The ragù vs Bolognese controversy is one that is going to stick with us for a while. Can a pasta sauce made with lentils be called a Bolognese? Is chocolate hummus really hummus? How do foods get their names?
Just know that this sausage ragù will make you happy when you serve it over your favorite pasta. Although it takes a bit of time from start to finish, it cooks slowly and with little intervention.
So make this Italian sausage pasta sauce on a Sunday afternoon while you read a book. Or make a loaf of crusty semolina bread, stir the pot, and sip a glass of the wine you opened to make the sauce.
What’s the difference between ragù 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 the fat from pancetta 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 vs 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. Or an empty set, if you like Venn diagrams.
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
Ok, now that you’ve learned the difference between ragu vs Bolognese, what’s going on here in this recipe? This sausage ragù omits the pancetta found in Bolognese. I’ve added garlic, subbed in ground sausage and red wine, and given the tomatoes a co-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). Using milk and cooking this Italian sausage ragù super slowly makes the meat super tender.
[Apologies for missing a step and the slightly off-color pics!]
Tip from the wisequacker: 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 corking happens in 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.
When you mix the sauce and al dente pasta in the pan and heat the combination together before serving (Panel #6), the pasta absorbs some of the sauce. It gives your pasta better flavor and texture. Please don’t skip this step when you make pasta.
What to serve with this sausage ragù
- In addition to serving as a pasta sauce, this ragù makes a great lasagna or baked penne.
- For the wine, pick a red blend (a red “table” wine) or a Sangiovese. 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.
Variations and substitutions
- Use whole sausages if you can’t find bulk Italian sausage. Slice open the casings of the sausage to get the meat, and discard the casings.
- Use ground beef, a different ground meat, or a combination.
A ragout is a meat stew, not a sauce intended for pasta.
Yes. The ragù freezes perfectly in a tupperware type container and can be defrosted on the stove top.
Yes! There is nothing complicated about this meal. You just want to cook it slowly, so it takes a bit of time.
While it’s a myth that alcohol burns off completely whenever you cook something, cooking this ragu for hours will burn off most of the alcohol, according to the USDA.
- 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.½ 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, ½ 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 here.
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