I should start by saying there are no short cuts with this recipe. It is a good solid afternoon of work. And really for the best results you should actually sleep on it. Making this sauce is a commitment, and making a truly good Bolognese sauce is a labor of love.
As the hours went on while I was making this sauce, the more I thought about it the more I realized Bolognese sauce is sort of like marriage (actually it is a lot like marriage). If you want it to be good, you have to put the work in. It may be perceived as a simple on first glance, but underneath it is very complex with many layers that take work to build successfully.
Bolognese is not just some ground beef tossed in tomato sauce, and marriage is not just like dating or living together. There are very simple, very few ingredients that go into making a bolognese, also there are very few ingredients in a marriage.
Just like marriage, Bolognese is a bit of a mystery BUT everyone has an opinion on it! In the case of this sauce is it called Bolognese or Ragu? Do you use red wine or white wine? Simmered on the stovetop or slow cooked in the oven? Chicken livers? Minced beef, pork, or veal? Cream, milk or no dairy? The list actually goes on and on (who knew the controversy!) and I have not even started on the what type of pasta debate.
Are you ready to commit?
Basically if you are a commitment-phobe then Bolognese is not the sauce for you, perhaps stick to the fun loving Alfredo. Ready in 20 minutes, bada bing, bada boom.
Back in my single days I was not particularly interested in marriage. It did not seem like something that was for me. But if I had to get married, then I thought marrying an Italian man seemed like a good choice. A good choice for one simple reason… He would have a Nonna. My imaginary new Nonna was going to teach me how to make the most delicious food imaginable from family recipes that had been handed down through generations. Our relationship based on food was going to be a great one.
Making a major life decision based around food seemed completely logical in my illogical 20s. Then the lovely husband came along, and even though he did not have a Nonna, I could not imagine not being his wife and my views on marriage changed quickly. In my slightly more logical 30s I still base decisions on food, but they are decisions like travel, not life changing ones like marriage.
And even without a Nonna of my own to teach me authentic cooking, I have managed to pick up a few tips a long the way as to how you make a truly delicious Bolognese.
First and most important tip – slow cook in the oven without a lid on the pot (whatever you do don’t use a metal pot!!). This I was a little skeptical about – a sauce in the oven? noo – but it produces that rich, depth of flavor that you want in a Bolognese sauce and can not accomplish on a stovetop. I experimented with this recipe cooking half in the oven, half on the stovetop and the difference in flavor is shocking. Trust me oven is the way to go.
Do not think of tomatoes as the main ingredient. They are added for flavor, but this is a meat sauce. Meat is king in this recipe.
Speaking of meat you need good quality lean, ground meat. Traditionally it is a mixture of veal and pork, or veal, pork and beef. Again meat is king.
Dairy – yes this was a surprise for me as well. As we know dairy tenderizes meat by breaking down the proteins. No one wants tough meat, and imagine tough meat sauce. Yuck. Once you think about it, it actually makes perfect sense.
Last but certainly not least. Top with fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano, no substitutes allowed.
With my knowledge shared, I hope you enjoy my recipe for Bolognese sauce… And if you have a Nonna that you would be willing to share let me know my pasta making needs work!
- 4 celery, small, diced
- 1 onion, medium, diced
- 4 carrots, medium, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 100 grams pancetta, diced
- 0.425 kg ground veal
- 0.425 kg ground pork
- ½ cup light cream (10%)
- 4 sage leaves
- 4 tbsp parsley
- 1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatos, whole, peeled
- 1 6 oz can tomato paste
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 1½ cup dry red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp chile flakes
- ½ grated parmesan cheese
- sea salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 275F
- In a large skillet over medium heat cook diced pancetta for 3 - 5 minutes, until it begins to brown and release fat. Add diced vegetables and cook for 10 minutes until they are soft.
- In a dutch oven over medium heat add olive oil. Add garlic cook for 2 minutes until fragrant. Add meat and once it begins to brown, stir in ¼ cup of cream. Cook through for 5-7 minutes, and then stir through chopped sage and 2 tbsp parsley.
- Mix in cooked vegetables and pancetta to the ground meat in the dutch oven. Cook for a further 5 minutes, or until any remaining liquid is absorbed.
- Add wine to the mixture, stirring constantly and reducing heat to medium low.
- Using a hand mixer puree the canned whole tomatoes, then add to meat and vegetable mixture in the dutch oven along with the tomato paste and chicken stock.
- Stir in chile flakes and add in bay leaves.
- Place in oven without a lid for 3.5 - 4 hours until fat has risen to the top, separating from the meat.
- Allow to cool, then Option A: place in fridge overnight for fat to solidify on top, the next day remove all fat. Set aside 1 cup of fat. Slowly reheat oven medium low heat, gradually stirring through reserved fat. Option B: Once cooled, carefully remove most fat leaving approximately one cup to remain in sauce. Place over low heat.
- As sauce is heating stir through 2 tbsp of chopped parsley, grated parmesan cheese, and ¼ cup cream. Season with sea salt and pepper.
- Serve with your choice of pasta topped with fresh grated cheese.