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Everything you need to know to master the quintessential meat sauce
Every cuisine has its core recipes, the fundamental dishes and techniques that set it apart from the rest of the world. I'm breaking down my 10 essential Italian dishes, sharing everything you need to know to master them and become a superstar Italian cook.
What It Is: Ragu alla bolognese is one of Italy's most famous recipes, and it's no surprise why. The slow-simmered meat sauce that hails from Bologna in northern Italy is more than 200 years old, and was first made with veal - and without tomatoes! The preparation evolved over time to the ground beef ragu we know today, though local chefs still argue over whose recipe is the best.
And while spaghetti bolognese is a common catchphrase around the world, the pasta preference in Bologna is for freshly made tagliatelle. Its wide, flat surface is just the thing to catch all that deliciously chunky sauce in every bite. At home, you can use dried fettucine or pappardelle, or even a short pasta like rigatoni or penne, whose hollow tubes will hold plenty of rich ragu.
Why I Love It: It's not instant by any means, but for less than an hour's time on the stove, you end up with a complex, fully flavored sauce that tastes like it's been simmering all day long. This bolognese can top pasta alone or serve as a lasagna filling, and it also freezes amazingly well, so I always make a double batch whenever I can. Let it cool completely before placing it in the freezer, and future you will have a fabulous weeknight dinner in just as much time as it takes to boil pasta.
How It's Done: The soffrito of carrots, celery, onion, and garlic is the flavor foundation of a perfectly balanced bolognese. The vegetables should melt into the finished sauce, rather than stand out on their own as distinct chunks. To get it right, chop your vegetables small and give them enough time to soften before adding the ground beef to the pan. (You can use a food processor to chop your veg, just be aware that they will release more liquid and you'll need to cook it all off before moving on to the next step.) For the beef, I always use ground chuck, with an 80/20 ratio of meat to fat. This is not the place for ultra-lean ground beef! You need a little extra fat here to give a velvety feeling to your sauce.
Traditionally, a bolognese would be finished with a splash of heavy cream to smooth out the sauce, but I like to add a good handful of grated pecorino romano instead, which gives it that creamy texture with an added salty punch. Toss your pasta in the sauce pan to coat every strand, and serve!