Ragu alla Bolognese

The one thing that surprised me most about Italy is how simple italian food really is; nothing is added that isn’t necessary and ingredients are given the room to speak for themselves.

In Florence we chanced upon a delightful local eatery called La Burrasca, just on the dodgy side of the Central Market. My partner, who has a famed aversion to all things “flavoursome” (with a particular loathing of garlic) fretted over whether the penne al ragu on the menu was cooked with the offending clove; after all this was Italy, they put it in everything. We asked our waiter if the ragu was made with garlic and his response was quite unexpected; “Of course not, this is ragu! It would not be ragu if there was garlic!”. Delighted, my partner ordered it and loved it. So much so, he ordered it three nights in a row!

So the humble ragu taught me an important lesson in italian cooking: keep it simple. It seems the obligatory addition of garlic to all Italian dishes is a culinary assumption most of us are all guilty of making. Unsurprisingly, the Italians harbour an aversion to extraneous elements being added to their most treasured dishes. Why mess with Tuscan perfection? After all a ragu is a ragu and you don’t need to add garlic to make it taste italian.

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Ragu alla Bolognese: Serves 4

  • 400g tagliatelle or penne, preferably fresh but dried is fine
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 500g minced beef, not too lean
  • 100g unsmoked pancetta, lardon or bacon, very finely diced
  • 75g carrot, finely grated
  • 75g celery, very finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 50g tomato purée
  • 1/2 glass red or white wine
  • 180ml fresh milk
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Fry the pancetta/bacon gently in the olive oil until it starts to release its fat. Be careful not to let it burn.
  2. Add the carrots, celery and onions. Sauté until the onions are transparent and the vegetables are soft.
  3. Add the beef and cook until it is lightly browned.
  4. Add the tomato puree and then the wine. Cook until the wine evaporates completely.
  5. Add the milk, little by little until it is completely absorbed.
  6. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook very slowly for at least an hour but preferably two.
  7. Stir occasionally and if it looks like drying out, add a little more milk.

Serve with: tagliatelle or penne (Never spaghetti, apparently!). Sprinkle over grated parmesan.

For more Italian recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

For more pasta recipes from The Muddled Pantry, please click here


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