The weather is getting cooler and I’m starting to crave more savory, hearty, and warm “feel good” dishes. This bolognese sauce satisfies all of the above. It’s like the ultimate meat sauce recipe. Every bite falls apart in your mouth because it has been simmered down to the nth degree of tenderness. Not even kidding. You’d think I’d have spent all day making it. Aaaaand, you’d be right.
Okay, I have a few disclaimers for this recipe. First, it is not quick. From start to finish, this dish probably took me a good 7 hours. If you are looking for a quick and easy weeknight pasta, this probably is not the choice for you. Or maybe spending some quality time in the kitchen with a glass of wine is exactly what you need to unwind and slow down. Second, ‘traditional’ bolognese sauce is made with veal, beef, and pork. I chose to keep the beef and pork, but swapped out the veal for some Italian sausage. I did this both because I prefer the slight spice that sausage brings to the sauce, and it’s easier to find. I also made some adjustments to keep the fat content to a minimum, like using skim milk and lean beef. If you really feel like indulging, use a couple of cups of whole milk and ground chuck. Honestly though, the way the sauce simmers down to an ultra luxurious mixture, you won’t miss the swaps.
If you serve about 1/3 cup of sauce per person, this recipe makes enough for 12. If I’m going to spend all day simmering this sauce, you better believe I’m going to make it in bulk. And you would too because you’re smart. It keeps nicely in the fridge for 3 days. If you can’t get through it in a few days, chuck it in the freezer and thaw when you’re craving something INCREDIBLE.
First thing you want to do is dice your veggies. You’re looking for a small dice, but if they’re too finely chopped they’ll break down in the sauce. Just make sure your dice is consistent between the 3 vegetables.
Whip out that heavy duty enameled cast iron pot. I like to use an enameled cast iron pot to prevent a reaction between the metal and acidity turning the sauce into an unappetizing color. Otherwise, just use stainless steel. Heat the pot over medium heat and add in the oil and butter. When the butter is about melted, toss in your onions and saute until they’re translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add in the chopped carrots and celery and stir for about 2 minutes.
Meat time. This is a meat sauce, after all. Add in the beef, pork, and sausage. Generously salt and pepper the meat. Besides a bit of nutmeg, this is the only seasoning this dish has/needs. Break up any clumps and brown on all sides.
Next it’s time to add the milk. Turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer away. This took me about 50 minutes. You don’t want any of the meat to burn so make sure you stir semi-frequently.
Once all the liquid is gone, sprinkle in some nutmeg. I added a heaping 1/4 teaspoonful. Nutmeg pairs beautifully with sausage and adds just a hint of nuttiness.
The same deal applies to the wine as it did to the milk. I picked up some Chenin Blanc in Santa Barbara County, California last spring that I love using in dishes like this. Go with a dry white, but keep in mind that this recipe will use just over half the bottle. Slowly pour it in and simmer it down. This took me about 40 minutes.
Last but not least, tomatoes. Unlike many pasta sauces, the tomatoes in bolognese are not the highlight. They certainly add to the texture of the sauce, but the tender meat is the star of the show. Pour the cans in, juices and all, and simmer it down. Seeing a pattern yet? As soon as the sauce starts to boil, turn the heat down to just a simmer. Now we really let it climb heights in flavor. Keep it simmering there for at LEAST 4 hours. (I know, but it’s so worth it). Give it a stir every 20 minutes or so to prevent any browning on the bottom of the pan.
After simmering and stirring, and simmering and stirring, it should reduce to something like this. Taste test with a fork and adjust any seasonings (salt and pepper) to your liking. Chances are, you’ll think it’s perfect as is.
Now all that’s left to do is boil up some fusilli or pappardelle and toss it with some butter. Serve about 1/3 cup of bolognese per person topped with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a sprig of basil. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy. You’ve earned it.