Bolognese Sauce Your Way

It’s food for your soul and the whole process is a ritual that doesn’t merely consist of following a recipe, rather it's a perfect combination of cooking techniques, passion and time.

“Cut the meat in small pieces, then chop it finely with a mezzaluna together with onion and herbs, then put everything in a pan, including the butter, and when the meat has browned, add a pinch of flour, pouring in broth for the length of the entire cooking”.

This is the description given by Pellegrino Artusi in his famous book Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well. Although he did not name the recipe ‘Bolognese Sauce’ it's considered the closest to the tradition. The sauce is the essence of the Italian spirit: it’s the expression of the passion of doing things well without taking into consideration the time involved. 

The Italian word to identify this kind of sauce is ‘Ragu’, from the French word “ragout”. Essentially it is meat which has been stewed in some kind of fat, flavoured with spices and herbs and allowed to simmer gently for a long amount of time.  

Many varieties of ragu can be found around Italy, with different ingredients and processes. Genovese Ragu is as popular as Bolognese ragu, while Sicilian Ragu is the base for the traditional golden fried rice balls called ‘Arancini’ of which I could personally eat a bucket load although probably not recommended all in one go!  

Let’s be honest with one another, it’s just impossible to give an “official” recipe, even if you ask an Italian you will get a different recipe from one day to next with regards to the ingredients, quantities and time needed. There are anyway a few guidelines which you can follow to find the best combination of ingredients that fit your personal taste. 

  • Meat can be red, white or a combination of the two in a proportion where the beef is dominant. If you are using pork meat you can leave out pancetta as pork meat tends to be tasty enough. 
  • Butter can be replaced with olive oil in order to reduce the amount of calories giving those of you who prefer it a slightly healthier alternative.  
  • Spices used with the meat can be nutmeg, clove and pepper.  
  • Tomatoes don’t appear in original recipes, generally it’s used just to give some colour, while puree (concentrate) is preferred, freshly peeled and diced pieces can also be used. 
  • For the the sauce to be more refined, broth can be replaced by milk, or milk can be added few minutes before the end. Milk is recommended if you are using tomatoes as it will contrast the acidness of the tomatoes, just make sure that you add it in slowly as not to cuddle the sauce. Broth can be also replaced by water if you don’t have any spare. 
  • Leftovers and other ingredients can be added to the sauce like giblets, dried mushrooms, diced ham, etc. but they need to be cooked apart and added few minutes before the end. 
  • Herbs like bay leaves and rosemary can be added few minutes before the end. 

Here’s our recipe, start by filling up a glass of wine, put on some background music as the process will take up to 3 hours. The secret ingredient is the time. 

Ingredients (Serves 4 people)
300gr Minced beef
300gr Tomato passata
150gr Pancetta
50gr Carrot
50gr Celery
50gr Onion
½ Glass of red wine
½ Glass of full fat milk
Extra virgin olive oil (EVO)
4-6 Bay leaves
Whole nutmeg


Finely dice the onion, carrot and celery and set aside in a small bowl. Then dice the pancetta and leave to one side in a second bowl.

Nowadays meat tends to release a lot of water as it cooks so we like to brown the meat in a separate pan from the rest of the ingredients. The water from the meat lowers the temperature of the pan and so doesn’t allow the flavours to be fully released.

Taking a large frying pan add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Gently fry the minced meat over medium high heat until it is browned and all the water has evapourated. Remove from the heat and set aside. Grate the fresh nutmeg over the browned meat and add a pinch of salt.

In a large pot (aluiminum or terracotta) add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Heat over a medium heat and add the pancetta. When it has softened and turned slightly translucent add the diced vegetables and fry keeping over a medium high heat.

Its important that you allow enough time for the frying of the vegetables especially the onion.
Don’t be afraid that the onion will burn, it won’t if you keep watching it. When it begins to lose its water turn the heat down and continue to fry until it is a nice golden brown colour and you can smell the sweetness.

Next add the browned meat to the fried vegetables and stir for a minute then add in the wine raising the heat to high.

Once the alcohol from the wine has evapourated add the tomato passata and turn the heat right down so that the sauce is gently simmering. Cover with a lid and cook for 2hrs.

Occasionally add a tablespoon of milk and stir the sauce until it is absorbed (it may take up to 10 minutes).

10mins before the end of the cooking time add the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.

Best served mixed with egg tagliatelle, as it absorbs the sauce perfectly, and of course a lot of parmesan cheese.


Photo: Nadine Andrews