“I’m not a chef, I’m Italian”- David Rocco

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ragu Bolognese and Eggplant Cutlets

Ciao! What better to serve for a nice relaxing Friday night dinner then Classic Bolognese sauce over al dente penne and fried eggplant cutlets? I can’t think of anything, can you?

Il Secondo (second course, main course)
I’m going to let you in on something that a lot of people don’t know about me.

I used to be a vegetarian. I was even a vegan for a while. I know, shocking. But then something changed, I’m not sure what. I just needed meat. Therefore, I now eat meat. Not all the time, but enough. So when I really want something nice and meaty, nothing satisfies the craving better then a classic Bolognese sauce.
Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce for pasta originating from Bologna, Italy. In Bologna, they simply refer to it as ragù. Outside of Italy, Bolognese sauce is pretty much tomato sauce with meat and really bears no resemblance to Ragù alla Bolognese.

Ragù alla Bolognese follows the origin of ragùs in Italian cuisine. The first known reference dates to the very late 18th century and originated in Imola, close to Bologna. The first recipe for a meat sauce characterized as being Bolognese came from Pellegrino Artusi and was in his cookbook published in 1891. His recipe, Maccheroni alla Bolognese, is thought to have originated from the middle 19th century when he spent considerable time in Bologna.

Artusi's sauce called for lean veal filet with pancetta, butter, onion, and carrot. The meats and vegetables were finely minced, cooked with butter, then covered and cooked with broth. He further added that when the sauce was completely done you could add cream to make an even more decadent dish.

In the century-plus since Artusi recorded published his recipe for Maccheroni alla Bolognese, what is now ragù alla Bolognese has evolved with the cuisine of the region. Most notable is the preferred choice of pasta, which today is widely recognized as fresh tagliatelle . Another evolution of the cuisine over the past 150 years is the addition of tomato, either as a puree or as a concentrated paste. Both wine and milk make appearances in the list of ingredients and beef has mostly replaced veal as the dominant meat.

There are many variations and recipes among Italian chefs, as well as American ones. Some think the recipe registered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina in 1982 is the most authentic. Everyone will have their own take on it.  

This is mine. Please enjoy.

Ragu Bolognese
4 cloves garlic
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ pound of ground beef, at room temperature
6 Italian sausage links, casing removed
½ pound of chicken
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups meat broth, preferably homemade
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups concentrated tomato puree

Put garlic, celery, onions and carrots in a food processor and process until very finely chopped. Add oil and butter to a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Let melt. Add the finely chopped vegetables, sprinkle with half of the salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook until softened and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Add the ground beef and sausage, breaking apart as much as possible. Sprinkle with the remaining salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat looks fully cooked, about 30 minutes.  Add the white wine and allow the liquid to reduce by half. Add the broth. Add the chicken and allow to cook for an additional ½ hour. When the chicken is cooked, take it out and chop very finely. Put the chicken back in the pan. Add the cream and tomato puree. Bring to a simmer and then reduce. Let the ragu cook 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning. You can allow it to sit as long as you have time for so the flavor really develops. Serve over al dente penne or whatever pasta you like best!  

Il contorno (Side dishes)

I love some sort of eggplant side dish when I am having pasta with red sauce. For me, it is the perfect combination. Tomato and eggplant, you can’t go wrong. I prefer to slice my eggplant really thin, so its fries up nice and crisp, but you are of course welcome to slice it however you want. I like to make a little “sandwich” and use the eggplant as base and put some ragu on the top. You’re combining the crunchy eggplant and the dense, meaty sauce.  So, so good. 
Eggplant Cutlets

1 large purple eggplant
2 eggs
Italian parsley, finely chopped
½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
½ cup chickpea flour
Black pepper
1 cup of olive oil

Slice the eggplants into round slices, each about 1/2 -inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and then place them in a colander. Leave the eggplant for at least 1 hour. Don't rinse the eggplant, just shake off extra water.

When the eggplant is ready to be used, use a fork and lightly beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Spread the breadcrumbs, chickpea flour and parsley in a baking pan. Season the eggplant to taste with salt and pepper. Lightly put each eggplant slice in the egg mix and then in the breadcrumbs. In a deep pan, heat olive oil. When the oil is hot enough, lay several eggplant slices in a single layer in the pan. Fry the slices until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. When they are cooked, remove from the pan to a serving dish using a slotted spoon. Repeat the cooking process until all of your eggplant is cooked. Let cool and then serve!!
This is the perfect dinner to end a work week. You will feel relaxed and ready for the weekend. Put on some soothing Rossini and savor a glass of your favorite full bodied red wine. Buon Appetitio!

P.S. I have entered my Italian Sausage burger in a recipe contest that ends tomorrow. I am currently in third place. It would mean so, so much to me if you would please vote. Grazie mille! http://italian.betterrecipes.com/italian-sausage-burger-with-pesto-aioli.html


  1. Love the eggplant cutlets!! We used to have these all the time growing up!! Yummmm!

  2. Hi there-
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