Wanted in Rome recipe: pasta al ragù alla bolognese

A proper ragù alla bolognese is the perfect winter comfort food. 

By Kate Zagorski

During the long dark days of January there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of digging into a big bowl of silky fresh pasta snaking between a rich, meaty, tomato sauce. While a classic pasta al ragù is readily available in Rome’s restaurants, it is easier than you might think to make at home, and you will be rewarded with the kind of delicious, welcoming aroma that makes the neighbours jealous.

It is worth noting that real Italian Bolognese is somewhat different from what is usually found in other countries. It is almost totally meat-based so there are no mushrooms, peppers or chilli, and traditionally this version will be served with tagliatelle or fettuccine rather than spaghetti, which is too thin to hold the weight of the heavy sauce.

The recipe is surprisingly simple, needing more time than effort. Try to set aside a good 3 hours from start to finish and be prepared to check on it every now and then, to add more water, taste the seasoning and give it a good stir. Slow and easy is the trick, so take your time and let it bubble on a low heat.  

This recipe makes about enough for 6 generous portions so if there are fewer mouths to feed, freeze the rest for another time or use the leftover layered with bechamel sauce and sheets of pasta for an amazing lasagne.

Ingredients for 6 people

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, finely diced

1 stick celery, finely diced

75g pancetta, finely chopped

75g mortadella, finely chopped

300g minced beef

200g minced pork (or pork sausage meat)

200ml red wine

700ml jar of tomato passata

50ml milk (optional)

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Grated parmesan, to serve

120g fresh egg pasta (tagliatelle, fettuccine, pappardelle) per portion

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the finely chopped onion, carrot and celery and a pinch of salt. Cook gently of a medium heat for about 5 minutes until beginning to soften. Blend, or very finely chop, the pancetta and mortadella and add to the pan. Stir well and cook for another 3-4 minutes until the fat is released. Add in the minced beef and pork, mixing everything well and cook until browned, about another 4-5 minutes. Pour in the red wine, bring to the boil and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the passata and seasoning with black pepper.

Stir everything well and add a glass of water. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down so the sauce is just bubbling. Cover and cook for 2-2.5 hours, stirring every 20 minutes or so. If the sauce starts to dry out, add another cup of water. After a couple of hours check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Stir in the milk to round up the flavour and temper any bitterness (optional), then turn off the heat. Remove any extra sauce for freezing or keeping for the next day.

In the meantime, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook your chosen pasta until al dente. Drain and add to the ragù, mix together well and serve with a good sprinkle of grated parmesan. 

Kate Zagorski has lived in Italy since 2000. Married to a food-obsessed Roman chef, she leads food tours and also works as a freelance food and travel writer.