Yes, it takes all day: Bolognese Sauce

This is a recipe for what I’d consider the cornerstone of a lot of northern Italian cooking.  If Emilia-Romagna’s wheat fields make it Italy’s pasta bowl, Bologna (and it’s epedemous sauce) is the crown jewel.  Totally worth a food pilgrimage.  Yes, this is also the state where you can go to Parma. Yes, that Parma.

Admittedly, this recipe presume’s you don’t have a day job (some short cuts are marginally acceptable), but I make it big, portion it out and freeze the rest.  It is a hearty, versatile, and layered with flavor.

The summer is a great time to make this because tomatos are cheap and abundant and fresh herbs abound.  Maybe on your deck.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Base:

12-15 Roma RIPE Tomatoes (really, any will do)

Herbs:

Fresh basil – 6-12 big leaves
Fresh Rosemary – 4-5 stalks
Garlic, oh and some more garlic.
1 bay leaf

Meat:

2 lbs ground beef
2 lbs ground lamb*

Veggies:

2 large onions
3 large carrots
3 large RIPE red peppers
4 stalks garlic
Garlic

Other stuff:

1 small can tomato paste

Worcestershire sauce
Salt
Sugar
Olive Oil

DIRTY Red wine**

The hardware:
Large stock pot or crock pot, large frying pan, small pot, food processor/blender, large bowl, prep stuff

A few notes:

Make sure you salt as you go.  Each layer should be gently salted as you go – do not wait to salt until the end.
*This not a low calorie recipe. Do not substitue the meat with anything that has wings.  Chickens are gross and flavorless (unless you stuff them with butter).   While beef is delicious, you won’t get the complexity of flavor if you use only beef– if you can’t find ground lamb, use ground pork.  If you can’t find either one, move somewhere else.
** Look for a cheap, earthy, deep red wine– look for something from Southern Italy, like a Salice Salento.  Under no circumstances should this wine cost more than $9.99.

Peel:  First, we’re going to shock the skin off those tomatoes.  Put a small/medium sized pot 3/4 filled with water and bring to a good boil.  While you wait, with a sharp knife, score the top and bottom of each tomato with a sharp knife in an “X” pattern, that will make it easier to peel. With a slotted spoon (so you don’t splash scalding water on yourself, like I do), lower a few ripe tomatoes into the boiling water.  After a few seconds, you’ll see the skin start to peel back– as soon as you see that start to happen, use your slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice water bath.  Repeat until you’ve done all the tomatoes.

Now that the tomatoes are shocked, you can peel off the skin very easily.  Do so.  Now you’ll want to pulse the tomatoes in a food process or blender (or by hand).  Add a few cloves of garlic and half of your basil, and some kosher salt, to the food processer (or blender), toss the tomatoes in and pulse.  Since this is not a recipe for gaspacho and you went to all this trouble (already), make sure you leave the tomatoes chunky.  They’ll need to hold up to a long simmer and you’ll appreciate the texture.

Dice:  Roughly dice the red peppers and set aside (for now keep the red peppers separate).  Finely dice all of the remaining veggies and set aside.

Sautee:  In your large stock pot, add some oil olive and let it get hot (you’ll know when it starts smoking).  Add the roughly diced red peppers to the pot, a bit of salt, and let them cook vigorously until then are starting to turn black.  This will add a bit of a smokey sweet flavor to your final product.  Turn the heat down a bit, add a little olive oil if needed and add your finely diced onions, garlic, celery, and carrots in with the red peppers. And salt.  When the onions start to turn golden (reddish too from the pepers), pour a little of your dirty red wine into the pot and scrape the bottom.  Once satisfied you’ve scraped up anything that might have gotten stuck, go ahead and dump some more of that wine in there, until the veggies are completely covered.

Let it summer for just a few moments while the wine comes up to temp, and then go ahead and add your tomato base, can of paste, the remainder of the basil and the bay leaf.  Also, add about 3 tablespoons of sugar.  Stir and cover.

Now the meat.  Season.  Salt, pepper.  Since there’s a lot of meat, you’ll probably need to do this in shifts, the goal here is for the meat to be browned and fully seasoned.  So, in a frying pan (with NO OIL), add equal parts ground beef and lamb.  Add fresh rosemary, ground pepper, some more garlic and salt.  Cook the ground meat for a few moments with the herbs; and then sprinkle some worcestershire sauce (don’t be shy, the meat will turn a bit darker, that’s perfect) and continue to cook, scraping the bottom.  When the meat is cooked through, add the meat to your big pot and repeat until all the meat is seasoned and cooked and in your cauldron.  You may need to add more wine.

Don’t be alarmed if you feel like your meat released a lot of FLAVOR fat, you can always skim it off afterwards if your conscience is still bothering you.

Let the sauce simmer, covered, for at least 4 hours.  6 is better. 8 is ideal.  Stir occasionally.

Keep the pot covered until you’re close to being done, leave uncovered for the last hour or so if you need some of the liquid to boil off.  If you need to add more liquid, add more wine (or water if you already drank it) as you go.

You’re end result will be a thick and chunky, hearty sauce that’s perfect to serve over farfalle, egg linguini, in a lasagna– well- pretty much any pasta.

Next goal: learn to make pasta from scratch.

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3 thoughts

  1. Pingback: Homemade Fettuccine Egg Pasta | Grazing Bears

    • Daniel and I traveled to Bologna and Reggio-Emelia this summer and we sampled this wonderful dish, along with torteloni, all coated with generous sprinklings of parma cheese and, of course, Aperol spritzers to wash it all down. And now I have a recipe I can use to try and replicate the experience. Magnifico!

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