This authentic recipe for Ragù alla Bolognese is well worth the hour it takes to make. You’ll have plenty for a family dinner, plus extra for the freezer. You should also know that it’s damn delicious and it very well may make you cry.
I met Nico in Spain.
I met him on my second night in Spain in a dormitory in a small place called Roncesvalles. I only spoke with him briefly, but I remembered him. Maybe it was something in those deep, chocolate eyes of his. Or the cadence of his conversation — that Italian lilt.
Does this sound like a love story yet? It sort of is. I fell in love with many people and things in Spain and Nico is one of them.
Days later, we would reunite and spend two weeks walking across Spain together with a few other people, all of whom I fell in love with.
(When we reunited, he told me that we had been on the same train from Bayonne to Saint Jean and he remembered me because I looked nervous as hell. He said it more politely, but that was his intonation. Nervous. As. Hell.)
A couple of weeks after returning to Chicago, I got an email from Nico:
Hola Danielle!I hope you are doing super well in Chicago with your new job and with everything.I had a free couple of hours, so I wrote and illustrated two of my favourite recipes on two Illustrator sheets.They are attached to this mail, so you could try them one day or another! ( :
I think what I like best is the way you write. You wrote the recipes exactly how you would explain them out loud to me. I can hear your voice and your accent when I read them!
Nico says during one step in the recipe:
At this point, one of my favourite smells should fill the kitchen and possibly the house.
When I read it, I thought that Nico was just being poetic. But this smell is indeed gorgeous. It’s the smell of sweet caramelized onions, succulent meat, and a crisp white wine. You can practically see these scents filling the room, drifting down the corridor, floating through the house. This smell will make you cry.
We could also chalk it up to me being an emotional wreck, as per usual.
Nico is wise and kind and unassuming and strong. I sometimes wonder, is it because he’s Italian or is it because he is Nico?
His last email to me was signed, “Have a good autumn, with lots of chestnuts and pumpkins!” Doesn’t that just make your heart happy?]
For the love of God, let’s have a quick chat about pasta and condiments. As Nico mentions in this recipe for Ragù alla Bolognese,
Use it as a condiment for pasta (either tagliatelle or short pasta – no spaghetti!).
Italians are very serious about pairing their pasta and condiments. Things I learned while eating with Nico in Spain:
- Do not mix seafood and cheese.
- No, not even American cheese on a tuna melt.
- You can’t call it a carbonara if it doesn’t have pancetta, or at least bacon, in it.
- So no, this vegetarian “carbonara” is not carbonara, but is blasphemy.
- Do not mix chicken with pesto.
- Seriously. There is no such thing as Pesto Chicken Pasta.
- (I requested Pesto Chicken Pasta on my very last night in Spain and Nico compromised by making Pesto Pasta and cooking chicken on the side.)
- Olive oil is important enough for cooking pasta that if you are in a small town in Spain, without any shop, or if all the shops are currently having siesta, it would behoove you to go door-to-door and speak in broken Spanish until someone will give you olive oil. If all else fails, the town church will likely donate to your cause.
- Oh my gosh, do not do anything in an Italian’s kitchen unless you are asked to do so. (Okay, so that’s not about condiments, but just a general piece of advice.)
- But really, it all boils down to this: Be practical with your condiments. You need a big noodle when you have a thick, meaty sauce — something that will pick up that Ragù alla Bolognese. And conversely, you can use a thin noodle with a thin sauce.
Even if you don’t end up cooking Ragù alla Bolognese, you should read through the recipe. Nico manages to make the instructions endearing and entertaining. And you will hear his steady and sure voice come through — at least I do.
Ragù alla Bolognese
Nico says, "This is how I make one of the most popular pasta condiments in Emilia Romagna, Italy. Since it takes a bit, I think it makes sense to prepare a good amount at a time, then store it in the freezer."
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large white onions
- 3 large carrots
- 2 pounds ground meat (I used 50/50 lean beef and lean turkey sausage)
- 1 bottle dry white wine like pinot grigio
- 1 pound whole peeled tomatoes canned, good quality
- q.b.* salt
- q.b.* ground pepper
To make ragù, begin taking the onions. Chop them finely with a sharp kitchen knife. Some people put them into a blender, but I prefer them coarse. Also, if preparing ragù makes you cry, then it will taste better.
Chop the carrots too and find the biggest pan in your kitchen. A big pot works too. Pour in the oil, then turn the stove on. Before the oil is too hot, begin frying the carrots and the onions until the latter assume a nice golden color. Add the ground meat and stir energetically with a wooden spoon. From now on, you need to stir periodically until we are done.
Cook for several minutes (a lid makes it quicker). You need to wait for the meat to lose its red color - no hurry here. When it's ready, uncork the white wine and pour yourself a glass, then pour the rest of it into the pan. It's better if you add it in two or three times, otherwise the ragù's temperature might drop too much. At this point, one of my favorite smells should fill the kitchen and possibly the house.
Now the wine and all the meat juices need to evaporate slowly. If you want to keep the fire quite aggressive, then don't forget to stir often. When the mix is completely dry (but before it burns!) add the tomatoes and break up into small pieces with a wooden spoon. From this moment, you may have to wait half an hour as the tomatoes need to lose some of their water. Patience pays off in this phase. When the 30 minutes have passed, wait 10 more. (It already takes a long time. 10 minutes won't change much.)
Now you should be almost ready. Such an amount of ragù needs at least 6-8 pinches of salt, but keep tasting and adding until you like it. Just a small sprinkle of pepper and it's done!
Use it as a condiment for pasta (either tagliatelle or short pasta - no spaghetti!) or just as an ingredient for lasagne alla bolognese. It can be frozen in small glass jars after it has cooled down. (Let the jars thaw naturally though -- not in a microwave!) Good luck!
*q.b. stands for quanto basta, meaning "enough" or "to taste."