When I was growing up, pasta with meat sauce consisted of browning and draining the fat off ground beef and adding a jar of Prego or Old World Style Ragù sauce. However, Mario Batali’s Tarry Lodge restaurant forever altered how I enjoy pasta with meat sauce. The Tagliatelle Bolognese at Tarry Lodge is mouth-watering. However, Mr. Batali’s bolognese is not a sauce – it is truly a ragu. All of the main courses at Tarry Lodge are delicious but 9 times out of 10, I end up ordering Tagliatelle Bolognese. I can’t help myself and every time I lick all evidence of the bolognese off the dish.
Quite a few years ago, well before my first visit to Tarry Lodge in 2008, I found Mr. Batali’s recipe for Ragu Bolognese on the internet. (That was back when we had dial-up modems to connect to the World Wide Web.) I tried the recipe but with lackluster results. However, a few years ago I decided to look up the recipe and found that it has been adapted from its original version. The changes are slight, but make a world of difference.
I’m not going to lie – the prep work for Ragu Bolognese is labor intensive. The recipe calls for finely chopped veggies. I spent about one hour prepping all of the ingredients. Also my butcher will not grind the pancetta for me, so I manually chop it up with a knife – not a simple task. To add insult to injury, the ragu needs to simmer for 2 to 3 hours on the range top. You could dice all of the ingredients into larger pieces, but in my opinion it defeats the whole purpose of this recipe. For the best tasting ragu, the ingredients need to be finely chopped so that they all melt and meld together over a 3 hour simmer. The result is a meat ragu which is not “saucy,” but rich, flavorful and delicious.
There are a few interesting aspects to Mr. Batali’s Ragu Bolognese. Firstly, it does not include a can of tomatoes, but instead concentrated tomato paste which adds deep flavor. Secondly, because the recipe is made with red meat, I assumed that the ragu would be made with red wine. However, 90% of the bolognese recipes I’ve found use a dry white wine, which provides a crisp, fresh taste to the ragu. Thirdly, it seems odd to add milk to a meat sauce recipe, but the milk adds a slightly sweet and silky texture. There are many theories as to how the addition of milk affects the overall results, but don’t question it – just do it. And lastly, the Italian (and apparently correct) way of serving pasta is to add par-cooked pasta to the ragu/sauce and simmer it for a few minutes to meld the flavors together. It’s worth the extra few minutes and makes a huge difference to the overall flavor of the dish. (As opposed to the Olive Garden-like method of first piling the pasta on the plate and then ladling the sauce over it.)
This ragu is worth the effort. I portion the leftover ragu into individual servings and freeze it so that I can enjoy Ragu Bolognese for a quick hearty lunch or an easy dinner.
Ragu Bolognese (adapted from Mario Batali’s Ragu Bolognese.) The preparation of this ragu is labor intensive so I often prep all of the ingredients (except the onion and garlic) the day before. Otherwise, you will be in the kitchen all day. I prefer to use mezzi rigatoni pasta as the ragu finds its way into the “tube” of the pasta. Enjoy and savor every bite!
Serves 6 people; Prep time – 1 hour; Cook time – 2 to 3 hours
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 medium onions (finely chopped)
- 4 ribs celery (finely chopped)
- 2 large carrots (finely chopped)
- 5 garlic cloves (sliced)
- 2 pounds meatloaf mix (ground chuck, veal and pork)
- 4 ounces pancetta or slab bacon (finely chopped)
- 1 – 4.5 ounce tube or 1 – 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio
For the Pasta:
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh pasta or 1 pound dry pasta
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/4 cup parsley, minced
- In a 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat until the butter has melted.
- Add the onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Season with salt and cook until the vegetables are translucent but not browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the ground meat and pancetta. Increase the heat to high and brown the meat, stirring frequently. Once browned, reduce the heat to medium and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the fat has rendered. There may be a shallow pool of fat in the pan but do not drain off or discard.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the color is rusty orange.
- Add the milk and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the wine and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours. Stir occasionally and take care to not burn the ragu. If the ragu appears dry over the 2 to 3 hour simmer, stir in 1/4 cup of water as frequently as needed.
- Add salt to taste, remove from heat and let cool.
- The ragu can be stored in an airtight container for 1 week in the refrigerator or frozen for up to 6 months.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- If you are using fresh pasta, cook for 1 minute and drain, reserving the pasta water. If you are using dried pasta, cook for 3 minutes less than package instructions for al dente. Drain and reserve the pasta water.
- Per each serving, add about 3/4 cup ragu in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the par-cooked pasta and about 1/4 cup reserved pasta water. Stir to coat pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente, adding more pasta water as needed.
- Serve by garnishing each plate with a sprinkle of minced parsley and a generous amount of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.