Classic Bolognese

I make many meat-based sauces, or ragu. The original ragu alla Bolognese (meat sauce) dates to the late 19th century and is credited to a cook named Pellegrino Artusi, in 1891. Though it is named for Bologna, Italy, it was first cooked or created in the town of a lesser-known name, Imola, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. Serve this sauce with egg tagliatelle or pappardelle or layer it between egg pasta sheets with bechamel for lasagna alla Bolognese.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 3 hr 50 min
  • Active: 50 min
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings
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Ingredients

2 tablespoons EVOO

4 tablespoons butter

1 onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 ribs celery with leafy tops, finely chopped  

4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped or grated  

1 bay leaf

1/4 pound meaty pancetta, finely chopped

1 pound ground beef (80 to 85 percent lean)

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 scant teaspoon ground white pepper

About 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

A quarter to a third of a 750-milliliter bottle of white wine

2 cups whole milk

One 28-ounce can diced or crushed Italian tomatoes

1 cup beef bone broth or stock plus 1 cup to reserve

1 small chunk cheese rind from Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional

1 pound egg tagliatelle or pappardelle

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving  

A handful of fresh basil, leaves torn  

Directions

  1. Heat a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add EVOO, 2 turns of the pan. Add the butter to the oil in small pieces and when the butter foams, add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and bay and stir, about 5 minutes. Add pancetta and stir 8 to 10 more minutes to render and crisp. Add about a third of the beef and crumble it with a wooden paddle or spoon, let all of the liquid absorb and let the meat begin to lightly caramelize before adding the next third; repeat. Season the meat with salt, pepper, white pepper and nutmeg. Add white wine, about a quarter to a third of a bottle, then stir and let it absorb into the meat. Scrape up all of the fond or the drippings from the meats and vegetables, being careful not to burn the meat. Add milk, tomatoes and about 1 cup stock, a piece of cheese rind from Parmigiano-Reggiano if you have one, then lower heat to simmer, partially cover and cook the sauce 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally and thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Add up to 1 extra cup of stock if needed if sauce gets too thick. The perfect traditional Bolognese should be buttery, uniform and emulsified, the consistency of rich, tender, pourable oatmeal. Remove bay leaf and the rind, if using, from the sauce. Sauce may be made a few days ahead as the longer it sets, the better it gets.
  2. To serve, cook pasta in salted water 1 minute less than package directions for al dente. Reserve 1 full cup of starchy cooking water, then drain pasta and place back in hot pot.
  3. Combine pasta with about two-thirds of the sauce, the cooking water and a couple of handfuls of grated cheese, tossing with tongs to combine.      
  4. Serve pasta in shallow bowls with a little torn basil.
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