You say tomato, we say leave it out.
You may be more familiar with pasta bolognese made with tomato. But there’s another ragù you need to know: ragù bianco. This traditional ragù bianco recipe, or white bolognese sauce recipe, builds flavor to an epic pasta result.
All About a White Ragù, or Ragù Bianco
The name pretty much tells you the essential distinction between traditional Bolognese sauce and the also-traditional, but perhaps less common, white Bolognese sauce: the absence of tomato.
Both red and white ragùs have the same essential building blocks. A soffritto — finely-diced or minced carrot, celery, onion — is cooked in a pan, followed by ground meat. The two are combined, along with with some variation of wine, herbs, and possibly broth and milk or cream, until the meat breaks down and the entire thing becomes a rich, crumbly sauce.
The common Bolognese ragù incorporates tomato, usually tomato paste or crushed tomato, into the sauce, and red or white wine may be used. A white Bolognese sauce skips the tomato entirely, and only uses white wine. (And then there’s Lady Gaga, who uses rosé. She can do whatever she wants; she’s Lady Gaga.)
What White Wine Is Best for Bolognese?
Dry wines are best for Bolognese sauce. So for a white ragù recipe, choose a dry white wine. The wine does not have to be expensive, but it should be decent. (The recipe only calls for a relatively small amount, so you can serve the rest.)
Some dry white wine options for your white Bolognese sauce include:
- Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Chenin Blanc
My preference, in keeping with the spirit of the Italian meal, is to go with the Pinot Grigio or Soave. Both can be paired with the Bolognese for dinner. The acidity will balance the richness of the sauce.
Why You Should Put Milk in Your Ragù Bianco (White Bolognese Sauce)
Like virtually all other Italian ragù recipes, this white ragù recipe adds whole milk. Milk adds a depth of flavor, and contributes to a silky texture of the finished pasta. Some recipes call for cream at the end instead of milk, but the concept is the same.
White Bolognese Sauce: Recipe Ingredients and Steps
The ingredients for this white ragù follow the same general list as a tomato-based Bolognese sauce, but without the tomato. You will need:
- Pasta (of course)
- Meatloaf mix (a blend of beef, pork, and veal)
- Onion, carrot and celery for the soffritto
- White wine
- Herbs and spices
- Chicken broth
To make your white pasta Bolognese:
- In a large skillet, cook the pancetta. Add the soffritto and cook until translucent and softened.
- Remove from the pan. Increase the heat. Add the meat and cook it, breaking it up a lot, until browned. Next, add the wine and let it cook off.
- Spoon the soffritto back in, along with the garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, broth and milk. Give it a good stir.
- Cook, partially covered, occasionally stirring and dosing the ragù with more broth and milk.
- Cook pasta to al dente. Combine until it all marries together in a silky, meaty bowl of epically good pasta. Add some grated, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.
What Pasta Types Are Best for a Ragù Bianco (White Bolognese) Sauce?
I am a true believer in matching the right pasta with the right sauce. This white bolognese sauce actually adapts well to multiple pasta shapes, from tubular rigatoni or penne to long pasta strands.
Avoid small pasta shapes like ditalini, orecchiette, or orzo. The crumbly texture of the ragù sauce will get completely muddled by the similarly small pasta shapes. And of course, whatever you do, only cook the pasta to al dente.
The best pasta shapes for a Bolognese or any meat ragù are substantial in size:
- Spaghetti (not thin)
Coco Chanel once said, “Before you go out, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” When it comes to making an authentic pasta Bolognese, take one thing out. In other words, leave the tomato in the pantry, and make this pasta with white ragù instead.
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Ragù Bianco (White Bolognese Sauce) Pasta
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 ounces pancetta, diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, rough chopped
- 1 stalk celery, rough chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and rough chopped
- 1 1/2 pounds beef/pork/veal blend (if you prefer no veal, use 1 lb. ground beef and 1/2 lb. ground pork)
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
- 2 dozen turns fresh-cracked black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock (added in stages)
- 1 cup whole milk (added in stages)
- 1 pound dried pasta, such as pappardelle, tagliatelle, or rigatoni (fusilli or spaghetti could also work)
- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to serve
- Place the chopped onion, celery, and carrot in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. This is your soffritto.PRO TIP: If you don't want to use the food processor, you can leave the vegetables whole and grate using the large grates of a box grater, or finely dice everything by hand.
- Heat a wide-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat renders, about 5 minutes. Add the soffritto. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened and the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes more. Spoon the soffrito and pancetta into a bowl and set aside.
- Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the ground beef mix to the skillet and cook, breaking up the meat as much as you can, until browned.PRO TIP: Use the higher heat and do not stir too often. You want the meat to brown a bit. This adds a necessary element of flavor.
- Stir in the white wine. When the white wine has evaporated, lower the heat back to medium low.
- Add the soffritto, garlic, sage, rosemary, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Add 1 cup of chicken stock and about 1/3 cup milk. Give it a good stir, and partially cover the nascent ragù.
- Simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. If it starts to look dry, dose it with some of the remaining chicken stock.
- Stir in an additional 1/3 cup milk and any remaining chicken stock. Simmer for an additional 30 or 40 minutes, adding a little more liquid as necessary to keep things looking creamy and thick, neither too dry and crumbly nor soupy.
- After the ragù has cooked for an hour or slightly more, it's time to start the pasta. Heat a large pot of well-salted water and cook the pasta until a couple minutes shy of al dente. Drain, reserving some pasta water.
- While the pasta cooks, add the final 1/3 cup milk to the ragu. Give it a final stir and taste for seasoning. I tend to add an additional 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
- Remove about 1/3 of the ragù bianco from the skillet and set aside. Add the drained pasta to the remaining ragù along with 1/4 cup (maybe a little more or less) reserved pasta water. Stir or toss the pasta with the white ragù for a minute or two until the entire thing marries together in perfect harmony and the pasta is perfectly cooked.
- Divide the pasta into bowls. Spoon a bit of the remaining white Bolognese on top of each bowl of pasta. Garnish generously with grated cheese and maybe a twist of pepper or two. Serve immediately.