Start a pot of this hearty authentic Bolognese Sauce mid-day, let it simmer so very slowly all day and you will have the most satisfying bowl of Ragù alla Bolognese come dinnertime. Meat and vegetables gently simmered with wine, broth, tomato sauce and milk offer a depth of savory richness that’s hard to match. It’s a hearty and filling meal that goes beyond a simple meat sauce.
The best Authentic Bolognese Sauce will simmer for 3-4 hours on the very lowest stove setting, but you’ll only need 30 – 40 minutes to get it on the stove, so don’t be intimidated!
What is Ragù alla Bolognese?
Ragù is an Italian term for a meat-based sauce, typically used for pasta dishes. While bolognese is a type of ragù, not all ragùs are bolognese.
Ragù alla Bolognese hails from the northern Italian city of Bologna. This sauce combines ground beef (and often pork) with tomatoes, white wine, milk, onions, celery, and carrots. It’s rich and hearty.
Different Italian cities and regions have their trademark ragùs. For instance, Naples has Ragù alla Napoletana, which is chunkier and has more of a tomato base. Some variations include a bit of raisins or pine nuts for an extra layer of flavor. Ragù alla Calabrese (from the Southern region of Calabria) is typically quite spicy due to the addition of red chili and spicy Calabrian sausage.
Ingredients of Authentic Ragù alla Bolognese
Once again, there are no intimidating ingredients here! Very common ingredients come together over low and slow heat to make a delicious Ragù all Bolognese.
- Ground Beef: The backbone of the sauce. Provides a rich, meaty flavor and depth. Opt for a medium fat (80/20) content to ensure juiciness without the sauce becoming too greasy.
- Ground Pork: Ground pork generally has a milder, somewhat sweeter flavor profile. Ground pork cooks down to a softer meat, giving a tender bite. The blend of beef and pork creates a well-rounded meaty base.
- Pancetta: This Italian bacon infuses the sauce with a savory, slightly salty punch.
- Tomato Paste: This concentrated tomato flavor gives depth and richness.
- Tomato Puree: Adds a smoother, tomatoey backdrop.
- Carrots: Contribute a natural sweetness, balancing out the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Celery: Offers a slight bitterness and crunch that, when cooked down, provides a layer of complexity.
- Onions: A must for the flavor foundation! They give sweetness and aromatic depth.
- Red Wine or White Wine: Both wines can add acidity and complexity. Red wine gives a robust depth, while white wine offers a lighter, slightly fruity undertone. I think the most traditional, authentic Bolognese sauce will use white instead of red wine.
- Whole Milk: Milk tenderizes the meat and balances acidity.
- Beef Broth: Elevates the meatiness and brings all the elements together into a cohesive sauce.
- Butter: Adds a touch of creaminess and luxury. Butter in Bolognese makes the sauce mouthfeel richer.
- Olive Oil: Perfect for sautéing your base veggies. It imparts a subtle fruity undertone and is a classic choice for Italian cooking.
- Nutmeg: A pinch can work wonders. It gives a mysterious warmth and depth.
- Bay Leaf: Though you won’t necessarily pinpoint its flavor, it adds an herbal background note that elevates the sauce.
Kitchen Tips for Fabulous Ragù alla Bolognese
Making the perfect bolognese is an art, but with a few handy kitchen tips, you can elevate your sauce to the next level. Here’s how to serve up a bolognese that’ll have everyone coming back for seconds (and maybe thirds):
- Low and Slow: Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to an authentic bolognese sauce. Letting it simmer slowly for hours helps meld the flavors together and achieve that rich, deep taste.
- Quality Ingredients: Like any dish, starting with high-quality ingredients can make a world of difference. Fresh veggies, good quality meats, and wines you’d actually drink can elevate your sauce.
- Fat is Flavor: While you don’t want your bolognese swimming in oil, don’t be too eager to drain off all the fat. Fat carries flavor and gives the sauce its luxurious mouthfeel.
- Depth with Wine: The most authentic Bolognese sauce is typically made with white wine. Whether you go with red or white wine, make sure to let it reduce after adding. This will cook off the alcohol, leaving behind a concentrated flavor that adds depth to your sauce.
- Grate Your Own Nutmeg: If you’re using nutmeg, grate it fresh. Pre-ground nutmeg can lose its potency over time, while freshly grated nutmeg offers a burst of warm, aromatic flavor.
- Prepare Your Veggies: First, finely mince the onions, carrots and celery. I used my food processor to get a fine mince. Then, sauté your onions, carrots, and celery (often called the ‘soffrito’) low and slow until they’re soft and translucent. This forms the flavor base of your sauce.
- Season in Stages: Instead of dumping all your salt in at once, season your bolognese in stages. Start when you’re sautéing your veggies, then adjust again after adding your meats, and do a final taste test towards the end.
- Rest Before Serving: Once you’ve finished cooking, let your bolognese sit for a bit before serving. This allows the flavors to settle and meld even further.
- Freeze for Later: Bolognese actually freezes beautifully. If you make a big batch, portion some out for easy future meals. It often tastes even better after the flavors have had more time to mingle!
Step-by-Step Instructions to Make Bolognese Sauce
How to Tell When Your Bolognese is Done Simmering
- Consistency: Your ragù alla Bolognese should have a rich and thick consistency, where the meat is the star, and the liquid components have mostly reduced. If you drag a spoon through the sauce, it should leave a trail where the bottom of the pot is visible.
- Fat Separation: When the sauce is nearing completion, you’ll notice tiny droplets of oil or fat rising to the surface. This is a sign that the ingredients have melded and cooked down adequately.
- Flavor Depth: Taste, taste, and taste again! The flavors should be well-integrated, with no raw or tangy tomato taste. The meat should be tender, and there should be a balance among all flavors.
- Color: As the sauce simmers, the color will deepen to a rich, dark reddish-brown. This transformation indicates that the ingredients have had time to meld and develop their flavors.
- Time: Traditional bolognese recipes often suggest simmering for at least 2-4 hours. However, the exact timing can vary based on the pot’s size, the stove’s heat, and the initial volume of the sauce. While time is a good guideline, always rely on the other signs to ensure perfection.
- Ingredients are Tender: The veggies in your sauce, like carrots and celery, should be thoroughly soft and melded into the sauce. You don’t want any crunchy bits in your bolognese!
- Aroma: Trust your nose! The aroma should be rich and inviting. If it still smells sharply of wine or tomatoes, give it more time.
- Reduction: The bolognese sauce should be reduced significantly by the time it’s done. This concentration ensures a deep, robust flavor.
Storing Your Bolognese Sauce
- Cool and Storing In An Airtight Container: Always let your bolognese come to room temperature before you think of storing it. This helps prevent condensation in the storage container, which can lead to a shorter shelf life and potential bacterial growth. Once cooled, transfer the sauce to airtight containers. This prevents any outside odors from creeping into your bolognese and maintains its freshness.
- Refrigeration: Stored in the fridge, a well-sealed bolognese sauce can last 3-4 days. If you’re unsure you’ll consume it by then, it’s best to freeze it right away.
- Freezing: Bolognese sauce freezes beautifully! Divide it into portion-sized containers or freezer bags, label them with the date, and pop them in the freezer. They can last 2-3 months and still maintain great flavor. When using freezer bags, lay them flat for efficient storage space.
Food Storage Favorite
I’ve been using Freezer Storage Cubes for years! We use the 1 cup, the 1/2 cup, and the 2 tablespoon trays.
The 1 cup is perfect for lunch portions of soup and chili, as well as beans for meals.
The 1/2 cup size is great for freezing buttermilk and cream. We also portion out 1/2 cup portions of our seasoned meat for our weekly nachos.
The 2-tablespoon trays are a great size for tomato paste and chipotle in adobo.
- Reheating: When you’re ready to dive into your stored bolognese, it’s best to thaw frozen sauce in the fridge overnight. Once thawed, or if you’re pulling it straight from the fridge, reheat on the stove over low to medium heat. You might need to add a splash of water or broth to loosen it up if it seems too thick.
- Avoid Repeated Freeze-Thaw Cycles: Try not to repeatedly freeze and thaw your bolognese, as this can degrade the texture and flavor. This is why portioning is key – just thaw what you plan to consume!
- Label and Date: It’s easy to lose track of when you popped that sauce into the freezer. Always label your containers or bags with the date you stored them. It’ll make future meal decisions so much easier.
- Minimize Empty Space: If using containers to freeze, try to minimize the amount of empty space at the top. This can reduce freezer burn and keep your bolognese tasting fresh.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 ounces pancetta bacon, diced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 4 carrots, peeled
- 4 stalks of celery
- 2 medium onions
- 2 pounds of ground meat (half ground beef and pork is traditional)
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cup whole milk
- 24 ounces of tomatoe puree
- 1 1/2 cup red or white wine
- 2 cups beef broth
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- Mince carrots, celery, and onion. I used my food processor to get a nice fine grind of these vegetables. You could also mince the pancetta using your food processor as well.
- Add butter and olive oil to a heavy-bottomed dutch oven.
- Add pancetta and cook for 5 minutes on medium.
- Add vegetables and turn the temperature to medium-low. Sautee for 8-10 minutes until vegetables are cooked. You want them soft but not browned.
- Add nutmeg, bay leaves and meat. Break the meat up with a spoon until it is a fine mince. Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. You want the meat to cook, but not get browned.
- When meat is no longer pink, add milk and cook for 10 minutes on medium-low.
- Then add broth, tomato paste, tomato puree, and wine. Cook on your lowest simmer for 3-4 hours. I use a simmer plate on my stove to get a really slow simmer. Your bolognese will be done when it has the consistency of a loose chili.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Bolognese freezes beautifully. In fact, if you have time, make it a day before you serve it to allow the flavors to meld even more.
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