Marcella Hazan’s Ragu Bolognese
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
My modifications to the recipe are slight and have more to do with my deep adoration of pork (it makes for a more delicate cooked meat). Instead of a 2:1 beef to pork ratio, I make it more like 1:1, so for each pound of beef, I use a pound of pork. I’ve inched the amount of vegetables ever-so-slightly for easier adaptation, but I don’t think 1/4 cup here or there will make much difference.
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons unsalted butter plus 2 tablespoons for tossing the pasta
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 1/2 cups chopped carrot
1 pound (454 grams) ground beef chuck (preferably 80% lean)
1 pound (454 grams) ground pork (preferably from the neck or Boston butt)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (473 ml) whole milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 cups (473 ml) dry white wine
3 cups stewed tomatoes from 1 (28-ounce can / about 800 grams) , cut up, with their juice
Fresh egg pasta
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating table-side
1. In a large wide pot set over medium heat, preferably an enameled Dutch oven (8 quarts is my choice), combine the oil with 6 tablespoons of butter and warm both until the butter has completely melted. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it becomes translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and cook, stirring the vegetables until well coated, 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add the meat, a generous pinch or two of salt, and some pepper. Cook the meat, stirring and crumbling it with a wooden spoon, until the meat has lost its raw red color. add the milk, and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. You may need to lower the heat for this; and this step may take about an hour or a bit longer. You may want to walk away for half an hour, do something else, and come back to check on the sauce. Once the milk has all absorbed, add the nutmeg and stir to combine.
3. Add the wine; let it simmer until it has evaporated – again, this step could take an hour plus. Be patient with the sauce and don’t add the next liquid before the current one is all absorbed by the sauce. This is how you build flavor.
4. Add the tomatoes and stir them into the sauce. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that, as Marcella writes, “the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface.” Cook the bolognese, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While the sauce is cooking, you may find that it begins to dry out, with the fat separating from the meat. Add 1/2 cup of water, whenever necessary, to keep it from sticking. At the end, however, there should be not water at all left, and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and adjust the salt, if needed. At this point you can either toss the sauce with cooked, drained pasta (with that pat of butter leftover) or, if you’re like me, you can put the sauce in the fridge and let it sit overnight (which further develops the flavors). You can also freeze this sauce for a rainy, or snowy, day. Or in my case – month one of motherhood.
This whole mess will feed about 8 people, so you may want to double this recipe (which is double what the book instructs) – and freeze the rest. Of course, if you happen to share your bolognese, this officially makes you a saint, or something like it anyhow.