This slowly simmered, rich meat sauce, originally from Bologna, Italy, is an important culinary building block. It can be used as a sauce for fresh pappardelle, tagliatelle, or other wide, ribbon-shaped egg pasta; as a component of a layered lasagne; as a topping for polenta; and in numerous other ways.
The good news is that it’s easy to make, nearly foolproof, and a cure for the winter blues. I can think of no dish I’d rather eat on a cold, blustery Northwest January night. The dense, deep mahogany sauce twirled around silky-textured, toothy fresh egg pasta, topped with a generous shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano is perfection to all the senses.
In 1982, the Bologna chapter of Italy’s gastronomic society, L’Accademia Italiana della Cucina, published a recipe for an authentic rendition of the city’s famous sauce, setting clear boundaries for what should and shouldn’t be included in this sauce. After reviewing the approved recipe, I must admit that my version is not authentic in the strictest sense. My Bellissimo Bolognese Sauce uses a lot more onion, herbs and spices, ground pork and pork sausage in addition to ground beef, chicken stock rather than beef stock, balsamic vinegar, and no celery, milk, cream, or tomato paste. For me, wine is an option and if I use it, it’s more likely to be red than white.
Nevertheless, through many rounds of testing over the years to eke the most exquisite flavor from the ten or so basic ingredients, the spirit of this sauce is intact. As in the authentic version, the meat takes precedence over the tomato, and long simmering creates a deep melding of favors. The resulting sauce, with its many dimensions, is dense and silky, subtly sweet and tart.
PRONUNCIATION Check out the cool Forvo site for audio pronunciations of words in many languages, including Bolognese (boh-loh-NYEH-zeh), tagliatelle (tah-lyah-TELL-eh), and pappardelle (pa-par-DAY-lay).
LunaCafe’s Bellissimo Bolognese Sauce
This very beautiful sauce is also very easy to make and does not, in my opinion, require the incredibly long simmering time indicated in many recipes. In fact, these lengthy times are more likely than not to get the cook in trouble. My sauce is on the stove for under an hour in most cases. The time will vary somewhat, based on the width (and thus depth) of the pan you use.
The sauce should not be dry when it is done. When it begins to stick to the pan, requiring nearly constant stirring, you have gone far enough, maybe a little too far. You can always add more stock to achieve just the right consistency though, so no worries in any case.
¼ cup cold-pressed (extra-virgin) olive oil
2 large onions, chopped (4 cups chopped)
2-3 carrots, chopped (1 cup chopped)
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (2 tablespoons minced)
2 teaspoons dried crumbled basil
2 teaspoons dried crumbled oregano
1 teaspoon dried crumbled thyme
½ teaspoon red chile flakes, optional
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
½ pound ground Italian pork sausage (with fennel)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup dry red or white wine, optional
four 14½-ounce cans petite diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup chicken stock
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons sugar, if necessary
¼ cup minced fresh parsley
1.In a large stovetop casserole, heat the olive oil, and sauté the onions and carrots over medium-low heat until softened but not browned, about 15 minutes.
2.Add the garlic, basil, oregano, and thyme and continue cooking without browning for 2-3 minutes.
3.Raise the heat and add the ground meats. Sauté, stirring and crumbling the meat, until the meat is well browned.Drain any excess oil from the skillet.
4.Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce to almost no liquid.
5.Add the wine if using and reduce by half.
6.Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and simmer slowly, partially covered for about 45 minutes, until most, but not all, of the moisture has evaporated.
7.Taste, then season with salt, pepper, and sugar if necessary.
8.Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley.
Makes 4 cups sauce; enough sauce for 12-14 ounces of dried egg pasta or 18-21 ounces of fresh egg pasta.