Sunday, April 9, 2017

Bolognese Sauce: The Real Deal

In September of 2015, we rented a villa in Tuscany along with our two favorite couples, Steve and Taffy Hirtz and Scott and Debbie Drill. It was a spectacular trip. One of the day trips we took was to Siena, an ancient Italian town first settled in 900 BC. Siena has an enormous plaza in the center of town which is used twice a year to run the Palio di absolutely insane horse race. Ten riders race bareback for three laps at full speed. It is not out of the ordinary for a jockey to rip a competitor from his mount and many of the horses cross the finish line with no rider. Fatalities, too, are not an uncommon occurrence.

Unfortunately, we were not there during race season. But we hit Siena on a beautiful, sunny fall day and started out with lunch at a spectacular outdoor cafe. I ordered Bolognese with Pappardelle. It was so unlike anything I had ever tasted in the U.S. I've tried a ton of different bolognese recipes and none quite compared to what I had in Siena.

I've got two bolognese recipes in this blog, but they don't hold a candle to what I ate in Italy that day. The ones I've tried in America tend to be tomato-oriented and overburdened with Italian herbs. What I had in Siena was totally different. It was first and foremost a meat sauce...all the other ingredients played a minor supporting role. But Bolognese isn't meat heavy. Bolognese is amazingly delicate, rich in umami, creamy and understated.

The recipe to make authentic bolognese is not difficult. The key is that under no circumstances can the process be rushed. The only way to get a sauce this rich is time. It takes a full four hours of simmering for bolognese to reach perfection. When finely dicing the vegetables, it is of great benefit to the sauce if the dice of all are the same, small size. As for the pasta, you need one that can handle the heft of the sauce. Pappardelle is a thick, ribbon-like pasta that completely complements the sauce. This is a Marie Asselin recipe based on the Academia Italian della Cucina recipe registered with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce.

2 + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/4 pounds lean ground beef
1-1/4 pounds ground pork

4 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, finely and evenly diced
4 small (or 2 very large) carrots finely diced
4 stalks celery heart (or 2 large celery stalks) finely diced
4 garlic cloves, very finely diced
4-1/2 ounces diced pancetta (¼-inch cubes)
Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup Chardonnay
2 cups whole milk
1 28 ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, diced (use both the liquid and the tomatoes)
1 cup beef stock

3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup grated parmigiana-reggiano cheese

  1. Heat a 2 tablespoons olive oil over high heat in a large saucepan. When oil is shimmering, add beef. Stir and break up lumps. You want the meat to brown and the liquid to evaporate. When browned, remove beef and set aside.
  2. In the same saucepan, add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and when simmering, add pork. Stir and break up lumps. Cook until the meat has browned and the liquid has evaporated.
  3. Add the butter to the pork. When the butter has melted, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and a good pinch of salt. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the diced pancetta and reserved beef and cook for a further 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and pancetta is golden. 
  4. Over medium heat, pour the white wine into the sauce pan. With a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Push the meat all around to make sure you scrape it all off. By the time you’re finished, the wine will be evaporated (2-3 minutes). Be careful not to let the meat stick again (lower the heat if necessary).
  5. Add milk, diced tomatoes and their liquid, beef stock, 1 teaspoon salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower to the lowest heat and let simmer very slowly, half-covered, for 4 hours. Stir once in a while. If your sauce starts sticking before the end of your cooking time, lower the heat (if possible) and/or add a bit of stock. In the end, the sauce should be thick, more oil than water-based and thick like oatmeal. Adjust the seasoning one last  time – don’t be afraid of adding more salt (tasting each time you add some) as it is this recipe’s key seasoning.
  6. After 4 hours, add 3 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup parmigiana-reggiano cheese. Stir thoroughly. Toss sauce with cooked pappardelle noodles and serve with additional parmigiana-reggiano cheese for your guests to grate over the dish.

Wine pairing: I strongly recommend what I consider to be not just the finest wine it Italy, but the finest wine in the world: Barolo. And the older, the better.


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  2. All I have to say is thank you for this recipe. There is a restaurant near me that I get the Bolognese every time I go there. I asked for the recipe but they said they couldn’t. I found out it was from Siena and found the Recipe here. It was spot on. Thank you for posting this !!!!!