There are a few things in my cooking and baking repertoire that make me feel like I kick some serious bootie in the kitchen. Among them are this roast pork. And this salmon. And this galette. And this coffee cake. And this pudding.
The latest addition to my greatest hits list is this bolognese sauce.
I’m a comfort food loving kinda girl and let me tell you, it doesn’t get more comforting that a bowl of this pasta bolognese. The recipe is courtesy of Food Network’s Anne Burrell of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. I’m growing out of love with the decreasing number of cooking shows on the network (and I don’t get Cooking Channel). But it’s personalities like Anne that keep me coming back. She is the real deal when it comes to food and the proof is in this recipe.
But before I get into how to put this sauce together – NOTE – this is not something you can just throw together and have on the dinner table in a half hour. It’s by no means difficult but it IS a delicious 3-4 hour labor of love. And I have made it enough times over the last year so know that it is worth every second of work. So do yourself a favor – read this post carefully and buy the ingredients to make this this weekend. I promise you won’t regret it. You can even prepare by watching a video of Anne making the sauce here. If for nothing else, you’ll get a kick out of Anne’s growling, grunting and other sound effects. (LOVE HER!)
The recipe starts with a vegetable paste made of celery, onion, carrot and garlic that you season with salt and brown in some olive oil in a big pot. Brown until the bottom of the pot gets a brown “crud” as Anne calls it, which you scrape along the way. Then add your meat, I use ground chuck, and brown the meat. Then add tomato paste and you guessed it, brown some more. The key is to develop flavors during the browning process and every time you add new ingredients to the mix. After the tomato paste, in goes the wine – which gets reduced by half to intensify the flavors. Then finally add water, thyme and bay leaves and over 3 hours or so, stir, reduce and add more water. With the addition of every new ingredient, Anne adds quite a bit of salt as well. I tend to add significantly less as I don’t like my food super salty.
Having made this sauce several times and enjoyed it over several kinds of pasta, I can say the BEST way to enjoy it is with orecchiette, as this little ear shaped pasta has little ridges that help the sauce adhere to it. It also has little pockets where bits of sauce hide for extra satisfaction.
Topped with fresh cracked black pepper and grated parmigiano reggiano along side some crusty bread, it really doesn’t get more comforting than this. Make the entire batch of sauce (it freezes beautifully) and enjoy the comfort again and again and again.
1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
4 cloves garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
2 cups tomato paste
3 cups hearty red wine
3 bay leaves
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
1 pound orecchiette
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Freshly cracked black pepper
In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with extra virgin olive oil. Add the vegetable paste and season with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and the paste has browned, stirring frequently, about 15-20 minutes. While stiring, scrape the bottom of the pan to release the brown bits.
Add the ground beef, season again with salt and brownt he beef about abother 15-20 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4-5 minutes. Add the red wine. Continue to cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4-5 minutes.
Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2-3 cups at a time always reducing before adding more water. Stir and taste every 20-30 minutes over 3.5-4 hours adding salt if needed.
During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the pasta. When the water is at a rolling boil properly salt (water should be salty) and add the orecchiette and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pot and reserve.
Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining ragu. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano Reggiano and freshly cracked black pepper. Serve immediately.