If there is one sauce that has captured the heart of pasta-lovers the world over, it is Ragu Bolognese. That deliciously chunky meat sauce with a rich red wine and tomato base that clings perfectly to long flat pasta, ready to be twirled onto a fork. It is hard to imagine that the pasta-eating experience wasn't always this way.
Originally known as "the devil's fruit", the humble tomato almost never made it into the recipe books. When it was brought across the ocean to Europe from its native South America just 500 years ago, the firey red fruit was treated with suspicion for hundreds of years. After being featured in love potions during the Middle Ages, the more open-minded cooks of the post-Renaissance made it go mainstream. By the time of Italy's unification in 1861, pasta with tomato sauce and herbs was embraced as a national dish - the culinary symbol of the red, white and green of the Italian flag. But something was still missing...
Around the same time in neighbouring France, ragout meat stew was gaining popularity. Originally served on its own or with couscous, when the recipe finally reached Bologna, the pasta-loving Italians thought "let's put it on top of the tagliatelle!" - and Ragu alla Bolognese was born. By the time the trend made it to the tomato-growing south of Italy, Ragu had evolved into the more tomato-based meaty red sauce that came to be known around the world as simply Bolognese.
Where the tradition calls for a 3 to 4 hour slow-cooked endeavour, our version of the classic recipe has been adapted for the modern world - where you might have just one hour to spare and you've got that hankering for a hearty sauce on a weeknight. With some key ingredients and tips, Ragu Bolognese in under an hour can be done!
Check out the Notes at the end for the extended Sunday lunch version.
250g beef mince
1 Italian pork sausage, skin removed
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 glass red wine
1 glass whole milk
400g tomato passata puree
1 tbs butter
2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp sea salt, and some extra to taste
Grated parmesan cheese, to taste
120 g tagliatelle all’uovo *
1. Gather your ingredients while pre-heating a stainless steel pan on medium heat. Turn the heat to low, add some oil and slowly fry the onions for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously until they turn translucent.
2. Turn up the heat to medium, add the garlic and fry for 30 seconds, then add the beef mince and sausage filling to the pan, stir until all meats are well browned. Add the glass of wine. If any meat has stuck to the pan, as the wine bubbles it will deglaze the bottom of the pan and loosen any crispy pieces into the sauce which boosts the flavour.
3. Add the tomato passata and a cup of water, stir well and cover the pan with lid. Bring the sauce to a boil, then add salt, stir to dissolve, add milk and stir in well. Add chopped rosemary and a splash of olive oil, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
4. Taste your sauce after 45 minutes to see if it needs a pinch of salt. If your sauce is still very watery, turn up the heat and continue simmering for another 10 - 15 minutes. Alternatively, if it is cooking too fast and has dried out, add a cup of water to deglaze, turn down the heat, stir and cover to continue simmering for 5 more minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a pot of boiling salted water for the tagliatelle.
5. Once your sauce has reached a thick juicy consistency, add the butter, stir to melt then turn off the heat. As the sauce cools it will thicken up a little bit more. Add a dash of oil to the pot of boiling water and then cook tagliatelle as per instructions. Drain pasta and add to the pan of sauce, stir to evenly coat, if needed add a dash of olive oil to help blend. Serve topped with extra ragu sauce, grated parmesan and a glass of red wine. Buon appetito!
*120g of tagliatelle (60g per person) is perfect for 2 moderately hungry people. Note that the chunkyness of the sauce when blended with the pasta will make a bulky bowl of pasta. If you're extra hungry add another 30g of pasta.
This recipe calls for red onions, which are traditionally grown in the south of Italy. Super nutritious and high in anti-oxidants, they also make for a sweeter sauce. However, regular brown onions can also be used.
If you can't get your hands on fresh rosemary, dried rosemary or oregano works just as well.
We have used a stainless steel pan, which is a healthy non-reactive cookware option, especially suited to acidic tomato-based sauces.
The extended Sunday lunch version:
If you have an extra couple of hours up your sleeve, the key is to add a "soffritto" to your sauce. The soffritto is part of the traditional Ragu Bolognese recipe and makes for a richer tastier sauce: Just after frying the onions in Step 1, add 1/2 cup finely chopped carrot + 1/2 cup finely chopped celery, fry for 5 - 10 minutes until softened, then continue with Step 2 onwards. Simmer slower for a total cooking time of 2 - 3 hours.