I’ve been known to fantasize occasionally about trying out for The Next Food Network Star. Many things hold me back – aren’t I, um, a bit old for that? My good friends point out Paula Deen when I say that. If I did have a show, I’d call it Global Improv – that’s my idea of taking a few key ingredients and a few key techniques of a culture and a cuisine and making something that’s a pretty good interpretation of the real thing. So here goes my riff on classic Bolognese sauce. To me, one of the things that sets a Bolognese sauce apart from other meat ragus is that it starts with a sofrito of onion, carrots and celery.
You’ll want them to cook down really soft and small and just about melt into the sauce, so you need to dice them or chop them really fine. If you prefer, use a box grater to do the work for you.
Cook the vegetables in a bit of extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat until they are nice and soft…
…then add some minced garlic (again, nice and fine will be better)…
…and the ground beef. Now I think Italians would use a combo of beef, veal and pork, not just straight beef, but beef is what I had, so beef is what I used. How’s that for global improv?While the meat is browning, chiffonade (or just chop up since it’s going to be cooked anyway) some fresh basil…
…and add it to the pot. Now it’s at this point that people argue about the “right” way to make Bolognese. The Italians would certainly use some milk – some say it’s because the lactic acid in it helps tenderize the meat and give it that silky texture of a classic Bolognese – but when to add it seems debatable. You could add it here…
…but I added chopped tomatoes and some red wine and let that cook down a bit before adding some milk. Regardless of when you add the milk, the key is to leave the lid off and let it slowly simmer to thicken and reduce. See the difference between the photo above……and the sauce after it’s reduced for about 45 minutes? Once it’s thickened, if you want to keep it warm on a low simmer without drying out anymore, keep it covered.
You can opt for a wide noodle like this basil studded pappardelle from none other than Pappardelle’s, or a simple spaghetti. There’s another improv – Italians have quite specific pasta shapes for specific sauces. It has to do with the way the sauce is held by the pasta. For me, I almost always opt for short pasta because I’m a messy eater.
Doesn’t that just make your mouth water?! I had it for dinner last night with the pappardelle and for lunch today with whole wheat spaghetti – loved them both!
Spaghetti Bolognese Serves 4-6
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, minced fine
1 large carrot, minced fine
1 stalk celery, minced fine
1 pound ground beef (or mix of beef, pork and veal)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed
1/4 cup chopped basil
2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup milk (or cream)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add ground meat and brown, then add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add fennel, salt, pepper, red pepper, basil, tomato, red wine and milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until reduced and thickened, about 30 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and serve over cooked spaghetti or other pasta with a nice grating of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
I made your recipe last night and WOW it was amazing – thank you so much for posting this. I did modify the recipe a tad by using ground turkey and a very lean beef and it still turned out great! I’m excited to see what other recipes I can find.