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The Rustic Cuisine of Northern Italy will Have Your Mouth Watering

In the 19th century, cookbook author Pellegrino Artusi once called the fare in Italy’s northern region “rugged,” thanks to the earthy, farm-fresh ingredients and less refined preparation techniques. Apparently, he also found “rugged” to be delicious, as he included several of the local recipes in his famous La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangier Bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well). Among these was ragù alla Bolognese, hailing from the Bologna region and featuring a medley of finely ground beef, pork and veal and vegetables.

Since Artusi’s time, there have been several variations on this indisputable favorite sauce, rich and meaty and served tossed with fresh pasta, naturally. The dish has evolved to international acclaim, with versions from outside Italy focusing more on the tomato puree than in its home country. In Naples, the meat is cooked in larger chunks, rather than the finely shopped or ground meat from Bologna. Others argue on the base liquid of choice – wine, broth, milk?

For our featured version, we’re turning to our favorite professional, as Chef Jon Ashton shares his personal recipe here. You’ll notice that one pound each of all three ground meats are on your shopping list this week, as well as a host of fresh veggies, herbs, wine, cream and broth (yes, Chef Jon uses all three). Check the detailed recipe below and gather your ingredients for Sunday Cooking with Chef Jon Ashton, this Sunday, February 21. Join us at 3 p.m. ET on the Crystal Cruises Facebook page. We’ll see you in the kitchen!

Ragù alla Bolognese
By Chef Jon Ashton


2 cups (480 ml) chicken stock
4 teaspoons (10 ml) (1/2 oz) powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil 
2 tablespoons (30 ml) unsalted butter 
1 medium onion, very finely chopped 
4 stalks celery, very finely chopped 
4 carrots, very finely chopped 
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped 
1 pound (454 grams) ground veal 
1 pound (454 grams) ground pork 
1 pound (454 grams) ground beef 
1 (6-oz.) (156 ml) can tomato paste 
3 sprigs fresh thyme 
1 cup (240 ml) of dry white wine
1 cup (240 ml) marinara sauce
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk 
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream 
1 cup (20 grams) fresh basil leaves 
2 garlic cloves, pressed (optional)


Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300°F (150°C). 

Place chicken stock in a bowl. Sprinkle gelatin in to dissolve. Set aside. 

Heat olive oil and butter in a large Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, celery, carrots and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are translucent but not browned, 5-10 minutes. Add the meats. Increase the heat to high, and brown the meat stirring frequently for 15- 25 minutes, until the meat is browned.  

Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until rust-colored and fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.

Stir in wine and scrape bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen any food that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Add sprigs of fresh thyme, marinara sauce, milk and broth mixture and return to a simmer. 

Transfer uncovered pot to oven. Cook, stirring and scraping down the sides of pot occasionally, for 2 hours. Some ovens run hotter and this may cause the sauce to dry.  If so, add a splash of stock or water, if necessary to keep the sauce from drying out.

Remove from oven. Using a ladle, feel free to skim off all the fat that may have accumulated on the top. 

Add the heavy cream and basil and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I like to take two garlic cloves and press them through a garlic press or grate on a rasp grater (Microplane) and add them to sauce. I find it really bumps up the flavor. This step is optional.  

If you prefer your Bolognese a little more tomatoey, feel free to add another cup of your favorite marina sauce (I recommend Rao’s marinara sauce). 

Serve with pappardelle or tagliatelle pasta and top with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 8 to 10

Crystal’s Crystal@Home: A Virtual Cruise Experience program brings several elements of the renowned Crystal Experience directly to guests, wherever in the world they are. “Sunday Cooking with Chef Jon Ashton” represents the culinary excellence found aboard Crystal ships, as some of the greatest travel memories are created over the greatest meals.

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