When I was growing up, spaghetti happened one of two ways. Number one, and most frequent was a jar of Prego (never Ragu) over Mueller’s thin spaghetti, with a thick blanket of shredded cheddar cheese (the thick, blocky, orange stuff). The second iteration was what we called our special sauce. It involved ground beef, tomato paste and a LOT of ketchup. I loved that stuff, but imagine it wouldn’t hold up so well now. My spaghetti tastes have evolved over the years, but the feeling I’m chasing remains the same – pure and utter comfort. Sitting down to a bowl of noodles, even in a fancy restaurant, evokes a sense of warmth and familiarity that we can all relate to. Maybe it’s ramen, or pho or ravioli for you. For me it’s noodles with meat sauce, or to dress it up a bit – spaghetti Bolognese.
Bolognese is a meat-based sauce originating in Bologna, Italy, sometime in the 1800’s. Since then, many versions have been adapted, tweaked, argued over and most importantly eaten and enjoyed. As a Korean child adopted by Caucasian parents who fed me copious amounts of Prego and Cool Whip (not at the same time, thank god), I don’t pretend to be any kind of authority on authentic, Italian cuisine. Hell, it’s not even supposed to be served with spaghetti, but rather a wide, flat noodle that’s much harder to pronounce – like tagliatelle or pappardelle. But what I can do is speak to my own experiences, whims, and desires – and that seems authentic enough for me.
I love so much about this recipe – the way it makes me feel when I’m making it (like a G-D Italian grandma), the out-of-this-world smell it imparts upon your kitchen, how none of the ingredients are fussy or difficult to find, and most of all the way it tastes. It’s like a warm, meaty hug – that sounds weird, but trust me, it’s great. It does take time, but it’s well worth the effort – especially because most of it is just being around to check on the pot every so often and then taking a heap of compliments afterwards.
So, here is my authentically inauthentic take on Bolognese. I hope you make it some lazy Sunday in the near future and that it brings you comfort and warmth and satisfaction.
- February 8, 2018
- 4 hr 30 min
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- 2 slices bacon, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1 T extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for serving)
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- Kosher salt
- 1 lb ground beef
- ½ C dry sherry (or red or white wine)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp dried chili flakes
- 2 T tomato paste
- ¾ C milk
- 1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp balsamic/sherry/red wine vinegar
- 1 lb dried pasta (spaghetti or rigatoni are both great options)
- ½ cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)
- 2 tbsp butter, cut into four chunks
- ¼ cup fresh chopped parsley or basil (or both)
- Step 1
- In a food processor, pulse bacon until it forms a paste. Combine the bacon and 1 tbsp olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Sauté until light golden brown – about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Step 2
- Meanwhile, pulse carrot, onion and garlic in food processor (no need to clean the bowl) until you have a pretty fine vegetable pulp.
- Step 3
- After bacon has browned, add the processed vegetable mixture and ½ teaspoon of kosher salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally for 7 to 9 minutes. The vegetables will brown a little, but mostly just lose moisture.
- Step 4
- Add ground beef and break up with a wooden spoon. Lightly brown meat – 5 to 7 minutes.
- Step 5
- Add sherry and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes or until pan is mostly dry (it will still be very moist, but when you run your spoon across the bottom you’ll be able to see the surface of the pan.
- Step 6
- Add oregano, chili flakes and tomato paste, stir to combine and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Step 7
- Add milk and simmer for 10 minutes or until pan is mostly dry (same as with the sherry).
- Step 8
- Pour tomatoes with juice into a large bowl and crush with your hands to get a rough, uneven texture (I put the bowl in the sink when I do this, to avoid any juice spurting disasters).
- Step 9
- Add tomatoes and their juice, bay leaves and 1 cup of water. Stir to combine.
- Step 10
- Bring up to the boil and then reduce heat to a slow simmer.
- Step 11
- Partially cover and simmer for three hours, stirring occasionally. When the sauce gets thick, thin it out with ½ – 1 cup of water, scraping down the sides of the pot with each addition (I did this 3 times over the first 2.5 hours of simmering – the idea being to keep the consistency like a thicker soup until the last 30 minutes of simmering, at which point you can stop adding water, and let it thicken up a bit more).
- Step 12
- At the end of three hours, add vinegar, remove lid and keep simmering while you boil the pasta.
- Step 13
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Heavily salt the water (it should taste like the sea).
- Step 14
- Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook to just shy of how you’d like it, or 2 minutes short of the package directions.
- Step 15
- Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside.
- Step 16
- Drain pasta and add it directly to the sauce along with the butter, grated cheese and ½ cup of the reserved pasta water.
- Step 17
- Stir and toss the pasta vigorously with the sauce for about 5 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked through. If it looks dry, add a little more pasta water and continue tossing.
- Step 18
- Taste and season with salt if needed (mine didn’t).
- Step 19
- Add chopped herbs and toss to combine.
- Step 20
- Serve with extra cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.