It’s a good thing pasta is perfect for sharing, because you’ll be dying to show this recipe off to friends and family once you try it.
Sunday Gravy - Classic Bolognese
I’ve been craving a good bowl of pasta for a few weeks but, for whatever reason, I hadn’t done anything about it until this weekend, when I decided I absolutely had to have a big ‘ole serving of pasta Bolognese. I’ve never made Bolognese sauce from scratch before, but it seemed pretty straightforward: meat +spices +veggies + TLC = delicious home style Italian cookin’, so I picked up some ingredients down the road at my local supermarket and got in the kitchen to start simmering.
I went with (what I assume is) a very basic, classic-style recipe that doesn’t involve a ton of ingredients or even a ton of time, for that matter. I considered using pancetta or bacon as a sort of ‘base’ for my sauce, and I also thought about picking up some additional fresh herbs, but, at the end of the day, I decided to keep this entire recipe really straightforward, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes it really is the case that the simplest things you create are the best, most flavorful foods to come out of your kitchen, and this sauce (or ‘gravy,’ as I began to call it by the end of my time as a Philadelphia resident) is no exception.
There are a few veggies that you’ll need to spend some time chopping, and you’ll have to keep an eye on the sauce until you get the consistency just right, but all-in-all, this recipe is n’t difficult at all and you can have it done and on the plate in under an hour, if necessary. Of course, it won’t taste like you made it in an hour – it’ll taste like it’s been simmering away all day, thanks to red wine, rich tomato paste and a little help from the greasy, salty (read: incredibly delicious) drippings left behind by the browned beef that provide the cooking liquid for the carrot, onion, mushrooms and garlic.
I served my Bolognese over fresh tagliatelle pasta (as in, it came from a bag, not a box – the bar for ‘fresh’ is pretty low when you’re living out of an AirBnB – there was zero chance I was endeavoring to make my own noodles). Tagliatelle is perfect for this dish because it’s wide and provides an ideal vehicle to get as much meat sauce from the plate to my mouth as is humanly possible in every bite. To finish everything off, I added a sprinkling of grated Parmesan and fresh-cracked black pepper over the top. It was absolutely perfect, if I do say so myself, and I’m already thinking of using it as an excuse to host my next dinner party. Here’s how you can whip it up:
1 pound minced (ground) beef (I used a 90/10 lean meat-to-fat ratio)
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 carrot, finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
175 grams (about 3/4 cup) mushrooms, finely chopped
2 tsp dried oregano
200 mg tomato paste (approx. 1 cup)
2 bay leaves
about 1-1.5 cups red wine (I used a middle-of-the-road Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 beef stock pot
2 cups water
2 tbsp cream
grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish
1 package fresh tagliatelle pasta, or any pasta you like
In a large sauce or soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and brown the beef with 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of black pepper. Use the bottom of your spoon or spatula to break the beef up as it cooks into smaller chunks. I like my Bolognese to have pretty small chunks of beef and veggies, so that it’s a bit silkier – it shouldn’t feel like you’ve got a spoon-full of super chunky chili over the top of your pasta. For that reason, I finely chop the veggies as well.
When the beef is browned and cooked about 90% of the way through, remove the meat from the pot and put it aside, in a bowl. Leave the cooking drippings in the pot.
Add the onion, carrot, mushrooms and garlic, along with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper, and saute until the veggies begin to soften, about 5-7 minutes.
Add the oregano and half of the tomato paste and stir to coat the veggies for about 2 minutes. Add the red wine and the bay leaves and let the mixture come to a strong simmer (there will be bubbles). There should be enough red wine to almost cover the veggies, but not so much that they’re totally swimming.
Once about 3/4 of the red wine has burned off (so that there’s still a layer of liquid in the bottom of the pot), add 2 cups of water and the stock pot. I had intended to use beef broth, not a stock pot, but I couldn’t find beef broth, and the stock pot ended up working out beautifully. If you can’t find a stock pot, you could use a beef bouillon cube, or beef broth. At this point, add the meat back to the pot.
Simmer the mixture on medium-high heat until about half of the water (just under half, to be more precise) cooks out of the mixture – don’t be shy, you need some of the water to cook off, so this will be a strong simmer/low boil – there will be bubbles! This takes about 5-10 minutes, and you’ll be able to see the sauce thickening as you watch it. Once about half the water has cooked out, reduce the heat to medium-low or low (a true simmer – just a few, small bubbles) and then cover it and let it do its thing for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When it’s done simmering, the consistency should be…well, it should be like Bolognese: not watery, but not overly thick; somewhere in the middle is the goal, if not a bit on the thicker side – it’s a meat sauce after all. If it’s too thick, add more water and adjust your salt and pepper…if it’s too watery, bump the heat up and cook out some of the liquid. I didn’t have any issues with the consistency after I cooked out about half the water…my sauce was exactly how I wanted it and the seasonings were perfect, but if you find yourself tinkering with the liquid, that’s fine – just don’t forget to adjust your seasonings accordingly.
Finish the sauce off by reducing the heat to “warm,” removing the bay leaves and adding two tablespoons of cream, stirring to combine. Taste your sauce and add more salt or pepper, if desired. While the sauce cooks, prepare your pasta according to package directions (and don’t forget to add a pinch of salt and olive oil to the pasta water for flavor and to prevent sticking noodles!)
Serve with Parmesan cheese and fresh cracked black pepper.