Ragu Bolognese

I lived in Bologna, Italy for 7 months or so in college (“study abroad”), and I was, believe it or not, a vegetarian the entire time.  Bologna, if you didn’t know, has a few nicknames.  One is ‘Bologna, the red’ because it’s fully of commie college kids, and the other is ‘Bologna, the fat’ because of the food.  Bologna, in Emilia-Romagna, is near Modena (origin of balsamic vinegar) and Parma (origin of the ‘king of cheeses’) and in the historically fertile Po valley.

Italy was where I first started to get into cooking, which is so cliché, but true.  I think it was just part of the ‘having fun’ culture there, that you would start with aperitivo, continue to a home cooked meal with ingredients so fresh they were impossible to screw up, and lots of wine which was also wonderful and cheap, and then go out, taking some more wine or beer for the road.  Those were the days.  Anyway, of the many dishes Bologna is known for, ragu might be the most famous, and the one thing I could never enjoy while I was there.  To be honest, once you are vegetarian for a while, seeing someone chuck a few pounds of meat into a pot is kinda gross, so I wasn’t particularly unhappy.  The vegetables and fruit (and gelato) were more than enough to keep me sated.  And I did end up breaking my vegetarianism, when I went to visit a friend in Sicily over Easter, and his mother put down an entire fish in front of me for lunch, because not eating meat I guess means that you eat fish, right?  This fish was the second course of an average weekday sicilian meal, the first being a divine cauliflower pasta dish (to which I mistakenly added one single drop of vinegar, and my friend’s mother insisted that she make me a new dish (I refused, of course)).  The two lunches I had at her house were some of the best, most revelatory meals that I’ve ever had (discounting my own mother’s cooking, which is objectively the best in the world. :)).

Anyway, I digress.  To make up for the absence of ragu in my life thus far, I decided to make ragu for valentines day, because it seemed like an elaborate, valentines-y meal.  And if you don’t have an actual special someone, might as well make a nice meal for one.  :/

Ragu Bolognese

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onions, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
4-6 celery stalks, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 carrots, peeled, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1lb ground beef
1lb ground pork
1/4lb thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped or ground
1/2 cup dry red wine
1-2 cups beef stock
6 Tbsp. tomato paste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk
1 lb. tagliatelle, pappardelle, or fettuccine (preferably fresh egg)
Finely grated Parmesan (for serving)

Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)


1. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots, or ‘mirepoix’ as it’s called.  I also threw in some garlic.  How long did it take you to dice all that up?  It took me 20 minutes!  I would never be able to compete on chopped, for that and many other reasons.  But I still have my fingers.  Anyway, sweat the mirepoix on medium heat for 8-10 minutes, or even more.  Just don’t brown any of it.  Keep it on a medium or medium low heat.



2. While that’s sweating, prepare the meat.  That sounds so sinister.  So here’s the deal: recipes for this ragu call for some combination of beef, pork and/or veal in varying amounts.  Some call for one pound total, some for two or more.  I decided that I did not want to use veal, even the ‘humane’ veal at whole foods, and so used 1lb beef and 1lb pork.  I think that’s about right, for making four to six portions.  You don’t want to be cooking for three hours just to make two portions!  That will only feed you and your valentine, or in my case me and me the next day.  You can always freeze it.

I decided to grind my own meat, because I’m fancy.  I bought pork shoulder (‘butt’) and beef shoulder (‘chuck’) and then of course the pancetta.  It’s a lot of meat.  Cut it into chunks.  As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been liking my new kitchen shears for this task, maybe because my knife blade is dull and my shears are new.  The key to this is that you have to divide this meat into maybe five batches and grind them in your food processor one at a time.

ragu bolognese

The resulting product is sticky and weird looking.  This is when you start to have doubts about this process.

ragu bolognese


 In any case, wash your hands and all your equipment throughout this process, at least twenty times, because you are a hypochondriac.  A fancy hypochondriac.

3. Add beef, pork, and pancetta to the pot and saute for about 30 min over medium heat.  At this point in the process, I turned to Molto Mario for some advice

Apparently, boiling is not ideal here, at least not initially.  There will be a fair amount of moisture in the meat, and one should get that to cook off so the fat renders and sticks a little to the bottom of the pot.  I’m not sure I did this entirely, but you can easily let the meat cook slowly in this step for 30 min or more.

ragu bolognese

see, liquid


4.  Stir in tomato paste completely and continue to cook for another 15 min (or more).  Unlike some recipes, we aren’t using fresh or canned tomatoes here, so the tomato paste will have to provide all of the tomato-ness.  Hence, 6 tablespoons.  The paste will also absorb the remaining moisture and caramelize on it’s own as well.

5. Add (red) wine to deglaze, stirring and scraping up browned bits.

6.  Add one cup of stock and reduce heat to low.  Simmer, stirring occasionally for 1 hour.  Season with salt and papper.  Basically keep an eye on it.  If it seems a little too dry, add a little more stock.  I found that at this point that all of the moisture from the meat and the wine had not completely cooked off, so I held back on the stock.  I think I initially added only half a cup.  So I may have done more stewing/boiling than Mario would have liked.  If you were more successful, you might have a drier sauce at this point, and you might need more stock (btw, this is obviously not Mario Batali recipe, as he does not use any stock).

At this point you are realizing that you are not going to be eating for a little while.  You can pour a glass of the wine for yourself and your partner.  Pretend your partner is a ghost, but doesn’t realize that they are a ghost, and that, because they are a ghost, you don’t see them.  Only your son sees them.  Spoiler alert!

7.  Heat the milk for 15 seconds in the microwave (or bring to simmer in a separate pan, if you want to do more dishes later), and then add to sauce.  Raise the heat to get everything up to temperature and then drop again to medium low heat.  Again, gauge how much liquid you have and if you need more.  If you need more, just add more stock.  Simmer this for 45 minutes.  If you feel like you need to cook off some of this liquid, leave the lid to the pot off, otherwise, partially cover the pot with its lid.  Check seasoning and adjust You can make all this head of time.

ragu bolognese

8. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 1 minute before al dente.

9. Heat a pan over medium and add some of your ragu until warm.  Using tongs, take the noodles out of the water and add them to the pan.  This way you get some of the pasta water with the noodles, which is starchy and helps the noodle absorb the sauce.  Add more ragu or pasta water until you get the right consistency.  Do all of this over medium or medium low heat so as to not overcook or burn anything.

ragu bolognese

10.  Serve with parmesean and parsley.

ragu bolognese

I don’t know if this is crazy, but this dish in some ways reminded of me of ramen!  You get the thick meatiness of the pork fat along with the carbiness of the noodles, and the cheese gives the whole dish even more of umami flavor.  This is not one of those dishes that seems healthy but is really not.  This dish tastes unhealthy and is; it also is delicious.

Though, not really valentines food.  A bit heavy, you know?  It’s more grandmotherly than romantic, ya know I mean?? 😉  Because I don’t.


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LAX, 6:30am





A couple of weeks ago, I had to take an early morning flight to Boston (pre-storm, thankfully).  The fog was really thick in the morning and visibility seemed to be 50 feet or less (it’s hard to gague these things).  Driving on the 105, you couldn’t see the ground or any of the trees, or really anything except for the road and lights from nearby office buildings, which made it look as though you were floating.  The parking lot had a nice empty feeling to it, though eerie with the odd traveller dragging a suitcase along.

Mo Chica and Chicken Cau Cau

It was Dine LA week again recently.  Last time I decided to go to Ricardo Zarate’s lovely Picca, and had a wonderful time.  So this time I decided to go to his ‘original’ restaurant, Mo Chica.  I put original in quotes because Mo Chica was originally in a different and more down-scale location, but has recently moved to a more glamourous spot next to Bottega Louie and across the way from 7 Grand.

The new Mo Chica is correspondingly glamourous and shiny on the inside, and tiny in a way that makes you feel special.  No true bar, which was unfortunate.  In any case, they didn’t skimp on the Dine La menu, similar to Picca.  Picca seemed to have more of a Japanese influence than Mo Chica, but other than that they seemed quite similar.  Between the two of us TAL and I could order most of what they offered from their Dine La menu.  We had:

Tuna Tartare (avocado yuzu mousse, soy dressing, wonton chips): sometimes creamy avocado concoctions fall a little flat, but this added the right amount of body and depth to a very sprightly and bright tartare.  A good appetizer.

Ceviche Crocante (local halibut, leche de tigre, crispy calimari) :  the halibut was hidden under the calimari, and both were cooked perfectly.  Whatever the ‘leche de tigre’ was it was good.

Arroz Chaufa de Marisco (seafood medley, Peruvian fried rice, pickled radish): very similar to a dish at Picca that I still remember as being hearty and delightful.  But then who doesn’t like fried rice.

Chupe Gratinado (lobster and scallop gratin, potato, sea urchin ceviche sauce): sea urchin sauce!  the whole dish was rich, creamy and delicious.  It was a main entree that arrived before the Ceviche dish that was an appetizer, thus messing with my OCD, but the dishes were basically the same size anyway.

Corazon (anticucho sauce, twice cooked potato, huancaina, rocoto pesto): apparently beef heart is hard to cook, which makes me even more impressed with this very tender heart.  Aww.

Chicken Cau Cau (Peruvian chicken stew, jalepeno salsa criolla, cumin yogurt): a hearty chicken stew with a delicious piece of grilled bread.  What was in that bread?  No one else on the internet seems to talk about it and thus we will never know.

Tres Leches Cake and Vanilla Pisco Flan: the flan was amazing.  I opted to not get the flan at Picca the last time around and regretted it.  So this time I made sure to get it.  I mean, there were two of us, and two desserts on the menu, so we got both, but still.

My new thing (I have a new thing) is to try to make dishes I have at restaurants.  I think it comes from going to Italian places and feeling I could easily make what I just spent $14 for.  And I could.  But with food like this, it’s more complicated.  I decided to attempt the Chicken Cau Cau, because it’s a more straightforward chicken stew and seems not impossible to make.  And because recipes would be available on the internet, that being my old thing.
Chicken Cau Cau

(from a few different places, so, basically mine at this point…)

• Ingredients •

2lbs potatoes, cubed (4 medium sized potatoes, works out to 2 cups)

2lbs boneless chicken breast, cleaned and cut into cubes

1 regular onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 aji amarillo or jalepeno peppers, minced

1 tsp tumeric

2 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper

1 cup chicken broth

juice of one lime

3 tblsp fresh parsley or mint (or both), chopped

1/4 cup yogurt

• Directions •

1. Peel potatoes and chop into bite-sized pieces.

2. Cut the chicken breast into equal sized cubes.  I bought these kitchen shears, which are very handy for this kind of task.

3. Blend the aji amarillo/jalapeño peppers into a paste.  Add some vegetable oil to help make it paste-y.  Aji amarillo are a peruvian pepper and it looks like this.  I used jalapeños.

4. Heat some vegetable oil in large heavy bottom pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute over medium heat until soft, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic, tumeric, cumin and salt (if you had not already) and mix to combine.  Cook for one minute and then add pepper paste

5. Add chicken to the pan, stir for about 1 minute. Next stir in potatoes and add 1 cup of chicken broth or water. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over low-medium heat for 15 minutes, opening cover to stir occasionally and ensure nothing is sticking to bottom of pan.

Finish by stirring in lime juice, yogurt and herbs.  Serve with…

Salsa Criolla 

(from here)

Some raw/lightly pickled ingredients really brighten up the above stew.  You can just put some of this salsa on top of the stew in the serving dish.


2 red onions, sliced in very thin half moons
1-2 ají or jalapeño peppers, sliced into very thin matchsticks
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro or parsley, or both
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Soak the onions in salt water for 10 minutes. Drain and let dry.

2. Mix onion with the rest of the ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

3. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Grilled Bread

As mentioned above, the bread was amazing.  I kept trying to think about how to replicate the bread.  There is a traditional anise seed bread in Peru, but it’s more a sweet bread, and served as rolls.  But was the amazing taste of the bread anise seed?  It was bright and forward and self-important, so maybe anise in part fills that description.  What I ended up doing however, partially because I was lazy and didn’t want to make bread, was to zest some lime into olive oil, brush it on the bread, and put it under the broiler.  If I had more time I would have made a lime oil by heating the olive oil/zest mixture (with more zest) to ‘infuse’ as they say (I hate the word infuse, just because I do).

Overall, the dish was good, if not particularly inspiring.  The same was true of the original though, which is why I chose to make it at home, so maybe it was inspiring, in that sense.  Really what I wanted was that bread.  Oh and I made poached pears for dessert, just randomly.

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