Many cooks know Bolognese sauce originated from Bologna, Italy (not surprising, huh?). What they may not know is traditional sauce very rarely includes tomatoes and only rarely scant amounts of heavy cream and milk. Also, most traditional meat sauces in Italy always use small amounts of pancetta (unlike American bacon, it is unsmoked and gives the sauce a deep, rich meaty taste in very small amounts) and we are impatient in America – if it’s not on the table in one hour or less, we don’t eat it.
Marcella Hazan, a master of Italian cuisine in America, will not serve a Bolognese sauce which hasn’t simmered at a bare bubble less than 3 hours…in her Essentials of Italian Cookbook, she recommends cooking Bolognese no less than 6 hours (and up to 9). I love Mrs. Hazan, but NINE HOURS? Sure, it’s spectacular, but I live in NYC and I cannot stay home all day and stir every hour. Well, I can, (and I would, Freaky Bitch in the kitchen), but I have better uses for my time, just as you do.
So how do we make a Bolognese sauce which is rich and creamy and as tasty as the 9 hour sauces without committing an entire workday and some backbreaking effort in the process? We use more vegetables, we use tomato paste and crushed tomatoes with puree added...all of this results in a thick, rich sauce which tastes great when served but amazing later.
This is a sauce best made on a Friday night and then served Sunday night with thick ribbons of tagliatelle pasta (fettuccine if you must), freshly grated Parmesan, fresh mescalin greens and baked croutons, torn pieces of bread and roasted broccoli with garlic and pepper.
Come…let me show you how to make one of the great comfort meals of all time…
Serves 8 (note: we know overeating is an epidemic in this country; why do you think so many are obese? Most cooks would say this is a recipe for 4, but I say it’s for 8…make it for 8 and you won’t get fat eating it but can supplement with a nice garden salad and tossed broccoli…4 servings indeed).
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 very large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 jumbo carrots, finely chopped
- 2 ounces Italian pancetta, thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 pounds ground chuck, 90% lean if you can (85% is fine, but not less)*
- Salt and pepper
- ¼ cup no-salt tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine, preferably Merlot
- 1 large 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes with thick puree
- 1 cup 1% skim milk
* There are lots of different preferences for the meal used in Bolognese. I find the pure, even texture of all chuck works the best in the end, but by all means, substitute one pound of chuck for pork or veal if you’d like.
One of the tricks for true, old-fashioned Bolognese is cooking the meat with scant amount of vegetables and then adding the wine and the cream and/or milk in 20 minute increments until the meat absorbs the liquids, resulting in meat which is ridiculously tender THEN cooking it in in tomato sauce. Problem is, such a sauce takes forever. It’s great, sure, but do you have 9 hours to spare?
In this version, we speed up the process by adding tomato paste and the milk towards the end. This version does thicken as it cooks, but it will not be super-duper thick when you first serve it…it does thicken in the fridge (and will last up to 5 days refrigerated; 2 months frozen).
Here is what you do:
Chop all of the vegetables and pancetta first. It’s very important you dice them all very small. Why? Because they cook faster if you do, have an even consistency in a sauce and distribute the taste evenly, which is essential.
See how pretty they look with the amazing carrots?
Once you have all of the vegetables chopped and ready, heat the butter and the oil over medium heat in a thick-bottomed Dutch oven until the butter stops foaming (this tells you the butter is at the perfect temperature to cook the veggies), then add the veggies and pancetta for a scant 2-4 minutes until they soften but do not brown.
Now add the meat.
Cook for 5-7 minutes until the pink is gone. Keep stirring and breaking up the meat with the tip of a wooden spoon. The key to a good Bolognese is tiny pieces of meat to grind, grind, grind! Once the meat has lots its raw, pink color, pour in the wine – now, be patient. Let it cook at a solid yet lazy simmer for 15 minutes until the meat has sucked up a lot of the fluid. Very important. Don’t rush this.
I usually prep my salad and veggies during this time. I wash baby greens and tear off pieces of a baguette and bake them for 20 minutes in a 350 oven to make croutons (Pam spray, a bit of pepper and garlic powder); then I diced up 2 pounds of broccoli, toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, pepper and bake at 475 for 20 minutes…
After 45 minutes, you will see liquid from the canned tomatoes is still there; this is unavoidable unless you want to wait another hour. No, thanks.
Add the milk, stir, bring it back to a vibrant yet chill simmer. What do you do now? Taste, taste, taste! Add a bit of salt (watch the salt!) and pepper…keep simmering…
This is your mantra at this stage (and with all cooking): TASTE, TASTE, TASTE!
As it finishes, heat up water for the pasta and shred your Parmesan. After 15-30 minutes, taste, taste, taste and you are ready to eat!
This is a great sauce, pretty fast for Bolognese and BRILLIANT the next day or the day after.
Here is the finished meal:
Your Food Therapist!