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Home Cooking 4

Variations on Bolognese ragù theme: Pancetta

eatzalot | Mar 31, 201407:48 AM

Another extension deliberately moving outward from the Hazan "ragù alla Bolognese" recipe. (Which is the best-known US recipe true to Bologna-region traditions. Starting with Marcella Hazan's 1973 "Classic Italian Cook Book," that recipe evidently popularized this type of sauce in the US.) Version below respects Bologna principles (per l'Accademia Italiana della Cucina), but departs from Hazan by adding pancetta. I've found that (like the sweet-spice and meat-broth variant posted earlier, but by different means) pancetta's added meaty flavor and umami supported higher vegetable content without losing the balance or intensity of the original. Recipe sketch follows notes here.

This is the best variation, so far, of many I've tried on the basic Hazan beef / tomato / wine / mirepoix / nutmeg plan. IMO it surpasses the Hazan recipe.

Related notes recently posted:

About pancetta: I've used this Italian rolled unsmoked bacon (or domestically-made approximants) for years in Italian and general European recipes requiring a cured pork product. Typical use: fry chopped pancetta to render out the fat; remove the meat bits, use the fat to brown onions for a stew, or to finish parboiled Brussels sprouts or whatever; recombine the meat bits into the dish. In European dining experience, I've often seen cooks use such flavorful fats to finish vegetables, where US restaurant kitchens used butter (or even something cheaper and unspeakable).

I also found that cutting up solid pancetta as needed gave fuller flavor than the pre-diced bits or thin slices sold packaged in supermarkets by firms like Columbus. For casual cooking, I buy thick slices of the rolled product (Licini Bros. in New Jersey distributes one nationally), around half a pound or a pound, and freeze what isn't used immediately.

Be careful in salting recipes that include cured meat products, of course. Pancetta carries its own salt, which won't fully express into a simmered dish for some time, so any further salt is best added after most of the cooking.

Recipe sketch:

Rendered about half a pound diced solid pancetta slowly in a skillet until meat was well browned. Drained off most of the fat, removed the meat bits to absorbent paper to drain. Used a little of the fat to sweat and lightly cook scant 1.5 lb. mirepoix vegetables (onions, carrots, celery, all finely chopped); transferred them to a deep pot. Used a little more fat to lightly brown 1.5 lb. ground beef, breaking it up with a spatula. Added one bottle dry white wine (sauvignon blanc w/o too much oak) -- I actually divided it between the vegetables in the pot, and beef in the skillet, to allow cooking them down simultaneously -- the cooking down of wines is common in some Italian cuisines, but time-consuming. Cooked down both until liquid almost gone, then combined skillet contents into the vegetables, adding about a quart of unsalted chopped tomatoes (Italian, Pomi brand), 1 tsp fresh-ground nutmeg, pinch of ground cloves, and the reserved cooked pancetta. Simmered this very gently three-plus hours, adding a bit of salt near the end. Very Good Stuff!

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