For Anna Maria Monari, chef-owner of Trattoria Anna Maria in Bologna, Italy, a true ragu embodies the culinary riches of the countryside.
“Maybe there is an official ragu of the city of Bologna, but the countryside is where ragu really comes from. Ragu is the food of the poor, of the people who raise the animals and harvest the crops. I grew up in the countryside outside Bologna, and my ragu is my mother’s, and her ragu was my grandmother’s. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the typical dish from the little villages outside the city, and I serve it with tagliatelle or lasagne that I make by hand. My ragu always includes lard from pork and pancetta, cut into little pieces, and always aromatics, cooked for a long time. I prefer not to use olive oil, because it’s too fragrant. Using wine is also no good—it makes everything too acidic. Cooks from closer to Mantua and Padua add wine. What my family has always added is milk because it’s the most magical of liquids. It brings all of the ingredients into harmony with one another, makes the flavors softer, and tempers the acidity of the tomatoes. I enjoy the process: making a ragu gives me immense joy. When I cook it, I think of the way people used to live; I think of the countryside. It’s a beautiful sensation.”