There is nothing better than a big bowl of homemade pasta combined with a delicious slow-cooked ragù – and, with a tradition beginning in the 5th century, this is one dish that definitely stands the test of time. I ate it for lunch and dinner on a recent trip to its namesake city of Bologna in the Emilia-Romagna region. There, it’s served either with the traditional green lasagne or with tagliatelle. As with the whole of Italy, you’ll never see it paired with spaghetti – the thin pasta is just not wide enough to hold the sauce. Legend has it that the invention of tagliatelle (from the Italian tagliare: to cut), was inspired by a nobleman’s appreciation for Lucrezia Borgia’s hair, but, after watching the Showtime series on the infamous family, I’m not entirely convinced! The shape of the pasta works best with thick sauces – so it’s no wonder it’s a perfect pairing with Bolognese. The ragù itself should be a combination of meat and soffritto (lightly sautéed vegetables including celery, carrot and onion, in butter or olive oil) – with only a small amount of tomatoes and/or tomato passato. Typically, the meat includes pancetta (as part of the soffritto), in addition to beef and pork – but, its not uncommon to add chicken, rabbit, or veal. I use a combination of ground beef and veal in equal proportions for a slightly lighter sauce – but, still with all the flavour.
Every time I visit my sister in Philadelphia, she sweetly “requests” that I stock her freezer with my bolognese sauce – I’m fairly certain it’s the only reason I’m ever invited back! Make it for your friends and family with love, but, note bene: you’ll be making it for years to come.
Fresh Tagliatelle (serves 4-6)
3 large eggs
300 g doppio zero flour (‘00’), plus extra for dusting and rolling
A drizzle of olive oil
A pinch of salt
- Pour the 300 g of doppio zero flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour and crack the eggs into it. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
- With a fork, beat the eggs into the flour in a circular motion, continually adding flour from the sides of the well until it’s all incorporated.
- On a large surface (preferably a wooden chopping board), dusted with flour, knead the dough into a ball to develop the gluten. This should take approx. 7-10 minutes – it should be soft and spring back when you push your thumb into it. Add extra flour if necessary. Let it rest for 20- 30 minutes under a damp tea towel.
- Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough a few times and cut it into quarters.
- If rolling out by hand: Take one quarter at a time – keep the rest under the damp tea towel – and roll out the dough to about the thinness of a dime, (it should be oval shaped). This might take some time and energy – so use your muscles! *Tip: Roll the dough over the rolling pin, then, using your palms, work your way from the centre out in a continuously rolling motion – this will cause the dough to stretch out and should make it thinner much quicker – but, be careful not to break the dough!
If using a pasta machine: Put the dough through the widest setting. Fold in half and repeat another 4-5 times. Once the dough is an even rectangular shape, put it through each setting once – finishing at the second to last one. Do NOT use the thinnest setting as this will make the dough too thin – it’s used for ravioli.
- Once it has been rolled out, dust it again with flour on both sides.
- Now, starting at one end and using your fingers, gently roll up the dough like a long cigar.
- Cut the dough into 1/4 inch wide pieces using a knife. Unroll the spirals and toss the tagliatelle in a bit of flour and set aside on wax paper dusted with flour. Repeat for the other ¾ of dough.
2 lbs ground veal
2 lbs ground beef
4 celery stalks, cut into brunoise
1 ½ large red onions, cut into brunoise
2 carrots, cut into brunoise
6 large tomatoes on the vine, concasse and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed with the heel of your knife
500 ml tomato passato
4 sprigs of thyme, chopped
8 sprigs of parsley, chopped
20 basil leaves, chiffonade
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
- Season the ground meat with salt and pepper.
- In a large sauté pan, brown off the meat in the butter – do this in stages as you don’t want too much meat in the pan at any one time. Deglaze with white wine and set aside.
- For the soffritto: In a large pot, sauté the crushed garlic, celery, onion and carrot in olive oil until they begin to get a bit of color and season with salt and pepper. Add the chopped parsley and thyme and 1/3 of the basil; deglaze with white wine.
- Add the ground meat to the soffritto, then, add the chopped tomatoes, tomato passato and bay leaf. Bring to a boil.
- Let it simmer for at least 2 hours, even longer – this will allow all the flavors to meld together. Halfway through the cooking, add another 1/3 of the basil and a few pinches of nutmeg.
- Once it has finished cooking, remove the garlic cloves and bay leaf and transfer to a large sauté pan.
- ALWAYS finish cooking your pasta in the sauce – just add a bit of pasta water to allow for continued cooking. Fresh pasta will cook much faster than dried; this tagliatelle should cook in about 4-5 minutes: 2-3 minutes in a large pot of boiling (SALTED) water and 2 minutes in the sauce.
- Add some grated parmesan cheese and the remaining basil, flip the sauté pan (or mix around the pasta) – you want the sauce to coat the pasta.
- Using a large serving fork and spoon, twirl the pasta and gently place it in a pasta bowl, spoon on some extra sauce on top and sprinkle with grated cheese. Buonissima!!!