The Difference Between Ragu and Bolognese: a Sausage Ragù
This sausage ragù makes me happy. Although it takes a bit of time, you can cook it while alternating stirring the pot and sipping a glass of the wine you opened to make the sauce. But wait, you say, what’s the difference between ragu and bolognese?
A ragù, according to Merriam-Webster, is a non-specific term for an Italian sauce made of meat and tomatoes.
Bolognese, or rather ragù alla bolognese, is a specific type of ragù. It typically includes cooking a vegetable mixture of carrot, celery, and onion in pancetta fat and then sequentially adding ground beef and pork, milk, and white wine. Tomatoes may be included but do not play a prominent role in bolognese.
So the ragù and bolognese Venn diagram is less controversial than the bonbon and chocolate truffle Venn diagram. Bolognese is a subset of ragù. And lentil bolognese, while delicious, is a misnomer.
You can definitely see that this sausage ragù recipe is inspired by methods used to make bolognese. But it’s not bolognese.
Tips and tricks for this ragù recipe
Ok, now that you’ve learned the difference between ragu and bolognese, what’s going on here? This ragù omits pancetta, adds garlic, subs ground sausage and red wine, and gives tomatoes a starring role.
The panels below show the cooked vegetables added to the oil in the pan (Panel #1), the cooked ground sausage after milk has been added (Panel #2), and the level of dryness you should get before adding the wine (Panel #3). Apologies for missing a step and the slightly off-color pics!
Pour at least a sip of wine before you add it to the pot (Panel #4) to check if it is “corked.” Some people say that it impacts up to 1 in 10 bottles of wine! Corked wine can taste sour or vinegary and is said to smell like wet cardboard or wet dog. So there may be a reason why you didn’t like that wine you had.
Add the tomatoes and cook slowly for at least 30 minutes (Panel #5). You can see from that shimmering picture why you might want to skim the fat from the surface. Or, if you don’t want to use the sauce immediately, cool it overnight and then remove the fat once it has solidified.
Mixing sauce and al dente pasta in the pan and heating the combination together before serving (Panel #6) makes the pasta absorb some of the sauce. It gives your pasta better flavor and texture. Please don’t skip this step.
FAQs about this sausage ragù
A ragout is a meat stew, not a sauce intended for pasta.
In addition to serving as a pasta sauce, this ragù makes a great lasagna or baked penne.
I would probably pick a red blend (a red “table” wine) or a Sangiovese. It’s a reasonable rule of thumb is that you should cook with wine that you would drink, but you also don’t want to use a great wine.
Yes. You’ll just want to slice open the casings of the sausage to get the meat, and discard the casings.
Yes. The ragù freezes perfectly and can be defrosted on the stove top.
Yes! I included this in the “learning to cook” tab because there is nothing complicated about this meal. It just takes a bit of time.
- ½ cup onion
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 carrot
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup red wine
- 28 ounces (1 can) whole tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- Parmesan, grated for serving
- Finely chop the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. I find it simplest to use a food processor and pulse until you get a fine chop.1/2 cup onion, 1 stalk celery, 1 carrot, 1 clove garlic
- Add the olive oil to the pan and heat on medium low. Add the vegetables and cook until softened about 5 minutes.1 tablespoon olive oil
- Add the meat, breaking up into small pieces, and cook until no longer pink.1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
- Add the milk and cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until the milk has been absorbed.1 cup milk
- Repeat with the wine (add and cook at a low simmer, stirring occasionally until absorbed).1 cup red wine
- Add the can of tomatoes (discard the basil, if your can has basil), salt, and nutmeg, and cover. Continue to cook at a low simmer for at least 30 minutes. Occasionally check on the pot to skim off any fat that rises to the surface and then stir to break up the tomatoes.28 ounces (1 can) whole tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- If you are having this over pasta, boil a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta as directed to al dente.
- When the pasta has cooked, drain and return it to the pasta pot. Add as much sauce as desired to the cooked pasta and cook for an additional minute so the pasta absorbs some of the sauce.
- Serve immediately with the Parmesan alongside for topping.Parmesan, grated
If you make this sausage ragù or just want to talk about the difference between ragù and bolognese, please comment and share a pic!
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