Pasta, of any kind, is almost always my instinctual choice. I’ll resign myself to fish or a salad when I’m trying to “be good” but if I had to bring one food with me to that deserted island, it would be pasta.
Spaghetti Bolognese is a slow simmered meat sauce, and if you haven’t ventured into cooking this yourself, you are missing out on something momentous in your kitchen.
There is some tomato in the sauce (tomato paste), but this is not a traditional red sauce. This is a dark, savory, meaty sauce, full of flavor because it has extracted all the richness from the ingredients as it reduces for 4 hours.
It is a labor of love, but so very worth it.
The secret to success here is patience. Patience produces browning and reduction, which equal flavor!
The other secret to your success is a simple, but often overlooked one: salt.
Do not underestimate the power of salt. It is the difference between tasting all the work you put into this dish, and not.
If you don’t add enough salt during the cooking process (not just all at once at the end), then you might as well be eating with scalded taste-buds. The effect is about the same.
This Bolognese recipe is from Anne Burrell, and if you watch her for any small period of time, you will quickly learn that salt is your #1 priority when cooking. Watch her video of this recipe and you’ll see what I mean.
The only adjustment I’ve made to this recipe is increasing the amount of spaghetti, and omitting the finishing olive oil. This makes a ton of sauce— enough for 1 1/2 to 2 lbs of pasta (depending on how saucy you want it). So if a pound of spaghetti is more than enough for your family, then I recommend setting aside half the sauce and freezing it before adding (half) the pasta cooking water and noodles.
I love that the instructions are worded exactly the way Anne Burrell talks to you on the show. Very instructive and particular to what you should be focused on (salt and browning!)
So next time you have a whole day at home, put on some music and start filling your kitchen with this amazing aroma. There is no mistaking the long-simmered flavor of this sauce. People can taste the love and time you put into it. It’s worth every minute.
- 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
- 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
- 4 cloves garlic
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
- Kosher salt
- 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
- 2 cups tomato paste
- 3 cups hearty red wine
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
- 1.5 to 2 pounds spaghetti
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be patient, this is where the big flavors develop.
- Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. BROWN THE BEEF! Brown food tastes good. Don't rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don't be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
- During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. Pasta water should ALWAYS be well salted. Salty as the ocean! TASTE IT! If your pasta water is under seasoned it doesn't matter how good your sauce is, your complete dish will always taste under seasoned. When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.
- While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pot and reserve.
- Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining ragu. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.
Recipe slightly adapted from Food Network, Courtesy of Anne Burrell.