This is a Biuso family classic, less meaty and more tomato-ey than some, but with the essential backbone of garlic, red wine and nicely softened vegetables that meld into the sauce rather than sticking out like beacons.
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
30g (2 Tbsp) butter
1 small stick young celery, finely chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
350g (12 oz) minced (ground) beef
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 fresh bay leaves
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup dry red wine
½ cup milk
400g (14 oz) can crushed Italian tomatoes
700g (1½ lb) jar tomato passata (I use Mutti brand, also sold as tomato purée)
2 Tbsp tomato concentrate
½ cup water
The Bolognese call their celebrated meat sauce Ragù.
It is based on onion, celery and carrot cooked in oil and butter, with red wine, beef and often pork mince (ground meat), and tomatoes.
The meat must have some fat in it – the more marbled the fat, the sweeter the taste of the sauce.
In my classic ragu, I add a little milk to the meat as it cooks which keeps the sauce sweeter, less acidic, and creamier.
It needs to be cooked very gently in a heavy-based saucepan – it should just bubble, for 2 hours if you can.
It is stunning with homemade fat fresh noodles (choose from tagliatelle or fettuccine, or wider noodles called pappardelle). But it is also good with rigatoni, conchiglie (little shells) and penne.
1 Put onion in a medium-sized saucepan with olive oil and butter. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until pale golden and sweet-smelling, stirring often. Add celery and carrot to pan and cook gently for 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. If the vegetables look like they may be scorching, lower the heat and splash with a little water.
2 Increase heat to high, quickly scoop vegetables to one side of pan, and add beef to clear part of pan. Break up meat with a fork and cook until it loses its raw look, moving it around the pan once or twice. Add salt, pepper, bay leaves and nutmeg. Pour in wine and cook until it has evaporated by half. Lower heat to medium, pour in milk and cook gently for 5 minutes.
3 Add canned tomatoes, tomato passata, tomato concentrate and water. Bring to a gentle simmer, stirring, then turn heat to very low and cook very gently, partially covered with a lid, for 1½ hours, or until pulpy, stir often.
This is not the place to use prime lean ‘reduced-fat/99% fat-free’ beef – you need fat in the meat to give it silkiness and to help it flow over the pasta. The fat forms an emulsion with the liquids as it cooks. When the sauce is ready, it should have a glistening pond of red fat on the top. Don’t like that idea? Then best you make something else because without the fat, the sauce will be insipid, thin, will slide off the pasta and be an all-out flop.
The recipe can be doubled, but it is best cooked in a wide not deep saucepan, and allow longer to cook (around 2 hours). And remove vegetables to a side plate once softened, (before adding beef) and return them to the pan with the tomatoes. Rinse the water around the inside of the tomato can and jar to extract all the juices. This sauce freezes well.