What you call Bolognese sauce in America, we call ragù in Bologna, home to one of the most popular meat-based pasta sauces the world over. Don’t be fooled by those tourist-trap menus baiting you with “spaghetti with ragù alla Bolognese”: ragù is to be consumed chiefly with tagliatelle. Other pasta shapes, such as rigatoni or penne, also do the sauce justice. But spaghetti with ragù is just not a thing!
Following is the original ragù alla Bolognese recipe, as recited by heart (no such thing as a cookbook for a seasoned Bolognese home cook) by a local grandmother, who may or may not be related to yours truly. The older, more traditional recipes recommend letting the ragù cook at low heat for around 10–12 hours before it’s ready. These days, few amateur cooks with a full-time job have time for that. But fear not, since three or four hours on the stove are enough for ragù to come out well.
After the ragù recipe, you will also find instructions to make fresh tagliatelle from scratch at home!
RAGU ALLA BOLOGNESE
1 lb. ground beef
3 carrots, 3 celery sticks, 1 medium white onion
white or red wine (Go for whatever cheap brand you can find. This is just for cooking.)
1/2 glass of milk
Chop the carrots, celery and onion (manually or with a food processor — just make sure they don’t mingle into a paste). Stir fry the chopped veggies in olive oil over high heat. When they’re brown, add the ground beef and stir fry until it also becomes brown. Then add salt and half a glass of milk. When the milk dries off, add half a glass of red or white wine. While the ragù continues cooking, pour a glass of water and the tomato paste in a separate cup and mix with a spoon. Add a large pinch of salt. When the wine has dried off in the pan, add the tomato sauce. Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook over low heat for at least a couple hours. Stir from time to time and add water if it looks like the meat has dried off.
Your old Italian grandma would generally tend to use butter too in addition to ragù, but the sauce tastes equally delicious, and it’s much lighter and healthier if you only use olive oil.
Tagliatelle with homemade ragù in Bologna
And now, for the best pasta to eat ragù with:
FRESH TAGLIATELLE FROM SCRATCH
Pour a large amount of flour on a plain cutting board and break 3–4 eggs over it. Mix it all together with your hands (don’t add any water) until it gets stiff and in the form of a ball. At this point, you should not be able to tell the flour from the eggs. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin until it’s all even on the cutting board. Cut out long strips that resemble tagliatelle (see picture). Cook and serve with ragù!
When the writer of this piece last went home to Bologna, her mom surprised her with fresh tagliatelle made at home from scratch.