I’m talking more precisely about the Italian pasta meat sauce, typically referred to Bolognese Sauce.
Growing up, I’d always thought that Spaghetti with Meat Sauce was Bolognese Sauce — essentially, a tomato pasta sauce with meat added to it. It’s a yummy, tasty, affordable way to stretch a half pound or pound of ground meat into more servings.
But in perusing my Better Homes & Gardens Simply Perfect Italian magazine for inspiration, I read their Bolognese Sauce recipe and it was nothing at all like the meat sauce I grew up with and that I have made. After some Googling, I realized that a true Bolognese Sauce is a rich, meaty sauce held together with a tomato gravy. As Wikipedia tells us:
Bolognese sauce, known in Italian as ragù alla bolognese, is a meat-based sauce originating from Bologna, Italy. In Italian cuisine, it is customarily used to dress “tagliatelle al ragù” and to prepare “lasagne alla bolognese”. In the absence of tagliatelle, it can also be used with other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettuccine, or with short tube shapes, such as rigatoni or penne. Genuine ragù alla bolognese is a complex sauce which involves slow cooking using a variety of techniques, including sweating, sautéing and braising. Ingredients include a characteristic soffritto of onion, celery and carrot, different types of minced or finely chopped meat (generally bovine, including beef, and possibly pork, such as pancetta), wine and a small amount of tomato concentrate.
As with any dish, there are numerous variations on Bolognese Sauce. Using the recipe in my Better Homes & Garden magazine, a yummy recipe from Food.com — http://www.food.com/recipe/real-italian-bolognese-sauce-83950 — another recipe from FoodNetwork.com — http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/anne-burrell/pasta-bolognese-recipe/index.html — and a recipe from actress Debi Mazar on the Cooking Channel – http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/debi-mazar-and-gabriele-corcos/bolognese-sauce.html — as inspiration, I decided to try my hand at a truer — but healthy! — version of Bolognese Sauce.
Based on my research, these things stuck out in my mind: patience to allow for proper sauteing and simmering is key. Finely minced/chopped veggies (I used my wee food processor) are keys to flavor and texture (and whenever you can add in veggies, it’s a good thing). Seasonings are relatively simple.
Our fresh basil and thyme are growing well right now, so I used fresh basil and thyme, but dried basil and thyme will work perfectly well.
Easy enough to adjust up or down, the leftover sauce reheats beautifully. Whether you’re reheating refrigerated or frozen sauce, I suggest you add in some additional liquid (red wine or beef stock) and reheat gently until the sauce is heated through and reduced to the desired level.
So the next time you feel an itch to travel but can’t leave because of budget constraints or other obligations, put on some Italian music, pour yourself a glass of wine or sparkling water, get Bolognese Sauce simmering on the stove, and pretend you’re in Bologna, Italy. 🙂
Bolognese Sauce (Serves 6)
- 1 medium onion or 1/2 a large onion, finely minced/chopped
- 1 – 2 carrots, scraped and finely minced/chopped
- 2 – 3 stalks celery, finally minced/chopped
- Minced garlic cloves (or garlic powder) to taste (equivalent of 2 – 4 cloves)
- 1 pound lean (93/7 or greater) ground beef OR ground turkey
- 1/2 pound lean (reduced-fat) bulk pork sausage OR bulk turkey sausage
- Sprinkling of red pepper flakes to taste
- Couple cups (eyeball it) beef stock (NOTE: Use beef broth even if you make this with turkey)
- Healthy glug of red (or white) wine (or additional stock, if preferred)
- 1 tin (14 – 15 ounces) tomatoes, undrained, pureed in a blender or food processor
- 1 small can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- Splash of Worcestershire sauce to taste
- Bay leaf
- Fresh (or dried) basil to taste
- Fresh (or dried) thyme to taste
- 1 tablespoon butter
- In a non-stick Dutch oven or equivalent-sized pot, drizzle a wee bit of olive oil and heat pan over medium-high heat. Add in finely minced/chopped onion, carrot, and celery (I whizzed mine in batches through my wee, mini food processor). Reduce heat as need be and saute vegetables until they are softened, fragrant, and the onion is beginning to caramelize (15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently — be patient!).
- Add in minced garlic or garlic powder, ground meat, and ground sausage. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until meats are browned thoroughly (patience!).
- Sprinkle with red pepper flakes to taste. Stir in wine and bring to a simmer.
- Stir in broth, pureed tomatoes, and tomato paste. Stir in Worcestershire sauce to taste. Add bay leaf. (If using dried basil and thyme, add them in at this time, also.)
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered or with a spatter lid, stirring occasionally, until sauce reaches desired consistency. You want it to be thick; this step will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. If desired, additional beef stock/wine can be added in and further reduced.
- When sauce has reached or neared desired consistency, stir in fresh basil and thyme (if using fresh herbs) and tablespoon of butter. Serve over pasta.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers. Whether refrigerated or frozen, reheat by adding additional beef stock/wine and simmer gently, uncovered, until it reaches desired consistency.
Buon Appetito! Salute!