Photo and Styling by Julia Gartland
Active Time
20 MIN
Total Time
3 HR 20 MIN
Yield
Serves : 6

Ragù, as the Bolognese call their celebrated meat sauce, is characterized by mellow, gentle, comfortable flavor that any cook can achieve by being careful about a few basic points: The meat should not be from too lean a cut; the more marbled it is, the sweeter the ragù will be. The most desirable cut of beef is the neck portion of the chuck. Add salt immediately when sauteing the meat to extract its juices for the subsequent benefit of the sauce. Cook the meat in milk before adding wine and tomatoes to protect it from the acidic bite of the latter. Do not use a demiglace or other concentrates that tip the balance of flavors toward harshness. Use a pot that retains heat. Earthenware is preferred in Bologna and by most cooks in Emilia-Romagna, but enameled cast-iron pans or a pot whose heavy bottom is composed of layers of steel alloys are fully satisfactory.

Reprinted with permission from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Copyright 1992 by Marcella Hazan. Published by Knopf.

How to Make It

Step 1    

Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in the pot, and turn the heat on to medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.

Step 2    

Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well, and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.

Step 3    

Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating—about 1/8 teaspoon—of nutmeg, and stir.

Step 4    

Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, continue the cooking, adding 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

Step
Step 5    

Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding the tablespoon of butter, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

Make Ahead

If you cannot watch the sauce for a 3- to 4-hour stretch, you can turn off the heat whenever you need to leave, and resume cooking later on, as long as you complete the sauce within the same day. Once done, you can refrigerate the sauce in a tightly sealed container for 3 days, or you can freeze it. Before tossing with pasta, reheat it, letting it simmer for 15 minutes and stirring it once or twice.

Notes

Recommended pasta: There is no more perfect union in all gastronomy than the marriage of Bolognese ragù with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle. Ragù is delicious with tortellini, and irreproachable with such boxed, dried pasta as rigatoni, conchiglie, or fusilli. Curiously, considering the popularity of the dish in the United Kingdom and countries of the Commonwealth, meat sauce in Bologna is never served over spaghetti.

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