Last Sunday I spent the better part of the day in the kitchen cultivating a delicious bolognese sauce. Bolognese sauce is a labor of love because it does take awhile, but it is so, so worth it when you're done. I made a large batch so that my hours of cooking would pay off more than just once, and boy did they! We had bolognese over pasta for dinner on Sunday night, then I used it two other tantalizing ways during the week for a total of three hearty, filling suppers all from one pot of sauce. I'm going to tell you first how to make the bolognese, then how to use it in the other two creative ways I used it. Your taste buds will dance.
To make the bolognese:
Begin by dicing carrots, onions and celery. You will need 3 carrots, 3 ribs of celery and 1 small onion (or half of one large onion). Dice these as uniformly as possible. Some bolognese recipes call for the veggies to be pureed, but I like to see them in my sauce at the end and I love the added texture that you get by dicing them. Set them in a skillet with about a quarter of a cup of extra virgin olive oil on medium heat. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. I use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic so as not to burn the garlic during the lengthy cooking process. The vegetables are going to cook down for a long time, almost to the point of caramelization. They should look over done before you move on to the next step.
Once your vegetables begin to look brownish and soft, add one pound of ground beef to the skillet. Cook with the vegetables until the beef is brown, taking your time. There is no rush, and the longer you allow it to cook, the more flavorful it will be. If you want to make a vegetarian bolognese, you can replace the ground beef with three cups of small diced portabellas and two tablespoons of butter. Either way, the cooking should take about twenty minutes and you should mix the contents of the skillet around semi-frequently.
Once the beef is cooked, you're going to add 8oz. of tomato paste to the skillet and mix well to thoroughly coat all of your meat and vegetables. Again, you're going to allow the contents of the pan to cook for about 20 minutes, mixing occassionally. You want to sort of brown the tomato paste so that it is almost burned but not quite. This really, really intensifies the flavor of the paste.
After your tomato paste is starting to look brownish, you are going to add some red wine. You can really use any red wine, but a dryer wine will probably give more flavor. Red wine is like the heart and soul of a bolognese; there are many variations of bolognese, but all of them call for red wine. Red wine is where the distinctive flavor of the finished product really comes from. Now, you know I'm not a real big fan of measuring so what I typically do is add enough red wine to give me the consistency of a thick liquid once it's incorporated well. This should be at least two cups but really, just pour the wine into the pan and mix as you go, stopping whenever you think you've added enough. The wine will bubble up when it comes into contact with the hot skillet, so be careful. As you mix it in, run your spatula along the bottom of the pan to remove the scrapings from the cooking you've already done. The mixture should bubble as it cooks, again being stirred occassionally. During this stage of the cooking, you're going to be reducing the wine. You should see that the liquid becomes thicker as it cooks more. You're going to continue cooking it until it is almost the consistency of a paste again. The depth of flavor from combining the reduced red wine with the almost burned tomato paste is really out of this world.
After the wine has reduced, transfer the entire contents of the pan into a stock pot. Add another cup of red wine, and three cups of water. At this time, you will need to season with salt and pepper again, and you will also want to add in some thyme. Mix well and continue cooking at medium heat until the sauce is bubbling. Allow the sauce to boil for about ten minutes, stirring occassionally. After ten minutes, reduce the heat to low. You're going to simmer the sauce for about three hours, adding more water one cup at a time as you deem necessary. The sauce will reduce slowly as it cooks, which is why you'll need to add more water here and there. This slow cooking process really brings out the flavors of all of your ingredients. After about three hours, your sauce is finished! On the night that I cooked the bolognese, I just served it over some pasta with a crusty piece of italian bread.
Now stay tuned for the amazingly delicious ways I used this sauce for the rest of the week. We're going to bring a new meaning to the word "leftovers" people!