If you don’t have a recipe like this in your weeknight repertoire, then you should – especially in the winter. 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 promises to make your kitchen smell like home.
This recipe may be doubled. Freeze the extras for later use.
Serves 4 (or 1, if there is a 17 year-old boy at your table)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1/2 celery stalk, finely diced
1/2 sweet red pepper, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup full-bodied red wine
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, to taste
1 pound pasta – cooked al dente
Grated Parmesan 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, season with 1 teaspoon salt, and cook until nicely colored, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring often. Add the onion and continue to cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes more, stirring up any brown bits. Add the carrot, celery, red pepper, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook until the vegetables soften and brighten in color, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often. Pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring up any brown bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up any of the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Taste for seasoning, and, if needed, add the sugar 1 teaspoon at a time to taste. Serve the sauce ladled over cooked pasta, such as spaghetti, pappardelle, rigatoni. Serve with grated cheese.