I'd always been under the impression that Bolognese was a commitment to make, that it was hard and time consuming. Turns out, it really just takes time to cook, but the actual work involved is relatively minor. A little upfront work with a knife and the rest is cake.
Bolognese is one of those dishes that I think tends to have a bit of confusion around it. Just what is it, anyway? I've heard it used as a synonym for the classic American red spaghetti sauce, but that's not what it refers to in Italy.
This is a fairly classic (and easy) version of the Italian Bolognese sauce, which involves a soffritto, meat, milk, wine, and tomatoes. A soffritto (not to be confused with the Spanish sofrito) is simply a flavor base of minced onion, celery, and carrot, cooked in olive oil. I add a little garlic here, too, because, well... garlic. Yum.
In this case, I actually like to grate the carrots so that they completely break down into the dish. I like the final texture better and the carrots simply become a part of the flavor base.
After the soffritto is softened and golden, add the meats and brown. Once it is cooked through, you can deglaze the pan with the wine (be sure to use a decent wine). Add the broth and salt. Bake in a 350F oven with the lid ajar for about one hour. The liquid will be almost all gone and the pan will have a bunch of good stuff cooked up onto the sides. That's some good flavor there!!
Remove from the oven and add the milk (be sure to use whole milk for the best results), tomatoes, and nutmeg. Stir together and then put back in the oven for another hour with no lid, stirring periodically. When it is almost as thick as you would like it, reduce oven to 300F and add the bay, a dash of ground white pepper, and salt to taste. Continue baking until it is the thickness you prefer. I like mine pretty thick because it concentrates the flavors so much. If it gets too thick, you can always add a bit of the pasta water to loosed it back up.
Serve over pasta with fresh Parmigianino Reggiano.
2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, minced (1 1/2 to 2 cups)
1 medium carrot, shredded (about 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 large garlic clove
1/2 tsp salt
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup Chardonnay
1 cup beef broth
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1 (26oz) box Pomi strained tomatoes (see note below)
1/8 tsp ground bay
dash nutmeg and white pepper
salt to taste
Sauté the vegetables in the oil in a heavy Dutch oven. Preheat the oven to 350F. When vegetables are softened and slightly golden, add the meat and brown through. Deglaze the pan with the wine, add the broth, and bake with the lid ajar for one hour. The liquid should be almost all gone.
Remove from the oven, remove the lid, and add the milk and tomatoes. Stir until well mixed, scraping down the browned bits from the sides. Continue baking, uncovered, for another hour or so. Reduce the heat to 300F, add the remaining seasonings, and then return to the oven for 20 minutes or until the sauce is thick enough for your taste. Serve over freshly cooked pasta. If the sauce ends up too thick, you can stir in some of the pasta water to loosen it back up.
NOTE: You can use any tomato puree you'd like, but I have become convinced that Pomi tomatoes are the best out there. They are always sweet, they don't have the acrid tang that sometimes plagues tomatoes in a can, and I never regret adding them to a dish. You can find them in most supermarkets. Look for the red and white cartons.