Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese is a wonderful dish. Hats off to l’Accademia - a job well done! Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a fair way off our Spag Bol from earlier. The previous dish gave us a fruity hit of tomatoes but this ragù was a very different experience.
From the start of the preparation you can smell the Bolognans are taking us in a very different direction. The pancetta literally melts in the pan and releases an initially very peppery, and continuously buttery smell. As the fat melts, the meat crisps up ever so slightly. It is definitely worth the mezzaluna treatment to encourage this reaction. A finer, crispier pork makes for a better texture than if we’d pan fried lardons.
As we add the soffritto, with its healthy portion of butter, the dish sets its stall out early. This butteriness is ever present as the rest of the flavours develop.
Add the meat, and the difference the harami makes is now clear. It provides an intensely savoury, gamey aroma, which when mixed with the butter leads to an incredibly rich, almost overpowering taste.
The ingredients that follow pull the sauce back to a more familiar footing, but I recommend you savour this moment of peak intensity. It would be interesting to stop here. Dipping a slice of fresh, warm baguette into this oily mix would gently warm your cockles of a cold autumn evening. Most fittingly, actually in France, because ragù alla bolognese tastes more French up to this point than Italian, at least from my understanding of Italian food.
The wine tempers things, and talks us off the edge of le balcon. Further respite comes in the form of passata, but the initial meat and butter mix remains in focus, albeit with reduced influence.
The recipe calls for a little brodo to be added “as necessary”, while our ragù remains on a low heat. “Necessary” never really comes, and besides, our gelatin rich stock is almost as thick as our ragù. I add a little for seasoning. This brodo was well seasoned and takes us just to the limits of the salination this sugo can handle.
At this stage, and before adding the milk, I held back a few ladle-fulls of the sauce to try pappardelle al ragù alla romagnola for comparison.
The milk is an interesting addition, but not for the reason provided by l’Accademia. According to the 1982 recipe, milk is used to soften the acidity of the tomatoes, but this isn’t a problem for me. 300g of passata with everything else going on is not going to require quenching.
However, after you’ve had this sauce on a low bubble for 2 hours you’re left with meat & fat but not much else in between. The milk provides sauciness, which brings this ragù closer to what we know from our spag bol experience.
When comparing the tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese to the reserved pappardelle al ragù al romagnolo, I struggle to decide which one I prefer. The sauciness of the bolognese felt more familiar, but I was more than a bit turned by the dry and oily mix of the romagnolo. The “sauce” was more like a salad dressing - oily and acidic - and brought a deeper dimension to the dish.
The pappardelle just edged tagliatelle too. Each forkful filled my mouth with pasta which made the pasta taste fuller and firmer.
As I stated, this faithful interpretation of ragù alla bolognese is nothing like our Dolmio sauce. However, it was also not an unfamiliar taste. I had previously tried Gary Usher’s venison ragù, brought to us off the back of a Waitrose marketing effort to sell us venison mince.
The dish was superb and (minus the milk) is the closest “basic” bolognese to l’Accademia’s interpretation. It will be worth revisiting this recipe for a “cheats” ragù alla bolognese.
It was an honour to experience this authentic, tagliatelle al ragù alla bolognese. The only permanent change I would recommend: dispense with the yellow carrots. Finding them is not worth the effort.
Aside from that, one word adequately describes this dish.