For Christmas this year, my mom gave me a beautiful, autographed cookbook, Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition by Barbara Lynch. Lynch is a James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurant owner based in Boston and I was so excited to try out her recipes. After a false start with her fresh pasta dough (more on that in a later post), I tried her Lemony Breaded Chicken Cutlets which was an easy and yummy weeknight dinner.
Then, last week, I decided it was time to tackle bolognese and I thought I’d use Lynch’s Butcher Shop Bolognese from Stir as a starting point. We ended up departing significantly from the recipe out of necessity; we didn’t have fresh herbs on hand nor did we want to buy chicken livers, veal, or lamb when we already had beef at home.
Here in the U.S. bolognese typically refers to a generic meat sauce often served with spaghetti or another long pasta. The American version of bolognese differs from the traditional Italian ragù alla bolognese which is almost always served atop tagliatelle to better adhere the meat to the pasta. Writer Waverley Root describes bolognese as “…an unctuous blend of onions, carrots, finely chopped pork and veal, butter, and tomato,” (Root 1971: 198). In 1982, the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, keepers of Italian traditional cuisine and food culture, registered the definitive ragù alla bolognese recipe which is made with ground beef, pancetta, carrot, celery, onion, tomato puree or tomatoes, dry white wine, whole milk, broth , olive oil or butter, salt, pepper, and cream (optional). This dish hails from Bologna, Emilia Romagna and is simple, hearty, and delicious when done right.
Now, I can’t honestly say I’ve done bolognese “right.” In fact, I made it quickly, which is antithetical to the whole idea of bolognese which is at its best when simmered for two hours. But sometimes you’re hungry and you’ve been daydreaming of bolognese and you have to make it happen, “right” or not. I wanted something hearty, easy, warm, and fragrant. Perhaps we sacrificed a bit of flavor but we cleaned our plates and were pretty happy at the end of the meal.
inspired by Butcher Shop Bolognese from Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition by Barbara Lynch
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped*
1 large carrot, finely chopped*
salt, ground pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano
1 lb. lean ground beef
11/2 cups dry red wine
11/2 cups chicken broth**
1 141/2-ounce can chopped tomatoes
pasta (we used boxed farfalle the first time; fresh homemade fettuccine the second time)
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, approximately 8-10 minutes.
Add the ground beef (in batches if necessary) and cook through. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes and oregano and stir to distribute. Pour off most of the fat. (This is an important step which we neglected to do well enough and our bolognese was slightly too oily because of it.) Add the wine, increase to high heat and let the mixture boil until the wine has reduced, around 15 minutes.
Add the broth and tomatoes and then lower the heat. Gently simmer the sauce, uncovered, for 30 minutes to 2 hours. The longer the better! We opted for 30 minutes because it was getting late but next time we’ll give it a good hour+. (Update: We tried this recipe again a week later and let it simmer for 1.5 hours. The longer cook time definitely deepened and intensified the flavor and softened the texture. Well worth the wait.) Serve over pasta and enjoy!
*For sauces, soups, and stews that call for just 1 stalk of celery or one carrot we have a habit of using 2 or more. The more veg the merrier.
**We didn’t have any homemade chicken stock in the house (that happens only a couple times a year) nor chicken broth so we had to resort to a cube of chicken bouillon which seemed to work just fine.