This is the one - the true classic ragù Bolognese recipe created by the Queen of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan. If you love cooking classic Italian food then you should invest in her book ‘The Essentials of Italian Cooking’, it will become the only Italian reference guide you’ll need in your kitchen.
I have tried lots of different recipes for ragù over the years (everyone from Bologna seems to have their own preferred style) but Marcella’s recipe is the one that I love the most. It does take forever to cook, at least 4 hours, but the depth of flavour is incredible. I tend to cook a huge batch twice a year and store portions in the freezer to make quick pasta meals in the evenings or to use as a base for lasagne. I usually triple the quantities in the recipe below to make the effort of cooking for 4 hours feel acceptable….!
Both chuck and feather steaks are cheap cuts of beef. Be fussy when you buy the chuck steak; make sure you can see lots of fat running through it as most supermarkets have raised beef to be very lean and chuck without fat makes for a very tough bland tasting ragù. I prefer to use feather steak as it has serious fat marbling but it is harder to find, though a good butcher should be able to help.
Marcella’s recipe calls for the beef to be minced, I prefer to cut it into tiny little pieces so the sauce has a bit more texture, I don’t like meat to feel mushy.
Miraculous ingredients: beef chuck or feather steak, excellent quality canned tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
45g unsalted butter
85g onion, quartered
3 celery sticks, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
350g chuck or feather steak beef, cut into tiny pieces or minced
250ml full fat whole milk
A few gratings from a whole nutmeg
250ml dry white wine
500g can of organic Italian plum tomatoes in their juice, chopped
Sea salt and ground black pepper to season
Use a large deep heavy cooking pot (Le Creuset is perfect) and place it on a low heat to warm while you get the ingredients ready.
Finely chop the onion, celery and carrots in a mini chopper or food processor. Add all the olive oil and butter to the pot and when the butter has melted add the finely chopped onion, celery and carrots. Increase the heat to medium and gently cook for 5 minutes.
Add the finely chopped beef to the pot with ½ teaspoon of salt and ground black pepper. Stir and cook until the beef has changed from a red to brown colour, approximately 5 minutes.
Add the milk and simmer until it has completely bubbled away, approximately 10 minutes. Add a tiny grating of nutmeg.
Add the white wine, stir and simmer until it has all evaporated, approximately 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes in their juice stir and cook the sauce until it starts to bubble.
Reduce the heat under the pot to the absolute lowest temperature so the sauce is barely simmering and cook uncovered for at least 3 hours, more is better. Stir every now and again and if the sauce becomes too dry add a little water.
By the end of the cooking time all the water should have evaporated, the fat has separated from the sauce and it has a thick puree consistency.
Place a large pan that can hold a good 3 litres of water onto a high heat. When the water starts to boil add a teaspoon of salt and all of the pasta. When the pasta is cooked al dente (soft on the outside but slightly hard in the middle), lift the pasta out of its water with a pasta spoon and put it into the pan with the sauce. Add a 3-4 tablespoons of pasta water to help create a sauce (the starch in the pasta water thickens the sauce).
Serve immediately with lots of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Preparation 20 minutes, cooking 3½ hours, 6 adult portions (double or triple the quantities to make more for your freezer)