Homemade Bolognese Sauce

I love bolognese. Shockingly though, as much as I order it out, I had never made it at home. I’ve made marinara, red sauce with meat, but never bolognese. So during this time of quarantine in the house, I decided I would dedicate a day to making this iconic Italian sauce. Dating back to the 15th century, there have been many slight variations of this meat-based sauce. The key ingredients though are ground beef, soffritto (onion, carrots, & celery), pancetta, tomato paste, white wine, meat broth, and cream or milk. There is a lot less tomato than one instinctually thinks in a classic bolognese.

Like most meals I cook, I often study many recipes, and then create a meal based on a combination of several of the recipes. I referenced famous chefs, such as Mario Batali & Barbara Lynch, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, and many other bloggers. On a notepad, I listed all the ingredients from these recipes so that I had running list of different combinations. As I cooked, I made adjustments and noted what I was adding to the large dutch oven. I made a large amount of sauce – over two pounds of meat – as I froze half of the batch. The key to freezing though is to not add the dairy, and be sure to store in a freezer-safe container, up to three months. Once you defrost the sauce, add the dairy.

If you can resist, it’s best to let the sauce sit overnight to allow the flavors to really deepen & blend together. It will taste that much better! The Bolognese is best served with a wide–shaped pasta, such as pappardelle & fettuccine or use it in a lasagna.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Ground Beef
  • 1 lb Ground Veal
  • 4 oz Pancetta, chopped
  • 4 Carrots, peeled & chopped
  • 4 Celery Sticks, chopped
  • 1 Sweet Onion, chopped
  • 3 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoon Oregano, dried
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 Sprig Fresh Thyme Leaves
  • 1 Sprig Fresh Rosemary, chopped
  • 5 Fresh Basil Leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Tomato Paste
  • 14 oz Tomato Puree
  • 1 cup Dry White Wine
  • 1/2 cup Chicken Stock
  • Pinch of Nutmeg
  • Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 cup Milk or Cream
  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Fresh herbs for garnish, such as Basil or Rosemary

Before you start cooking, it’s best to know that this sauce truly benefits from simmering on low heat for 3-4 hours. You can simmer it for a shorter time, but the proper time really, really adds to the depth of flavor and texture of the sauce.

We are going to start by making a soffritto, a mixture of slowly cooked onions, celery and carrots. Using your food processor, pulse the carrots, celery and onion into small pieces. Heat olive oil & butter over low-medium heat in a large Dutch oven (a thick-walled cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid, made of either seasoned or enameled cast iron, suitable for both stovetop and oven use). Keep an eye on the butter to ensure it doesn’t burn. Once all the vegetables are chopped and the butter is melted, add the vegetable medley to the Dutch oven. Cook the vegetables over low-medium heat until they are soft & begin to caramelize. Season with salt, pepper, oregano & garlic, and cook for another two minutes over the heat. Remove the mixture to a bowl and set aside.

Next, we will be cooking the meat. I chose veal, beef, and pancetta. You can pick any combo of meat – ground pork is often a good option, or you can just use ground beef. Some people add chicken livers or even rabbit. Use what ever combination sounds best to you!

If needed, add a small amount more of oil/butter to the pan and cook the pancetta until browned, roughly 5-8 minutes. Resist the urge to stir often as you want them to get the crisp edges. Remember that the meat will continue to cook after you turn down the heat. Once well browned, use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta and reserve in another bowl.

Next, add the ground meat to the Dutch oven. Keep the heat on medium, season the meat with salt & pepper, and cook until browned, about 10+ minutes. Use a wood spoon to break up the meat, and turning only so often. Like the pancetta, you want to get some browning on the meat, as this too contributes to the depths of flavor in the sauce. Once the meat is almost all cooked (it’s ok if there is still some pink coloring), add the soffritto back into the Dutch oven. Pour in the wine & chicken broth and mix well. Using the wooden spoon, try to loosen up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Let the heat remain on medium for a few minutes, and then turn the heat down to simmer.

When the pancetta has cooled down, chop it into small pieces and add into the pan. Add the tomato paste, the tomato puree, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, basil, nutmeg and red pepper flakes. Mix well.

Cover the Dutch oven and continue to let the sauce simmer for the next three to four hours, stirring occasionally. You want the liquids to reduce and the sauce to thicken.

After the hours of simmering, allow the sauce to cool a bit before transferring into the refrigerator. If you’re going to freeze all or a portion of the sauce, place it into a freezer-safe container. Make sure to mark the container as ‘Bolognese’ and the date you made it. From experience, you will struggle knowing what’s inside the container months down the road. The sauce will last up to three months. For the sauce you’ll be consuming the following day(s), allow the Dutch oven to cool before placing the whole container in the refrigerator.

The next day, heat the sauce in the same Dutch oven over low heat. Add the milk or cream (adjusting amount depending on if it’s still the full recipe or not). Mix well. Season with salt & pepper, as needed. Cook the pasta as directed. If desired, save some of the pasta starchy water to add to the sauce – this helps the sauce “cling” to the noodles. Serve hot, topped with chopped fresh herbs and grated parmesan.

Note: The bolognese sauce also is delicious in homemade lasagna!

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