Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tuscan Bolognese

This recipe is why I'm proud to be Italian.  And why my husband married me.  And why I'm consistently "just ten pounds or so" (ok, 15) from my ideal weight.  Ever since learning how to make this I can basically french kiss that dream goodbye.  I'll just have to shove my skinny jeans a little further in the back.  It's fine. I'm not crying.  I swear. 

I learned how to make this dish in a cooking class in Tuscany, in Lucca to be exact.  Total life changing experience for me.  I learned to a) use lots of olive oil b) use more olive oil c) buy extra olive oil because chances are you are going to run out and you'll need to add more olive oil and d) not to forget the butter.  

How every single resident of Italy isn't rolling around like Violet Beauregarde is straight up mind boggling to me.  Yeah yeah I know, it's all about moderation. That's bologna.  Do they eat their food through an eye dropper?

So let me warn you:  this is a high maintenance, need to be in the kitchen for at least 2-3 hours to do this right, kinda recipe.  If you don't have the patience, and I certainly don't blame you, sure - you can take lots of short cuts.  Today, however, I'm going to show you what it means to be a total loco Italian.  Start with this rather long list of ingredients:

Bay Leaf
Red Wine
Chicken Base
Chicken Stock
Tomato Paste
Freshly Grated Parmesan

Start with chopping your veggies.  Chop them fine.  Fine fine FINE.  Once you think they are fine enough, chop them again. And then five more times after that.  You want the veggies to melt into the sauce. 

Do the same with the carrots, and the onions. 

You can cut onions really easily by cutting them down the middle, length wise. Then, cut the little top off, not the butt.   The butt will hold everything together.  Cut slices in towards the butt and then make cross sections.  Then cut across like the picture above.  If you understood what I just said you deserve the biggest gold medal in the history of medals.  

This is what you should end up with.  Two parts onion, one part carrot, one part celery.  500 parts can't wait to eat this. See all of these yummy veggies?  This is actually a really healthy meal.  Oh, I'm also lying. 

Add lots and lots of oil and heat up over medium. Probably the most oil you have ever added to anything.  Ever.   STOP JUDGING. I know you are.  Stop it right this instant.  I'm a good person.  Really. 

Dump in all your veggies and a big bay leaf.  See how fine the veggies are?  This is what you want.  Don't skip the bay leaf.  I'm still not totally sure what flavor bay leaf adds.  All I knew is that it gives this really awesome depth of flavor and I miss it when it's not there.  Try it. 

Ask your deli counter to cut the pancetta EXTRA thick. 

Chop it up like this.  I feel like this is a picture I've posted before.  Hmmm....maybe?. 

After the veggies have cooked down for 20 - 30 minutes or so, add the pancetta.  Cook the pancetta in the veggies for another 20 or so minutes. 

Throw in your beef and pork. 

Ok so this is important.  Stir the meat into the veggies over and over.  You want the meat to become one with the veggies and oil. You want to do this quickly before it starts cooking so you don't have large pieces of meat.  You want this to be super fine. 

This is what you want to see.  This is why we cut our veggies so fine.   Meat is our star, you don't want to bite into a big piece of celery or carrot. Cook the meat and stir often for another 30-40 minutes.  Add a glass of good red wine.  I used pinot noir.  So, I consider a $12 bottle of wine, good.  Use whatever you like to drink. Just make it red. 

Don't worry, this is chicken stock, not all oil.  I have't COMPLETELY lost it.  Let the wine cook down and then add low sodium chicken stock until it's about half way up the meat like this.

Keep stirring and cook for another 30 minutes or until the liquid has reduced .  This is what it should look like. 

So grab a scoop of tomato paste and whisk in some chicken stock.  The reason you do this is so the tomato paste melts into the meat sauce.  This is the only tomato in a traditional bolognese - crazy right?  If you want to have it more of a tomato based sauce, don't add more paste.  I would add regular, plain tomato sauce. Try it this way first though.  

Stir rigorously and let the tomato paste cook into the meat for about 15 minutes.  Hang in there, we're almost there. 

Now, grab a GOOD chicken base.  This one doesn't have MSG, etc etc but I'm sure whatever one you have on hand would be fine.  Start with a little at a time, 1/2 teaspoon or so until it's at your desired taste.  You can never take salt out only put more in, so just go slow here.  You don't want to f this up so close to the end. 

Add your milk.  Milk binds everything together and gives this really nice, unexpected velvety texture to the bolognese.  Niagra Falls in my mouth right now.  No joke.  DROOLING. 

Now just in case you were concerned that the bath of olive oil we've been cooking in wasn't enough, let's just throw some butter in at the end.  Why the hell not. 

YES!!! Look at this.  It's perfect.  See how the meat is SAUCY?  That's what you want.  It's a meat - sauce, which I never really totally grasped.  I always thought bolognese was tomato sauce with meat in it, which I guess it is sometimes.  That is WRONG.  I flew back from Lucca just to tell you that.  Or we ran out of money.  Same thing. 

Now grate a Swiss Alp of fresh parm.   Please don't use preshredded.  Not here.  Not now.  

Fresh pasta is always better, but I'm human and was also cooking like 90 other things this day.  So, I just went to my local Italian grocery store and picked out a really good pasta - tagliatelle made with eggs.  Boil it in liberally salted water until it's al dente.  Please don't over cook your pasta.  I usually try it 2-3 minutes BEFORE the time given on the box and it's usually done then.  If you do happen to turn your pasta into mush, you could always serve the bolognese over ice cream. 

Okay, lay your pasta out in a large bowl.  This was a wedding gift from my mom.  Sigh.  Love. 

Now, dump the entire pan of sauce onto the pasta.  Don't be bashful. 

So this was a good tip by our instructor.  So instead of putting the cheese INTO the sauce, do it when you are tossing the pasta.  That way, the warmth from the pasta and sauce with make the cheese all creamy.  If you do it in the super hot pan it will melt funny and get sorta chunky.  Creamy.  Velvety.  Smooth.  You get the idea. 

I mean.  Come on.  Make this and you will have friends for life.  Stay hungry!!

Tuscan Bolognese Recipe 
1 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Carrots, Finely Chopped
1 Cup Celery, Finely Chopped
2 Cups Onion, Finely Chopped
1 Bay Leaf
1 Pound Pork, Ground
1 Pound Beef, Ground
1/4 Pound Pancetta, Chopped
1 Glass Red Wine
1-1/2 Cups Low Sodium Chicken Stock
1 Teaspoon Chicken Base 
2 Tbs Tomato Paste
3/4 Cup Milk
1 Tbs Butter 
3/4 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano 

Heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add veggies to the oil and add bay leaf.  Melt veggies for 20-30 minutes.  Add chopped pancetta.  Cook for another 20-30 minutes.  Add ground pork and beef.  Cook another 20-30 minutes.  Add glass of red wine.  Cook down.  Add chicken stock.  Cook down again for another 40 minutes.   Melt tomato paste into a splash of chicken stock to thin it out.  Add and stir really well into meat.  Cook down again.  Add chicken base a little at a time until desired seasoning is reached.  Add milk, stir.  Finish with butter.  Pour sauce over al dente pasta and finish with freshly grated parm.  WOWZA. 


  1. Wow, this looks like so delicious - good for you for spending all the time - I think I'd give up two steps in :)

  2. Everyone needs to make this right now. I have passed it on to all of my friends and will PROBABLY make it again this weekend. Literally. Stop whatever you are doing. Go to the grocery store.

  3. I have added this to my February menu list. I can't tell you how excited about it I am! :)


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