“Bolognese sauce, known in Italian as ragù alla bolognese, is a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy.” –wikipedia.org
Ah, Bolognese – aka meat sauce, aka my man’s favorite meal. When we first moved in together, we went on a mission to make THE BEST BOLOGNESE EVER. I’m happy to say that I think we’ve got it now, although I might be biased since I’m the one who makes the sauce… In any case, I am extremely proud of this recipe because it is the one thing I can make without my face buried in a cookbook. Cooking this meal is second nature to me and because I don’t follow a recipe, it comes out a little different every single time I make it, which is just fantastic.
The history of this recipe goes back to that time in my life when I thought I might want to work with food for a living. The TV at our house was nearly always set on the Food Network (I suppose we both have a deep affinity for food) and more often than not, we’d see someone making a bolognese and try out the recipe. Each one was great – we were never disappointed, but we also felt that something was missing. I have a theory that most people go through this same experience – maybe not with a bolognese, but some other staple meal – where we feel the need to re-create or find a recipe that tastes just like our childhood. We started wondering what secret ingredients each of our mothers and grandmothers might be using in their sauces. Eventually, I asked my mom, who told me that she always puts a spoon of sugar in her bolognese, to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes.
So, after trying several different recipes found online and on TV, plus invaluable wisdom from my mother, I have a mash-up of a recipe that I am pleased to share here. My bolognese is largely inspired by Anne Burrell’s recipe that we watched her make on TV. I learned from her that patience really pays off, because the longer you brown the vegetables and meat, the tastier the sauce will be. We really loved her sauce but I’ve slowly made changes over the years and turned it into my own.
*Note: This is my big batch of the sauce. I freeze half of it to enjoy later (or usually before the end of the week if my boyfriend realizes where it is hidden in the freezer)! A weeknight meal this is not – it does take a couple hours to cook but is well worth the wait, and easy to have during the week if you freeze the leftovers.
2 to 4 onions
6 to 8 carrots
6 to 8 stalks of celery
2 to 4 cloves of garlic (use more or less to your taste)
0.9 kg (2 lbs) of extra lean ground beef
3/4 cup of red wine (or a very generous splash of red wine vinegar)
1 heaping tablespoon of tomato paste
2 cans of San Marzano Italian tomatoes
Aromatic herbs (Bay leaf, dried oregano, dried basil…whatever you have in the pantry! I just got a new shipment of Gustus Vitae and tried the Taste of Bordeaux spice blend this time; it paired really well with the oregano.)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of butter (only if you want to be a little fatty like us and like adding some extra depth and richness to the sauce!)
Your favorite pasta, cooked al dente (we always go for spaghetti or rigatoni)
- Wash the vegetables and chop them into large chunks. Throw everything into a food processor and pulse quickly until everything looks finely chopped – you don’t want a vegetable paste, but you don’t want huge chunks of veggies in your sauce either. (You can finely chop by hand if you don’t have a food processor, it will just take a bit longer to prep!)
- Pour a nice big glug of olive oil into a large saucepan over medium heat. By glug, I mean that the bottom of the pan should be well coated with oil – if you want to get really precise about it, I would say you want about 1/4 cup of oil.
- When the oil is hot, add the vegetables to the pan and stir to coat in the oil. Generously season with a large pinch of salt. Patience lesson #1: Let the vegetables cook for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Stir every few minutes, making sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan – especially in the last 5 minutes! The goal is to cook until everything is nicely browned, almost on the verge of burning but not quite.
- Add the ground beef to the pan, stirring to mix with the vegetables. Generously season with another large pinch of salt. Patience lesson #2: Let the meat cook for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, but more frequently in the last 5 to 10 minutes to avoid any burning. As with the veggies, you want to really brown the meat! If things get sticky, add a little more oil.
- Add the wine to de-glaze the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently, until all of the wine is absorbed and mixed in with the meat, about 5 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and stir to combine with the meat, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Open the cans of tomatoes and add to the pan. Break the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon, or use a pair of scissors to chop them up in the can before adding.
- This step is a bit weird, but seems to work. Add a little cold water to each of the empty cans of tomatoes, to rinse and catch all the remaining tomato juice in the water. Add the tomato-water to the pan and stir to combine.
- Season generously with another large pinch of salt, some pepper, the sugar, and whatever herbs or spices you love. I highly recommend at least 4 or 5 bay leaves, which you take out when the sauce is done. They’ve appeared in almost every bolognese recipe I’ve tried so I think they’re a must. I also add a small pinch of chili pepper flakes and a generous pinch of dried oregano. Today, I decided to go for something new and added the Taste of Bordeaux mix – it was great and really complimented the oregano nicely!
- Patience lesson #3: Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer…and then wait as long as you possibly can! The sauce should simmer for at least an hour, if not longer, so all the flavors can combine. Stir occasionally, and season as needed. (That’s just another way of saying that I sneak spoonfuls of the sauce and make comments like “Hmmm…this needs more pepper.”)
- Once the sauce has simmered for an hour, cook your favorite pasta in salted water, following the directions on the package. As mentioned, this sauce yields a really large amount, so cook as much pasta as needed for your table.
- While the pasta is cooking, add the butter to the sauce and stir to melt in.
- Once the pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pot. Add the sauce to the cooked pasta, and stir to coat. I suggest adding the sauce to the pasta to your own taste, and then keeping the rest for leftovers or freezing. (Some people are sauce crazy, others not so much…who I am to judge and dictate your sauce ratios?)
- Add some grated Parmesan cheese directly to the pasta and sauce, stir, and then serve. Extra Parmesan on the table is obviously recommended, for the cheese lovers in your life.
I’ve realized as I wrap this up that my last few posts have been completely centered on food and eating…which means that I really must love food. Perhaps a small pattern is emerging, but I’ll try to focus on something different the next time around. In the meantime, here’s the final outcome of my very own Pasta Bolognese: