Ragù alla bolognese

There is a longstanding love story between me and the Bolognese. They say there are as many recipes for this sauce as there are italian families. After playing with it for many years, I have come up with mine, I think. The difference is in the technique mostly as the ingredients are relatively similar in every cookbook. In the winter, I spend most of my Sunday afternoons by the stove, stirring until I am inebriated by the smell of pancetta and nutmeg. I find it very relaxing and very rewarding.

A Bolognese is above all a meat sauce, not a tomato sauce and should have a subtle tomato flavor. It can be made with just beef or a combination of meats, usually beef, pork and veal. Pancetta is also a very important ingredient. There are variations using only white meat (pork, chicken and veal), using lamb with sweet red bell peppers or beef with chicken livers and porcini mushrooms. Try using red wine and beef broth instead of white wine and chicken broth. See what happens. I have tried varying the order in which each ingredient is added and below is my preference.

It has to be cooked slowly, with care and passion, and no steps can be rushed or skipped. Developing flavor in every step is important to reach the desired complexity in the final product. You will want to make this again and again. Did I tell you it is my favorite sauce? You will not get this in a restaurant.


2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 big carrot, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
450 g (1 pound) lean ground beef
225 g (half a pound) lean ground pork
225 g (half a pound) ground veal
225 g (half a pound) pancetta, finely diced
156 ml (5.5 fl oz) tomato paste or 1 small can
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups whole milk
15-20 gratings of fresh nutmeg (or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon), to taste
1 to 1,5 litre (4 to 6 cups) chicken broth
kosher salt and pepper to taste (adjust the quantity of salt depending on what type you use)


1. In a heavy bottom pot, sweat the onions, celery and carrot in the oil and butter until everything is soft and the vegetables start sticking to the bottom of the pot. It will take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. Stir every few minutes. Don’t let the vegetables take any color.
2. Add the beef, pork, veal and pancetta to the pot and stir in with the vegetables along with 1 teaspoon of salt. Then, stir only every five minutes to let the meat brown. Let it brown for approximately 30 minutes. You will know it is ready as it starts to stick to the bottom and the sound coming from the pot changes. Instead of a bubbling, you will hear a crackling noise. Listen carefully.
3. Lower the heat to the lowest setting possible and add the tomato paste. Combine well and let everything toast away, stirring every few minutes for about 10 or 15 minutes.
4. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the wine. Cook until almost all the wine has evaporated, a few minutes, scraping all the sticky bits at the bottom of the pot.
5. Add the milk and the nutmeg and stir constantly until the liquid has evaporated.
6. Add one cup of chicken broth and turn the heat to the lowest setting possible. From this point, the sauce should cook for 2 to 3 hours, uncovered, the longer the better. Add the chicken broth, half a cup at a time every 20 to 30 minutes to have the desired consistency.
7. Toss with your favorite pasta along with Parmigiano Reggiano and voilà! The best meat sauce ever! I like it with spaghetti, pappardelle, rigatoni or with gnocchi. It also makes a terrific lasagna.

See Lasagne alla bolognese on Mon Food Blog

Categories: Pasta, Weekend entertaining

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6 replies »

  1. Pretty labor-intensive, but yes, as you say, there’s no other way to develop the layered depth of flavor for which this dish is rightfully famed. Sounds like a really lovely version!


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