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Authentic Bolognese sauce from an Italian kitchen

Posted in Food, and Food & Entertaining

-ragu-bologneseIn the pale dawn light filtering through the blinds, I slowly open my eyes and the first thought knocks on my barely awake consciousness: What day is it? Followed closely by: Where am I supposed to be today? This ritual has been repeating itself for the last few weeks, relentless, every morning, even on those few days when I am not expected to juggle any of my three current jobs (four, if we include the blog).

My weeks are turned upside down and this morning not even my beloved coffee could lift the fog nor erase the raccoon look. If I smudged some red lipstick, I could claim  kinship to The Cure’s Robert Smith in his heyday. Cooking loving or experimental dinners is not in the cards right now although I have drawn up a list of dishes I expect my mother to get busy with when she gets here next week. At least, nourishment in the form of proper meals will be ensured.

Between bowls of oatmeal and cereal, my dinner staples of choice when I am too tired or can’t be bothered, meat sauce makes a welcome appearance. Ragu’, like we call it in Italy, is one of my top 5 comfort foods (and the only beef I eat) – whether layered in lasagna or tossed with some homemade tagliatelle, my sister and I grew up eating large quantities of it, and we both learnt to prepare it the way my mother does, which is the way her mother made it and back on and on through the years.

Every food magazine, website and Italian family has its own variation on this intrinsically Italian dish. The farther South you travel down the boot, the more likely you are to encounter spices added to it. Some cooks like to use pork and/or pancetta but my staple is very basic, very easy to make and, during the four hours or so it will cook on the  stove, it has the added bonus of perfuming the house more pleasingly than any Dyptique candle ever could.

Maybe added to homemade tagliatelle?
Maybe added to homemade tagliatelle?

Recently I was talking with a friend from Padova who has the habit of adding a beef bouillon to her meat sauce, to intensify its flavor, but I am in the camp of those who do not mess with the basic recipe: all you need is some good meat and the flavor will develop nicely as the beef cooks along. Grass fed and not too fatty is my ground beef of choice but anything not too fatty will do. A pound of meat will serve around 4 people, if used as a pasta topping. I make more and then I freeze it in small portions that I defrost as needed. Like tonight. I already know I will not feel like cooking dinner and that a bowl of pasta will improve my outlook on life immensely.

Start by chopping very finely (or use a blender or mixer) some carrot, celery and onion and saute them in a pot, on medium heat, with a bit of olive oil until tender. Add the meat and break it up with a wooden spoon and let it coat with the oil and brown a little bit.
In the meantime, find a bottle of whatever opened wine you might have lurking around. Red would be ideal but I have used white too – as a matter of fact, I like the lightness white wine imparts and a nice white is better than a cheap red bought just for cooking.

Add some wine to the pot, just a bit to make things more interesting, and let it evaporate. At this point, add some milk, maybe half a cup per pound of meat, salt and pepper and canned tomatoes (if you happen to have some homemade sauce, even better). I usually add about one can of chopped tomatoes per pound of meat as I don’t like my sauce too thick and red and saucy: that is what I call New Jersey meat sauce but it’s really up to your tastebuds.

Transfer the pot to a smaller burner and leave the meat sauce to work its magic for about 3 to 4 hours, tasting it halfway through and adjusting salt and pepper as needed.

Cool completely before freezing and use when you don’t feel like cooking, unexpected company shows up or just feel a pick me up is in order. Ragu’, in my world, is a smile on a plate.

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10 Comments

  1. Simple is often best – what I like about your ragu (which is not unlike what I have been making for years) is that you don’t faff around with all sorts of extra ingredients. What is new to me is the idea of adding some milk – could be that is your secret ingredient that lifts it all into another realm! Thanks for the recipe, I will be making a few batches and freezing in portions for when my grandsons come to stay – every child likes pasta with ragu.

    July 16, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      It’s not so secret but, unless you are from Bologna, where everyone makes ragu’ using milk, you are not likely to know. It helps keep the sauce a little bit creamy without adding heft.

      July 16, 2015
      |Reply
  2. That’s an interesting tip about using white wine. Don’t think I’ve seen/heard that before, but I might just give it a try

    July 16, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      For ragu’ purists, using white wine might be anathema. But I am strongly against buying cheap wine for the express use of cooking. Why add subpar ingredients? So I use what I have in the house, not necessarily super expensive but good enough I would serve it to guests. Red or white.

      July 16, 2015
      |Reply
  3. Glenis
    Glenis

    Claudia – I am of the “old school”. I never ever use stock when cooking. If the ingredients are good and fresh all is fine.

    July 16, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      My mom is exactly like you. Just start with good ingredients and don’t mess with them. By the way, I should get my butt back to South Africa to enjoy some of your cooking.

      July 16, 2015
      |Reply
  4. silvia
    silvia

    I woke up at six thinking about tiles. Totally obsessed by the renovation of a flat that in my plans should hopefully host guests from all over the world, your writing made me forget about it and smile for a few second. If not my first possibly my second or third fave plate.

    July 16, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      And what is your number one? Mine is probably tortellini.

      July 16, 2015
      |Reply
      • silvia
        silvia

        It varies depending on seasons and cholesterol related problems. But tortellini, four thumbs up!

        July 18, 2015
        |Reply

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