When I was growing up, we referred to my grandmother’s meat ragu as “Bolognese”. Tomatoey, umami to the nth degree, and thick with chunks of meat and mushrooms—it was as delicious as it was far from an actual Bolognese sauce, the famed meat ragu of Bologna. That sauce is an impossibly balanced and nuanced combination of meats and aromatic spices—tomatoes exist as a supporting ingredient, if the cook puts them in at all.
But in keeping with the likes of my family, our ragu was all about the tomatoes. And when my grandmother and I cooked it together for the first time, I was gobsmacked by its simplicity. “Don’t you have to…aren’t you supposed to…” I trailed my grandmother around the kitchen, my mind blown at all the rules being broken. This was a truly throw-everything-in-the-pot kind of sauce—but it results in just the most wonderful and comforting thing. Served over her homemade tagliatelle or in lasagne on a Sunday afternoon, it put any thoughts of our distance from Bologna far, far out of mind.
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 carrot, cut into 3 or 4 chunks
1 rib celery, cut into 3 or 4 chunks
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, meat removed from casings
6 ounces prosciutto, chopped finely
Half a bottle (give or take) of dry white wine
Two 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes in juice (preferably, use 1 jar of home-canned puree and 1 jar of home-canned chunky sauce… but I won’t be a stickler here)
One 6-ounce can tomato paste
Soak the porcini mushrooms in some hot water, and set aside. In a food processor, pulse the onion, carrot, and celery until it is reduced to a chunky pulp. Saute this mixture in the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the meats. Cook until the meats are browned, stirring and breaking everything up with the side of a wooden spoon, then add enough wine to almost cover the meat. Simmer about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, using a potato masher to smash them to pieces in the pot, then add the tomato paste. Strain the mushrooms and rinse them well, then squeeze as much water out of them as possible. Chop the mushrooms and add them to the sauce. Simmer the sauce on very low heat, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the fat separates and floats to the top, about 45 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve over egg noodles cooked to al dente, or in lasagna, with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.