Now I know why Americans chose the famous ragu Bolognese to imitate… it is divine! Meaty, hearty and savory to the power of ten! It is a pinkish color due to the addition of cream, and has no saucy tomatoes like the typical American version. The meat is meant to shine and be the focus of the sauce… and it is in a delicious way. The fresh egg noodles in long ribbons compliment the flavors in the rich sauce. No Parmesan is grated or sprinkled over the dish (as we do here in America) but it is not missed. In fact, it would likely distract your taste buds from the meatiness and hearty flavors in the sauce, as would any significant amount of tomatoes. The Italians have perfected the meat sauce here. Quasi-vegetarians beware – one bite and you may convert!
Keep in mind we are talking about a dish from Bologna “La Grasa” (meaning the fat in Italian). One thing the Italians did historically was display their wealth through food. Those with more money could afford milk or cream, eggs, butter and spices. Does it sound like we are back in France? You will find all of those things in ragu Bolognese with fresh egg pasta. These Italians had something to prove.
One rule we have learned in cooking school is to “build layers”. This refers to the careful cooking of ingredients, adding others in sequence, and seasoning at each addition in order to maximum flavors for a soup, stew, or sauce. We are not encouraged to use high heat or rush through the process. We use a lower heat setting while cooking the sauce or soup, and it only comes to a boil very briefly. After the boil, we reduce to a simmer for the remainder of cook time. This time could be 30 minutes, to 3 hours or longer, depending on the recipe. Heat can destroy fragile flavor and color compounds, so watch that it does not boil again. For this meat sauce, you want a longer simmer time – close to 2 hours, so all of the flavors permeate each and every component, especially the meat. Usually the longer the cook time and lower the heat setting, the better the flavor. However, for a purely vegetable soup or sauce you can use a shorter cook time.
I tell you this, because these steps are all taken to ensure that the ragu Bolognese tastesas good as it does. Though an argument could be made that it is the Italian’s aristocratic ancestors use of cream, eggs, butter and spice. Either way, both of these factors are important in making the classic sauce. It is traditionally served over fresh egg noodle pasta, in a long ribbon shape such as tagliatelle. As you may deduce from my description – it is not a dish for the health-conscious.
- Mirepoix (carrots, celery, onion)
- Equal parts ground beef, ground veal, ground pork
- Tomato Paste
- Brown stock (chicken or veal) homemade or low-sodium
- Heavy cream
- Fresh egg pasta noodles
Aside from these, people can add wine to the cooking liquid, or herbs such as parsley, thyme or sage. You notice the heavy cream. The Italian ragu Bolognese is not a red sauce, but a pink sauce due to the addition of cream. It is also more of a meat sauce than a tomato sauce – notice these is only tomato paste not tomatoes, and usually only 1-2 tablespoons of the paste.
The Good: These meats are high in niacin, vitamin B6, selenium, phosphorus and a good source of vitamin B12 and zinc. They are a great source of protein. Tomato paste is a concentrated source of many nutrients including the B vitamins, iron, magnesium, manganese, vitamins, A, C, E, K, potassium, copper, and lycopene. It has little or no fat and cholesterol and can be bought sodium-free. Nutmeg is used in homeopathic and alternatives medicines for many ailments and to aid in digestion.
The Bad: Without using low-fat versions of the above ingredients, this dish will be high in fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories. The ground meats can be high in fat. Prosciutto, store-bought broth, and tomato paste are high in sodium. The cream, butter, and egg pasta contribute fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. Tomato paste can contribute a significant amount of sugar.
Recommendations: If you want to splurge one day – go ahead and try making this dish by keeping it true to the Italian way (while in Italy, I never found low-fat anything!). Just watch your portion size and up your exercise routine. If you want to begin making this sauce on a more regular basis, I would recommend buying lean ground meats or draining the fat that is released from cooking. Use olive oil as the cooking fat with just a small amount of butter for flavor. Buy low-sodium tomato paste, homemade sodium-free broth, and use no more than 1 oz prosciutto and 1-2 Tablespoons of heavy cream (a little goes a long way with these ingredients). These are minor changes that will have maximium impact in reducing fat, calories, sodium, and cholesterol. To cut back further, you can substitute the pasta noodles for those without egg, but you will lose a considerable amount of flavor in making that substitution (See Fresh Pasta v. Dry Pasta) and I would not recommend it. Pasta selection for a given sauce is important in Italy. Watch your portions and serve with a green salad and vegetables to round out the meal and fill you up without extra calories. Avoid the bread basket – you will get your carb fill from pasta.