Ragú, as the Bolognese call their celebrated meat sauce, is characterised by a mellow, gentle, comfortable flavour that any cook can achieve by being careful about a few basic points:
The meat should not be too lean a cut; the more marbled it is, the sweeter will the ragú be. The most desirable cut of beef is the neck portion of the chuck.
Add salt immediately when sautéing the meat to extract its juices for the subsequent benefit of the sauce.
Cook the meat in milk before adding wine and tomatoes to protect it from the acidic bite of the latter.
Do not use a demi-glace or other concentrated brown sauces that tip the balance of flavours toward harshness.
Use a pot that retains heat. Earthenware is preferred in Bologna, but enamelled cast-iron or a pot whose heavy bottom is composed of layers of steel alloys are perfectly satisfactory.
Cook, uncovered, at the merest simmer for a long, long time; no less than 3 hours is necessary, more is better.
vegetable oil 2 tbsp
onion 85g, chopped
celery 3 sticks, chopped
carrots 4 medium, chopped
ground beef chuck 350g (see note above)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
full-fat milk 250ml
dry white wine 250ml
tinned imported Italian plum tomatoes 500g, cut up, with their juice
pasta 550–675g (there is no more perfect union in all gastronomy than the marriage of Bolognese ragú with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle)
parmigiano-reggiano freshly grated, for the table
Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot, turn the heat to medium and sauté the onion until it becomes translucent. Add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.
Add the beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the beef with a fork, stir well and cook until it has lost its raw red colour.
Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating – about ⅛ teaspoon of nutmeg and stir.
Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all the ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time.
While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, continue the cooking, adding 125ml water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.
Toss with cooked, drained pasta and serve with freshly grated parmesan on the side.