The pleasure of making a Bolognese recipe, if you are not in a rush, is that each of the steps add a new layer of flavor and dimension, and condenses and coaxes the sweetness from each group of ingredients. Each step, sauteeing the vegetables, browning the meat, reducing the wine, takes a little while. None of them are particularly difficult. Making it provides the perfect excuse to stay home in your slippers—and finish reading your book, while it simmers in the background making your kitchen smell like the good life.
The trick to making this process even more relaxing is to do all of the mise en place—prepping and chopping and measuring—ahead of time, so that the toil is over with when you head to the stove.
This Bolognese recipe cooks for a long long time so that the vegetable pieces are soft and small, and the surrounding sauce is thick and clings nicely to pasta of various sizes. Traditionally, it is tossed with thick ribbons but I sometimes use chubby rigatoni, or (look away) skip the pasta altogether and serve it on a bowl of mashed potatoes. There’s really no reason I can think of to make a single batch. Make a double batch, and eat half and store the other half for later, when you need some home-cooked comfort.
Recipe courtesy Heather Ramsdell: Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ground beef chuck, 80% lean
1 Italian sausage, casing removed
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
1 large carrot, very finely chopped
1 stalk celery, very finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 pound pasta, cooked according to package instructions
4 ounces Parmesan cheese
Heat one tablespoon of the butter and 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the ground beef and sausage and season it with salt and pepper, and break it up with a wooden spoon into medium chunks. Brown the two meats about 5 minutes without stirring. When they are deep brown on the bottom, stir, breaking up the meat into smaller chunks. Continue to cook another 4 to 5 minutes until the meat is dark brown in many spots, and mostly cooked. Transfer to a bowl.
Turn the heat to medium high, melt the other tablespoon of butter with the rest of the olive oil plus any rendered fat in the pan and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the onion turns translucent and softens, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, bay leaf and thyme leaves and cook until they soften and the mixture turns golden about 6 more minutes.
Add the tomato paste and stir, cooking it until it coats the vegetables, dries a bit and becomes darker.
Return the beef to the pan with the onion mixture, stirring to break the beef into very small pieces. Add the wine and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the wine is reduced by about half, about 6 minutes.
Stir in the stock and the milk and turn down the heat until barely simmering with a bubble coming to the surface now and then. Stirring occasionally, cook 2 ½ to 3 hours uncovered, add a little water to loosen if the sauce becomes too dry. Allow the beef to cook down to very small tender pieces and the sauce to become rich and thick.
Discard the bay leaf. Grate the nutmeg into the sauce and stir. Taste and season with more salt if needed.
Toss with cooked pasta, reserving a little more to spoon onto the top. Sprinkle with Parmesan and enjoy.
Good Tip: Cut the onion, celery and carrot while the beef browns. Use a food processor to chop the onion, and the carrot and celery into very small pieces by pulsing.