Bolognese is the most commonly envisioned meat sauce in the States. It is a rich and powerful ragu that is suited to thick noodles like tagliatelli and comes together with layers of flavor over the span of hours of cooking. I put a little extra time into my mis-en-place to more easily layer the flavors and control the consistency.
A cultural side-note – bolognese is not traditionally served with “spaghetti.” Spaghetti means a specific size of extruded tubular noodle and it does not hold on to the ending meaty sauce very well. Instead, a wider noodle like tagliatelli (the most traditional) or fettucine is used to hold on to the sauce and stand up to the most substantial plate of food. Fresh pasta is definitely the best here because it will absorbs sauce like no other better but if you don’t have that time or inclination, you can use dried fettucine with pretty good results.
For 6 servings
- 1 Medium white onion, grated
- 3 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 medium carrots, grated
- 1 medium Celery stalk, grated
- ½ lb Ground Beef
- ½ lb Ground Pork (Or lamb)
- ½ lb Ground Veal (Or Bison, or Sausage, or you get the idea)
- 1 cup Red Wine, preferably Italian. Pinot Noir works better than Cabernet Sauvignon
- 3 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
- Parsley, Chopped for garnish
- Pecorino Romano, Grated for garnish
- 3oz. Pancetta or unsmoked bacon (Optional)
- 1 Cup milk or cream (Optional)
- 3 Cups Stock, water, or crushed tomatoes (as needed)
1. Take a heavy bottom pot and heat olive oil over medium-high heat. If using the optional pancetta, add to the pot to render out the fat here.
2. Add the grated onion and garlic and give a quick stir with a little salt. Because they are grated, this won’t take very long.
3. Add the grated carrots and celery with a little salt. Stir coating the vegetables with the oil and letting them begin to cook and release some liquid.
4. About 4 minutes later, add the ground pork. Stir and break down the pork until fat has rendered and it is mostly browned.
5. Add the beef and repeat the above process.
6. Add the veal (or whatever) and repeat the process.
7. Add the tomato paste and stir.
8. Now you have a pleasant sludge of vegetables and meat cooking away and letting some of the juices go. Add the wine and stir, letting some of it boil off.
9. Reduce the heat to low
10. Simmer on low a good long time. The minimum cook time here is two hours, but four hours isn’t out of the question either.
11. Stir periodically, every 20 to 30 minutes.
12. Add stock as needed if the sauce is drying out too much, half a cup at a time, to be absorbed by the beautiful sludge. At home, we like it with a little more tomato flavor, so we will use crushed tomatoes here instead of stock or water sometimes. This is about keeping the meat and vegetable sludge moist and maybe even adding more flavor.
13. When it is almost ready, bring your pasta water to a boil to begin cooking the noodles.
14. Add the optional milk or cream and ladle out a cup or so the sauce to set aside.
15. When the pasta is just short of being cooked al dente, about 2 minutes less than the recommended box time if dried, or only about 2 minutes into cooking if fresh, pull it from the water and stir the pasta into the sauce still on low heat.
16. Plate and garnish with some of the sauce set aside in Step 14, chopped parsley, and grated pecorino romano.
Yes, this certainly takes some time between the preparation and then the hours of cooking but I think that the flavors are worth it and the experience of a bolognese is hard to match. I have some bolognese variations and experiments in the works so you will likely see another post in the next few weeks.