Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bolognese Pasta Sauce

Perhaps the most common pasta sauce in Italian-American kitchens, this ragu-style sauce is a meat-lovers delight.

Julian's Fettuccine Bolognese
I discussed the types of ragu previously and gave you my recipe for a fresh saute style pasta sauce, but today I wanted to share the classic Bolognese style ragu. This is not my Italian mother's recipe. She made something similar but just said it was pasta sauce with 'the meat run through'. For years I didn't have a name for her sauce, but it was similar if less complex than my current recipe. She really just browned ground beef then added her usual tomato sauce ingredients.So her sauce was a less ground meat and more tomato sauce. I suppose it stretched further that way.

Today however I wanted to share a recipe I got from a friend who recommended I give it a try. It was originally from Marcella Hazan who is credited with bringing classic Italian cooking recipes to America through her line of cookbooks. I'm sure I've modified it some over the years and I don't have a written copy of the original. So this may vary slightly from her work, but it is very good and highly recommended. While it ideally should take about 3 hours to prepare and simmer, you can do the entire sauce in an hour if you are in a rush. It will still be delightful. For a great read on Bolognese by a former restaurant cook who prepared it daily, check out the Food Lab Blog entry.

I prefer a thick meat sauce consistency that has some tomato sauce remaining with the meat as shown above. Others prefer a dry mostly meat sauce (will be darker in color than above) with the remaining fat only to lubricate the noodles. This is how the original recipe was made. This is a personal preference and the recipe can be adjusted either way as noted below. I've had it quite good both ways. I like this best with either a wider fettuccine noodle or even a thick spaghetti noodle. These somewhat heftier noodles adhere better to the thick meat sauce.

A good Bolognese ragu should cook slowly for a long-time. This can be done on the stove stop at a slow simmer, which is how I usually do it. But others prefer placing it in the oven. However you do it, the longer it cooks the better it is. Ideally make this in the morning and let it cook all day. Then, let it cool and refrigerate over night. Remove any large amount of fat that has solidified, but do leave a little for flavor. Warm the day of use and serve. It will be at it maximum flavor if you can make it at least a day in advance.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 small onion
1 stalk celery
1 large carrot
2 large garlic cloves
1 pound ground meat*
     beef or add pork veal combination
1 cup pureed chicken livers (optional)
Large pinch salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 cup milk, cream or half and half
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1 cup dry white wine or sherry
1 or 2 cans (14.5 ounce each) crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried crushed basil
1 teaspoon dried crushed oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed parsley
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 pound pasta, larger noodles preferred
 Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

*Using all ground beef is fine, but try to select 80-85% lean. Some extra fat adds flavor. If using pork and veal, I prefer 1/2 ground beef and 1/4 of both ground veal and pork. You may think the chicken liver is odd, but trust me they will melt into the sauce improving both flavor and texture and will never be noticed.

Veggies:  In a food processor preferably, process the onion, carrot and celery together until finely chopped (not purred but not with any large chunks remaining.)  Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot and heat over medium-high flame or equivalent. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Cook stirring occasionally to until tender about 5-7 minutes. Crush or mince the garlic and stir in to combine.

Meat: Add ground meat. Break up the the meat with your spoon and stir well and cook until the meat is cooked through. Then add the salt and 5-6 grinds of black pepper and the pureed chicken livers.

Liquids: Add milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has nearly evaporated. Add 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and stir. Add the wine. Let it simmer until it has nearly evaporated, then add the tomatoes and their liquid. (Note: You can reduce to using only one can of tomatoes if you want a really meaty and not much tomato flavor in the sauce.) Add some additional water (perhaps 4-6 ounces) to get to your preferred consistency. You can always add more water later if the sauce seems too thick.

When the tomatoes begin to boil lightly (simmer), turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks but barely bubbles at all. Add the sugar to reduce acidity. Cook uncovered for at least 3 hours or more, stirring periodically. While the sauce is cooking, add water if it begins to dry out and stick to the pan. I prefer a sauce consistency that has some tomato sauce remaining. Others prefer a dry mostly meat sauce with fat to lubricate the noodles. Cook to your preferred consistency and use the lid to control evaporation. Taste periodically and add more salt, pepper or herbs as you prefer. If you can make this 24 hours in advance, do so and refrigerate over night. Warm just prior to serving.

Bring the salted pasta water to a boil per the package direction and cook the pasta as noted. Drain and toss the pasta with half of the meat sauce. Serve in bowls with the remaining meat sauce spooned on top. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan. Excellent with a nice piece of buttered Italian bread to mop up the remaining sauce and meat.

Adding freshly grated cheese.

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