How To Cook A Bolognese Sauce

I insistBrendan Koerner points us to what he calls “the fluffiest newspaper article ever.” It is headlined, “Bolognese a sauce of optimism,” so you can kind of see his point. But forget about that. Have I ever shared my recipe for Bolognese with you? I have not? Well, it is a terrific recipe, passed down through an unbroken chain of Italian grandmothers and one of the first things I remember watching my own Italian grandmother make. It is not at all difficult, and is not particularly labor-intensive, unless you find chopping and stirring to be labor-intensive. You ready to learn? Let’s do it! Vegetarians will want to go somewhere else about now.

Cover the bottom of a big pot with olive oil. Set the burner to medium heat. Get an onion and chop it up. White or yellow, whatever, it’s your call. Just don’t use red, because the only thing red onions are good for is salad. Anyway, toss the onion into the oil and stir it around for a few minutes. Two or three should do it.

Chop a carrot and a couple stalks of celery into the tiniest pieces you can. Trim and clean these first, obviously. Actually, if I need to tell you that, stop reading now and go buy a jar of Bolognese from the grocery, because that’s all you deserve. Dump ‘em in and stir them around for another couple minutes. Everything should be soft and mushy but not exactly brown. You’re doing great!

Take a thin slice of ham or roast pork (or prosciutto if you really want to be fancy. Look at you, Mr. or Mrs. Moneybags! You can afford a meat that starts at $25 bucks a pound. Or at least it should. I certainly hope you’re not using domestic prosciutto. That’s just wrong, and it offends the Italian part of me. Anyway, if this is the way you’re going to go, use a couple of slices.) Sliver it and saute for a minute or two.

Now it’s time for the ground meat. A word here: Even I, who will put pretty much anything into my body without regard for origin or cleanliness, am extremely cautious about ground meat, because a lot of it is filled with what scientists refer to as “doody.” You should probably buy it from somewhere you trust, and preferably somewhere you can watch them actually grind it up. Either way-hey, you want to eat what scientists refer to as “doody,” you go ahead, I’m just saying is all-you’re going to need about two pounds of it. I’m partial to all beef. You can do a beef/veal/pork blend if you like, but beef should predominate. (If you have problems with veal, I understand. It’s terrible what they do to those little baby cows who will never get the chance to grow up to be big cows. Still, I think it’s nice when they can all wind up in the same sauce together.) Put the meat in and mix it around for about five minutes or so. Don’t overcook, by which I mean you do not want it to look like it is something you are ready to eat right now. Keep it pinkish.

Liquid time. Get a cup of dry white wine (if you don’t have any, a cup of dry vermouth will do. Hell, I’ve used a cup of red wine before and the difference has not been particularly notable.) and pour it in. Stir occasionally, but let the meat “drink” the wine so that it kind of evaporates into the mix. Figure a couple of minutes on this one. Next you’re gonna take a cup of milk and do the same thing. Here’s the part where the old Italian ladies will tell you that the milk should be hot, but I think this is something they make up just to keep you busy and show that they’re in control. It doesn’t matter what temperature the milk is, it’s all gonna wind up in the meat all the same. You hear that, nonna? It doesn’t matter. When the milk is gone (it’ll take longer than the wine did) add another cup of wine, same deal as before.

[A NOTE FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO DO NOT LIKE TO COOK WITH ALCOHOL: You've got your reasons, I guess. I'm not gonna judge. You can replace the wine with beef stock. BUT, the beef stock should absolutely be made fresh. Nothing from the store, got it? I would have given you my personal recipe for beef stock had I thought about this in advance, but the idea of a life without alcohol is so alien to me that I only just now remembered that there are some people who swing that way. I'm sure there plenty of good recipes on the Internet. Good luck.]

Finally, the tomatoes. Figure out how thick you want your sauce. You want it ragu style? Get one can. You want it a little more liquidy? Two cans. Either way, you are REQUIRED BY ME to be using a 28 ounce can (or cans) of whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes. In this matter there can be no dispute. If you find yourself unable or unwilling to use San Marzano tomatoes I refuse to allow you to make my Bolognese. Seriously. Get out of the kitchen and go take a good, hard look at yourself in the mirror. Ask yourself, “Why am I such a fuckhead that I refuse to use San Marzano tomatoes? Am I the sorriest son of a bitch God ever put upon His green earth?” Nod twice to confirm to yourself that you are. Then go to the Olive Garden, because you’ll almost certainly love it, and after the realization that you are the sorriest son of a bitch God ever put upon His green earth you could probably use some cheering up.

The tomatoes go in the blender. Pulse them until the consistency is mostly juice, with a few chunks remaining for character. Pour it into the pot and swish everything together. Add a shitload of salt (or slightly less if you’re not trying to give yourself an aneurysm like I am) and a couple of bay leaves (don’t forget to take them out at the end, because there are few things more unpleasant than getting an errant bay leaf caught in your throat) and drop the heat down to low. You wanna let this simmer for three hours or so. Check back every thirty minutes and give a little stir. You’ll probably have a sense of when it’s ready. If you’re going on 4 hours you’re almost certainly done and may have even fucked things up, but it’s really difficult to ruin this sauce, so more than likely you can pull it out. Serve over whatever pasta you like (a thick noodle is best) and freeze what you don’t use. This also makes a more-than-decent replacement for regular tomato sauce in pizza.

There. Was that so hard? Don’t thank me, thank my grandma. Who is dead. (But not from this sauce.) But if she were here I’m sure she would be happy to tell you you were welcome, right before she told you how you were doing it wrong. Old Italian grandmas. Always with the correcting. I guess that’s one of the things we love about them. Anyway, enjoy.