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recipe

Bolognese meat sauce

December 10, 2008
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Makes 2 heaping cups, enough sauce for 1 1/2 pounds pasta

Ragu, as the Bolognese call their celebrated meat sauce, is characterized by a mellow, gentle, comfortable flavor that any cook can achieve by being careful about a few basic points. The meat should not be from too lean a cut; the most desirable cut is the neck portion of the beef chuck. Cook the meat in milk before adding wine and tomatoes to protect it from the acidic bite of the latter. Let it barely simmer, uncovered, no less than three hours. Serve this over fresh tagliatelli or tortellini, never over spaghetti, says Marcella Hazan.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juices
1. In a large flameproof casserole, combine the oil, butter, and onion. Turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the celery and carrot. Cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef and generous pinches of salt and pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, and cook, stirring often, until the beef has lost its raw color.

3. Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring often, until it bubbles away completely. Stir in the nutmeg.

4. Add the wine and let it simmer until it evaporates. Add the tomatoes and stir 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 add more salt, if you like.

Note: If you cannot watch the sauce for a 3- to 4-hour stretch, you can turn off the heat whenever you need to and resume cooking later on, as long as you complete the sauce the same day. Once done, you can refrigerate the sauce in a tightly sealed container for 3 days, or you can freeze it. Before tossing with pasta, reheat it, letting it simmer for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Adapted from "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

Notes:

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