Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pasta Bolognese

After two nights of quick and easy meals, I woke up yesterday to an incredibly frigid morning with only one thought sounding through my head.  Bolognese.  Bolognese is a thick, full-bodied meat sauce originating in northern Italy's Bologna.  I've made countless Bolognese recipes, some incredible and some so-so, but this recipe from Emeril, which I've adapted just slightly, is one of my favorites.  I'll warn you now: the list of ingredients for this recipe is relatively extensive, and it takes about 2 hours of simmering (I had a lot of work to do tonight, and Mark wasn't going to be home until very late, so it worked out for me - you may need to wait until the weekend).  But the complexity, richness, and depth of flavor of the resulting sauce is well worth it.   

Click below to see the recipe!

List of ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
3/4 cup diced carrots
3/4 cup diced celery
3 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pound ground beef
1 pound hot Italian pork sausage, casings removed
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cup red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with juice
1 14 1/2-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon dried parsley (fresh is better, but I didn't have any - if you use fresh, use 3 tablespoons chopped)
Cooked pasta of your choice (for a heavy sauce like this, I like to use wider noodles)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Regiano

I actually prepped the vegetables way ahead of time, dicing the onion, carrot, and celery, and mincing the garlic.  I'll usually spend my lunch break doing this (because I live about 5 minutes from work), and that way, come dinner time, all I have to do is throw my prepped ingredients in the pot.  I didn't dice them too finely, as I like my bolognese a little chunkier.

In (my only) large pot, I heated the oil over medium-high heat, then added the pancetta.  I cooked the pancetta until it was just browned and the fat had been mostly rendered, about 4 minutes.   

Next, I added the onions, carrots, celery and garlic and cooked them until translucent and soft, about 10 minutes.  I normally like to cook my veggies in a combination of olive oil and butter, but here, the fat from the pancetta replaces the butter.*  Cooking this combination of onions, carrots, celery and garlic for the base of a sauce is called preparing the soffritto.  

I added salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cooked just briefly, stirring, for 30 seconds, just until I could smell the aroma of the spices.  It may seem (and even smell) weird at first to use cinnamon and nutmeg in a savory sauce, but believe me, it works out - it gives the bolognese a satisfyingly sweet spiciness and nuttiness.

Then I crumbled in the beef and sausage, and cooked over high heat until no longer pink, about 5 -10 minutes, using my spatula to break up any clumps of meat.  

Once the meat was sufficiently browned, I added the tomato paste (this will thicken the sauce) and cooked, stirring, for about 2 minutes. I then added the wine and cooked about 2 minutes, stirring to deglaze the pan and making sure to scrape up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan from the meat.  

After the liquid had reduced by about half, I added the crushed tomatoes and their juices, the tomato sauce, the chicken broth, and sugar (to cut the acidity from the tomatoes), and brought everything to a boil.  I reduced the heat to medium-low and simmered, about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and seasoning as necessary. 

Once the sauce was sufficiently thickened, I added the cream, butter, and parsley, stirred well, and simmered for an additional 2 minutes.  I fished out the bay leaves and removed the pot from the heat. 

I served a couple of ladles of the sauce over some cooked Pappardelle, topped the dish with Parmigiano-Reggiano, and saved the rest of it in the fridge for leftovers for me and Mark (the sauce will keep for about 3 or 4 days in the fridge, or you can freeze it for longer).

Was this dish successful?  Well, Mark said that if he got this dish at a restaurant, he'd be raving about it.  It's a lot of work, but for your efforts, you can have at least two days of delicious lunches (or lunch and dinner), and the sauce tastes even better the next couple of days, as the flavors have had time to meld together!  

*For those of you who don't eat pork but still love you some meat sauce, I would leave out the pancetta (and add a tablespoon of butter to the olive oil before cooking the onions, carrots, celery and garlic), and replace the pork sausage with more ground beef/veal.  For all you, this is not the recipe for you.  Sorry.  I'll try to make a veggie recipe soon.

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