One: it’s name is “Ragù”!
“Bolognese sauce” is called “Ragù alla Bolognese”. Why? ‘Cause it comes from the French “ragoût”, which means “to stew”. So, as the word itself can suggest, the sauce takes hours and hours to be ready. This is because, according to the original recipe, the meat cuts were quite fat, which did allow long cooking hours while keeping the texture juicy and tender.
Two: it’s meat with tomato, not meat drowning in a tomatoey slop.
Many people (even many Italian people, I’m afraid) think that “Ragù alla bolognese” is a tomato sauce enriched with some minced meat. It’s not! It’s a rich and thick meat stew “with” a small amount of tomato passata in it. Old ladies in Bologna (hence the name) clearly state that you must not use fresh or peeled tomatoes: these would give an acidic taste to the stew while simmering for hours. It must be tomato puree, or passata at the most.
Three: you can’t use lean cuts.
Lean ragù is a contradiction in terms. Lean cuts will get dry and hard and you will end up spitting buckshots. Proper beef meat cuts come from the neck, the shoulders or the belly and must be minced coarsely with their fat. It is common use to mix pork and beef mince, but this is not allowed in the original recipe. The pancetta gives flavour and fat to both the fried vegetable base and the stewing meat. It is sometimes substituted with sausage, but this not only is not leaner than pancetta, but also has spices that do not compliment with the sauce itself.
The “Italian Academy of Cooking”
I know it and you know it too: anybody could give you “their own very special Bolognese sauce recipe”. Every family has it’s own and this is what makes cooking enjoyable and fun.
But… there is a but.
The “Italian Academy of Cooking” – an association whose task is to preserve and convey the integrity of traditional Italian cooking – has established the official recipe of “Ragù alla Bolognese” sauce for tagliatelle.
Here is the recipe, which has actually been updated in 1982:
300gr of beef (belly cut or shoulder) coarsely minced, 15ogr of pork pancetta, 50gr of carrots, 50gr of celery, 50gr of onion, 300gr of tomato passata or peeled plum tomatoes (old ladies from Bologna would not agree on this last one), half a glass of dry white wine, half a glass of whole milk, some stock, extra virgin olive oil or butter, salt and pepper. Double cream is optional.
Personally, I do not agree on the use of extra virgin olive oil as originally the most common fats in Emilia Romagna – the region of Bologna – were only lard or butter and, occasionally, sunflower seed oil. Anyway, I tried to respect the Academy’s directions as strictly as possible and here is where you can see the step by step recipe for “Ragù all a Bolognese”.
Oops! Four: there’s no such thing as “Spaghetti Bolognese”!
You heard me: there is no such a thing. We all agree that when you make such a fantastic sauce, you can put on anything you’d like. But “Ragù alla Bolognese” is meant to be eaten with “Green Tagliatelle” only (originally made with nettles, not spinach). Not with spaghetti (this thing started in the USA), let alone with any dried pasta made with durum wheat. For those, there is “Ragù alla Napoletana” or “Ragù alla Genovese”… but those are other recipes…