Foodie Friday: Ultimate Bolognese Recipe

I love Bolognese. Strike that – I love MY Bolognese! I order it out all the time to see if there’s a Bolognese sauce (if you don’t know, this is a classic Italian meat sauce) better than my homemade, and I have yet to find it.

Not that I can take full credit for it!  My recipe is based on this classic from Marcella Hazan. I’ve modified it to what I like best, though, and discovered several substitutions that work, and ways to make it spicier or sweeter, etc. You also just don’t need the amount of oil and butter that’s in the original, so that’s always nice to cut back!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion (I’ll even use 2 because I like my sauce savory)
  • ½ cup chopped celery (I often substitute Swiss chard stems from our garden – it’s a nice way to use them up)
  • ½ cup chopped carrot (if you want the sauce to end up sweeter, this is where you get that done! Add 1 cup instead of ½ cup of carrots)
  • There are several options for meat:
    • Spicy/quicker cook: If you love a spicy sauce, you can cut the casings off of and use 1 pound hot Italian sausage. This is also a nice option if you aren’t going to have several hours to let the sauce slow cook. If you only have an hour or so to let it all simmer together, Italian sausage is much more forgiving.
    • Rich & classic: If you like a rich, fatty and classic Bolognese, use 1 pound ground 85% lean beef chuck.
    • Classic but leaner: 1 pound 90% lean ground beef will give you a less rich, bit drier, less fatty and still delicious and classic sauce.
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg (grinding it on a micro plane from whole nutmeg works by far the best)
  • 1 cup dry white wine (don’t worry – I’ve substituted red wine many times and the sauce is just as amazing. It comes out sweeter)
  • 1 can 28 oz Italian plum tomatoes, broken into pieces, with juice
  • 1 pound Bucatini. Yes, you can substitute spaghetti, but bucatini is where it’s AT. The thick noodle is the ultimate with this sauce, for sure
  • Basil, chopped, for serving
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

TO MAKE:

  1. Put oil, butter and chopped onion in a large heavy pot (that you can later move to the oven – I like using my large Le Creuset). Cook and stir onion until translucent (every recipe in the world says this takes at most five minutes, but let’s be honest – it’s at LEAST 15), then add chopped carrots. Cook until they begin to get soft, then add chopped celery. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring vegetables to coat well.
  2. Add meat, a teaspoon or so of salt and pepper. If you like super spicy sauce, now is your chance to add crushed red pepper or chopped fresh hot pepper to taste. Mash up and stir the meat so it doesn’t have its gross processed line look, cook until it starts to brown. Yes, I know it seems weird to add the meat AFTER the onions and such, and if you want to cut down on butter and oil usage you can cook the meat first and then add the items from step 1 such that they cook in released fat from the meat.
  3. Add milk and simmer until it has cooked off, leaving milk solids. Grate in the nutmeg and stir! This is the KEY part of the recipe. The milk and the nutmeg really make this sauce.
  4. Add wine and simmer until evaporated.
  5. Stir in tomatoes and break them up in the pot. Once this simmers, you can either let it simmer on the stove uncovered (can be messy), or what I like to do is put it, again, uncovered, in a 325 degree oven.
  6. You will want to let this cook for 3+ hours. I like to check and stir it every hour. If you use Italian sausage, you can cook it for less time. But the beauty of this sauce is that you can make it early, set your timer, then just take it out and be ready to go! I’ve simmered it for as long as 5 hours with much success. The fat and meat will separate as it cooks, and if it starts looking dry or browning at all along the edges (not good) add half a cup of water. Once you’re ready to take out, though, the water should be gone and the fat should be separated from the sauce. Salt to taste!
  7. When the sauce is done and you’re ready to serve cook the pasta per instructions to be al dente. Once cooked, drain all the pasta water but for ½ cup. Add cooked pasta and water to the sauce, and stir altogether. This is so important! Don’t just spoon your sauce onto the pasta. You want it completely coated and intermixed.
  8. To serve, sprinkle on grated cheese and chopped basil. The cheese adds saltiness, and the basil adds prettiness.
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