Ragù Bolognese

Ragu BologneseUnlike many other Italian pasta sauces, Ragù Bolognese is serious stuff in Italy. Bearing little resemblance to the sauce in the USA of the same name, it is a very slow-cooked sauce with minimal tomatoes used to dress fresh tagliatelle pasta and make Lasagne alla Bolognese (lasagne with spinach pasta noodles). Unlike many other Italian pasta sauces, the key is not to overly brown the ingredients. If done right, the final product is a mild and comforting sauce that is well absorbed by the pasta.

Here’s as-close-as-possible a recipe for this famous dish. In 1982, the Italian Academy of Cuisine locked a copy of this recipe in a safety deposit box in Bologna for posterity. As I said, pretty serious stuff in Italy!!

Ingredients and Directions:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped
  • Equal parts carrots, celery and onions, finely chopped — About …
    • 1 large carrot
    • 2 celery stakes
    • 1 small onion
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef (the official Italian recipe calls for ground skirt steak)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste (from a tube)
  • 10 tablespoons poultry stock
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Over medium-low heat, add the olive oil to a sauce pot and add the pancetta. Slowly cook the pancetta to render out the fat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon and don’t let the pancetta crisp up. About 10 minutes.
  2. Increase the heat to medium and add the carrots, celery and onion. Saute for about 3 minutes until the onion is translucent. Stir occasionally.
  3. Add the ground meat and break up with a wooden spoon. Gently cook until all the pink is gone but don’t let the beef become crispy brown.
  4. In a small bowl, mix the wine, stock and tomato paste and stir until dissolved. Add this mixture to the beef and stir. Turn the heat to low and partially cover with a lid.
  5. Slowly cook the sauce for at least two hours. From time to time, add a little of the milk and stir into the sauce. You should have used all the milk when the sauce is ready.
  6. Season with salt and pepper (there has been no seasoning up to this point, so do this during the slow cooking time and adjust the taste to your liking.

To make the pasta:

  • Ladle some of the sauce into a saute pan and heat it over medium heat.
  • Using fresh tagliatelle or dried pasta, drop into boiling water and cook until al dente. In the case of fresh pasta, wait till it rises to the surface of the boiling water, then wait one minute. In the case of dry pasta, cook 1 minute short of the package directions.
  • Using a large slotted spoon or a “spider”, lift the pasta from the water, briefly drain and add to the simmering sauce.
  • Using a wooden spoon, gently mixed the pasta and sauce together for about 1 minute. If the pasta and sauce are too dry, add a little of the pasta water.
  • Serve on warm plates and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (NOT Parmesan cheese).

Join the Conversation

  1. Joe, thank you very much for sharing such precious recipe, “In 1982, the Italian Academy of Cuisine locked a copy of this recipe in a safety deposit box in Bologna for posterity”, LOL!!!

    1. Joe Author says:

      Thanks Ivy!! This is one of my favorite recipes and I detest when restaurants serve some meat sauce and call it Ragu Bolognese. Joe

  2. Ragù alla bolognese is one of Italy’s greatest gifts to the world! When I lived in Emilia-Romagna, discussion of how it is — and how it should be — made is as ubiquitous as it is heated. Great post and great recipe.

    1. Joe Author says:

      Thanks Jeremy. Now you need to suggest some Emila-Romagna wines for Mark to try! Thanks. Joe

  3. Funny, I just made the Bolognese from a recent LATimes article. It’s good, but I can’t wait to try yours! I’m intrigued with the addition of milk — sounds delicious!

    1. Joe Author says:

      Carolyn — Thanks!! Let me know how if goes out. Joe

  4. Lou Cavaliere says:

    This is a wonderful recipe that I use to make lasagna with. However, my meat is a mixture of pork, beef and mostly veal. I find that the veal lightens it up a bit.

  5. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. Years ago, I used to enjoy the Spaghetti Bolognese at Little Joe’s in downtown Los Angeles. The place was always crowded, but sadly, it closed down and is now used for filming movies. Their red sauce recipe was printed by the L A Times, and is still popular, but the Bolognese sauce was never published. I have been looking for a good recipe for years, and yours looks like the one. As soon as our weather cools down a bit, I’m making this. I just don’t think it would go over too well when it’s 102 in the shade.

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