RAGU ALLA BOLOGNESE: A RECIPE AND A SHORT EXPLANATION OF THE PLEASURE IN A WELL GROUNDED MEAL
Butchery is a process. In fact, when we say an animal is being processed that means it is being butchered, or broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. The more manageable pieces, or primals, become what we know as chops and steaks, roasts and ribs. When these cuts reach the supermarket we only recognize them as raw elements of a menu. We analyze how we will turn them into a component for a delicious meal.
While whole muscles tend to take center stage most of the time, there is a lot to be said for the bits that get overlooked. The trim, fat, and offals, most chefs will agree to be the most flavorful and valuable parts of the animal. From these leftovers we get some of the greatest meals. Ragu alla Bolognese is one of the first that comes to mind.
Bolognese—or Sugo de Carne—is a pasta dish that dates back into the late 18th century, originating near Bologna, Italy. Ragu can differ from family to family, and surely there are variations that exist within households, so there are endless variations on the recipe. Like most recipes, the basic instructions are merely a guide through the mechanics of the dish. Any recipe can and should be modified for personal taste as long as there is understanding of the process, and the one for bolognese is pretty simple. It is a sauce that can require a few hours of slow cooking to develop the rich and meaty flavor. However, there are ways to speed up the process and finish with a similar result.
Ragu Alla Bolognese
2 C Soffritto (1 C yellow onion, 1/2 C celery, 1/2 C carrot) finely diced
2 T olive oil
2 T butter
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork or pork sausage
2 C whole milk
2 C dry red wine
3 cups peeled plum tomatoes, crushed or chopped
2-3 fresh bay leaves
fresh grated Parmesan
1 1/2 pounds of pasta
This recipe, like many classic dishes, begins with soffritto, or mirepoix as it is known to the French. Soffritto is a mixture of onion, celery and carrot, generally a 2:1:1 ratio respectively. This provides a strong base for building flavors throughout the cooking process. For our bolognese, we are going to cut the vegetables very small so that they will essentially melt away as the sauce cooks.
1.In a heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil and butter on medium heat.
2. Add the onions and cook until translucent.
3. Add the carrot and celery and cook until softened, stirring often to avoid any caramelization.
4. Add the ground beef and pork and crumble with a fork. Season with a heavy pinch of salt and a couple of turns of black pepper and cook until it has browned completely.
5. Add the milk and simmer until it has almost completely evaporated. Reducing the milk will add sweetness and more fat, allowing for a rich and hearty sauce.
6. Next add the red wine and simmer until it has reduced and nearly evaporated. When liquids are reduced, the water evaporates leaving behind the concentrated essence of the liquid. In the case of red wine, it will add some sweet and sour layers to the sauce.
7. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine all of the ingredients. Toss in the bay leaves and bring back to a simmer.
8. Cut the heat back so that the simmer is very lazily bubbling every so often. Be patient, stirring occasionally. If the sauce starts to stick to the pot, add about a half cup of water.
9. Let simmer approximately three hours.
Finally, its time to reap the benefits of our endeavor. The fat will have separated out of the sauce. Traditionally, it is emulsified back into the sauce before serving, which is what I would suggest because fat equals flavor. If you are feeling a little health conscious, just skim it off the top with a spoon and try not to think about what you are missing out on with every bite you take.
In consideration of the mechanics of taste and our taste buds, taking a bite of a well balanced dish will light up all of our tastebuds, meaning sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Achieving this depth of flavor is what every chef strives for in each dish. A balanced flavor pleases almost any palette. Fat is one of the most effective vehicles to deliver flavor, and can lend itself to the sweet and umami areas of taste reception as well. The first few steps of the Bolognese process ensure that the flavor will develop with all of these elements of taste.
This sauce pairs well with any noodle, but a nice thick tagliatelle or a homemade pappardelle work exceptionally well, as do rigatoni and penne. If you have a pasta machine, break it out and roll out some noodles. Top with grated parmesan and some fresh chopped parsley to round out the flavors and enjoy.