When we Americans think of Italian sauce we usually envision the tomato-based red gravy of Sicily whence most Italian-Americans emigrated. Farther north on the peninsula the sauces are more likely to contain cream and cheese, a style we more often associate with France. Bologna, in north central Italy, is known for its meat sauce in which tomato is an accent rather than a main ingredient and paired with a bit of dairy. Sadly, in the US ragu alla Bolognese is more often than not simply a southern-style marinara with some ground meat thrown in. The real thing is far more subtle and interesting. Traditionally the ragu is made with veal, pork, cream, and tomato. I hope I may be forgiven my alterations.
1 stalk celery
2 or 3 cloves garlic
1 medium tomato, peeled and seeded if you wish
Generous sprigs of basil, thyme, and parsley
500 g (1 lb.) ground beef
375 g (12 oz.) ground pork
Olive oil, as needed
100 ml (4 oz.) dry red wine
100 ml milk
Water, as needed
Salt and pepper, to taste
Using a food processor or by hand, chop the vegetables rather finely. Separately, puree the tomato. Mince the herbs.
In a suitable heavy-bottom pot, brown the meat. Set aside.
If needed, add a bit of olive oil to the pan and sweat the vegetables until soft by not browned. Add the tomato, the herbs, the wine, and the milk. Stir in the meat and add just enough water to barely cover it. Simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.
Uncover the pot, raise the heat a bit, and let the sauce thicken, perhaps 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Prepare the pasta then dump it into the sauce, tossing to coat. Serve with a topping of your favorite grated Italian cheese.
Note: The sauce can be made ahead and reheated in a frying pan into which you toss the pasta. To make single servings, just put some sauce into a bowl, add the pasta, and toss.