I had my doubts about this recipe. First, after discovering it, apparently the recipe for the bolognese ragu that Mario Batali himself favors, I soon found other bolognese recipes online, all attributed to the same chef—the one in the orange clogs. While the first recipe had me shuffling toward the stove at first read, the recipes I discovered subsequently gave me pause. An Italian chef’s ragu recipe is something, I would think, he would defend fiercely. He would mark his territory, stick to his guns—it would be his ragu or the highway.
In the end, I debated between the recipe I’d seen first and the recipe Mario purportedly serves at Babbo. I went with the recipe I saw first. If it was good enough for Mario, I concluded, it was good enough for me. But I still wondered about the recipe’s siblings and what the apparent proliferation of Mario bolognese recipes meant for the reliability of the one I’d chosen.
Still, I set out to make Mario’s ragu—or, ahem, one of them, at least—last Saturday afternoon. After reducing a carrot, an onion and a stalk of celery to neat little cubes, I tipped my cutting board, lined with the tri-colored heaps, into a big pot, where they set to sizzling in some heated oil, along with some thinly sliced garlic and thyme leaves. Next, ground veal and pork were crumbled into the softened vegetables, cooking, as Mario instructed, until they had just lost their pink.
Now, here’s the point where my doubts crept back in. I spooned in some tomato paste and poured in a glug each of white wine and milk. For one thing, white wine and milk are strange bedfellows in my book, but I gather that they’re pretty standard in ragu recipes (Mario’s various recipes, for instance, uniformly called for both). Plus, even though things smelled pretty great at this point, the mix in the pot looked a little sad—soupy and thin and tepidly orange. A quick taste deepened my consternation: it was tasty enough, but just barely so. I was hoping for bold and assertive, not mild and passive.
But this post isn’t a shame-on-you-Mario affair (as though I’m any where near entitled to deliver one of those) and nor does it end unhappily. Because over the next few hours, the ragu burbled softly over a low flame and transformed itself, slowly but surely. When I finally extinguished the flame, the sauce was thick and hearty, its bright orangey-red hue belying its deep, seriously earthy, meaty flavors.
I’ve decided that this evolution, one that can only be effected with time, is the magic of ragu. It’s the kind of recipe I quite like, in fact: low maintenance, more than meets the eye, not to be rushed. In the end, the moments of doubt that tripped me up along the way only made the sauce more delicious—cradled as it was in the nooks of little orechiette and showered with shredded parmigiano-reggiano. So, I’m certain I’ll be making ragu again soon. This ragu. I’m not Italian and I’m not a chef and I consider orange clogs a questionable choice of footwear, at best. But I have found my bolognese ragu recipe—my one recipe.
Serves 4 (I’d say 4-6)
5 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 carrot, finely, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 pound veal, ground
1 pound pork, ground
1/4 pound pancetta, ground
1/2 tube tomato paste
1 cup milk
1 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
In a 6 to 8-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic and sweat over medium heat until the vegetables are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the veal, pork, and pancetta and stir into the vegetables. Add the meat over high heat, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until browned. Add the tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat.