Monday, February 11, 2013

Bolognese or Ragù Style Meat Sauce Recipe

Classic Ragù Sauce
Nothing says "comfort food" like Bolognese sauce. But cooking up a pot of it takes a bit of a commitment. It's not especially complicated to master, mind you, nor does it call for any perfecting Italian ingredients that are sometimes hard to come by here in the States. It just takes time—time to finely chopped the vegetables; time to layer all the ingredients one by one in the pot. And finally, time to slowly cook, allowing all the ingredients to meld deliciously together. A good ragù should simmer away for a minimum of four hours making it the perfect recipe to fix on a cold, wintry weekend day. But your efforts are greatly rewarded with the complex flavors of a true Italian treasure.

an old copy of Marcella Hazan's cookbookI've adapted my meat sauce recipe from Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cookbook; the art of Italian cooking and the Italian art of eating. As you can see, my copy is an old edition but it's filled with great recipes nonetheless! Hazan is a master Italian chef, giving precise instructions. It may seem like overkill to some but trust me, the end result is simply sublime. For instance, Hazan demands that you finely chop the vegetables so they'll nearly dissolve in the sauce during cooking. (She right.) Next, per Marcella's strict instructions, be sure to add the tomatoes after all the milk has evaporated. This, she says, gives a sweet flavor to the meat. And finally, don't be in a rush; the sauce must barely simmer on the stove for hours. Don't stress—just pour yourself a glass of wine, turn on some opera, and fill your kitchen with the aromas of Italy. One final note: This is a meat sauce, hearty and dense, not marinara. So if you're looking for a thin, delicate saucy-saucy, move on, sister.

Classic Ragù Style Meat Sauce

4 tbsp. finely chopped onion
4 tbsp. finely chopped carrot
4 tbsp. finely chopped celery
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. butter
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup whole milk or half & half
1/8 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 - 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, seeds and stems removed, roughly chopped

1.) In a stock pot with deep sides (so the sauce won't reduce too quickly), sauté chopped onions in the butter and olive oil until translucent. Add chopped carrots and celery. Cook slowly for an additional five minutes.

Finely chop the vegetables 
2.) Add meat to the pot, breaking it up into small pieces with your cooking spoon. Sprinkle with salt. Cook gently until the meat loses its pink color. Do not over cook by browning the meat! Add the wine and turn up the heat to medium high, stirring until all the wine has evaporated.

close up of meat sauce in pot

3.) Turn heat back down to medium low and add whole milk (I prefer half & half for its richer flavor). Stir frequently until all milk has evaporated. Add freshly grated nutmeg (but jarred nutmeg is sufficient, too).

whole nutmeg and grater

4.) Stir in chopped tomatoes. Once sauce begins to bubble, turn heat down to its lowest setting. If your stove doesn't have a "simmer" setting, place the pot off to the side so only a portion of flame hits the pot.

close up of meat sauce cooking in pot

5.) Simmer partially covered for a minimum of three hours; four to five is optimal. Stir occasionally making sure the sauce doesn't stick to the bottom. You may need to add a bit of water if you find the sauce evaporating too quickly.
a plate of pasta on a red-checkered tablecloth

Buon appetito!

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