Back when I was in grade school, the joy of waking up early on Saturday mornings was being able to watch new episodes of my favorite cartoon shows. Surprisingly, not much as changed over the years. Nowadays, I wake up early on Saturday mornings to catch new episodes of my favorite cooking shows on the FoodNetwork.
Every once in a while, you’ll come across a recipe that you just know has to be good, even without taste- or smell-o-vision. That moment came one fine Saturday morning while I was watching Anne Burrell making her version of Pasta Bolognese on her new show, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. I think any sauce that takes more than four hours to make should be good, but this is definitely the best meat sauce I’ve ever tasted! Of course, keep in mind that I did grow up on my mom’s version of bolognese… ground beef cooked with a jar of Ragu… not exactly gourmet but not too shabby either. This version of spaghetti bolognese, however, brings a whole new meaning to spaghetti with meat sauce. The sauce is so rich and flavorful, and since you cook the pasta with the sauce in the last minute, the flavors get a chance to marry together and you have one unified dish. For sure, this is not plain old spaghetti tossed with some meat sauce… this is the real deal!
And don’t think that you’ll be slaving over the stove for more than four hours just for a single meal because you’ll definitely have some sauce leftover. Don’t let it go to waste! You can store the sauce as it is in the freezer or make lasagna bolognese and store that in the freezer for a quick go-to meal any day of the week. Also keep in mind that since the bolognese sauce holds up so well, you can surely substitute spaghetti for your favorite type of pasta. This past weekend I brought some of the leftover sauce to my niece and cooked it with some Barilla Piccolini pasta and she absolutely loved it!
|PREP TIME||30 Min|
|COOK TIME||4 Hr 30 Min|
|READY IN||5 Hr|
|2||carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice|
|1||medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice|
|3||ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice|
|3||cloves garlic, chopped|
|2||tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil|
|2||pounds ground beef (preferably 90/10 lean-to-fat ratio)|
|3||6-ounce cans tomato paste|
|2||cups hearty red wine (See the Guide)|
|3||sprigs of thyme, tied in a bundle|
|1/2||cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano|
|1/4||cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade or tear*|
|Good quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing (See the Guide)|
|Large cutting board|
|Chef’s knife (See the Guide)|
|Food processor or blender|
|Heavy-bottomed French or Dutch oven (See the Guide)|
|Splatter screen (See the Guide)**|
|Tupperware or storage container|
|Colander or pasta strainer|
|Slotted wooden spoon/non-metal spatula|
- Using a food processor or blender, puree the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste.
- In a large heavy-bottomed French or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Stirring frequently, cook until all the water has evaporated and brown bits start forming on the bottom of the pan, about 15-20 minutes.
- Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Stirring frequently, brown the beef for another 15-20 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes until brown bits start forming on the bottom of the pan again.
- Add the red wine and turn up the heat to medium-high. Reduce the wine by half, another 5 minutes.
- Add enough water to the pan so there is 1-inch of liquid above the meat, about 2 cups. Toss in the bay leaves and bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Sprinkle in the sugar and bring the sauce to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
- As the liquid evaporates, gradually add more water, 2 cups at a time, and let it reduce to develop the flavors. Stir and taste occasionally and season with salt, if needed. Simmer for 3 1/2-4 hours.**
- During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large stockpot of water to a boil over high heat. Generously salt the water and cook the spaghetti for 1 minute less than the time required for al dente as indicated on the package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
- While the pasta is cooking, transfer 1/2 of the bolognese sauce to a large tupperware or storage container and reserve. Be sure to discard the bay leaves and bundle of thyme.
- Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining bolognese sauce. Stir to combine.
- Add the reserved pasta water and cook the pasta with the sauce until al dente, tossing frequently.
- Turn off the heat and sprinkle 1/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the pasta. Drizzle with good quality extra-virgin olive oil and toss to combine. Add some of the reserved bolognese sauce if needed, for an even ratio of pasta-to-sauce.
- Divide the pasta among 4 serving platters. Garnish with the remaining grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and basil*.
- Since basil tends to bruise easily, wait until the last minute to prepare the basil garnish. You can stack up the basil leaves, roll them tightly like a cigar, and use a sharp knife to chiffonade or cut the basil into fine ribbons. Note that a steel knife will oxidize the basil quite rapidly and turn the cut edges of the basil black. Simply tearing the basil leaves by hand will slow down the oxidation process and will provide your dish with a more rustic look.
- A splatter screen really comes in handy at this point. Once the liquid starts to reduce, the bolognese will begin to bubble and splatter everywhere unless you have something covering the pot. You don’t want to place the lid on the pot because then the liquid won’t be able to evaporate. Since a splatter screen is made out of a fine mesh, the liquid can still evaporate, but the erupting sauce won’t splatter all over the stove, kitchen walls, and most important of all, you!