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Jun 13, 2002 10:22 AM

Best Spaghetti Bolognese?

  • g

Who serves the best?

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  1. I'd love to know, because I have never found a ragu Bolognese to my taste in this area. Once, at one highly regarded Italian restaurant in the area, it came overpowered by cinnamon (I wondered if someone had mistaken the cinnamon for the nutmeg -- which should have been freshly grated, anyway -- but I was informed that it was indeed "properly made" that way; OK.....)

    Consequently, I make it for myself, blending Marcella Hazan's and Lynne Kaspar's different master recipes, though I think mine is only passable compared to what I had in Italy. And it really does go best with very freshly made broad pasta (though, for dried pasta, I like matching it to casareccia).

    3 Replies
    1. re: Karl S.

      If you have a few and could jot down that recipe, that would be great!

      1. re: Ginger

        Forgive the length of the recipe and instructions; I noted it down for people who wanted my recipe but were not well versed, so there is a lot of chatty commentary that you might find condescending or unhelpful; just understand the context, if you will.

        (For the Bolognese traditionalists in the audience, please don't flame me about the inclusion of tomato paste in the recipe, which is quite non-traditional: for some reason, I tried a variety of more traditional approaches and this solution always seemed to produce a consistently better result to my taste. So sue me...)

        Saucepan: 3-4 quart saucepan that holds heat well (do not use nonstick, as the sauce will fail to glaze properly; ideally, use heavy gauge steel or enamelled cast iron/Creuset)

        Ingredients: (don’t try to skimp on the fats here or you’ll utterly loose the point of the sauce)

        3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil [check for rancidity] & 1 tablespoon butter, very preferably unsalted

        1 ounce pancetta (which I prefer) or salt pork, finely chopped (optional)

        1 large carrot, finely chopped

        2 small stalks (or 1 large stalk) celery, finely chopped

        1/2 to 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

        about 1 1/4 lb. beef hanger or skirt steak [for the best flavor], or boneless beef chuck, coarsely ground [you can substitute ground pork for 1/3 of this – it sweetens the meat mixture – and also substitute some ground veal for added delicacy and glazing ability. Do not try to use any particularly lean ground beef – it lacks flavor and gets too stringy.]

        salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

        1 – 1.5 cups whole (not skim or reduced fat) milk [use the larger amount if you want to reduce more]

        1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

        1/2 -1 cup dry white wine [use the larger amount if you want to reduce more]

        2 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste [ideally, use one that comes in enamel-lined cans – like Muir Glen organic tomato paste – that can make more of a difference than if the tomatoes are Italian …], diluted with 10 tablespoons (3-4 ounces) veal or other meat stock or, lacking that, lightly salted water.

        More butter & grated/shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving


        1. Browning the ragu base: Heat the oil/butter [and pancetta/salt pork] in a 3-to 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. [Cook 8 minutes, or until the meat has rendered much of its fat but has not browned.] Raise the heat to medium, stir in the chopped vegetables, and saute 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.
        Keeping the heat at medium, add the ground meat. Immediately add a large pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes, or until the meat is medium brown and almost, but not quite, crisp. Take care not to let the meat become overly brown or hard.

        2. Milk reduction: Add the milk. Stir to combine. Lower the heat to low. Do not cover completely (you may cover partially). Let come to a gentle simmer and reduce the liquid until it is mostly gone. This may take from under 1 hour to 2 hours, depending on how much milk you chose to use, and how gently you reduce – the slower you go, the deeper the resulting flavor base. Stir regularly.

        After this reduction, add the freshly grated nutmeg. [A critical flavor, that, when combined with the others, creates an almost sweetly cheesy note.]

        4. Wine reduction: Repeat the reduction process with the wine (except there is no need to add nutmeg at the end).
        [Note: some versions of the classic recipe reverse the order of the milk & wine reductions and there are fierce partisans of each method, it seems . . . and some insist on a liaison with cream. If you want to use cream, avoid the ubiquitous ultra-pasteurized cream, which has all of the fat but most of the flavor burned out of it!]

        5. Tomato & stock reduction: Again, repeat the reduction with the diluted tomato paste. Finish by adding salt and ground pepper to taste. The final consistency will be that of a rather thick soup.


        The classic marriage is with freshly made tagliatelle. But it also marries well with tortellini, tortelloni, penne, rigatoni, pennette – or any pasta that has enough area to hold the sauce. Thus, not cappellini, vermecelli, spaghettini; spaghetti is not particularly bette.

        Make sure the boiling water for the pasta is well-salted (essential to bring out the pasta’s own flavor) and not oiled (oil prevents the sauce from adhering properly).

        Place the desired serving amount of ragu in the serving bowl (ideally warmed if the room is cool – I warm mine over the boiling pasta pot!). Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and toss it in the bowl with the ragu, adding 1 or more tablespoons of butter. [If you are serving people who all love freshly grated/shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, you can add the cheese to the pasta first in another bowl, and then toss in the serving bowl as above. Otherwise, offer the cheese as a condiment.]

        1. re: Karl S.

          Thanks Karl! Have a friend coming into town who adores bolognese, and I'll try this out on him. Sounds great! Appreciate all the details.

    2. You guys aren't going to believe this, but the dreaded Paparazzi has a dang good Bolognese... please don't flame me before you try it!

      1 Reply
      1. re: yumyum

        Hey, according to my spouse, Vinny Testa's does a very decent Bolognese. Maybe mall chain restaurants are the way to go for that.