With another weekend of uninterrupted cold rain ahead, there’s nothing more heartwarming and delicious than a big pot of sugo al ragù simmering on the stove, known everywhere but in Italy as “typically Italian” bolognese sauce, a supposed standard and classic of Italian cuisine.
As a student, I lived in Bologna for a while and there was nothing called “bolognese sauce” anywhere to be found on the menus. There were lots of tortelli in creamy sauces, though, and a thousand other culinary marvels. Sometimes I dream of a teaching post in Bologna today, in the age of digital cameras, just to be able to take pictures of food, food and yet more food.
A fairly standard thing on Italian menus is sugo al ragù, however, which is perhaps the closest thing to the “Bolognese Myth”, though the recipe varies greatly from region to region – it can be minced meat, but just as well rabbit stew, it can be more broth-based or, in the South, include a fair share of tomato.
But even though Bolognese Sauce may not at all be authentic or even Italian (my Italian grandmother refused to even discuss it), there’s no questioning it’s status as a classic in many kitchens across the world. Mine is no exception.
A “Bolognese” can be pretty meh, or it can be sensational, depending on the attention to detail and – a vital factor – on the amount of simmering time. Below is my recipe, developed throughout a decade and sure to put a smile on every (non-vegetarian, although it might also work with tofu minced meat) family member at the table. It’s also, since it was designed in a student’s household, a fairly economic version, and can be easily varied and just as easily be frozen and defrosted.
Sugo al ragù/“Bolognesa” (makes about eight to ten rations, just freeze the rest!)
- 600-700g minced meat, 50/50 pork/beef blend (more economical) or beef only.
- 2-3 medium sized onions
- 2-3 medium sized carrots
- for the luxury version: a few grams of dried funghi porcini (just in case a friend recently brought you a package from Tyrol as a gift)
- 2-3 tbsp. tomato essence, triple concentrated
- 1 can of peeled tomatoes with juice, 800ml
- 1 can of tomato puree, 800ml (if you live in Spain: tomate natural, NOT tomate frito)
- 1 small glass of dry white whine
- 250ml vegetable broth (cube-based will do, I told you this is a student-friendly version)
- 2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
- 1 tsp. dried Italian herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, marjoram)
- salt, freshly ground pepper
- a few tbsp. olive oil
- Parmesan cheese
- This recipe will take up a bit of your time, there’s no way around it. But the half hour you need for chopping and stirring is the only actual work, after that, it’s just 2-3 hours of simmering.
- Start by peeling an dicing the carrots really finely (about 2-3mm dice length). No grating, since that leaves dry streaks of carrot without the juice in your sauce. It’s got to be dice, and I always do this task first since it is the most tedious. Some people add finely diced celery, too, I prefer celery in soups and don’t like it in my “Bolognese”, but if you like it, go for it.
- In case you have some streaks of dried funghi porcini at hand, soak them in warm water for 10-15 minutes (about as long as it will take you to chop the carrots and onions), then take them out, press out the excess water, reserve the water (don’t throw it out) and dice them just as finely as the carrots. It’s worth the effort.
- Next, dice the onions, a lot more generously (at least 5mm length).
- In a large pan, heat up 2-3 tbsp. olive oil. Bit by bit, add the meat, breaking it up with a spatula into very fine bits and stirring constantly. Once the meat has lost its reddish color and has started to brown a little, take it out with a slotted spoon.
- Add another tbsp. of olive oil to the pan and add the onions and carrots (and funghi porcini or celery, if you used any of those two), sweating them until the carrots turn soft and the onions translucent.
- Add 2 tbsp. of the tomato essence, the parsley and the Italian herbs, stir in wel with the vegetables.
- When the tomato essence threatens to get toasted too much, add the broth.
- Add the meat to the pan again.
- Add the white wine.
- Season with salt and pepper and boil up once.
- Once the sauce is cooking with small bubbles, add the can of tomatoes (with sauce) and the can of tomato puree. I hope you used a big pan!
- When the sauce is cooking again, reduce the heat to very small flame and simmer without lid!) for three hours (two if you are in a hurry). Depending on your stove, you may have to add some more broth and some more tomato essence at some point, but basically, this sauce cooks itself form this point onward. In the end, the sauce should be dense, with little liquid, almost like a paste, with the tomatoes cooked to bits.
- After these three hours, boil up some pasta of your choice – classic spaghetti or some egg-based parpadelle would be the obvious ones, but it works with just about anything, save for soup pasta – about 90-120g per person, depending on size and appetite, and add a healthy spoonful of sauce to each plate.
- Serve with a spoonful of Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top of each plate.
- Enjoy and be happy that you have extras to freeze.