It’s February. I’ve got a big pot of Bolognese sauce on the stove. I also have a notepad bursting with tips on how to cook Bolognese. Bolognese is winter comfort food of the first order. However, it’s supposed to be 78 degrees here all week, the flowers are blooming and those wacky birds are chirping their little beaks off. I have a weekend of gardening planned and it’s time to get the pool in shape for the season. It seems spring has sprung and I’m enjoying the sun it’s brung! So why then am I sitting here in a purple velour sweater making Bolognese?
Well, they do call this venue I spit words into the world WIDE web. So gosh darn it I feel a geographic obligation to consider the fact that it’s the very dead of winter in some parts of the world very near here. These tips on how to cook Bolognese are my way of saying I know what’s going on out there – it’s cold. I wouldn’t want to be accused of being an insensitive weather snob.
Well if the short shorts fit… GREG
How to Cook Bolognese Sauce
MEAT: I like 85% lean ground chuck or sirloin. Which is as much as 10% leaner than the ratio I prefer for burgers. However, unlike most burgers, Bolognese gets sweetened (and fattened) with a bit of ground pork. While we’re on the subject of pork, a little pancetta (or bacon) chopped into the mix adds a smoky flavor. It also adds more fat. While fat is flavor you don’t want a greasy sauce – excess fat can be skimmed at the end of cooking if necessary.
LIVER: In a true, old-school Bolognese sauce chicken livers are obligatory. They give a dark pungency that balances the sweet flavors. If you have liver-haters in the house don’t tell them; they won’t notice. However, truth be told, as much as I generally love chicken livers I usually skip them when making Bolognese, and my recipe reflects that. But I did want you to know.
VEGETABLES: Bolognese is a meat sauce primarily, but most traditional recipes include onions. I like to add carrot, celery and/or fennel for extra sweet depth too.
COOKING WINE: Almost any fruit forward wine will do. White wine blends into the sauce quietly and red wine lends a more assertive flavor that requires longer cooking. Try it both ways and see what you think.
MILK: What’s the single, best word to describe the pleasure of a great bolognese sauce? Rich. Milk adds an expected layer of richness. If you add it early and allow it to cook off before you add the tomatoes milk will not turn your Bolognese into a cream sauce.
TOMATOES: Canned San Marzano tomatoes are best. Fresh tomatoes have too much acidity. Tomato paste is just too concentrated. A lot of recipes recommend tomato paste in conjunction with some other sort of tomato, but I prefer a more mellow sauce. I find canned tomatoes alone color and sweeten the meat sauce without overpowering it.
NOODLES: Broad flat pasta noodles such as pappardelle and tagliatelle are traditional, but spaghetti became a popular noodle to serve with meat sauce in mid-century America. I don’t have a strong opinion and often choose a tube-shaped pasta when it’s all I have handy. However, I do ask that you don’t drown the noodles in sauce. A Bolognese sauce should hang on the noodles rather than smother them.
HERBS: Sometimes you see recipes that include fresh or dried herbs. Basil, oregano, and parsley come to mind, but Bolognese is that rare recipe where I don’t think they’re needed. For me, the best Bolognese is rich and soothing. Herbs bring fresh, assertive flavors that take away from the comfort. If you really think your Bolognese needs a strong counterpoint then make that statement with the wine you serve.
Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco 2009
Pairs well with roast meats, barbecue, game birds, hearty pasta, strong cheeses
WINE PAIRING: Barolo and Barbaresco are the king and queen of Italian wine. Both are made from the Nebbiolo grape, they have beautiful aromatics and a serious acid-tannin structure that work well with Bolognese sauce. If you don’t want to spend a lot of $$ then you can’t go wrong with Barbera. You might also want to consider something regional. Lambrusco is Bologna’s best-known wine. It sparkling and fun. It can range from pink and off-dry to dark, tannic and brooding. Look for one somewhere in the middle.
TIME: This is the most important ingredient. Bolognese isn’t fast food. You can’t bounce home late from work, brown some burger on the stove, slop in some tomato sauce while the spaghetti boils and expect to get a Bolognese worth eating.
And that, in my opinion, is how to cook Bolognese sauce.
How to Cook Bolognese