Disclaimer: I guess I didn’t actually know what Bolognese sauce is… I thought it was pretty much any meat sauce. Surprise – no! More in the post-recipe notes.
I was visiting my mom in Florida, and hadn’t planned to make anything for the blog on the short trip. But she was game, and we needed a dinner plan, so she chose this recipe from the Foodlets blog. Now apparently, Bolognese normally takes about 5 hours. 3 in a pinch. And is all about the fat….
This quick version promises the same thing in 1 hour. One hour sounds a lot more reasonable, if you’re like me and don’t always realize what time it is til, you know, 20 minutes before everyone wants food!
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ pound ground beef (we used 1.25lb and you want a 80%, not a lean cut)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
a few cracks of black pepper from a pepper mill
1 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup white wine (we used a sweet Riesling, which was all my mom had, and probably needed)
1 28 ounce can of crushed or diced tomatoes and their juices
I have to admit I felt a little concerned about some of the steps in this, but we plowed ahead!
Melt the butter and saute the carrots, onions and garlic. We used pre-shredded carrots, so I chopped those up. Looking at the original Marcella Hazan recipe, you want these veggies to sort of disappear over time. Add some salt here, even though it doesn’t say to — you always want to season each step of food, layering in flavor.
Add the ground beef, salt and pepper, and saute until browned.
Add the milk. We put the nutmeg into it in the measuring cup. I was worried about this step, thinking the milk would curdle because you BOIL it until there’s no more liquid. (If I could insert the scared/shocked emoji here I would!) But I guess the fat from the beef and butter keep it from curdling. However, the blog says this step takes 5 minutes. False. We boiled it at least 15 and finally decided the liquid that was left was staying.
Add the wine and bay leaf. Again, boil til the liquid is gone – now a magical 3 minutes. Another 10-15 of boiling, and we decided a) this is not going to be a one hour dish if we keep having to boil out all the liquid, and b) we don’t want the sauce dry anyway so we’re moving on. (Imagine an eye roll emoji here.)
Add the tomato sauce. It will definitely need more salt. The blog says to turn the heat “as low as possible” and stir occasionally to “prevent scorching.” It doesn’t say how long to cook it, but if we add up the 7-10 min of veggies sautéing, the theoretical 5 minutes for the milk to boil down, and likewise theoretical 3 minutes for the wine to boil down… that would mean we need to cook it on super-low for 42 minutes while we cook the pasta. We put it on about 175 degrees/med low, and let it not-quite-simmer for about an hour.
That’s all the recipe calls for, no other seasoning. No adjustments later before serving. Just serve with fresh grated parmesan.
RATING: 2.5 to 3 as written. But we had guests for dinner so I doctored it to a 3.5-4 (see below)
RP Servings: 6 light eaters, 4 hungry ones
Ok. So I did do some research on Bolognese and on Marcella Hazan’s recipe (the New York Times has almost 700 comments praising it). And ingredient-wise, this is pretty legit. I think there is traditionally an addition of pancetta or ground pork, but there are no other seasonings and actually garlic isn’t even normally included. And it’s supposed to be basically covered with the fat of the meat, the butter, milk, and cheese… And then tossed with a wide pasta like parpadelle.
I love Italian food and am going to Italy in March (although not Northern Italy where this originates) but I gotta say that I’m not a fan of this if that’s the real, traditional sauce. I do not want to see the fat, love the fat, mix the fat, or let it coat my mouth (a frequent comment like it’s a good thing!). Fortunately, this version did NOT have that kind of mouth feel.
However, it also tasted like…. nothing. Bland. No vibrancy, no umami, just one note. I didn’t this time, but would next time, add more garlic at the sautéing stage. A lot more garlic, to cut through the meatiness. I added a pretty good amount of kosher salt, probably 1 1/2 tsp or even more. (One guest still asked if I’d salted it!) It desperately (DESPERATELY) needed acid, so I added about 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, which made a big difference and brightened it up. (You could use red wine vinegar.) A dry wine would have added some of that acidity…. but it also needed a little sweetness which the Riesling gave it. Otherwise you’d probably need to add a little sugar. And we also used about 1 tsp dried oregano, 3/4 tsp dried basil, and 1/4 tsp dried rosemary. I’d put more of those in if I made it again, also.
In short, there are a lot of other pasta sauces that are a lot better. By the time you doctor this to be good, it’s not technically Bolognese anymore. (But at least it has flavor!) If I have some of the real thing in Italy and love it, I’ll let you know.
AFTERWARD: My mom texted to say that it was better the next day, which is pretty typical of any type of sauce or stew. So maybe make the doctored version a day or two ahead of time!