Now that our most welcome February spring has yielded to a round of huge rainstorms, its time to start cooking comfort food again. And no comfort food is more welcome in our home than pasta with ragú Bolognese (also known as noodles with meat sauce for the younger set). What separates this dish from a more typical (and admittedly quicker) meat sauce is time. It takes at least 1.5 – 2 hours to prepare, due to the slow cooking process which yields an incredibly delicious result. This is not the dish to start at 5PM on a weeknight. However, make a large batch on a weekend and you’ll never regret it. The ragú freezes beautifully, lending itself to easy weeknight cooking when all you have to do is defrost, make some pasta and veggies and indulge. Because the sauce is so versatile, you could also make lasagna with it, serve over polenta and vegetables, or other grains.
Before I delve into specifics, I will admit that there are hundreds, even thousands of variations and approaches to this classic Italian sauce. Feel free to search for more options or amalgamate a few, as I do here. You’ll likely find that the basic ingredients and techniques are similar but the nuances do vary.
One additional note: Though I could not find a written recipe for this Wine Spectator video of Mario Batali making Bolognese sauce, it is really helpful in terms of technique. He breaks down the basics beautifully.
Inspired by recipes from the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook, and Mario Batali via the Food Network
- ½-1 cup sliced mushrooms, as available and if preferred OR 1/3 c. dried mushrooms*
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced fine
- 2-4 ounces of diced pancetta
- 3-4 ribs celery, diced fine
- 2-3 carrot, diced fine
- 1 pound ground beef or pork
- 1 pound ground lamb or veal
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 4 tbsp tomato paste
- 1- 1½ cups milk
- 1 cup white wine
- kosher salt, black pepper
- Parmigiano-Reggianno cheese and chopped parsley for grating
If you are using dried mushrooms, soak them in boiling water for 15-20 minutes until soft, drain and reserve the liquid. Chop either soaked or fresh mushrooms finely and set aside.
Using a wide, heavy-bottomed pot (this would be a good time to bust out that Le Creuset pot if you have one. We just invested in a large one and I’m in love!), heat a few tablespoons of olive oil and add the diced pancetta. After it releases some fat, add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and a little salty. Cook until the vegetables are translucent and soft but be sure not to brown them – about 10-15 minutes.
Add the ground meat to the vegetables, season with salt, then cook on a medium to medium-low heat to render the fat and slowly brown the meat. This will take about 45 minutes, with frequent stirring. Move around the sticky bits from the bottom of the pan, then add tomato paste, stir it together with the meat and cook, stirring often, for about 30 minutes. At this stage, the meat and tomato paste will have combined completely in a caramelized mix.
Add the milk and cook until it evaporates completely and leaves the meat silky smooth, about 5 minutes. Then add the wine and reduce on a medium heat until the alcohol is cooked off (you’’ll know when that happens by the smell). After the alcohol has cooked off, add the mushrooms, bay leaves and thyme, and cover the pan. Simmer on medium-low heat for about an hour, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over pasta of your choice and enjoy!