A Sunday Ritual.
Bolognese ragù is made with love in our homes here in Italy. It starts early in the morning with a finely hand-chopped sauté of fried celery, carrots and onion, and the heady scent of wine, to add a full-bodied flavour to the sauce - red or white, depending on the family's preferences.
Slow Sundays and Italian homes that fill with the delicious scent of cooking, busy wooden spoons, pots that bubble slowly for hours and the generations of families that come together to enjoy each other's company.
One of the main ingredients to obtain a Bolognese ragù worthy of the name is time, as Cesarina Paola, a Bolognese Cesarina, teaches us: "my ragù cooks for at least 4 hours on a low heat, it is not a sauce that you can forget about, it must be pampered, followed and looked after like a member of the family".
From north to south, every home and every Cesarina has its own family secrets for preparing Italy's most popular Sunday sauce.
Cesarina Rosa enriches her ragù with one or two slices of pancetta (bacon), finely minced and strictly of the same size as the minced meat: "I always go to my trusted butcher and use a cut of beef called 'cartella', similar to the shoulder. Depending on the use I have to make of the meat sauce, I always ask to have the meat minced on the spot, specifying a single mincing if I'm going to use it to season pasta, or a double mincing if it's a sauce for lasagne".
Cesarina Franca is very clear about the colour of the ragù: "in my family, the ragù should not be too red, so the amount of tomato I use is always less than the amount of meat. I never use double or triple tomato paste, which is used in many recipes. Compared to the ready-made tomato puree, I prefer to use my own sweet Perini sauce, which I prepare every summer and store in glass jars."
Cesarina Alessandra adds an aromatic touch to her ragù: 'In my family tradition, the magic touch is a bay leaf. I used to accompany my grandmother Anna to gather bay leaves in the garden of our countryside home. Every time I add this aromatic herb and smell its scent, I smile, thinking of her."
Which pasta shape should I use?
Our Cesarine of Emilia Romagna all suggest combining the Bolognese ragù with tagliatelle, ribbons of fresh egg pasta which are rolled by hand on a wooden board. Rolling on wood gives greater porosity and a rough texture, meaning that the pasta holds the rich sauce and carries all those delicious flavours. Compared to slippery spaghetti, it's a no-brainer!
When Emilian cuisine calls, Lambrusco answers! To stay in the region, the choice of this wine, not too full-bodied and able to leave space for the flavoursome sauce, remains one of the favourite choices of the Cesarine.
A plausible ancestor of Italian ragù sauce can be found in medieval Provençal cuisine, among lavender fields and lush vineyards of southern France. The etymology of the word is in fact based on the term ragoût, a noun deriving from the French verb ragoûter, that is "to awaken the appetite". It was in France in the 14th century that cooks of the time would prepare a stew of ox meat mixed with vegetables in huge clay pots.