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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Ragú (a.k.a. authentic Bolognaise Sauce)

It's been a while since I wanted to write a post on ragú, also known outside of Italy as "Bolognaise sauce", from the city of Bologna where it originates.  Now, I know that exported dishes tend to lose their authenticity: either they acquire characteristics that make them more palatable to the locals, or are adapted with the use of familiar ingredients. Of course, a Thai curry eaten in a restaurant in Aberdeen is bound to be very different experience from one savoured in Bankgok, mainly because sourcing the numerous fresh exotic components that make a fragrant curry paste in deep Scotland may prove to be a challenge.  However, I fail to understand how ragú, a simple sauce made of a few specific ingredients, could evolve so significantly :-) Ragú is made of a cut of beef suitable for braising, chopped in very small pieces, slow cooked for a couple of hours in red wine and beef stock, and flavoured with onion, celery, carrot and bay leaf. That's it: nothing else. No mushrooms, no sweetcorn, no chillies, no tomato ketchup and for the love of God no garlic ;-) Finally, the way to serve ragú is to take a small amount (just enough to coat the pasta) and gently toss it freshly made tagliatelle, cooked al dente, and finished with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese; not dropping a big ladleful on top of some glutinous, overcooked spaghetti. Forget the dreadful spag-bol and have a go at making real ragú, you won't be going back!

INGREDIENTS (for six people)

  • 400 gr of braising beef, chopped in small pieces
  • 200 gr of (unsmoked) pancetta, cut in small cubes
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 tablespoons of tomato purée
  • 250 ml of beef stock
  • 1 glass of red wine
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
Chop the celery, tomato and carrot very finely. Take a cast iron pan (one that you would use to make stew) and gently heat some olive oil. Cook the chopped vegetables at low heat for about 10 - 15 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Now turn the heat up and add the pancetta and the beef; stir frequently to prevent the meat from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burn. Allow the meat to develop a nice colour and cook through, which will take another 10 minutes approximately. Now add the tomato purée and let it cook for a couple of minutes, in order for it to lose any acidity. At this point, add the glass of wine and still keeping the hob on the highest setting, let it evaporate for a few minutes. Then turn the heat right down, add the beef stock, bay leaves, salt and pepper and bring everything to a gentle simmer. Put the lid on and let the ragú bubble away for 2 hours - 2 hours 1/2 (adding more beef stock or hot water if it looks too dry) until it has become a rich, thick sauce. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve with some lovely fresh tagliatelle, or dried penne pasta. Ragú can be made in advance as it keeps for up to three days in the fridge and it also freezes well. 

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