Bolognese and Cookbook Redemption
What, am I crazy? I thought as I lugged the five pound bag across the parking lot. Do I really need another cookbook? Especially this seven pound, 1,000+ page monster?
Once home from the longest shopping trip ever, I strenuously flexed my arm and dropped the 10 pound book onto the dining room table. Why, oh, why did I buy this thing?
Because I’m marketing’s biatch, that’s why. I work in publishing, and I’m a sucker for a good title: “How to Cook Everything.” Seems like something I really should have in my cookbook repertoire, right? Made sense. Until I started dragging it around on the rest of my shopping errands. Buyer’s remorse set in before I reached Bed, Bath and Beyond.
I cleared a huge space on my pastry and cookbook shelf and heaved-ho the 15 pound book into place. I swear I saw the shelf sag.
And stepping back to eye the results, I noticed that the fire engine red spine goes with none of my other cookbooks, thus ruining the pastel rainbow thing I had going. Sigh.
But the clashing decor problem and my overall irritation with this 18 pound book that I had owned for barely two hours was soon resolved when I turned and saw my kitties playing on my Lazyboy chair.
I hate this chair. It’s very meh with its beigey-taupe upholstery, and really uncomfortable for shortish (5’4″) people like me: my feet don’t touch the floor, and an odd poof at the top of the chair hits the back of my head (instead of my neck), so I constantly feel like I’m about to be propelled face-first to the floor.
But, my then-teeny-kittens were really diggin’ it. Or, more specifically, diggin’ the fabric liner underneath the chair. Shreds were hanging everywhere. But that’s the not the part that caught my attention.
This chair rocks. (As in, back and forth, not as in “Woot!”) And two happy kitties were playing underneath said chair, pawing at the shreds, while other happy kitties were bouncing on said chair, causing a rocking motion that threatened to smoosh the happy kitties underneath.
Moving more on instinct than anything, I snatched the 25 pound book from the shelf and jammed it under the back of the chair. Problem(s) solved. No smooshed kitties. No disruption of pretty-pretty rainbow. Muscle pain from the shopping trip already fading into distant memory.
An inner calm returned to my world.
[Fast forward two years] [Hang in there, we're almost there, I swear...]
Weeks into Gordon Ramsay’s “MasterChef” series, he and his stoic-faced partner, Joe-something, mentioned “bolognese” for the hundredth time. Or was it two hundred? I had lost count. But I sure knew how to pronounce it, by golly, even though I’d never had it (or so I thought — I’ve eaten it all my life, but my peeps call it ragu). I’d been watching Joe-something’s mother, Lydia Bastianich, on PBS for months now, and was finally getting over my yeeaarrrs-long boredom with Italian food. [I know Joe's last name, obviously. I just have trouble associating his stink eye demeanor with his mother's more open personality on her show.]
Suddenly, I had to make bolognese. It became imperative. I searched. I googled. I researched authenticity. I compared recipes, ingredient by ingredient. Nothing I found made me happy. Slumped and sulking on my couch, I spied the red spine under the meh chair in the corner. Still there, both chair and book, all these years later, even though the kitties were too big to fit underneath anymore. Hmm. “How to Cook Everything.” Everything. I wonder … could it … might it?
And so the story ends, with the two pound cookbook assuming its rightful place on the bookshelf (pastel rainbow ruined long ago by a string of brown-spined books), with a killer bolognese that never, ever fails to please.
And it begins, as all good things do, with the aromatics: garlic, onions, celery and carrots.
This recipe always inspires me to go all out: I always buy good cuts of meat from my favorite local butcher and grind it myself. But know that you don’t have to — you’ll get amazing results with pre-ground beef and pork.
I usually go for the pancetta over the bacon in this recipe. But believe you me, bacon is da bomb. You can never go wrong with bacon.
I love this part, when the aromatics start aromatizing.
In goes the meat.
Aside from tequila, the only alcohol I had in the house was Chianti. Which is lovely but also kind of gives me the creeps. You’ve seen “The Silence of the Lambs,” right?
“… fava beans and a nice keyyyanteee. (fhtfhtfhtfhtfht)”
Fresh thyme was not part of the original recipe, but it feels like the right thing to do. Thyme = goodness.
Can you believe how gorgeous a simple meat sauce can become? Three hours of cooking and it’s thick and tangy and perfect.
I told you I really go all out. Pappardelle pasta is difficult to find in my neck o’ the woods, so I usually make my own. I like the pappardelle noodle because it’s a little thicker than other shapes. Wider, too. Fresh pasta, no matter the shape or thickness, is ever so lovely in this recipe. Some day, however, you must try making your own fresh pasta. It’s hard to go back to the boxed stuff.
And now you take the cooked pasta … (whose water did absolutely not boil up and over the sides of the pot and splash all over the stove because I turned my back for a minute too long. No, sir. SoupAddict don’t play dat.)
… and you add it to the bolognese sauce.
Grate some fresh parmesan on top. Hello, pappardelle bolognese, I love you.
25 pound cookbook with fire engine red spine, it wasn’t you, it was me, and I was wrong. So let’s be BFF’s, okay?
Adapted with only small changes from How to Cook Everything
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1/4 cup minced bacon or pancetta
1/2 pound lean ground pork (or use all beef)
1/2 pound lean ground beef
3/4 cup dry white wine (or juice from the tomatoes – I used red wine instead, because that’s what I had)
1 (28- or 35-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, drained (reserve the juice if using instead of wine)
1 cup beef or chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 sprig thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup cream, half-and-half, or milk
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Put the olive oil in a large, deep skillet or saucepan. Turn the heat to medium-low and, a minute later, add the onion, carrot, celery, and bacon or pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
Add the ground meat and cook, stirring and breaking up any clumps, until all traces of red are gone, about 5 minutes. Add the wine or tomato juice, raise the heat a bit, and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 5-10 minutes.
Crush the tomatoes with a fork or your hands and add them to the pot; stir, then add the stock and the sprig of thyme. Turn the heat to low and cook at a slow simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes and any clumps of meat that remain. After an hour or so, add salt and pepper. Cook for at least another hour, until much of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce is very thick.* (This sauce may be covered and refrigerated for a day or two, or put in a closed container and frozen for several weeks. Reheat before completing.)
Remove the thyme stem (leaves should have fallen off). Add the cream, half-and-half or milk and cook for another 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally; taste and add more salt and/or pepper as needed.
*Note: this sauce really benefits from a long, slow simmer — 3 hours, if you can spare it. Check it’s progress frequently, and towards the end, add small amounts of water, if needed, to keep it saucy.