A properly made ragu clinging to the folds of home-made noodles is one of the most satisfying experiences accessible to the sense of taste. It is no doubt one of the great attractions of the enchanting city of Bologna, and the Bolognese claim one cannot make a true ragù anywhere else. This may be so, but with a little care we can come very close to it. There are three essential points you must remember in order to make a successful ragù. 1)The meat must be sautéed just barely long enough to lose its raw colour. It must not be brown or it will lose delicacy.
2) It must be cooked in milk before the tomatoes are added. This keeps the meat creamier and sweeter tasting.
3) It must cook at the merest simmer for a long, long time. The minimum is 3½ hours; 5 is better.
chopped onion 2 tbsp
olive oil 3 tbsp
chopped celery 2 tbsp
chopped carrot 2 tbsp
minced lean beef, preferably chuck or the meat from the neck 350g
dry white wine 250ml
milk 8 tbsp
nutmeg ⅛ tsp
tinned Italian tomatoes 400g, roughly chopped, with their juice
An earthenware pot should be your first choice for making ragù. If you do not have one available, use a heavy, enamelled, cast-iron casserole, the deepest one you have (to keep the ragù from reducing too quickly). Put in the chopped onion, with all the oil and butter, and sauté briefly over a medium heat until just translucent. Add the celery and carrot and cook gently for 2 minutes.
Add the minced beef, crumbling it in the pot with a fork. Add salt to taste, stir, and cook only until the meat has lost its raw, red colour. Add the wine, turn the heat up to medium high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the wine has evaporated.
Turn the heat down to medium, add the milk and the nutmeg, and cook until the milk has evaporated. Stir frequently.
When the milk has evaporated, add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly. When the tomatoes have started to bubble, turn the heat down until the sauce cooks at the gentlest simmer, just an occasional bubble.
Cook, uncovered, for 3½ to 5 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and check salt. (If you cannot keep an eye on the sauce for such a long stretch, you can turn off the heat and resume cooking it later on. But do finish cooking it in one day.)
Ragù can be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days, or frozen. Reheat and simmer for about 15 minutes before using.
If you are using fresh tomatoes, peel and deseed them and cook in a little water for 10 to 15 minutes. Then pass through the finest blade of a mouli-légumes, or a sieve, and proceed with the recipe.