This is based upon the Food TV Network’s Best of cookbook’s recipe for Bolognese.
All ingredients are an approximation, based on my best recollection.
Don’t follow recipes to the T anyhow, not when it’s “cooking”. Baking is different, that’s science. Cooking, however, is art, because every ingredient from every seller tastes different, and YOU, the COOK, you need to compensate for that change of state at your station.
Cook, dammit! Improvise! Taste, change, put your stamp on it! Recipes are either geared for the writer of the recipe (like mine), or they’re written for the “lowest common denominator”, the average person, the person for whom restaurants offer “MILD” seasoning.
NAY, DON’T GO THERE. No one need be mild, man!
So, my bolognese? As I recollect, and since I’ve perfectly matched an easy-drinking Nero with this pasta tonight, let’s hope I recollect well. :)
BOLOGNESE, MAN — THE GOOD STUFF
This is slow-cooked for six hours. It’s perfect to make after you’ve relaxed after your mid-morning Saturday or Sunday breakfast. Takes about 30 minutes to get going, then you just stir it every hour or so, look hungrily at it and think “Yes, I’m saving room for seconds” as you mix it and inhale.
1 to 1.25 pounds meat (can be lean beef, seasoned sausage meat, ground pork, whatever you prefer)
1 tbsp hot pepper flakes
1 tbsp dried thyme
2 slices thick bacon (you can go for pancetta, if you feel splurgey)
1 large sweet onion*
1 medium red onion*
1 JUMBO carrot, or 2.5 cups (3 or so regular? excess won’t hurt)*
2 cans 28-oz tomatoes (crush them yourself in a big bowl, use everything)
1 small can tomato paste
2.5 cups DARK chicken, or beef stock
2 bay leaves
2 tsp oregano
1 tbsp dried thyme
1 tbsp Worcestshire sauce
1 tbsp Vietnamese fish sauce
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
salt to taste
* The veg, they can be chopped 1/4 to 1/3” cubes, or you can pulse them in a food processor until a fine chop is reached (it’s all good, as long as you’re not gonna let ‘em burn when sauteeing)
1. You’ll need a 5-quart dutch oven or similar pot for this. Get it heated to medium. You can use 1 tablespoon of olive oil if your meat is lean, or even if it’s fatty. You can strain it off at the end, so it doesn’t matter.
2. Add the meat to the warm pan with/without oil. Add the red pepper flakes and the first half of the thyme. Brown your meat. This will take 5-10 minutes.
3. Once cooked, remove the meat and reserve it. Strain the fat if you want to — it’ll certainly add awesome flavour if you keep it, and 3 tablespoons for 4 quarts isn’t the end of the world!
4. In the same pot, take your bacon (chopped into “lardoons” or little chunks about 1/3” thick) and cook the bits until getting crispy. Take them out, leaving the fat in the pan, and reserve the bacon with your browned meat.
5. Cook the veggies until the onions are turning golden — not caramelized, just a little beyond translucent. This might take 10 minutes, it really depends on your stove and your cookware. Watch and be decisive. Add the thyme and oregano at some point during this step. A 1/2 tablespoon of salt won’t hurt.
6. Add the tomato paste to the veggies, stir to coat them, cook for 2-3 more minutes.
7. Add 2 cans of diced or whole tomatoes than you’ve crushed with your own hands in a bowl before adding them. Add the meat. Add the bay leaves.
8. Stir well. Heat until it starts to bubble, then turn to medium low, partially cover, and cook for 4-6 hours, stirring every 45 minutes or so.
9. When there’s 20 minutes between you and eating, get the pasta water boiling.
10. Once you get the pasta in to cook, then add your fish sauce and Worcestshire. Mix well. TASTE IT. Does it need salt or pepper? Add some. Once you add it to the pasta, the pasta will automatically absorb SOME salt, so SOME can’t hurt, likely. If the pasta is NOT whole wheat/gluten free, take it off a minute or so early. Otherwise, keep cooking.
11. Sauce happy? Strain the pasta, don’t rinse it. Return it to the cooking pot. Add some sauce, stir to see if it’s a decent amount. Keep adding until you’re pleased, keeping in mind that you’ll be ladling a spoonful on top of the pasta anyhow. Let saute for 2-3 minutes.
- Like cheese? Save your parmesan cheese rinds, freeze them, and simmer it in your bolognese. Throw it out at the end, and you have all the cheese flavour without all the fat.
- It’s a huge batch because it takes so long to make perfectly but it also freezes really, really well. Freeze it as a sauce, not mixed with cooked pasta. Do it properly.
- FISH SAUCE? Actually, fish sauce is one of those mysteries, like the Caramilk secret. Somehow it binds the flavour of meat and onions together and gives this beautiful umami taste sensation to the sauce. Trust me. Actually, trust all the people who call it their “secret” ingredient.