#101pastas 009: Bolognese stretch goals

Ragù alla bolognese has had its fair share of reimaginings over the years. A lot of the ‘hacks’ we see, like adding marmite / chocolate / curry powder 😩 are attempted shortcuts to skimp on by far bolognese’s most important ingredient – time (the dimension, not the herb).

We aren’t here to blow your mind by recommending the dehydrated juice of 7 freshly bruised persimmons (note to self: dehydrated persimmon juice). We’re here to go over a few tried and tested tips and tricks, using #101pastas 001 and #101pastas 002 as our foundations.

Tip 001: Vessel

My personal preference is an enameled cast iron pot with a heavy, tight-fitting lid. This allows you to cook both on the hob and in the oven, and produces a satisfying fond, which is basically where the entirety of the flavour of a bolognese hangs out.

Tip 002: Browning

Bolognese is a delicious exercise in building flavours on top of flavours. We want to stagger the introduction of the various elements based on how long they need until their flavours are fully developed. We don’t want to be adding less flavourful ingredients like oil or water any more than we have to.

  • If you’re starting with cured, diced pork e.g. pancetta, fry this off on its own, separating it as much as possible from the oil once it’s rendered down and you’re removing it from the pot and setting aside. The best time to add any oil is here with the pancetta right at the start. Olive please. You should now have a good layer of oil and fat in the bottom of the pot and the beginnings of the fond sticking to the base.
  • Next, in this oil and on a high-ish heat, add your ground meat (either a mixture of pork and beef for authenticity, or just straight beef, which is what I grew up with). The meat will first release a load of moisture. Power through this flavour-jeopardising moment without moving the meat around too much. We want to burn this moisture off as quickly as we can and get back to producing those all-important maillard reactions.
  • Once the meat has released its moisture, started to get crispy at the edges with all the frying, and the fond has become a golden brown crust on the bottom of the pot, remove and set the meat aside with the cured pork and add your battuto to the pot, reducing the heat a little. Look no further than the classic 3-ingredient italian battuto of diced-as-tiny-as-possible onion (1 large), carrot (1 large) and celery (2 celery stick-sized sticks). Sweat until softened, and the resulting soffritto has taken on a good amount of colour. Once the soffritto is sorted, add your meats back into the pot and mix.

Tip 003: Milk?!

I’m a recent convert to the addition of milk. It felt really weird at first, but it definitely serves a purpose. Have you ever noticed that despite reducing and thickening your bolognese significantly over the course of an afternoon, the remaining moisture in the sauce is still tempted to separate from the rest? Enter: milk. The proteins in milk act as an emulsifier, and the final sauce will have a lot more stability.

Once you’ve added the chopped tomatoes and the mixture has reduced to the point where you can run a spoon across the bottom of the pot and the bottom stays visible, add 100 – 200ml of milk.

Tip 004: Wine

There is a battle raging over whether red or white wine belongs in bolognese. I’m not getting involved. All I’m going to say is add wine to your bolognese. But when you do, make sure you give it enough time (1 – 2 further hours) for those harsher initial winey flavours to fully cook out.

Tip 005: Oven

This is my personal favourite. Once you’ve added the wine, give your sauce a final mix together, being sure to scrape off any remaining fond from the bottom of the pot and work it into the sauce. At this point the sauce should once again be too wet. Submerge your fresh herbs e.g. a branch of rosemary or some sprigs of thyme, or both, and as long as the lid of your pot is heavy and tight-fitting and your pot and lid combo doesn’t have any melty parts, chuck the pot in an oven at around 120 – 140°C for pretty much as long as you like. The longer the better. Check at half-hour intervals to make sure there’s still enough moisture in the sauce. If you’re getting dry but you want to go for longer, lubricate with more wine, mix together and get it back in the oven.

Categories101 Pastas