Ragù alla bolognese

I’m not sure where it started.  Maybe it was because two of the food magazines I read had just put out their Italian issues.  Was I spurred on after guessing more of the ingredients than most of the contestants in George’s version in the taste test on Masterchef?  Perhaps it was the onset of cooler weather evoking thoughts of hearty comfort food.  Or even the $69 Lumina meat grinder that was purchased with some glee from Aldi’s.  Whatever the reason, I was recently taken by the need to make Bolognese.  And it had to be a really good one.

Originating in Bologna, Italy, Bolognese sauce refers to an Italian meat based sauce, with a minimal amount of tomato.  Bologna is within the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy, the native home of classic culinary ingredients such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, delicious Balsamic vinegar, Mortadella, and Prosciutto di Parma.   Italy, as you know, is a country that takes their food very seriously, and the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, which is the Italian Gastronomic Society, has strict requirements on what dishes can be classified as Bolognese.  Their strict ingredient requirements are confined to beef, pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, meat broth, red wine, and as an option, milk or cream, although traditional Bolognese dishes frequently include ground pork or ground veal.  

My Bolognese is different every time I do it.  This is largely because I like to vary things and trying a different take on an oft repeated dish is my way of keeping it interesting.  This time I was going to take the best of everything I had previously tried and see if I could bring it together in one amazing dish that respected the traditional requirements.

Here is what I did.  The ingredients list runs to about 25 items.  This may seem a lot, but many are native to Bologna and all played an important role and, in my opinion, deserve to be there.

Meat.  It’s the core of Bolognese and it seems everyone has a different slant on what and how.  Three types went into this mega sauce – pork neck, veal shoulder and chuck steak.  All were lovingly ground with my new favourite toy – the Aldi meat grinder.  If you have never ground your own meat for a dish, you really should try it.  The results are great and you have a bit of fun doing it.  The mince mix was then browned over a high heat in some olive oil until the liquid had all evaporated.

bolognese-stage-11

Added to the pot whilst the mince was beginning to colour nicely was some mirepoix (Can it be called that if it is being used in an Italian dish?  It is the traditional French term for finely diced onion celery and carrot) then some finely diced pancetta.  At this point I reduced the heat to medium low and added a little bit of butter to help the caramelisation, and therefore the later flavour, of the ingredients in the pot.  Next to lend their voice to the harmony of the pot were some dried porcini, garlic and a selection of herbs and spices.  I used a couple of sprigs of sage and oregano, a bay leaf, a cinnamon stick, a small grate of mace and a couple of star anise.  The idea of using the star anise I borrowed from a Guy Grossi recipe for Penne con Vitello e Porcini.  It may seem strange to use a spice that is native to China and Vietnam, but it helps enhance the flavour of the meat. 

When the vegetables were tender, by this stage the pot had been on the stovetop for about an hour, I added some tomato paste and stirred through then deglazed the pan with some red wine, cooked off the alcohol then added some beef stock.  The important thing to do at this stage is make sure that you get all the bits of caramelized meat and vege that have stuck to the bottom of the pot.  This is your flavour!  The sauce then simmered slowly for about another hour.  During this time I added some more stock and a tin of tomatoes. 

bolognese-stage-2

To finish the sauce off I removed the big sprigs of herbs, the cinnamon stick and the star anise (not a pleasant thing to bite into unexpectedly!), added a dollop of cream and stirred it through.  All that was left to do was toss the sauce through some tagliatelle, scatter some chopped parsley and freshly grated parmesan.

finished-bolognese

Oh, and eat it!

Which we did for dinner that night, paired with a lovely shiraz viognier.  My beloved rated it the best bolognese I had done, so I think my goal of bringing the best of what I knew together was met.  The bowls were all but licked clean and the additional serves did not last long in the freezer.  Might soon be time to make some more.

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