Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The perfect Bolognese sauce


Bolognese ragout may be the most famous Italian sauce in the world, along with pesto. Outside Italy it’s usually thought of as a spaghetti sauce, but this goes against tradition. It is usually used with special pastas like tagliatelle and lasagne. Its origins are very ancient, going back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and linked to the great mixture of cultures (and cuisines) in Bologna over the centuries, thanks to its University, the oldest in the world. The recipe agreed upon as authentic was registered by the Italian Academy of Cuisine in 1982, following 38 years of research and debate. Minced meat used in this tasty recipe is a special cut of beef, called cartella (skirt), the muscle that separates the lungs and stomach of the animal. Unlike what you may think, ragout (or Bolognese sauce) contains very little tomato, in a concentrated form; the basic vegetables are onions, carrots and celery, chopped up together and “soffritti”, lightly fried in oil. The use of “soffritto” is common in Italian cuisine, from north to south, differing only in the type of fat used. In the north, it’s butter, in the south, olive oil. In Bolognese ragout, both are used, with excellent results.


Minced Beef


Beef is the only kind of meat to use for a perfect Bolognaise sauce. The official recipe calls for a special cut, the cartella, or skirt. This is the muscle that separates the lungs from the stomach, juicy, tender and lean. Normally, a fattier and less prized cut is used: the faux cartella, or belly. This meat must be cooked slowly, but it gives the sauce an unmistakeable flavour, thanks to its high fat content. Nowadays, the meat is minced. This cuts down on cooking time, which is long in any case. Traditionally, it was cut into chunks and cooked slowly to soften the meat fibres to the desired consistency.

The perfect bolognese recipe

Serves four people


2 tbsp olive oil
6 rashers of streaky 'pancetta' bacon, chopped
2 large onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 carrots, chopped
Stick of celery
2 Pounds  lean minced beef
2 large glasses of red wine
2 cans chopped tomatoes
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
30 Oz dried tagliatelle
freshly grated parmesan cheese, to serve 

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and fry the bacon until golden over a medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, frying until softened. Increase the heat and add the minced beef. Fry it until it has browned. Pour in the wine and boil until it has reduced in volume by about a third. Reduce the temperature and stir in the tomatoes and celery. 

2. Cover with a lid and simmer over a gentle heat for 1-1½ hours until it's rich and thickened, stirring occasionally. 

3. Cook the tagliatelle in plenty of boiling salted water. Drain and divide between plates. Sprinkle a little parmesan over the pasta before adding a good ladleful of the sauce. Finish with a further scattering of cheese and a twist of black pepper.

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