The staple versions of spaghetti Bolognese couldn’t be farther from the dish’s true original identity. First, ragu Bolognese is definitely not served with spaghetti — the feeble strands of pasta just can’t cling onto that thick slick of sauce. But most important, the sauce is a meat sauce, not a tomato sauce, so using canned tomatoes is an absolute no. I really hate to be so strict about food (especially seeing as I have deviated a bit here by using pumpkin pie spice), but when you try this version I think your understanding of the dish will be recalibrated for the better. And, don’t forget to reserve the pasta cooking water to let the sauce down — that’s the key to achieving a sauce that is rich, but not overpowering.
For the ragu sauce:
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 7oz. smoked pancetta, finely chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, finely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
- 2 cups plus 2 tbsp. red wine
- 2 cups plus 2 tbsp. milk
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 rosemary sprigs
- Fine sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 1/4 lb. beef brisket, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 18oz. dry tagliatelle
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I prefer Ligurian)
- Small handful of flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- In a large pot, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat renders down and the pancetta is only just slightly crispy. Add the onion, carrots, and celery, stir to coat in all the fat, then cook very slowly, stirring every so often, until soft, a good 20 minutes at the very least.
- Once the vegetables are soft, increase the heat to high and stir in the tomato paste and spice just for a minute or two, then add the wine, milk, and herbs. Add the chopped brisket and bring to a boil, then reduce to a very low simmer and cook, partially covered with a lid, for 3 hours. Give the pan a stir every so often to ensure the bottom isn’t catching, but apart from that, sit back and soak up all of the gorgeous smell as the ragu slowly cooks.
- When the ragu is ready — it will be thick and the meat will be oh so tender — season to taste. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, but ensure the water is very well salted. Reserve a generous 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the ragu pan along with the reserved pasta water, the olive oil, and parsley. Stir well to mix. Serve sprinkled with the Parmesan.
Also from Comfort:
Reprinted with permission from Comfort: Food to Soothe the Soul by John Whaite and published by Kyle Books, 2018