Lynda Balslev: A sauce Bolognese-ish
If you don’t have a recipe like this in your winter repertoire, then you should. In our house, we refer to this dish as Pasta Bolognese. Now, before you raise your hand to point out that this is not an authentic Bolognese sauce, I’ll save you the time and announce it right here: This is not an authentic Bolognese sauce.
You might, instead, call this sauce a distant relative, the result of numerous family dinners, and the evolution of a sauce tweaked to ensure ease of preparation, ingredient access and unanimous approval.
Let me explain. Bolognese sauce is a meaty Italian ragu, often containing a combination of beef, pork, pancetta and/or veal. It may also include tomatoes, although they are not typically predominant, since meat is the principal component (which is why Bolognese is often called a ragu). This recipe calls exclusively for ground beef, because that’s the meat I can easily find in my market and likely have stashed in my freezer. And it includes a generous amount of tomatoes, which always lend bright acidity to meat sauce.
Other traits of traditional Bolognese sauce are the minimal use of spices (salt, pepper, nutmeg), no garlic (gasp!), and the inclusion of white wine and milk. For the record, you can be sure there will be garlic in the following recipe, as well as oregano and thyme. And there will be no trace of milk; otherwise, at least one young family member would have rebelled years ago due to a mystifying bias against dairy. And, in place of white wine, I always add red, because I prefer how it deepens flavor and adds fruity acidity to meaty sauces — and (for some reason) there’s always red wine in our house.
Finally, Bolognese is hearty, traditionally served with equally hearty pasta, such as pappardelle. We love these thick, ribbon-y noodles, but, unlike red wine, there’s rarely pappardelle on hand in our house for an impromptu dinner, so spaghetti is the go-to staple of choice.
The point here is that this is a flexible pasta sauce that tastes great no matter its name or origin. In our home, it’s a beloved family staple we’ve called Bolognese, and we’re sticking to it.
Active Time: 50 minute
Total Time: 50 minutes
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 small celery stalk, finely diced
1 pound ground beef
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup full-bodied red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can crushed or whole Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
Spaghetti or other pasta
Grated Parmesan cheese
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a bowl.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot. Add the beef and cook until colored and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Pour in the wine and simmer until reduced by about half, stirring up any brown bits in the pan, and then add the tomato paste and stir to blend.
Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, salt and black pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Partially cover the pot and simmer the sauce for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up any of the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Taste for seasoning. If desired add 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, to taste.
Serve ladled over cooked pasta. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area, where she lives with her Danish husband, two children, a cat and a dog. Lynda studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine in Paris and worked as a personal chef, culinary instructor, and food writer in Switzerland and Denmark. Her favorite activities include hiking, cooking dinners for her friends and family, and planning her next travel destination.
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