I have had a long love affair with Italian cooking. If you read My Paleo Story , you’ll know that I’ve been enamoured with Italian flavours and recipes since childhood. A bowl of penne pomodoro was the first dish I ever learned to cook by watching a chef on television. For a while after that, Italian food was all I ever cooked. I was convinced that the true test of any great chef was their bolognese sauce.

Ragu Bolognese is a flavourful meat sauce that originated in Bologna, Italy – as the name implies. If you ask anyone in Bologna who makes the best bolognese, the answer will undoubtedly be “my mother.” Or better yet, “my nonna” (grandma). The best bolognese I have ever eaten was at Locanda del Gallese, a tiny restaurant in an even tinier town called Biassa, just outside of Cinque Terre in the north west of Italy. My girlfriend and I stayed in Biassa while we were backpacking through western Europe in 2008. We wanted to hike the Cinque Terre coast and Biassa offered  cheaper accommodations at Ostello Tramonti. As an aside, Biassa in general is a beautiful sleepy town that I highly recommend if you are looking for a more romantic destination that is off of the beaten, tourist path. It’s nestled in the hillside and offers some breathtaking views.

Back to the food though, the dish we ate was unlike any ragu I had ever eaten. It bursted with earthy notes from the fresh thyme that was added to the sauce. It was a deep, rich, red colour. The meat melted in your mouth. The dish was a pure triumph. Heavenly! I have been trying to recreate it ever since. Sometimes I’ve come closer than others.

In Italy, recipes like bolognese are passed from generation to generation. What then, was a little boy from Toronto, raised by Russian immigrants with no idea of what bolognese even was, supposed to do when he wanted to learn the art of this classic Italian comfort food? Indeed, my babushka had also never even heard of bolognese the first time I made it for her and my grandpa.

Whole30 Ragu Bolognese Paleo Primal Gourmet Easy Meat Sauce Recipe

I learned the same way I learned just about everything to do with cooking – I watched TV. I looked to Mario Battali, Lidia Bastianich, Michael Chiarrelo, and even the American king of everything “Ultimate,” Tyler Florence. I’ve experimented with so many different ways of making Bolognese and have spent the better part of my life trying to perfect it.

Alas, it is nowhere near perfect! But it is really, really good. The recipe I show you here is a combination of years of trial-and-error, different influences, my personal travels, my Biassa memories, and a new found love of healthy food. It’s packed with tons of deep, rich, delicious flavours that are always a favourite in my house. It’s super easy, healthy and not overcomplicated. This is a rustic, simple dish that will win over anyone, health-conscious or not!

2018 Bolognese Edits

I’ve recently picked up a few tools and tricks and have been asked by many to share them in a revised blog post.

Firstly, I’ve started browning meat in ball form. This is something I heard on the Bon Apetit Food Cast, which is a favourite podcast of mine. In their Lasagna episode, the food editor describes the process of browning meat in the shape of meat balls. Not only does it allow you to brown more meat without overcrowding the pan, but it also makes the process much easier. Even though you will crumble the meat afterwards, it is still a more effective method since the meatballs allow for some empty space in the pan, which will avoid steaming the meat.

Secondly, I am now the owner of an Instant PotThis multicooker (electric pressure cooker) has truly changed the game. You can read my unbiased review here. Ragu Bolognese is just one of the things I like cooking in it. The tougher cuts used in most packaged ground meat requires quite a bit of time to break down and become tender. The Instant Pot really speeds this process along but it also allows for very little evaporation.

In the case of a tomato-based sauce, evaporation is typically a good thing since it allows for a reduction and the concentration of flavours. Think about a watery tomato sauce and tell me if it’s something you like. If you’re going to use the Instant Pot to make this recipe, I strongly encourage you to spend a few extra minutes and reduce the sauce after it is done cooking. You can do this by simply switching the machine back to Sauté mode and allowing the sauce to cook a little longer with the lid off. Just be sure to stir it constantly to avoid burning.

Give it a go and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Cheers,

R

 

Whole30 Bolognese
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Servings: 4
Ingredients
  • 2 lbs grass fed lean ground beef
  • 1 large carrot shredded
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 1.5 celery stalks diced
  • 1 head garlic smashed, left whole
  • 3 anchovy filets with some of the packing oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme sub dry thyme and/or oregano
  • 2 bay leaves dry or fresh
  • 1 small tin tomato paste organic
  • chicken stock enough to cover
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • crushed red chile flakes optional
Instructions
  1. Heat a large Dutch oven over high heat. Form meat into ball shapes and season all sides. Add 1 tbsp EVOO to pot and brown meat in batches (approx. 8-10 min total). Transfer browned meat to bowl. Set aside.
  2. Discard all but 3tbsp of rendered fat (or add EVOO to bring to a total of 3tbsp). Add celery, carrot and onion along with a pinch of salt. Cook the vegetables approximately 10-15 minutes over medium heat or until they have softened and the onions are slightly caramelized, but not burnt.
  3. Add garlic and achovies and cook for 30 seconds. Add tomato paste. Stir everything to coat. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the ground beef back into the pot and stir everything to coat.
  5. Add in the chicken stock - just enough to barely cover the top of the beef (approximately 400-500ml).
  6. Add fresh thyme (leaves and stems) and chile flakes (optional and to taste). Season with a pinch each of salt and pepper.
  7. Bring sauce to a simmer, lower the heat to low, cover the pot with a heavy lid and cook over low heat for at least 60 min, stirring occasionally.
  8. After 60 minutes, taste the Bolognese for seasoning. Adjust as required.
  9. Remove from heat and serve with zucchini noodles or paleo gnocchi.
For Instant Pot Version
  1. Set Instant Pot to sauté mode. Form meat into ball shapes and season all sides. Add 1 tbsp EVOO to pot and brown meat in batches (approx. 8-10 min total). Transfer browned meat to bowl. Set aside.
  2. Discard all but 3tbsp of rendered fat (or add EVOO to bring to a total of 3tbsp). Add celery, carrot and onion along with a pinch of salt. Cook vegetables approximately 10-15 minutes over medium heat or until they have softened and the onions are slightly caramelized, but not burnt.
  3. Add garlic and achovies and cook for 30 seconds. Add tomato paste. Stir everything to coat. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the ground beef back into the pot and stir everything to coat.
  5. Add in the chicken stock - just enough to barely cover the top of the beef (approximately 400-500ml).
  6. Add fresh thyme (leaves and stems) and chile flakes (optional and to taste). Season with a pinch each of salt and pepper.
  7. Bring sauce to a simmer, switch Instant Pot to manual mode, high pressure. Cover with lid, set to valve to sealing and cook 45min.
  8. After cooking time has elapsed, manually release pressure and taste Bolognese for seasoning. Adjust as required.
  9. Switch Instant Pot to sauté mode and cook the Bolognese 5-10 min with the lid off to concentrate flavours. Stir constantly until desired consistency is reached.
  10. Serve with zucchini noodles or paleo gnocchi.