The very first thing I cooked in our Inside Days was ragú bolognese. Previous to having all of the time in the world, I didn’t make it very often; we were too busy during the week and on the weekend, I preferred to be away from the stove. But that weekend! Our apartment smelled phenomenal as it gently bubbled on the back burner all afternoon, and I realized it had been way too long since we’d had the luxury of a multi-hour buildup to an anticipated meal.
I also remembered I’d been cheating on this site’s bolognese recipe for many years, and it was time to come clean. Previously, my go-to recipe was embedded in the lasagna bolognese, and to echo that recipe’s caveat: I think there are as many interpretations of Bologna’s famous braise there are people who make it — if you’ve found yours, I see no reason to veer from it. Marcella Hazan’s in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking has long been what you could call an industry leader, but I loved Anne Burrell’s, a milk-free, red wine-forward version that put the utmost care into building base layers of flavors.
But tastes shift. These days, the SK house bolognese is a little bit Hazan, a little bit Burrell, and bunch of things I’ve found I prefer: a moderately tomato-forward flavor (which is less traditional), white wine instead of red (which can give off too much of a bourguignon vibe), and enough milk to give the bolognese some body but not so much that it’s pale. If I have pancetta, I might add it first; if I don’t, I’ll start with olive oil. I look out for less lean beef (80/20 or 85 works well here), which holds up better to long cooking times. And apparently — and my family finds this funny but we all have our Things — I cannot abide cubes of anything in my bolognese. All of my bad ragú memories come from versions where the canned dice of tomatoes,* carrots, and/or celery were still intact in the final sauce, confettied throughout. I prefer a more harmonious ragú, and so I use tomato paste instead of whole or chopped tomatoes, and I roughly mince my vegetables. Neither garlic nor pepper flakes are accepted on the Italian Academy of Cuisine ingredient list for ragù alla bolognese, but I like to live on (er, timidly approaching) the edge.
Finally, once you’ve built the foundation of flavor you must — there is no negotiating here — braise your bolognese for three to four hours. Beef takes three hours to cook to that wonderfully mellow, collapsed texture (it’s why you see similar cooking times for stew, short ribs, and brisket). Some recipes call for up to six hours, and although I don’t find I need it to get the ragú of my dreams, given that time is an abstract concept these days, you’re welcome to let it glurp longer on the stove. While the cooking is mostly hands off, you’ll want to visit the pot every 30 minutes and check the water level. Water is added gradually during the cooking time because we are braising, not boiling (shudder), the meat. Go ahead and taste it too, adjusting the seasoning as you need to, so by the time you’re ready to serve it, it’s absolutely perfect. You deserve nothing less.
* many are, in fact, treated so that they hold their shape
Six months ago: Roasted Cabbage with Walnuts and Parmesan
One year ago: Austrian Torn, Fluffy Pancake
Two years ago: Chilaquiles Brunch Casserole
Three years ago: Rhubarb Upside-Down Spice Cake
Four years ago: Perfect Garlic Bread, Shaved Asparagus Frittata and Palm Springs Date Shake
Five years ago: Potato Scallion and Kale Cakes, Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies, and Crispy Broccoli with Lemon and Garlic
Six years ago: Blue Sky Bran Muffins and Fresh Spinach Pasta
Seven years ago: Spring Vegetable Potstickers and Essential Raised Waffles
Eight years ago: Bacon, Egg and Leek Risotto
Nine years ago: Sour Cream Cornbread with Aleppo and Ribboned Asparagus Salad with Lemon
Ten years ago: Radicchio, Apple, and Pear Salad, New York Cheesecake and Shakshuka
Eleven years ago: Black Bread and Ranch Rugelach
Twelve years ago: Chocolate Walnut Cookies + More Flourless Dessert, Almond Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote
Thirteen years ago: Corniest Corn Muffins and Pineapple Upside-Down Cake