Champagne is undoubtedly the king of sparkling wine. Three things must be true for a sparkling wine to be called Champagne. First, it must be produced in the Champagne region of France…no ifs, ands, or buts. It must also be made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier grapes. Finally, Champagne can only be fermented using the Champenoise method which is a two step fermentation process: first in barrels, then in bottles. Anything else, even in France, is just sparkling wine.
None of these things are true about Prosecco. First of all, Prosecco is named for both the grape (now known as Glera) and area in the Veneto region of Italy where it is produced. To be a true Prosecco, at least 85% of this grape must be used. Fermentation is done using the Charmat method which is also a two step fermentation, but both take place in stainless steel vats.
Prosecco is meant to be drunk when it is young and fresh, so the production process is usually faster than that of Champagne. That is why most Prosecco is modestly priced while finer Champagnes can be quite expensive.
This is probably the recipe that I am most proud of. I spent a little time in Bologna this year where I learned some things that make this a truly authentic ragù Bolognese.
Making a Bolognese is different from making other sauces in that there is usually not a lot of liquid in the pot while cooking. Liquid is added in small amounts, then reduced, then repeated. If too much liquid is added at one time, then you are just boiling the meat and destroying its flavors.
Pork is the meat of choice in Bologna. While there, I spoke with some people that use only pork in their ragù. I like the flavor of beef, so I use a 50/50 ratio of pork to beef. Pancetta is common in many recipes I’ve seen and adds some nice flavor, but not necessary if cooking on a budget.
Really, a cup of milk, you ask? Yes. I was just as surprised as you are. The milk quickly reduces out, but it adds a richness and velvety texture to your ragù. Be sure that the milk is added just before the tomato paste.
I had only ever used a hearty red wine when making this recipe before my friend, Alessandro, turned me on to using a dry white wine. It really tastes great when using pancetta. I find myself alternating between the two…and yes, use the whole bottle (minus a hearty swig for yourself, of course).
Finally, do yourself a favor and serve the ragù with fresh pasta rather than dry. Giovanni Rana is a brand that makes a great tagliatelle, the traditional pasta for Bolognese. After boiling and draining the pasta, return the pasta and some of the ragù to the pot. Let them cook together on low heat for a couple of minutes.
…and of course, top with plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano.
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ lb. ground beef
1 ½ lb. ground pork
¼ lb. pancetta, ground or finely diced (optional)
1 cup whole milk
2 cups tomato paste
1 bottle of dry white or hearty red wine
3 bay leaves
Kosher or sea salt
Puree the chopped onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in a food processor. In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Stirring frequently, cook vegetables until they are brown and almost all of the water has evaporated (about 20 minutes).
If using pancetta, add to vegetables and cook until brown (about 4 minutes). Add beef and pork, and season with salt. Cook until brown (about 15 to 20 minutes). Either drain mixture of fat or remove as much as you can with a spoon or ladle.
Add milk and stir until evaporated. Add tomato paste and let brown for about 3 minutes. Add wine and reduce to about half (about 5 minutes). Add water to pot until it levels just above the meat (about 2 cups). Add bay leaves. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer.
Stir occasionally while seasoning with salt and pepper. As the sauce thickens, add more water (2 cups at a time). Repeat this a couple of times. Simmer for about 4 hours. Remove bay leaves before serving.
The reasons for adding salt or oil to a pot of boiling pasta are actually different. It is believed that adding oil to the water will prevent the pasta from sticking or cooking together. While this may be true, cooking pasta in water and oil will result in oily pasta that won’t cling to your sauce, making it rather tasteless. To prevent pasta from sticking, just stir continuously for the first couple minutes of cooking. This is the time when the pasta’s starches are released causing it to stick.
Adding salt, on the other hand, enhances the flavor of the pasta. Add the salt either before or after the water begins to boil. Many Italians believe that pasta water should be salty like the sea, so be generous with the salt. Don’t worry about over salting; the pasta will only absorb so much and the rest gets thrown out with the water. Your sauce thanks you.