Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ragu ragu ragu

Ragù Bolognese is something for which you don't really need a recipe - but the first time it does really help. For me it boils down to "cook aromatics, meat, and liquids for a long, long time." That may or may not be authentic, but it sure is delicious! Traditionally this ragù uses a mixture of meats, but ground beef is what we had, so we went with that. I believe beef, pork, and veal are all acceptable.

2 T butter*
2 T olive oil*
1 pound lean ground beef (we used 90%), thoroughly defrosted
0.5-1.0 pounds tomato passata - puréed, peeled tomatoes
1 onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 glass dry white wine (optional)
1 cup milk
1 cup water or chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large, heavy, nonreactive pot (preferably a Dutch oven) over medium-high heat -- when the butter has melted, add the onion, celery, and carrot. Add a pinch of salt and cook until they are soft (usually 10 to 15 minutes). Lower the heat if the pot starts to scorch. Add the ground beef in one layer to brown (and turn up the heat!). If you have too much beef and a small pot, add 1/3 or 1/2 of the beef, brown it, move it to the side, and add some more. When all of your beef is browned...

Add the wine, if you're using it. Keep your nose out of the pan to avoid hazardous alcohol fumes, and stir around the pan to deglaze any brown bits that may be there. If you're not using wine, don't worry - tomato is a great deglazer too. Add the milk, tomato, and water or stock, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Start with half a pound or so of the passata, and add more to taste as the ragù heats up. When it boils, reduce the heat and simmer the ragù for at least two hours, but more if you can. 3-4 hours would be great. As the sauce simmers, the fat that you started with (and any that is rendering from the beef, hence why to use lean meat) will rise to the top, giving you a rather ugly oily layer at the top of the pot. Skim off and discard as much of this as you want.** It's really not that flavorful, and the sauce doesn't need it for mouthfeel.

The ragù is done either when you want it to be done (it's almost impossible to overcook this), or when the beef has broken down and mixed with the liquids into a state somewhere between solid and liquid. I know you're supposed to use long pasta (specifically, tagliatelle) for ragù Bolognese, but we here at FBTS just don't like long pasta that much. You could say we have issues with it. So we didn't use it.

*What's that, you say? Butter belongs in French cooking, not Italian? Actually, northern Italy (including Bologna) uses quite a bit of butter. I think this is partially due to French influence and partially due to the climate not being so great for olive trees. For example, a classic Piemontese dish (from much closer to France than is Bologna) is ravioli dressed with sage and melted butter. No olive oil there!

**If you want to avoid the fat-skimming, drain 1/2 to 3/4 of the fat before you add the beef, and you should be good to go.

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