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Not just Tuscany: the art of ragù alla bolognese

Above: Chef Harvey’s Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, long, narrow housemade noodles dressed with a ragù alla bolognese, the classic meat sauce of Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy.

Ragù alla bolognese (rah-GOO AHL-lah BOH-lohn-YEH-zeh), Bolognese sauce, is a sort of acid test. It’s like someone once told me about Nashville, Tennessee: if you can’t play guitar better than the gas station attendant one mile outside of Nashville, don’t even bother going in. If you can’t make a great bolognese, you have no business presiding over an Italian kitchen. Bolognese sauce is a gold standard of Italian cuisine.

A great bolognese is all about balance: the savoriness of the stock, the fattiness of the meat, the gentle sauté of the soffritto, and the judicious use of tomato purée and just a touch of cream to give the sauce the delicate color of the bricks used to construct the Basilica of San Petronio at the center of the city (below).

With Bologna as its capital, the region of Emilia-Romagna is one of Europe’s ultimate dining destinations: this is the land of Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, Tortellini in Brodo, Passatelli, and Tagliatelle alla Bolognese — the centerpieces of any family Sunday luncheon. The Emilians are obsessive about their food and discussions there go on late into the night about who makes the best ragù and their secrets. How much wine to use? What blend of ground meats? What quantity of sausage? How long to simmer before adding wine? Food is so central to the Emilian experience that during lunch people will talk about what they had for dinner the night before and what they’re planning to cook for dinner that evening. If you can’t make a great ragù, don’t bother inviting me over…

Siena Ristorante Toscano took its inspiration from the cuisine of Tuscany but that doesn’t mean Chef Harvey doesn’t love the cuisine of other regions as well.

His ragù alla bolognese is one of the best I’ve tasted in this country.

—Jeremy Parzen (author of Do Bianchi)

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