The earliest reference I have found to 'Ragu' alla bolognese is a 15th century recipe, which describes lining a casserole dish with prosciutto and strips of pork fat, laying chopped onion, (no garlic - Italian patricians for centuries abhorred garlic smells on the breath, which was looked down on at Court) carrot, celery and fresh wild herbs, which would be parsley, sage, rosemary and origano, and laying over that best quality finely chopped beef. The whole would then be covered in dry red wine and beef stock, and cooked over a slow fire for at least four hours, or until the meat was dark brown with a 'burnt' appearance. A little cream should be added at the end of cooking, to ennoble the dish.
Tomatoes didn't come into the equation until late on in the 15th century, reaching italy through Spain, where potatoes, maize, peppers of all kinds, tomatoes and American beans were introduced by the triumphant Conquistadores.The whole of Southern Italy was under Spanish Bourbon rule at the time, and it is said that these new foodswere first introduced into Palermo, Sicily, and thence found their way up the Italian peninsula and becoming part of the main staples of Italian
My sauce is made with three kinds of meat, beef, pork and cured pork (pancetta) but some recipes also include veal. I also am of the "milk" school. As you will see by the list of ingredients, this sauce is probably equal to some of the complex and multilayered moles of Mexican cooking which I also adore.
The other sauce used in this recipe is a traditional cream sauce, Besciamella. I will give the recipes for both of these in Part 2 and then in Part 3, I will give you the final instructions in assembly and baking..
Ragu alla Bolognese Ricetta Antica
2# ground beef (15% fat)
2# ground pork (15 % fat)
2 cups dry vermouth
8 ounces pancetta or bacon
6 fat garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large red onions minced
2 large stalks of celery, minced in a food processor
2 carrots, minced in a food processor
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
6 tablespoons tomato paste
8 cups hot milk
nutmeg for grating (about 1 teaspoon)
2 Cups or more turkey, veal or beef stock
freshly ground black pepper
* I have also used porcini mushrooms in this sauce, but they are not traditional, so I am omitting them
- Put all 4 pounds of ground meat in a large mixing bowl. With your hands, crumble and loosen it. This is easier if you allow the meat to achieve room temperature. Pour the Vermouth over the meat and mix completely together. Allow to rest.
- To make the pestata cut the bacon or pancetta slices into 1 inch pieces and put them in the bowl of a food processor with the peeled garlic. Process this into a fine paste.
Cooking the sauce Base:
- Pour the olive oil into a heavy sauce pan and scrape in all of the pestata. Put the pan on medium heat and break up the pestata and stir it around the pan bottom to start rendering lard. Cook for 3-4 minutes stirring until the bacon and garlic are sizziling and the garlic starts to turn golden.
- Stir in the minced onions and cook till the onions begin to sweat. Stir in the carrot and celery and cook till the vegetables are wilted and gold over medium-high heat (about 4-5 minutes.)
- Turn up the heat and move the veggies off to the side and put all of the meat into the pan. Sprinkle the salt on. Allow the meat to brown, then stir and continue to brown until all of the meat is browned. Cook an additional 30 minutes or more until all of the liquid has concentrated. As the liquid level goes down turn the heat down so you do not burn the meat.
- Slowly heat the milk and stock to be used.
- When all of the meat has been cooked off, drop in the tomato paste on a hot spot and allow to toast for a minute. Then blend in to the meat. Cook for another few minutes, stirring.
- Pour in two cups of the hot milk and stir into the meat; add more as needed to cover the meat. Grate in the nutmeg. Stir well, being sure to clean the bottom of the pan with the spoon, pulling up any caramelized bits on the bottom.
- Bring the sauce to a simmer. Cover the pan adjusting the heat to maintain slow steady cooking. The sauce should be bubbling just a bit.
- The sauce needs to simmer for 3 hours. During which, check the pot about every 15 minutes and add hot milk as needed to cover the meat. every 15-20 minutes there should be a reduction of 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups. After all of the milk has been used, start using stock to replenish the liquids. This step is important and creates the complex flavor of the sauce. If the sauce level is falling too fast, lower the heat.
- During the finishing of the sauce, the meat should appear suspended in a rich velvety sauce. If the meat is still under liquid increase heat and reduce further.
- Taste and add salt or pepper if needed. cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- Stir the sauce and and allow to cool. The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for a few months. It is a great thing to have on hand. Aside from the recipe provided here, this sauce is also quite good over polenta, risotto, pasta, gnocchi or to sauce ravioli.
Besciamella -Béchamel or Cream Sauce (this is a double recipe needed for the Pasticcata)
4 cups milk
Pinch of salt
Pinch of white pepper
2 Bay leaves
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all purpose-flour
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano
- Pour the milk into a large saucepan. Add seasonings and bay leaf. Bring almost to a boil and then reduce heat but keep warm.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat and when the butter starts to foam, add the flour, whisk to form a roux, allow the roux to darken slightly.
- Stir in the milk, stirring constantly until the sauce begins to boil. Keep the pan at a slow simmer, stirring constantly as the sauce thickens. This should take 3-4 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the grated cheese.
- Remove from heat and place plastic wrap directly to the sauce so that a skin will not form. The sauce can sit like this for a few hours at room temperature. It can be refrigerated for a day or to, but I prefer to do t his sauce on the day of assembly.
Coming next, part 3, the final assembly.