Family recipe passed down on my mother's side. I do it better than her...

Sugo Bolognese (or) a'Ragu

Rich pasta sauce with meat and tomato.

Ingredients: (all measurements are metric)

  • olive oil (best quality you can afford, preferably extra-virgin)
  • one large or two small onions
  • half to one bulb fresh garlic (or to taste)
  • veal/pork mince 1kg (if your butcher doesn't have this ready-made, ask for 600g veal & 400g pork; otherwise buy the best beef mince you can afford);
  • two tins Italian (roma) tomatoes (or 6-8 fresh tomatoes, skins removed);
  • tomato paste 1tbsp;
  • red wine;
  • 0.5L beef stock or two good beef stock cubes dissolved in 0.5L boiled water;
  • three bay leaves;
  • three cloves;
  • rosemary and parsley or oregano (preferably fresh);
  • salt & pepper to taste;
  • parmigiano cheese


  1. Peel and chop the onions in a bowl of water, set aside.
  2. Peel and chop the garlic (this is easiest done if you separate the cloves from the bulb, then press on them hard with the flat of the knife blade, the skin will come away easily).
  3. Heat a dessert-spoon of oil in a largish (about 2L capacity) heavy-based pan, over a medium flame (or pre-heat electric element beforehand to medium).
  4. Fry the drained onions and garlic in the oil until they turn translucent in colour. Take care not to burn them by stirring intermittently with a wooden spoon, as burnt garlic and onions leave a bitter taste.
  5. Once onions are ready, add the mince in small lumps, breaking them up once they're in the pan. Stir the mince until it is entirely browned. Be sure to break up all the lumps so the meat cooks evenly.
  6. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Break up the tomatoes lightly with the spoon and stir through the meat.
  7. Add the tomato paste, a generous splash of wine and about half the stock, so that the meat is fully immersed.
  8. Add the bay leaves and cloves. If the other herbs are dried, add them now.
  9. Stir once more, turn the heat down so the pot is lightly boiling/simmering.
  10. Stir every five-ten minutes, adding stock and then hot water if the sugo looks dry - alternitavely check the heat is not too high.
  11. After the ingredients have mixed a little and has started to turn a dark reddish-brown, add the fresh herbs, pepper and a little salt.
  12. Leave the sugo to boil down for up to six hours, or at least two. Add water and stir occasionally. Never leave the sugo completely unattended.
  13. After two hours (or longer) taste the sugo. It should be slightly oily and rich in savoury flavour. There may be pools of rust-brown oil floating on top - just stir back into the sugo.
  14. These quantities should serve approximately ten people, although the sugo keeps well in the refigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for approximately three months. Freeze it in small portions, and defrost on the stove or in the microwave, adding a little water as it will be very thick.

To serve:

Remove the bay leaves and cloves from the sugo.

Cook pasta (spaghetti, penne lisce, or shells are good, about 500g dry feeds six) or gnocchi while the sugo is on the stove or heating. Drain the pasta when ready, and serve directly onto pasta bowls with about two tablespoons of sugo per dish, or place pasta back in pot and pour sugo onto it, or serve to your guests in a large platter on the table. Accompany with finely grated fresh Parmigiano cheese, fresh bread, and a good merlot, perhaps from the Friuli region or from near Bologna itself, (or perhaps a Scarpantoni from South Australia, highly recommended)!

Buon Appetito!

This is really an adaptation of a pomodoro sauce, since it uses basil instead of oregano, but I put it here because of the meat. If you want to mess with the herbs and spices, be my guest. The core of this recipe comes from one I learned at Trattoria Ecco Italia, an Italian restaurant in Boston, where I cooked in 1991-92.

Makes about 4-6 servings, serve with the pasta of your choice (though I would select something like penne or farfalle.

Heat the oil over a medium heat. Mince the onions and toss them in, stirring until they begin to turn translucent. Toss in the minced garlic and stir frequently, until the garlic is just turning golden brown. (I find this method--adding the garlic second--works well to keep the garlic from burning. Garlic is much more delicate than onion.) Add tomatoes and cook over low-medium heat about 20 minutes. Cook the ground beef, then add to the sauce. Stir in the wine--but be sure to use a wine that you would drink, not the dregs that are left in that old bottle in your refrigerator. Make it something nice. Add seasonings, stir, and let cook (covered) on low heat for at least another 40 minutes.

You can eat it at this point, but if you have substituted your own chopped tomatoes for the crushed, canned ones, you will absolutely need to let it cook for at least another 3 hours to let everything break up properly. And in any event I would recommend at least three hours total cooking time with the crushed tomatoes.

I would not recommend a Merlot with this dish--a Barbera might do quite nicely. But as always, drink what you like. Enjoy!

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