One of the most well-known Italian dishes outside of Italy is Spaghetti alla Bolognese. The funny thing about this is that Bolognese Meat Sauce (Ragù Bolognese) originates from the city of Bologna, where it is never eaten over spaghetti but always over fresh tagliatelle! So Spaghetti alla Bolognese is not really an Italian dish, even though today you can eat it in restaurants in Italy, especially the tourist traps.
Another common misconception is that Ragù alla Bolognese is a quick sauce of tomato sauce and ground beef. First of all it is not quick but should simmer for hours, and second instead of ground beef in most cases ground veal is used. Since it takes a while to make (even though it is not a lot of work, just a lot of waiting while you stir now and then) and it freezes well, I usually make a big amount at once and freeze what I don’t need straight away. It is also a good idea to make the ragù a day before because it will taste better after a day. You could of course just make a quarter of the recipe below if you don’t want to make so much at once. You’ll probably regret not making more when you taste the result, though…
There are many recipes for Ragù alla Bolognese. Each family from Bologna has its own recipe and they all have slight variations. Common ingredients are ground veal, sometimes ground pork and/or beef as well, tomatoes in some shape or form (fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, sieved tomatoes, or tomato paste diluted in meat stock), milk, cured pork (prosciutto and/or pancetta), red or white wine and finally what I call the trinity of Italian braises and stews: carrots, onions and celery. Here’s my version. I like to use sieved tomatoes or canned tomatoes rather than tomato paste because I like the ragù to have a bit more of a tomato flavor. I only use fresh tomatoes when I can get really good ones (which in the Netherlands is hardly ever).
Tomorrow I will follow up with my recipe for lasagne alla bolognese.
For about 2,5 litres (10 cups)
1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) ground veal, or a mixture of 50% veal, 25% pork and 25% beef
200 grams (0.44 lbs) prosciutto di parma, sliced and finely chopped
160 grams (1/2 cup) finely chopped onion
140 grams (1/2 cup) finely chopped carrot
100 grams (1/4 cup) finely chopped celery
90 grams (6 Tbsp) butter
1500 ml (6 cups) passata (sieved tomatoes)
400 ml (1 2/3 cup) dry white wine
400 ml (1 2/3 cup) milk
freshly grated nutmeg
Melt the butter in a large pan or pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and prosciutto. Sauté for 5-10 minutes until golden.
Increase the heat to high. Add the ground meat and cook the meat, breaking it up with two wooden spoons, until all of the raw meat color has disappeared.
Add the wine. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add the milk and freshly grated nutmeg. Cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Now add the sieved tomatoes and stir to mix.
Lower the heat to the merest simmer. There should only be an occasional bubble.
Continue to simmer like that, uncovered, stirring now and then, for 4 hours (!). Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt.
The ragù alla bolognese is now ready to be served over tagliatelle or for example to make lasagne alla bolognese, although it is even better the day after. Make sure to cool the ragù quickly (by putting the pan in cold water and stirring the sauce, if needed with ice in the water) to prevent it from spoiling while it is cooling.