Slow-Simmered, Meaty Goodness in Sauce Form: Bolognese
Don’t call this a regular meat sauce. Don’t insult the sauce. This is not just ground beef mixed with a jar of marinara (or ketchup…do people really use ketchup to make a tomato sauce?!). I’ve been keeping this one for a day when I could give the recipe the attention it deserves.
After digging myself out of the snow here in southern Minnesota due to ‘Blizzard 2010’, I’m now able to post one of my top choices for a crowd-pleasing dish. It’s pleasing to those of us that enjoy meat anyway. Just as dinner guest friendly as the paella I made months ago.
When I’m having dinner guests over, when I’m in the mood to make something special, when I’m feeling the chill of fall or winter or when I’m being super-efficient and want to make something that freezes well AND is earth-shatteringly good upon retrieval, I make Bolognese sauce. The day that I get to pull it out of the freezer is a day that deserves a happy dance by both Greg and me.
Originating from Bologna, Italy (called ragù), having very little actual tomato and more flavor based on its vegetable and meatier ingredients, it’s a sauce that gets better over time with the amount of meat fat (equals flavor) over a simmering heat.
Classically this dish is made with olive oil, onion, carrot, celery (the soffritto that begins the entire delicious process), beef, pancetta (or another form of pork fat), tomato paste, wine, and a little cream served over a big bowl of pasta (thick ribbons of pappardelle or tagliatelle) or as the star in lasagna.
Bring it to the table with a good helping of grated Parmesan on the side and you might see tears of joy come to the eyes of your guests. This is after their experience with the amazing fragrance letting them know they are in for a treat. It is really THAT good.
Bolognese is not restricted to those ingredients: pork sausage, chicken, liver, veal, mushrooms and a dash of butter can make an appearance in the pot. My version contains a little more tomato because my inspiration came from a recipe by Joy the Baker. I trust her and know that my adapted recipe is a hit at our house every time. If only I made my own pasta…that is coming.
Serves 8 to 12
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, diced
4 celery ribs, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 oz. pancetta or bacon, thinly sliced or ground (pulse in food processor)
1 lb. ground veal or beef
1 lb. ground pork (not lean)
8 ounces tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
28 ounces crushed tomatoes
1 cup water
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
a few grinds of coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper (to your taste)
1/2 cup heavy cream
prepared pasta of choice (pappardelle, lasagna or tagliatelle)
grated Parmesan for serving
Heat the oil and butter in a large pot or Dutch oven with a lid over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic until softened, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the pancetta (or bacon), veal (or ground beef) and pork, breaking it apart as it cooks. Sprinkle or grind about a teaspoon of salt and pepper and stir.
When the meat is browned and cooked, add the tomato paste, mixing it in well until it coats the pot ingredients. Add the wine and deglaze the pot, scraping the bits from the bottom. Reduce the heat to low-medium and add the crushed tomato, water and thyme. Gently simmer the sauce, covered, until thickened and reduced, about an hour to an hour and a half. Stir occasionally and taste for salt and pepper additions then add the cream and continue simmering, up to 4 or 5 hours if you have the time, or serve over prepared pasta (or in lasagna) with a side of Parmesan. The sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator or will freeze and keep for a month.