Go ahead, try. Name me a dish more popular than pasta with red sauce. Everyone, everywhere seems to make it—and everyone, everywhere has their own take on it. Some people add pork, while others prefer ground beef or chicken livers. Folks in the UK call their version “spag bol,” while the Americans often serve theirs with meatballs.
But red sauce, officially known as ragù Bolognese, was born in Bologna, Italy. The satisfying simplicity of this thick and meaty sauce is the reason so many cultures have adopted it. Just be careful telling your favorite Italian that you have the best recipe. They’re sure to disagree.
Ragù Bolognese (also called just ragù or just Bolognese) is a staple of Northern Italy and locals take their sauce pretty seriously. In fact, in 1982 a historical preservation group in Bologna released the official recipe for ragù. If you want to go traditional, put away the chicken livers: the recipe contains only pancetta (aka pork belly) and skirt steak. And skip the spaghetti. According to the Italians, ragù is always served with the long, flat ribbons, known as tagliatelle.
Whether you want to play it time-honored or practice a bit of innovation, a few tips can help you get the most out of your ragù.
Always make extra. This goes for stocks too. You can store it in the freezer in freezer bags for up to 3 months.
Slow cook. This is one of those recipes you don’t want to rush. Simmering over low heat makes the meat super tender and brings out all the flavors of the sauce.
Dare to use dairy. Some Bolognese recipes call for milk and cream. Others even add parmesan to the pot. If you’re opting for cheese, add leftover parmesan rinds. During cooking all the bits of cheese will melt into the sauce. Discard rinds before serving.
Pick a pasta. The Italians may quibble, but I’ve eaten gorgeous ragù Bolognese served over fettucini and spaghetti, as well as tagliatelle. Just stay away from finer pastas like cappellini, which will be overwhelmed by the meaty sauce.
Now I’m hungry! Off to whip up a batch of my own Fettuccine Bolognese.