I didn’t grow up eating much pasta. When we did eat it, it was most definitely “noodles”- pasta was, well…I’m not sure I even knew what pasta was. As time went along and I expanded my childhood diet of cottage cheese, toast, and Cheerios, I came to appreciate pasta. When I went to Florence to study cooking with Giuliano Bugialli, I learned that pasta dishes are about the actual noodle. The sauce on top should be thought of as a condiment to compliment the pasta and it should be “dressed” much like a salad-just enough sauce to coat the noodles but not so much that it pools at the bottom of the bowl. Quick side note, the amazing Giuliano will be teaching his annual classes at Tante Marie’s on March 26th, 27th, and 28th. If you haven’t taken one, they are not to be missed!
So on to Pasta Bolognese. This thick, rich, meaty dish epitomizes the marriage between al dente pasta dressed with just enough sauce. This is not red sauce, it’s meat sauce-tinged with a bit of tomato, white wine, and milk (which keeps the meat nice and tender). I have always based my recipe on the version from legendary Marcella Hazan. Over the years it’s morphed into my own version, still true to its root method and ingredients with just a few changes. While Marcella uses just beef in her recipe, I like mine with veal (for tenderness) and pork (for richness) along with the beef.
This is a sauce that benefits greatly from a long, slow simmer. You don’t make it in a hurry and you don’t make it for two people. It’s food for a crowd-that said, it freezes beautifully. Most of the cooking is largely unattended so don’t be scared off about the steps.
Bolognese Sauce, inspired by Marcella Hazan
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbs butter
2 medium carrots, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ground beef (preferably chuck)
1/2 pound ground pork
1/4 pound ground veal
2 cups whole milk
2 cups dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
3-4 cups canned Italian tomatoes, with juices, chopped (this amount depends on how tomato-y you like it)
In a large dutch oven or stock pot, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, and onion with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to get tender but not browned, 6-7 minutes. Add the beef, pork, and veal and break it up into small pieces using a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the meat with a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat looses all its red color and it lightly browned in spots, 20-25 minutes more. Add the milk and when it begins to bubble reduce the heat to medium low. Cook the sauce until the milk has evaporated almost entirely, 20-25 minutes, stirring just once or twice. Increase the heat to medium, add the wine and when it begins to bubble reduce the heat to medium low. Cook the sauce until the wine has evaporated almost entirely, 20-25 minutes, stirring just once or twice. Add the tomatoes with a pinch each of salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Cook the sauce, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, up to 5, stirring from time to time. If the sauce begins to dry out, add ½ cup water as necessary, stirring to combine. At the end of cooking, the water should be completely evaporated and you will see the fat separating from the meat.
If serving right away, cook 1-2 pounds of pasta until al dente. Stir the pasta with just enough sauce to coat and transfer to warm serving bowls. Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and serve right away.
If saving sauce, cool it completely then transfer it to an airtight container. Cover and refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze up to 1 month. Once the sauce has cooled in the refrigerator, the fat will solidify on top and you can scrape it off and discard it before reheating.
A great variation on the sauce it to make a bechamel and layer the two sauces with fresh pasta sheets and freshly grated Parm for an amazing Lasagne Bolognese.