So, this is my first attempt at describing how I make some of my favorite things since learning to cook food is just as important as eating it. I think it was after I read Heat by Bill Buford that I really fell in love with the narrative form of "recipe"-telling rather than a straight point-by-point method. I'm not saying I can write nearly as well as Buford but I think I can at least try (although this has taken almost a week for me to write).
This topic may also turn into something more than recipes. Maybe a reference to favorite foods or dishes or just guilty pleasures as it relates to food.
Alert & Apology: When I first wrote this I completely forgot a really important element. The tomato sauce! It has since been added in. I apologize for any inconvenience.
12 plum tomatoes
2 8 oz cans of tomato paste
4 small carrots
2 stalks of celery
6 cloves of garlic
1 medium sweet onion (vidalia if you can get it)
1 lb ground lamb
1 lb ground sirloin (90%)
1 lb ground veal
1 bottle of Primitivo
2 cartons of organic chicken broth
1 lb of baby portobello mushrooms
crushed bay leaves
1 cup of creme fraiche
1 pack of tagliatelle or papardelle
Ever since I ate at Dell'Anima and tasted their amazing Bolognese sauce, I was determined to create my own home made version. I've been trying for years to find the right combination of meat, vegetables, wine, etc...and what prompted me to write this entry is that I think I've come as close as I can to what I remember from my favorite Italian restaurant's Bolognese sauce. I started with three kinds of ground meat. There's a Wegmans in Fairfax that I had been meaning to try out and since they have a reputation for quality meats and produce, off I went. Now, in the past I've tried using a combination of anything from pancetta to veal to 80% ground chuck to ground brisket to ground pork. This time around I decided to get 1 lb of ground veal, 1 lb of 90% ground sirloin and 1 lb of ground lamb. For the tomato sauce, I got a dozen plum tomatoes. For my base I got a bunch of small to medium organic carrots, a small bunch of celery, a medium-sized sweet onion (though I prefer a vidalia onion), and elephant garlic. I also picked up some fresh herbs (although they didn't have any fresh thyme), basil and rosemary; and a pack of baby portobello mushrooms. Lastly, I stopped by the Whole Foods in Clarendon to pick up a small container of creme fraiche. I already had olive oil, salt & pepper, a couple containers of organic chicken broth, and a bottle of Primitivo so I headed home.
The first thing I wanted to do is oven roast my tomatoes. I lined baking sheet with parchment paper, cut all the tomatoes in half (removing the seeds and the ends), and sprinkled them with balsamic vinegar and sugar to caramelize. I put in the oven at 450 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. Let them cool for a bit (you can start your base below while they cool). After cooling, take the peels off and crush the tomatoes with your hands. Mix in the tomato paste and set aside.
When I first started experimenting with making Bolognese sauce, I would just roughly chop all the ingredients in the base but I found that the texture of those vegetables wasn't something I wanted in my sauce. I moved on to mincing them with a chef's knife but that still wasn't enough. These days I puree them in a mini food processor. So, I took 2 stalks of celery, 4 small carrots, the whole onion and one huge clove of garlic (normally would be about 6 cloves) and pureed them. I coated the bottom of a large cast iron dutch oven with olive oil and put it on the stove top over medium high heat. I dropped in the pureed vegetables and let them saute/cook for about 15 minutes. I want to get as much moisture as I can out of the mixture and a good indicator that they've cooked enough to me is to see a little of it sticking to the bottom of the pan (a socarrat per se). I then added the meat which I mixed together beforehand. I made sure to thoroughly mix it together with the vegetables and then seasoned the meat with salt and pepper. I cooked the meat until it was browned all the way through with a bits of crisping showing on the meat. I chopped up the fresh basil (about 3 leaves) and rosemary (about 2 stems) and added some dried thyme, red chili flakes (just add to your preferred level of spiciness) and chopped up dried bay leaves. Add in your tomato sauce and mix it thoroughly. I cooked that mixture for just a few minutes and then dumped in the whole bottle of Primitivo. Some people recommend adding a dry white wine but I've always preferred the richness of red wines in my bolognese. I let the wine burn off for about 5 to 6 minutes (probably could have been a bit longer) and then added one whole carton of organic chicken broth. You need enough liquid to cover the top of the meat sauce so feel free to pop open another one to add a bit more. I brought this mixture to a simmer and then reduced the heat to just about low and let it cook over 4 hours. I constantly added more chicken broth over that span of time and eventually used another whole carton. Also, make sure you constant taste and season to your liking during this slow cooking period.
Next, I sliced all the portobello mushrooms thinly and let them marinate in a mixture of salt, pepper, olive oil and dried tarragon. During the last 20 minutes of the simmering phase, i sauteed the mushrooms in a shallow pan making sure they lose as much moisture as possible and gain as much flavor as possible. As soon as they are cooked I drop the mushrooms into the meat sauce along with a generous cup of creme fraiche and mix it all together. When I taste a bolognese in a restaurant, there is always a creamy element that has eluded me for quite a long time now. I decided to try adding the creme fraiche to see if I could capture it and it melded with the sauce perfectly to provide that element.
I prefer to add the sauce to a wider, flat pasta like papardelle or tagliatelle but really it can go with any type of pasta. I mixed half of the sauce with a whole package of tagliatelle this time around and froze the rest. I don't know if this is the right way to make a bolognese but after many years of trial and error, this is the best way I've found to replicate the taste of bolognese that I've come to really enjoy. I didn't do well in my attempt to take pictures since it really was just a meat sauce in a big dutch oven. On my next posts about cooking, I will be sure to figure out the best way to present the food.