Things are a little busy around here – more on that later. For now, I share with you a favorite recipe that’s perfect for the fall. It’s also perfect for busy schedules, when you can make a big batch of the sauce and keep it on hand for weeknight dinners. If you don’t have a recipe like this in your weeknight repertoire, then you should. We refer to it as Spaghetti Bolognese in our house, and before someone writes to inform me that this is not an authentic bolognese sauce, I’ll save you the time and announce it right here: This is not an authentic bolognese sauce – but it’s our version, and somewhere along the way it was assigned the name “bolognese” (probably my fault) and since then it’s stuck. More importantly, my entire family loves this sauce, and we’ve become quite attached to it’s name, so we’re are standing by it.
Since we are on the topic of authentic vs. unauthentic Bolognese, let me explain:
Bolognese sauce is a meat ragu, often containing 2 to 3 kinds of meat (beef, pork, veal). My sauce calls for ground beef since it’s most readily available in organic, sustainable form in all of the markets I shop. If you wish, feel free to add pork, pancetta or veal to the mix.
Bolognese is typically not a tomato-rich sauce. The meat is the principal component, which is why it’s a ragu. My version is generous with the tomatoes, because, well, we like tomatoes, and we are happy to call our sauce a sauce.
Bolognese spices are minimal: salt, pepper, bay leaf, nutmeg – and no garlic (gasp). You can be sure there will be garlic in my sauce, along with a handful of my garden’s herbs, such as oregano and thyme.
Bolognese includes white wine and milk – yes milk. Neither are in this sauce – otherwise, at least one young family member would have rebelled years ago due to a mystifying bias against dairy. Instead, I add red wine, because it deepens flavor and acidity to meaty sauces, and (for some reason) there’s always red wine in our house.
Finally, bolognese is a hearty ragu, often served with thick hearty-type pasta such as pappardelle. We love pappardelle, but, unlike red wine, there’s rarely pappardelle in our house, so spaghetti is the go-to staple of choice.
The point here is this is a flexible sauce that tastes great no matter it’s name or its origin. More importantly, it’s a family staple that’s hugely popular, may be prepared in large quantities, easily frozen, and is unfussy in its use: Ladle it over pasta, between lasagna sheets or even call it a base for chili. It may be prepared within an hour for easy weeknight dining and tastes even better the next day.
This recipe may be doubled. Freeze the extras for later use.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
1/2 celery stalk, finely diced
1/2 sweet red pepper, finely diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup heavy-bodied red wine
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, to taste
1 pound pasta – cooked al dente
Grated Parmigiano or Pecorino (they don’t do that in Bologna either) cheese
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook, stirring, until brown, about 3 minutes. Drain the beef in a colander. Return the pot to the stove and add 1 tablespoon oil. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until beginning to soften, stirring up any brown bits, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, red pepper, and garlic. Sauté until the vegetables soften and brighten in color, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring up any brown bits. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Return the beef to the sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally and breaking up any of the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, about 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add the sugar if necessary. Serve ladled over cooked pasta, such as spaghetti, pappardelle, or rigatoni. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with grated cheese.