When I think about pasta alla bolognese, the first picture that comes to my mind is the dish I used to be served at the school cafeteria. I remember how the cafeteria lady poured two big ladles of a very tomato-ey sauce on top of yellow buttered spaghetti. I’m sorry to say that my mother didn’t fare much better with her quick homemade version.
Therefore, I was never a big fan of pasta alla bolognese. Nothing special about them, juste this intense tomato taste that overshadowed the meat, which itself was quite dry and tasteless ; it was comforting, yes, especially when you buried it under copious amounts of cheese, but that was it.
Then I went to Sardegna, and had proper ragu alla bolognese out of luck. I say we got lucky because the dish originates from Bologna, in the Italian Peninsula, and differs from the food you can typically find in Sardegna. I am grateful for eating such a brilliant version of it without having to go to Emilia-Romagna. Please visit Hostaria Via Aemilia if you ever go there.
This experience blew my mind : the original version had nothing to do with whatever you can be served in most countries. Gone was this acidic, plain tomato taste ; instead, you were served pasta in a rich, stew-like meaty sauce that contained barely any liquid. It looked orangey-brown, without a hint of aggressive red. The ragù wasn’t simply plopped over some overcooked pasta but coated each bit of fresh, homemade pappardelle. The meat was not your thinly ground, overly-processed looking beef, but thicker bits of beef and pork coarsely ground, which felt and tasted like actual meat.
I knew I had to recreate this dish at home the Italian way, without messing with tradition. I was only half surprised to discover that they went so far as filing it with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce on October 17, 1982 !
They are right though : this recipe is precious, and should not be forgotten over the years with the shortcuts most people take with it. On top of that, the traditional recipe is really simple to make ; just keep in mind that it ideally needs to simmer for 2,5 to 3 hours, or at least 2.
Authentic ragù alla bolognese – Recipe
Ingredients – Advice & key points
As a reminder, I usually go to Eataly to get the produce I need. If you don’t have one near your location, you can find the fresh produce you need at your local Italian deli, especially fresh pasta and pancetta.
Fresh pasta are favoured by most Italians for a ragù. Fresh pappardelle is the most traditional option, but you can also use any long pasta of your choice. Even short pasta will be well-suited for the recipe, as they will capture the meat from the sauce.
I buy fresh pasta from a local deli. It’s a great option if you don’t feel like spending 5 hours in the kitchen.
Meat options :
Ask your butcher for some coarsely ground beef, ideally not too lean ! He can chop it himself with a knife, or use a different setting from his grinding machine. This is what the authentic recipe calls for, because the flavour will be stronger.
In order to get the right richness for the sauce, it is important to add, besides your beef, the fattier pancetta. I used pancetta arrotolata, which the deli man sliced quite thin (around 0,5cm thick), then diced it in small strips, about about 1cm x 5cm.
Tomato sauce :
Use quality tomato sauce !! It makes a world of difference. The brands I use and recommend and Antonella,Nanù and Afeltra, with Afeltra as my personal favourite, especially their San Marzano kind. But just use any Italian good quality tomato sauce you can get your hands on.
I used peeled and diced canned tomatoes, but you can also use tomato purée (passata).
Soffritto : Please dice your onion, carrot and celery really thinly, without using a mixer.
Broth : I use store-bought here, since the large amount of meat already brings in lots of flavour. Feel free to use homemade if you can !
Milk : Yes, this is one of the secret ingredients of the authentic recipe. It counteracts the tomatoes’ acidity and improves the meat’s texture.
Cooking your pasta – Pieces of advice
Salt your pasta water appropriately, with around 10g of salt/liter.
Although we’ll end up adding the pasta to the pan with the sauce, we’ll just leave them here for a minute there, contrary to the Carbonara recipe.
I recommend heating your plates in the oven for 10 minutes at 80°C before plating. This will keep your pasta warm longer.
Take out that Dutch oven and treat yoself !
Not to mention, this ragù is the foundation for decadent homemade lasagna… A recipe I will be glad to post soon, too.
BeginnerPrep Time20 minCook Time180 minTotal Time3 hrs 20 mins
Suitable throughout the year
Rich, stew-like ragù that will make you forget everything you thought you knew about bolognese pasta.
Ingredients for the ragù
Prep your ingredients
Thinly mince your carrot, your celery and your onion.
Cut your pancetta into thin strips.
That's it for your prep ! Quick, right ?
Onto the stove
Add your oil to your Dutch oven and wait for it to get to medium heat (not too high).
Add your pancetta and allow the fat to melt.
Add your soffritto and let it cook a few minutes on low-medium heat.
Turn up your heat to medium-high. Add your beef, your salt, and mix well. Allow it to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until it sizzles.
Add your red wine. Let it evaporate while scraping the bottom of your pan.
Add your concentrated tomato and your diced tomatoes. Mix and allow it to cook for a minute
Pour your beef stock. Stir well again, still scraping the bottom of your pan with your wooden or plastic spoon. Cover, and bring it to a low sizzle.
1 hour in, add your milk, stir and cover.
Let it cook for a total of 2 hours and a half, 3 if you wish, before turning off the heat. Taste and adjust for salt.
Be careful : the soffritto must not colour. If necessary, lower your stove power.
Pasta goes in !
Heat a pot of water 10 minutes before the end of your ragù cooking time.
Add your fresh pasta to it.
Once the ragù has finished cooking, heat up a pan with the desired amount of sauce.
1 minute before the end of the pasta cooking time, remove the pasta from their pot with tongs and add them to the pan , on medium to high heat. Mix to integrate the sauce to the pasta, either with a wooden spoon or making circular motions with your wrist.
Plate it up ! Then pour a bit of parmigiano on each plate.
Et voilà !! You're done !
This sauce freezes well. I definitely advise you to make a large amount, since the cooking time is quite long, then freeze it in batches (I pour individual portions in plastic bags). You will be so glad to find one on a lazy winter night.
This amount will enable you to serve 10 plates of pappardelle al ragù, or 4 plates of pappardelle and 1 lasagna bake.