Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bolognese Sauce

Bolognese sauce is known to Italians as Ragù alla Bolognese, to the French as Sauce Bolognaise and to Jim as Meat Sauce. Jim isn't far off, this is a meat-based sauce for pasta originating in Bologna, Italy. Sometimes Bolognese sauce is thought of as a tomato sauce, but actually the authentic recipes have only a small amount of tomato concentrate.

I first became interested in Bolognese after watching Tyler Florence make Tagliatelle Bolognese on his show Tyler's Ultimate. The addition of milk to this meat sauce was so intriguing to me, I just had to make this myself. I loosely followed Tyler's recipe, and edited here and there along the way.

My ingredient list (pictured above):
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil  (the LARGE jug in the background)
1/4 pound bacon
1 medium onion
3 celery stalks
3 carrots
5 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 cup milk  (I used 2%)
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, hand-crushed
2 cups dry red wine (more about the wine later)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

I recommend serving with:
1 pound dry tagiatelle, pappardelle, or other ribbon pasta
1 handful fresh basil, hand-torn, for garnish
1 T ricotta or freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

When I open a bottle of wine my first instinct is to check out the cork. This isn't a snobby thing to do, you can actually tell a lot about the wine you are about to enjoy by inspecting the cork. I don't believe sniffing a cork will tell you anything, it's most likely going to smell like cork. I always check to see if wine runs the length of the cork, that could mean that wine has seeped out, allowing oxygen in, which would change the taste of the bottle.

This particular cork had some wine crystals form on the bottom of the cork. Having this sediment in the bottle neck and attached to the underside of the cork indicates the bottle was most likely stored on its side for a long period. This type of storage is recommended, as it lets the sedament form on one side of the bottle and also keeps the cork moist, helping it form a better seal. If you have a cork with lots of gunk at the bottle neck and on the cork, you may want to decant the bottle and also use a strainer to keep the sedament from getting into your glass. 

The technical term for "wine crystals"  is tartaric acid crystals. This isn't a bad thing, it's natural in many, many red wines and also found in white wines.

And I've said it before, I will say it again...I strongly suggest cooking with wine you would also drink, please don't buy the cooking wine. {I realize I sound like a broken record.}

I've covered the wine stuff, and I've also poured myself a glass while I prep veggies. {happy girl}

The onion, carrots, celery, garlic and bacon are all going in my food processor so I need only to give these a rough chop.

Pulse until everything is very finely chopped. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides halfway through, and then pulse again.

Grab your large heavy-bottomed saucepan, I used my dutch oven, and heat 2 T of olive oil over medium heat. Add the veggie puree and allow this to caramelize for about 8-10 minutes, stirring every now and then.  Do I need to tell you how this smells?

Next, I added two bay leaves and 1/2 teaspoon each of the dried herbs. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring, until the vegetables are very tender but not browned.

Because of their more intense concentrated flavor, dried herbs can be substituted for fresh herbs at a 1:3 ratio. While dried herbs are convenient and can be great for longer cooking times, they don't have the same purity of flavor as fresh herbs. In this instance, I didn't want to make a special trip the grocery store when I had the dried herbs in my pantry.

The MEAT! Raise the heat a bit and then add a pound of ground beef and a pound of ground pork. Some recipes use ground veal in place of the beef, but the additional pound of pork is important because you want/need the flavorful fat from the pork.

Using a wooden spoon, break up the meat and mix with the veggies until no longer pink.

Next, add one cup of milk. Yes, this is an odd addition, but the milk will actually help break down the meat resulting in a smoother sauce.

Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid is evaporated.

Hopefully by now you still have two cups of wine left in the bottle!?! Add the wine to the meat.

Next add the crushed tomatoes. {I have to admit...} I rolled my eyes a little when I read that you are to buy whole peeled tomatoes and then crush them by hand. They sell crushed tomatoes...not sure why some recipes call for crushing by hand. Is the flavor different? Is it the texture? Well, it just so happened that I had Red Gold Whole Peeled Tomatoes in my pantry so I actually rolled up my sleeves and crushed them by hand. ...It did sort of feel cool...

Stir everything together and add salt and pepper to taste, I added a teaspoon of each. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low, add a cover and cook for 2 hours, stirring every now and then. According to Marcella Hazan in "The Classic Italian Cookbook", the longer Ragù alla Bolognese cooks the better; a 5 or 6 hour simmer is not unusual. So give this Bolognese as much time as you have!

The liquid will reduce and the sauce will thicken, leaving you with a very rich and flavorful "meat sauce." A sauce like this is probably always going to taste better the next day, so if you have the time I would reccomend cooking the day before. Let the sauce cool then cover and place in the fridge overnight. The next day you can easily skim any fat that has risen to the top and reheat over on the stove or in the oven.

I found this tidbit very interesting: The people of Bologna traditionally serve their famous ragù with freshly made tagliatelle (tagliatelle alla bolognese). The Accademia Italiana della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cuisine), witnessed the authentic recipe for Bolognese Ragù being registered with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce on 17 October 1982 in the Palazzo della Mercanzia. The recipe below is reproduced from the Classic Bolognese Ragù according to the Accademia Italiana della Cucina:
300 g beef cartella (thin beef skirt)
150 g pancetta, dried
50 g carrot
50 g celery stalk
50 g onion
5 spoons tomato sauce or 20 g triple tomato puree
1 cup (250 mL) whole milk
Half cup of still, dry white or dry red wine
Salt and pepper, to taste.

Cut the pancetta into little cubes with a mezzaluna and melt in a saucepan. Finely chop the soffritto of vegetables with the mezzaluna and leave to stew until soft. Next, add the ground beef and leave to gently come up to simmering point, stirring constantly until it splutters. Add the wine and tomato puree (cut with a little broth) and leave to simmer for around two hours. Add the milk little by little. Season with salt and pepper according to taste.

A recommended option is to add a 'a panna di cottura di un litro di latte intero' near the end of the cooking. This is whole milk reduced in a saucepan to at least half its volume.

Note that the above classical recipe includes neither garlic nor herbs.
However you choose to make your Bolognese, be sure to allow a lot of time and give lots of love. Your friends and family will surely taste the love when you serve this over pasta. Want to try your hand at homemade pasta? Read about my trial run here.

1 comment:

  1. The recipe looks good and authentic. I used to be a Marcella groupie back in the 70s after her first classes in New York. Then I developed gastritis from the dairy products, and went vegan. Now I use her methods with about 1/10 the fat content, including ground free-range pre-seasoned and roasted chicken, hemp milk, and bitter orange juice, and organic chicken broth. The method of blending a pestata with a liquid is truly what accounts for the incredible savory blend of ingredients—not all the fatty meats and butter as one might think—and combined with the time-honored technique of very, very slow cooking you come up with something that, although not the same, has the same texture and is equally pleasing to the taste. As she said many times, there were not as many names for dishes until restaurants became so popular; one shopped for fresh ingredients and improvised on a day to day basis, the methods alone being the true secret of great Italian cooking—that is the true nature in Italian artistry all of its panoply of talents— improvisation—whether a coloratura soprano at the opera, a chef in a great Bolognese restaurant, or a nonna in the kitchen.


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