Marcella Hazan was a favorite Italian cook, author, and educator of mine, and I frequently turn to her classic cookbook Essentials of Italian Cooking for timeless recipes and inspiration. One of my favorites is her version of what the people of Bologna call ragu (they don’t call their meat sauce Bolognese). It’s a mild meat sauce where the meat is cooked in milk and white wine before adding tomatoes and it’s simply delicious.
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 Tbsp butter, plus 1 Tbsp for tossing the pasta
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 2/3 cup celery, chopped
- 2/3 cup carrot, chopped
- ¾ lb. ground beef chuck or ½ lb. beef and ¼ lb. ground pork
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup whole milk
- Whole nutmeg
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juices
- 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
- Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in a large, heavy pot; turn the heat on to medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.
- Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well, and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.
- Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating — about 1/8 teaspoon — of nutmeg and stir.
- Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes; stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well.
- When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface.
- Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, continue the cooking, adding 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.
- Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding the remaining tablespoon of butter.
Serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.