Ragù bolognese… Just thinking about this red meaty sauce, my mouth waters. Such a pillar of Italian cuisine. Such a wonderful sauce that can turn any plate of blend boring spaghetti into a feast.
Today, I am going to share with you my home ragù bolognese recipe. No, it doesn’t come from my Italian grandma. It is my own, out of years and years of experiment. I will also show you different way to cook it hassle free depending on the time that you have in hand.
I have been using the same recipe for years all over my travels. No matter where you go, the basics for a good bolognese can be found. The most challenging ingredients are definitely wine, cheese and dry herbs but if I could find it in Congo, you can find it everywhere, right?
This recipe is also one of my children’s favorite. And my wife too. So it can’t be that bad right?
For a good ragù bolognese, you need the following basics:
- Minced meat. Here you can make your own mix depending on your liking. Usually I go for 100% beef meat because I am a bit lazy. But you can also mix beef and pork or beef and veal. These two combinations will give you a great sauce.
- Onions, celery, carrots: this trio is called Soffritto in Italy
- Tomatoes: I would recommend going for whole canned tomatoes. I prefer to use whole tomatoes instead of tomato sauce to give more texture to the sauce
- Vegetable stock: check my recipe to make your own veggie stock
- Salt, pepper
- A glass of red wine
- Olive Oil
You notice that I hardly put any quantity here. Why? Because I do not measure any quantity.
One thing I would recommend is to stop following recipes to the letter. Do your own experiment, find the right dosage. It is all about TASTE.
Grow up people, cooking is not that hard!
Most Welcome Add-ons:
In my ragù bolognese, I often incorporate the following:
- Tomato paste
- Worcestershire sauce: to bring some acidity
- Ketchup: yes, I do put some ketchup in my Bolognese, and I am not ashamed of it. Just a big spoon for the sweetness.
- Barbecue Sauce: Jeez, where is this going… Is this guy for real? Barbecue sauce in the bolognese, what is next? Strawberry Jam? Barbecue sauce gives a smokiness after-taste to the Bolognese. Once again, use it lightly, it should not overwhelm the palate.
- Fresh thyme or dry herbes de Provence (1)
That is it!
For the cooking, I have selected for you different methods depending on the time you have in hand.
I would recommend though to spare at least 2 hours for your Bolognese preparation and cooking, this is a slow cook meal, you should give it the time to simmer and reveal all its flavors.
Option 1: Dinner is in two hours, I have no time to waste.
Step 1: Come on baby, light my fire!
For this 2-hour Bolognese, we are going to use a cast iron pot, so we can finish the cooking in the oven. I like to cook the bolognese in the oven because it is safer than having a large pot simmering for hours on the gas stove. Plus, it definitely adds flavor to the meal, especially if you cook without the cover.
Start by chopping and then stirring your “soffritto” with olive oil for 5-10mn until it starts to be soft then add the meat. Stir your preparation under high fire, you want it to stick to the pan, that is how you start getting flavors to the meal. Meat and vegetables will render water so it is a constant fight for taste here: you must make sure this water evaporates so that the meat starts to caramelize.
Now, it is time to open a bottle of wine and taste it. That is usually the time your wife or husband step in the kitchen and ask what you are doing.
The only thing you should answer to that is: “I am waiting for my water to evaporate”. Remember well this sentence. This is the only logical explanation that could justify why you hold a glass of wine at 4PM on a week day. Stay concentrate, do not look guilty and it will be fine.
There is a false rumor that bad wine can be used for cooking, this is so wrong.
Respect your Bolognese like you respect your partner in life, give it a good glass of wine to simmer with.
And to make sure your wine is good, don’t forget to taste. While you wait for your “water to evaporate”.
Remember ? E.V.A.P.O.R.A.T.E. It may take a glass or two, give or take.
After you finish your glass of wine, the water has probably finished to E.V.A.P.O.R.A.T.E. 🙂 from the pot and your mixture starts to stick again which is good.
Watch the meat getting brown and crispy, creating a nice layer of goodness on your pot.
Don’t worry, we will get this goodness back.
It is time to deglacer (1) your pot with a glass of wine. Pour your wine in the pot and start scratching the bottom with a wooden spoon to make sure all the flavors dissolve into the liquid.
Quickly after, add your vegetable stock and your tomatoes. If you use whole canned tomatoes, crush them first. Don’t mix them and don’t drain the juice. The right technique is to crush them in a bowl with your bare hands. Then add the mixture to the pot.
Now that your raggu bolognese base is done, you can start playing with the seasoning: salt, pepper, herbs, a drop of Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, barbecue sauce, some tomato salsa… whatever makes you happy.
Taste your sauce and adjust to your liking. If you feel a lack of acidity, a pinch of wine vinegar can help. If you lack of sweetness, ketchup or brown sugar can balance the meal. Seasoning is all about tasting. And tasting will make sure your meal is a hit!
Step 2: Take it easy, take it easy. Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy…
When you are done with the seasoning, cover the pot and put it in the oven at 180°C or 350°F for 60 to 90mn. I would recommend uncovering the pot 30mn before serving to let the sauce slowly evaporate and getting chunkier.
This is it for the cooking.
Option 2: Dinner is in six to eight hours, I have a bottle of wine, the kids are watching TV, let me chill a bit.
You have time, lucky you! In that case, we will unbox the slow cooker. Slow cooker makes a truly amazing bolognese, plan ahead and try it!
If you pick the slow cooker method, I would still recommend to kick start the cooking in a pot under high fire. Therefore, you can follow the Step 1 of Option 1 entirely and come back here for what follows.
That’s it? You are done with Step 1? Welcome back.
It is time to pour your amazing sauce into the slow cooker. If you really have time to kill, set the slow cooker to LOW and the time to 8 hours. Alternatively, you can also use the HIGH setting and set the time to 3-4 hours.
Now that your ragù bolognese is finally cooked, you can use it right away over fresh pasta with some Parmesan cheese. You can also use this recipe as a baseline for lasagnas. Finally, you can make Bolognese in large quantity and freeze it in small portions for later.
Glossaire / Glossary:
(1) Herbes de Provence : Mixed herbs
(2) Déglacer : Deglaze