot make this well in a crock pot.
Once the bottom has all the yummy bits add some tomato paste and mix in thoroughly. Allow for some caramelization of the paste then deglaze with a dry white wine. Nothing fancy but something drinkable and unoaked. Reduce again. Add garlic, minced.
and cream or milk, bay leaves, a bit of oregano and thyme.
Lower heat, cover, and simmer for an hour, longer if you want. Just before serving taste for salt. Salt level should be pretty low, remember you can always salt later and you will be adding salt in the form of salty pasta water when finishing the dish.
When ready to serve, boil some pasta. Ideal pastas are tagliatele, pappardelle, orrechiette, shells... basically pastas whose shapes take well to having a chunky sauce. (the PRO-EST thing to do is make a Lasagne with the leftovers, but that's another thread) I am going to disregard my own advice here and use spaghetti! Why? Because I didn't have any of the "ideal" ones and I didn't feel like making pasta or going to the store for some, and besides, spaghetti with bolognese ragu is hella American.
Anyway, when the pasta is limp but not yet al dente, put a measure of the ragu in a skillet on high heat.
Add the quick drained, just under al dente, pasta to the skillet (it should still be a bit crunchy. I like to transfer the pasta directly from the boil water with tongs (long pastas) or with a spider or slotted spoon (short pastas) splashing a bit of pasta water into the skillet. If you cannot do either of these, reserve a bit of pasta water with a ladle or a bowl and drain the pasta in a colander. It is important to cook the pasta to al dente with the sauce, and it is important to do it with a bit of the pasta water. The starches in the water will help the sauce glaze the pasta ever so slightly and cooking the pasta to doneness in the sauce will help tie the whole dish together.
Toss to combine and allow the water to evaporate, add more pasta water if it gets too dry and the pasta is still under.
Plate and top with fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, some minced flat leaf parsley is also nice, I didn't have any though.
As mentioned, you can use a blend of pork, beef, and veal. You can add chicken or pork liver, but keep the ratio low. You don't want to overpower the ragu with the flavor of offal. I've made it with Wild Boar and it is out of this world. Here it is with homemade pappardelle
Anyway, I hope this is a good primer. There are many other ragus to make! Here is one, admittedly more Neapolitan (meat chunks rather than ground, no cream) than Bolognese, but with Roasted Chicken and served with homemade orecchiete.
recipe here: Ragu_di_pollo_arrosto
There is also a fantastic Roman tripe ragu that I had once at Lupa, it was out of this world, but both of these can wait for another post.