Ragù bolognese, or the Italian meat sauce, is the ultimate pasta sauce. Adding meat to tomato sauce is not the only asset that make bolognese sauce one of the finest pasta condiments in the world. Ragù sauce is an art; making it fills your kitchen with a combination of many wonderful flavours spanning from a sizzling mirepoix to a dash of various herbs. Not to mention the fact that one of the key ingredients is wine – Italian red wine from Piemonte being my personal favourite.
Every family in Italy has their own ragù sauce recipe. Some hold their family recipes as dear as their ancestors. Good traditional cuisine is an art and I agree we should all make the effort of keeping it alive passing it on to the next generation. This means of course that there are many variations of the Italian meat sauce recipe. In this post I’m offering the one I make.
Is this the authentic bolognese sauce? It’s not. I could hardly ever claim I own that recipe as it doesn’t run in my blood. I have no roots in that region of Italy, Emilia Romagna. This doesn’t make my ragù any less delicious or legit, and that is the beauty of a traditional recipe that has spread all over the nation, gaining nuances of taste everywhere it reached. Mine has the Alpine tones of winter savory, dried porcini and Piedmont red wine (Barbera or Dolcetto). The best Italian meat sauce recipe ever, if you ask any of my guests who tasted it.
In Sweden, 99% of the times meat sauce is served with spaghetti. Actually, on the side. So you can top your boiled pasta with whatever amount of köttfärssås you wish. My household belongs to that 1% of rebels (of course, we’re Italians). I am a great fan of pasta corta so for me the best way to enjoy my bolognese is with fusilli or penne, rather than spaghetti. Or lasagne! Most of the times I make my meat sauce, my end goal is to use it in lasagne. And let me tell you, a homemade sauce like this one can take your lasagne to the next level.
The key to a good lasagna is the sauce you use. Be it a traditional lasagna with meat sauce, or a vegetarian variation with eggplants, or even with pesto – the key to a good lasagna is a good sauce. One that has a lot of flavour to contrast the creamy bechamel. One that pairs up well with a crunchy Parmigiano top crust. This bolognese sauce is perfect for lasagna.
No thickening agents, this sauce thickens by reduction. Italian grandmas will cook their ragù for hours, letting it slowly evaporate and making all the flavours concentrate to create a divine sauce. You don’t need a full day, though. I like to take my time but I never go over two or two and a half hours. Most of it is cooking time anyway, even if you can’t really leave your ragù alone as it likes to be stirred from time to time. It’s a little lovechild, one that showers you with pride in return for the amount of attentions it requires.
Ragù alla bolognese sauce
- 500 g minced veal
- 100 g white onion
- 100 g carrot
- 200 ml red wine
- 200 ml full-fat milk
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp dried porcini
- 1/2 tsp dried winter savory
- 3 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp brown sugar
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 L tomato purée (plus water to rinse tomato boxes)
Peel and finely mince the onion and carrots. Set a large pot with a thick bottom on medium heat and warm the olive oil. Add the minced vegetables and cook until tender but not brown, about 4 minutes.
Add the minced meat to the pot, raise the heat to medium-high, and move around often to ensure all the meat gets cooked. Add 2 tsp salt, the dried porcini and dried herbs. You can sub winter savory with thyme. I like to use smoked salt to the meat for extra flavour.
When all the meat has cooked through, raise the heat to high and pour in the red wine. Keep stirring it until it has all evaporated. I recommend a dry red wine; I used Barbera from Piemonte (Italy).
When all the wine has been absorbed and evaporated, pour in the milk. Repeat the same procedure: keep stirring on high heat until it's all been absorbed.
Lower the heat to medium and add the tomato purée. Chopped tomatoes work equally fine, but I prefer a smoother texture as there will already be enough bite from the meat and carrot. Rinse the boxes/bottles of the tomato sauce with a small amout of water and add that water to the pot as well. Add 1 tsp of salt and the brown sugar and give it a good stir.
Lower the heat to medium-low and let the sauce cook covered for one hour, remembering to stir from time to time. After one hour, remove the lid, reduce the heat to minimum, and cook for one more hour, checking the sauce constantly to prevent burning the bottom. This last hour is meant to reduce the sauce.
You can cook this sauce for a longer time, or you can even let it rest overnight and cook it some more the following day, if you wish to make it even thicker. You can use it directly in any pasta dish, or jar it and store it for later.