Monday, March 17, 2008

Simple Bolognese Sauce

My version of the recipe is based off of Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking." But over the years, I'm changed a few things to it, which is more suited to my taste as well as time. Hazan's recipe calls for simmering for at least 3 hours and sometimes, that's just not possible. So I've made some adjustments using some techniques from other recipes I've tried to help build a full flavor that appealed to me without the extra time. This recipe also makes enough for leftovers, which I like to freeze into serving portions (for 2 usually).


  • 1 lb of ground chuck (can substitute with ground beef around 80% lean, don't go too lean)
  • 4 oz cremini (brown) mushrooms, cleaned, stems trimmed, diced very fine
  • 1 celery stalk, diced very fine
  • 1 carrot, diced very fine
  • 1 small onion (about 2/3 cup), chopped fine
  • 5-6 medium garlic cloves, minced (I use a garlic press and like a lot of garlic)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomato
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomato, undrained, optional (see Postscript below)
  • 1 can tomatoe sauce (I like Hunts)
  • 1 Tbspoon fresh or 1 tsp dried oregano leaves
  • Salt to taste (I like to use Kosher)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup good white wine
I use a food processor to finely chop the mushroom, celery and carrots using several pulses. The pieces should be about 1/8" in size but not pureed.

Heat oil and butter in large sauce pan over medium heat. Cook onion until translucent and then add mushrooms, carrots, and celery. Cook until vegetables are soft, around 6 minutes. Stir frequently. Add garlic, pepper flakes and tomato paste, cook until fragrant and tomato paste begins to turn darker, about 1-2 minute. I really like the addition of tomato paste to bring out the flavor. This is a trick I learned from Cook's Illustrated.

Add meat, a pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Stir to break apart the meat, and cook for about 3-4 minutes or until the meat loses raw color (no more pink). DO NOT brown the meat. From what I've learned, in traditional Italian bolognese sauce, meat is never browned. If the meat is starting to brown, turn down the heat just a tad and stir more frequently.

Add the milk and let it simmer, stirring frequently, until milk "bubbles away" (as Hazan puts it). Add the wine and let it simmer until it evaporates. Add in the crushed tomatoe, tomato sauce, and stir to combine. Bring it to a simmer and turn down the heat to simmer gently with the lid OFF for about 1 hour. Bubbles should break through the surface intermittenly. Stir occasionally.

If you want to simmer longer, stir from time to time and monitor the liquid level. If the sauce begins to dry out and the fat separates, stir in about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of water as necessary. Make sure that the water completely evaporates before cooking stops. Personally, I only go as long as about 90 minutes and have not had to add any water.

If the sauce tastes too acidic, stir in a pat of butter, which will give the sauce a smoother taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add freshly ground pepper and salt to taste.

What to do with this sauce? It can used in any recipe that calls for a meat sauce. I typically like it with linguine and have also used it in baked rigatoni and lasagna. Tonight, I'm making lasagna with it.

Leftover sauce will be frozen in a freezer bag. Great for last minute meals. Leftover can also be stored in the fridge for about 5 days.

I will update this recipe with any future adjustments that I think will enhance the sauce.

Now I'm going to go and eat well. Hope you do, too.

Postscript: I recently started adding 1 can of Hunts Diced tomatoes (something CI includes in one of its many bolognese recipes) and I really like the chunky texture the diced tomatoes adds to the sauce. But because of the extra liquid it adds, I've started to cook it for 2 hours to get the same reduction as without the extra liquid. The biggest difference that I found is that it tastes more tomato-ey, fresher kind of taste because of the tomato chunks. I think I like it this way with long pasta, like linguine. I prefer the original recipe (without diced tomatoes) for lasagna and baked rigatoni. Give it a try and see which one you like best.

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