Living in Emilia–Romagna, I sure love a good Ragù! I don’t love waiting all day for it though! And while not all modern conveniences work well with traditional recipes, thankfully the modern versions of the pressure cooker, and the Instant Pot specifically, are often a wonderful choice for a faster meal that still brings the flavor, texture and consistency of the original day-long process. Ragù alla Bolognese seemed like a perfect candidate for an Instant Pot time slash, so I took it on! (By the way, if you want nostalgia about old world cooking, check out Pollo del Contadino.)
Some chat and tips follow, but you can jump right to recipe if you choose!
First my admonition – many people think this newfangled electronic version of a pressure cooker is some kind of a “dump it and forget it” device, and while there are some recipes that could work with that, satisfying food still needs good prep and some cooking skills. This recipe is unlikely to take any less human preparation time. It’s the reduced cooking time that will make your jaw drop.
Ragù is a type of sauce, and there are ragù sauces from many regions. I think the traditional East Coast United States “red sauce” for example, is highly evocative of Ragu alla Napoletana. Ragù alla Bolognese is a thick, meaty sauce, well known in most of the English speaking world as the sauce for “Spaghetti Bolognese”, which you will probably never see in Italy! There is not a lot of liquid in this sauce. It is to sauce what stew is to soup! Do not expect a lot of liquid when you open your Instant Pot!
When I was a child, my Tennessee born mother always made pasta sauce that was thick with ground meat, only slightly saucy, and truly a meat lovers delight. As Americans we 1) had no idea that we were actually eating a very traditional Bolognese recipe and 2) not knowing any better, usually had it with spaghetti 😮 ! That’s the “Italian” meal of my childhood, and I still sometimes commit the sin of eating “Spaghetti Bolognese <shhhhh>. I do know now though that Italians frown on that, and will never post of a picture of such a thing on this blog – hehe! That hardly matters, as there are SO MANY wonderful, traditional uses for Ragù alla Bolognese:
- As a sauce for wider noodles, like tagliatelle, hollow noodles like penne, or shells. Even a very Bologna classic like Tortellini con Ragù alla Bolognese
- As a vital ingredient to Lasagne alla Bolognese
- As a filling for Bomba di Riso
- As a filling for cannelloni
- To eat off of a spoon (honestly, probably only the cook does this – but it’s pretty awesome stuff!!!)
Some tips before we start:
- This is not a basic Instant Pot how-to – please know the basics of sealing and releasing the seal for your Instant Pot before proceeding!
- A 6 quart Instant Pot needs about a cup of water to come to pressure properly (an 8 quart pot needs a bit more). This recipe should have enough liquid, but it is not a “soupy” sauce. As mentioned above, Bolognese is heavy on the meat! If you allow for a mostly natural release, your sauce should be an almost perfect consistency with just the liquid called for in this recipe. If you are impatient and want a quick release you might need to add slightly more liquid after opening the pot, as a lot of liquid escapes during a quick release.
- 4 pounds is a lot of ground meat. It helps to add the meat in about three stages to be able to adequately brown and break the meat apart.
- Your meat does not need to be cooked through – the pressure cooking phase will ensure that the meat is done, and oh so tender.
- When pressure cooking, you want to make sure the pot is adequately deglazed (i.e. all of the browned bits of meat are scraped up from the bottom of the pan). Otherwise the bottom of the pan can become too hot during the pressurization process, and you will receive a “burn notice” on your Instant Pot and need to clean the bottom of the pan and put everything back in to start again. Unless you are using a very lean cut of meat for the ground meats in this recipe (and honestly, a fattier ground meat mixture is more flavorful), you should have no problems. You should be able to see the shiny bottom of the pan as in the photo below. If you have a lot of bits to scrape up (keep them in the pan for the sauce of course!!!), you might want to pour the meat mixture into a bowl, deglaze with the wine and add the meat back in.
- This recipe calls for “double concentrated tomato paste”. If you are using traditional American canned tomato paste, for example, you should double the amount! If you are lucky enough to have triple concentrated in your pantry, use about 1/2.
- Also, when pressure cooking with tomatoes, to avoid that “burn” notice, it’s best to not stir the tomatoes into the other ingredients. This allows the tomatoes to cook “down” into the dish, and not heat up on the bottom of the pan. The recipe instructions below advise you to just pour the tomatoes on top of the meat mixture and do not stir.
- The truly traditional (dare I say secret) ingredient to Ragù alla Bolognese is milk. Most traditional recipes add the milk near the beginning. I find for this Instant Pot version, the milk gives the ragù a smoother consistency when added at the end. Make sure to warm it slightly to prevent curdling.
Let’s get down to business! Note – my Metric/US calculations are not exact, but are rounded for convenience in local measurements. This is not a recipe that will either benefit or suffer from slightly different ingredient amounts. In general, a tablespoon (cucchiaio) is about 15ml and a teaspoon about 5ml – but spoons on both sides of the ocean are typical measuring devices for such things, and do not require exact weights and measurements in this recipe.
Ingredients (Metric and US)
- 150g or 1/4 pound diced pancetta
- 100g or 1/4 cup each of diced onion, carrot and celery (soffritto)
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil (optional)
- 1800 g or 4 pounds mixed ground meat – in Italy I get beef, veal and pork, but veal is harder to come by in the US
- salt and pepper
- 250ml or 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 or two bay leaves
- 1 rosemary stalk and 1 thyme stalk, tied together with cooking string for easy removal (if you do not have fresh herbs, add about 1/2 tablespoon of each dried rosemary and dried thyme)
- 1 tablespoon double concentrated tomato paste
- 400g or 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 100 ml or 1/2 cup milk (do not add during the pressure cooking phase)
1. Place the stainless steel liner pot in the Instant Pot, plug in the pot and choose the Sauté (normal) setting. When the IP shows “hot”, brown and render the pancetta.
2. After browning the pancetta for about 5 minutes, check the oil level. The bottom of the pan should be coated and shiny. If not, add some oil, and then add the onion, carrot and celery and sauté the soffritto with the pancetta for another 5 minutes
3. Press Cancel on the Instant Pot, and then choose Sauté again, but change the temperature to “More”. Add the ground meat and brown, breaking it up with a wooden spoon so that the meat crumbles into small bits.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste. If necessary (see note about deglazing about), remove the meat from the pot to a bowl, and deglaze the bottom of the pot with the wine, taking care to rub up all of the browned bits of meat to prevent a “burn” notice during the remaining cook time.
5. Pour the beef back into the pot and add all remaining items in the order listed, except for the milk. Do not stir the tomatoes into the meat – just pour in on the top.
7. After the Instant Pot comes to pressure (this may take 10-20 minutes) and cooks for 20 minutes, allow a natural release for 15 minutes, and then carefully turn the pressure valve to release the remaining pressure.
8. Open the pot and remove the bay leaf and herbs. The liquid will continue to dissipate for a few minutes as air mixes in with the sauce.
And there you have it! Beautiful Ragù alla Bolognese to be used as a simple pasta sauce (with some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano of course), or as an ingredient for some of the other ideas above. One of my favorites is Bomba di Riso, and I’ll be cooking that in the next week or so, and will show you how to use this versatile sauce for that!!!