Ragu alla bolognese has always been a simple concept-but with a lot of complications to hamper its simplicity. What constitutes “real” ragu alla bolognese is largely a matter of interpretation.
We wanted a hearty and rich, home cook–friendly ragu alla bolognese that was satisfying to even the most discriminating Italian palate.
Our first step was cobbling together a working recipe, which we would then fine-tune until it met our standards. We loaded up the pot with soffritto (chopped carrot, celery, and onion), followed by five different meats, and then crushed tomatoes. We made several more batches, adding a fistful of minced sage to the meat, and adjusting the proportions of all five meats until we landed on the winning ratios.
Along the way, we found that taking some exception with tradition gave us the best ragu alla bolognese. For one thing, we added the meat to the pot before the soffritto. Without the interference of moisture from the vegetables, we could get a much better sear on the meat. Plus, sautéing the veggies in the meats’ rendered fat built up even richer flavor. We also found tomato paste to be the best tomato product for our recipe. (Our research recipes called for everything from crushed tomatoes to sauce to paste to no tomato product at all.)
With our flavors on point, we turned to the texture. One of the techniques that some recipes use to give their ragu alla bolognese a glossy, viscous texture is to ladle some homemade broth into it in stages. But making a long-simmered homemade broth on top of making the ragu was out of the question; we’d have to make do with commercial broth. But commercial broth alone didn’t measure up to homemade. To mimic the velvetiness contributed by the gelatin in the bones in homemade broth, we added powdered gelatin to a combination of canned beef and chicken broth.
For even more depth and roundness of flavor, we turned to a sixth meat we’d come across in our research: chicken livers. Pureeing them in the food processor ensured their rich, gamy flavor incorporated seamlessly into the sauce.