Back to meat – Rialto Bolognese

Rialto Bolognese-181-14664

The good news is you get a great pasta sauce this week.  The bad news is you get the pasta part of the post next week.  We thought asking you to make both the sauce and the fresh pasta would be asking too much, so this week we’re doing Rialto Bolognese, enough sauce for three meals.  Next week we’ll be posting Fresh Tagliatelle.  You can wait until then to bring them together, or simply use a pound of your favorite fresh wide noodle pasta and jump the gun.  In fact, the great thing about a sauce like this is having it on hand, ready to go, for a meal when all you have to do make the pasta.

Bolognese is not a simmer-all-afternoon recipe, but it does cook for about 90 minutes.  Tomato sauces from other parts of Italy, especially farther south, emphasize flavoring a tomato base with a small portion of meat, sometimes for a long time.  Time is invested to pay for flavor.  Bolognese is exactly the opposite–what would be a flavoring in a sauce from a poorer environments becomes the main attraction.  It’s about meat, different kinds, brought together by tomato, wine and stock.  The addition of milk and, optionally, cream, further distances Bolognese from cucina povera.  The result is a sumptuous partner to wide flat pasta with plenty of surface area for the sauce to grip.  Tagliatelle is ideal, but fettucine is an acceptable alternative and linguini will do in a pinch.  Spag bol, whatever its other virtues, is not the way to serve Bolognese–spaghetti is too narrow.  Tubular pasta shapes that trap sauce, while not old school, also work.  Experienced Bolognesi might note that we use a bit more tomato than many recipes–we just don’t need quite as much culinary luxury as we once thought we did.

We matched a pound of fresh pasta with a third of our Bolognese (about three cups), which made for a generous amount of sauce without veering into philanthropy.  I’d advise you freeze the remaining sauce in two equal amounts in separate bags.  Be sure to let the noodles and Bolognese heat together for a minute so the pasta can absorb some of the sauce.  If everything seems too thick, a ladle of pasta water will thin things out nicely.

Back to the tomatoes.  And full disclosure.  A convoluted, Escher-like moral conundrum descends on our blog this week.  What do you do when a company pays you to endorse a product that you’re already using–and like?  All of the canned tomatoes you’ve seen or read about on this website for the last two years have been Muir Glen or, on rare occasion, certified San Marzano tomatoes from Italy.  The former are the canned tomatoes that give us the most flavor bang for the buck.  We chose them without any inducement and we paid for them, with our bucks.  If you had asked us what kind of tomatoes we use, I’d have told you, Muir Glen, for free.

BUT: If you’re reading this post some time after the original publication date, it’s possible you arrived here via a link on a Muir Glen advertisement.

For the record:  We used Muir Glen tomatoes in this recipe.  We’ve been using them a long time and we think they’re great.  Muir Glen paid Jody a fee to provide them with a recipe (this one) to use in an advertisement.  Jody’s fee is going to Partners in Health, a wonderful organization doing great work for people who never get to eat Bolognese.  My name is Ken Rivard and I approved this post.  Enjoy.  Ken

Farro Update: I found a package of Rustichella d’Abruzzo Farro (made from pearled emmer) in my local Whole Foods last week.  It was delicious–after a 25-minute soak, and then 20 minutes to cook.  Bob’s Red Mill has also started producing an emmer farro, although you’d never know that from the package, which just lists the ingredients as “wheat.”  Their website is more illuminating.  Furthermore the site describes the emmer as “lightly scratched,” which I’ll interpret as semi-pearled.  I got the B’sRM Farro online, along with a third Italian farro.  As soon as I get an opportunity to cook the last two I’ll report back.

Rialto Bolognese-184-14667


Makes about 2.5 quarts


  • 4 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces, pancetta cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 cups celery, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 cups leeks, cut into ¼-inch dice and rinsed to remove any sand
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾  pound ground veal
  • ¾ pound ground beef
  • ¾ pound ground pork
  • ½ cup finely chopped chicken liver
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1½ cups chicken stock
  • ¼ to ½ cup heavy cream, optional


  1. Put 3 cans of the tomatoes in a food processor and pulse to a coarse puree.  Reserve the remaining diced tomatoes.
  2. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the pancetta and cook until the fat begins to render.  Add the carrots, celery and leeks, cover and cook 5 minutes or until tender.  Remove the cover, add the garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook 2 minutes more.  Add the veal, pork and beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes.  Use a spoon, spatula or implement of your choice to break the ground meat into small even pieces.  I used a 5-blade pastry cutter to mash it up a bit.
  3. Turn the heat to low.  Add the liver and the milk and cook until the liquid reduces to the thickness of a light sauce.  Add the wine and and reduce again.  Add all the tomatoes and cook until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes and then add the stock and cook for 1 hour or so.  When done, the sauce should be thick, but not dry.  Add more chicken stock or water if needed.  Add the cream, if using, and cook 5 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Rialto Bolognese1-2-2

Rialto Bolognese-31-14514

Rialto Bolognese3-1-2

Rialto Bolognese3-2-2

Rialto Bolognese 2-3-2

Rialto Bolognese2-2-2

Rialto Bolognese-188-14671-Edit



Jody Notes:

There are as many ways to make Bolognese as there are to skin a cat.   Recipes are influenced by what is on hand.  Many Bolognese recipes call for livers, a way of adding richness and depth.  We used duck livers because all of us like them and because at Rialto we cook so many ducks in the course of a week that we’re always struggling to find a home for the livers in other dishes.  In consequence, our Bolognese is rich, filling and forever satisfying.

Food historians think that milk entered the equation because the lactic acid presumably softened the meat, which a century or two ago might have been a far cry from tender.  The tomatoes would have been a later addition.  I went back an forth about how much tomato to use – 3 or 4 cans.  A very traditional recipe would probably use 3, but I preferred 4.  You decide.  Feel free to skip the cream at the end, but sometimes it’s just the thing.

The beautiful perfectly diced vegetables are the handiwork of Rialto Sous Chef Peter McKenzie, who on hearing that I needed certain quantities of celery and carrots and leaks for a Bolognese, pulled out his chef’s knife and made my blogging life that much simpler.

48 thoughts

  1. Fabulous. I’ve eaten this in Italy, but never made it myself because of the liver component, (husband) which I feel is so important in this sauce. But after looking at these photos I might have to cook a pot of it and eat it all myself.

    • Hi Mimi–The funny thing is, you don’t taste the liver. It works the same way anchovies do in certain sauces, i.e. it adds a basenote depth of flavor w/out identifying themselves. If you do make the sauce, be sure to save some-I just finished shooting a post about making tagliatelle for next week. Ken

      • Well I can tell when it’s in the sauce. But then, I love liver. There is that depth of flavor, but I think you can taste liver before anchovies, although i know what you’re saying. I just think that liver is what makes bolognese stand out.

  2. I hate to use the ‘f’ word on such an esteemed site, but, can I freeze some of this? How long at most? Thanks folks. Best wishes for a Happy Thankksgiving.

  3. Already? I guess it’s Bolognese season–just as soon as we eat all the turkey leftovers. I always make vats of this to freeze–a slight variation on yours, but I love the idea of including chicken livers. I’ll be saving mine from the whole chickens we roast on a weekly basis. By the time I have enough, the leftovers will be gone! Thanks for this–nice photos! Now that you’ve endorsed it, I’m gonna look for farro at Whole Foods and save the trip to (and parking at) Formaggio.

  4. When I got to the sous chef, I remembered why I still need to practise knife skills. Ah well, imperfect bolognese here we come.

    (A friend once used tomato sauce – Heinz ketchup – because he ran out of tomatoes, not good, even by spag bol standard)

    • Peter’s a robot when it comes to slicing and dicing. We should all be so good. Heinz ketchup??!! You must have been students. I have memories of a few meals like that. The first time I tried roasting a turkey (in a dorm) I threw it in the oven until it turned deep golden brown. Took it out and found out that about an inch into the breast it was raw. Had no idea you need to thaw it first. Ha! Ken

  5. Wow guys, this is truly impressive. The recipe is delicious and the photos are mouthwatering. I like that you took the time to do it right! Veal, beef, pork and livers. It’s very much like my cozido, but totally different. This looks amazing.

  6. Three cheers for the liver! Also, meaning to mention – there is a brand of Farro from California? I believe that I used to get online – I think it was in one of the early Foodzie boxes. Bluebird Grain Farms and it had a nice chew.

      • Ah, missed that crucial part :) I’m a fan of cooking it in advance and using the f-word :) i usually portion out one cup or two of cooked grain in ziplock, and have it on hand for whenever I need it. Holds up better in the freezer than rice :)

      • So are we! I first picked up on the idea from Lorna Sass, in her WHOLE GRAINS book (worth the purchase price just for the pressure cooker and freezing info and various whole grains), filling our freezer with wheat berries and brown rice. Farro is ideal for this. Once I make my way through the quick-cooking samples I have I’ll give Bluebird Grains a try. Thanks. Ken

  7. Interesting what you say about spag bol, Ken. It makes sense the sauce needs something a bit bigger to get a purchase. Lovely photos. And always a bit of history, sociology, context and chat. Great post. Sophie

    • thank you, Sophie. In my experience Italians can be quite obsessive about matching sauces to pasta shapes, pasta shape to function (i.e. hold sauce, provide space for a stuffing, survive tossing, etc.), but also because of regional identity. You put a particular sauce with a particular shape because in a particular place it’s done that way. In Puglia I found people eating a thick tomato sauce, sometimes with eggplant, with cavatelli. I happen to love cavatelli. But the sauce might be something you see with a noodle pasta elsewhere–just not in Puglia. It’s great that people care about these things–all of us should that much! Ken

  8. On the rare occasions I make bolognese sauce (per Marcella), I add nutmeg, fresh ground, near the end. And I DO let it sit for a very long while at very low heat (sometimes in a 170F oven, on and off), just to REALLY get those flavors, enzymes and other happy sinews and protein chains, to hold hands and dance. Though largely a pescaterian of late (protein in fish, shellfish, the occasional chicken thigh), this WILL get made – and a quart frozen, before rolling into 2014. Thank you Ken and Jody and, no, your “deathless prose” gets plenty of eyeball action. People just shoot from the hip, based on their experiences and biases. Gotta go, crabcakes and Donna’s slaw is calling…

  9. The Bolognese, is a masterpiece of Italian cuisine and the favorite of children.
    Today we usually omit the use of milk and heavy cream, replacing them with the butter, to be used during the cooking of meat and the gravy or just a good beef stock, all to emphasize the flavor of the meat, some variants also use dried mushrooms. I agree that you do not feel the liver to the taste, but who does not like it, can do without it. I like the use of leeks instead the onion which can sometimes be indigestible, even the shallot is a great substitute.
    All variations of this sauce in Italy are commonly called “Ragù” and usually take the name of only one type of meat used in it, such as Wild Boar or Duck Ragù, but a real specialty of the province of Bologna, is the Sausage Ragù with Gramigna Pasta, here you will find the recipe in English: .
    However, any way you do is always fabulous, the tradition wants the use of fettuccine, but it is also very pleased with other types of pasta, preferably homemade.

    A Warm greeting

    I read that you use the Duck liver, because you have it in abundance and you need to recover it.
    A good way to recycle the liver, is the liver pâté to use on bruschetta called also Tuscan crostini.
    In Tuscany is used to do it with the veal spleen, the hare liver, hearts and livers of chicken, but I think with the Duck liver and Heart, instead the Hare and Chicken, even are fine, the use of hearts gives consistency to the pâté, Some recipes use a little of sausage, but I prefer the chicken (or Duck, in this case) livers and hearts, Because this is a recipe for recovering ingredients that would otherwise be thrown.

    • Thank you, Patrick, for a very informative comment. Very interesting about the decline of milk and cream and the rise of butter. I absolutely agree with you about the duck liver crostini. I responded to another commenter that Jody used to make a duck liver crostini to accompany the roast duck on the Rialto (my wife’s restaurant) menu, but too many customers found the combination of duck plus the crostini to be too rich to handle. My grandmother used to sauté rabbit hearts whenever a rabbit showed up in her kitchen, but I’m ashamed to admit that I never had the courage to taste them, to my eternal regret. Ken

    • I forgot to thank you for the recipe link–and also to mention that we almost made this recipe with some leftover ground venison. We decided it would be too difficult for most readers to get. Ciao. Ken

  10. Divine. Just reading this post is making me feel so hungry. I have never thought of adding milk before! I like the combination of veal, beef and pork and of course the addition of liver makes so much sense – all sounds delicious. Oh by the way I did chuckle when I saw your plates that you used for the post…. not too dissimilar to the one I used in my recent blog post. Really beautiful. Best Torie

    • Yard sale plates! (I couldn’t believe my luck–the woman must have thought I was crazy–I bought everything she owned). Bolognese is an interesting sauce. Look at the comment from Chef Pirata about how people are using more butter and less milk these days. Either way, it’s delicious, especially with homemade pasta. Ken

  11. Hahaha! We’re going to have to wait a whole week with delicious pasta sauce, but no pasta? The sauce looks amazing! I actually think there’s an exact science to making pasta sauce that has well-balanced flavors. Last time I tried making it, I decided to improvise and not follow a recipe. I’m going to give your recipe a try this time ;)

    • Well, only a few days at this point–it will be out on Friday morning. My advice would be to follow the recipe, at least the first time, then adjust subsequently if you want it to go in a different direction. We made a couple of different batches of pasta and had the Bolognese with homemade tagliatelle that we made last Friday, allowed to dry, then cooked on Sunday night. It was great–and still distinctly different in texture from commercial versions. You’re going to have fun. Have a great Thanksgiving. Eat pasta on Friday! Ken

  12. Jody and Ken – This looks similar to a three hour bolognese my husband and I made together long ago – when we were young. Before his busy career. I will absolutely try this. It has all of the basic flavors that make a great recipe – especially the garlic, white wine and herbs. I will have to send you the recipe that I have use these past years. It is from a small private school in Atlanta, in our old neigbhorhood. This dish lookds great – and I see that you don’t skip on exquisite cheese. Well done. Your first photo: I like where the lens focuses in on – and the plate really pops against the colors of the pasta. Enjoy your weekend. – Shanna

    • Thank you, Shana. Several people have commented on how they used to make a similar recipe, but let it simmer for several hours. Jody and I were talking a few nights ago about taking this recipe to a certain point, then transferring it to a slow cooker for a few hours just to see if we noted/liked the difference. Thanks for the kind words on the photography. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of blue plates (and a 24-70 lens). :-) Ken

      • Ken –
        Transferring it to a slow cooker is a very interesting idea! I love it! Alternatively, you could turn the heat all the way down, so it is barely bubbling, and just let the bolognese do it’s things, so to speak. Not that your recipe needs any work.
        I love to use blues when taking photos for my blog. Sounds like you have a nice lens there, too. Truly, though, a camera is only as good as its photographers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: