The rewards of a fine Bolognese sauce far exceed the hours put into making the classical Northern Italian dish. Happily, most of those hours are spent cooking the sauce at the “laziest of simmers” on the back burner. Credited with the best recipe is the diva of Italian cuisine, Marcella Hazan. By all means, read this earlier post about the woman, who was to Italian cooking what Julia Child was to French cuisine.
Alice Waters, William Sonoma and Bon Appetite all have small variations on Hazan’s recipe, but you get the idea that hers is the gold standard, when it comes to making the rich, meaty sauce. Still, there’s some debate as to whether a true Bolognese has basil. I went with the camp that favors leaving out extra herbs and spices and concentrates on the flavors of the meat (beef, pork, veal, pancetta) and vegetables (onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes).
Shortly after the November election—when I was in search of some comfort food—I pulled out Marcella’s tried and true recipe. I was surprised I had most of the ingredients on hand. The meaty concoction can be served over various noodles, but I chose pappadelle—a broad, flat pasta that looks like ribbons. The sauce also works well with fettuccine or lasagna.
Unlike the quick Italian sauces, a Bolognese requires chopping a soffrito of vegetables, which I did in my food processor. The recipe calls for a cup of milk to keep the meat from drying out and becoming tough during the long simmering process. A cup of white wine adds further dimension, though there is some debate as to just when the wine is added.
The recipe also calls for a bit of nutmeg, which I think is important. (Side note: I was once told that nutmeg was the “secret” ingredient in those delicious meat balls at the Rosati Spaghetti Supper—readers from Phelps County will remember these fondly.)
I made the sauce in my condo kitchen, took it to the farm, and finished the 2 to 3 hours of cooking before serving the pasta dish. As with all my tomato sauces, I added a pat of butter at the end and a splash of water from the cooked pasta. Mama Mia! What comfort from such a humble dish.
Printable recipe for Italian Bolognese Sauce.
Bolognese Sauce with Pappadelle Noodles
- 3 Tbs. butter
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 1 celery rib, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 lbs. ground chuck beef (or 1 lb. beef and ½ lbs. each pork and veal)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 (28-oz.) whole tomatoes and juices, crushed by hand
- 2 (6-oz.) tomato paste
- 1-2 Tbs. sugar
- 1 Tbs. fresh basil
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Tbs. parsley
- 2 tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. pepper
- Heat butter in 1 large, heavy skillet or pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are golden and softened, about 6 minutes.
- Add beef and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up lumps until meat is fine and barely still pink, about several minutes.
- Stir in milk and simmer 10-15 minutes. Add wine and simmer another 10-15 minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients and simmer about 3 hours on very low. Add salt, if needed.
- Add to cooked, drained, un-rinsed parpadelle noodles (or whatever noodles you have on hand), using 3 cups of sauce per one pound of pasta.
- If refrigerated overnight, sauce can be thinned slightly with more wine and reheated on very low.
- Stir in a pat of butter and a splash of pasta water before serving.