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My Spaghetti Bolognese

I had a free Sunday to­day, and I’d planned on mak­ing spaghetti bolog­nese for din­ner. Then I thought I’d write a bit about it.

Introduction

You’ve prob­a­bly heard of the dish Spaghetti bolog­nese”, and have had it count­less of times, served in schools, restau­rants, and at home as an every­day din­ner across Europe and America. There are equally count­less vari­a­tions of the recipe, with in­gre­di­ents vary­ing from cel­ery and ba­con to milk and soy. I’m not ac­tu­ally sure there’s a true” spaghetti bolog­nese, as the dish ac­tu­ally does­n’t ex­ist, tra­di­tion­ally in Italy, in the shape we non-Ital­ians are used to. According to a Wikipedia ar­ti­cle, the tomato fu­eled bolog­nese we’re used to is ac­tu­ally clos­est to the ragù served in the Naples area (ragù alla napo­le­tana). The tra­di­tional ragù in the Bologna area is much more ba­sic: meatier and less sauce-y than what you’re prob­a­bly used to.

The Guardian’s ar­ti­cle aptly named How To Make the Perfect Bolognese in­cludes the para­graph

The fact is that there is no de­fin­i­tive recipe for a bolog­nese meat sauce, but to be wor­thy of the name, it should re­spect the tra­di­tions of the area. There’s noth­ing wrong with a tomato-based beef ragu, rich with gar­lic and olive oil, ex­cept that it’s not what, tra­di­tion­ally at least, they’d eat in Emilia Romagna, which is dairy coun­try. As for serv­ing such a hearty meat sauce with del­i­cate spaghetti — well, that is wrong. But it still tastes pretty good.

In sum­mary: you do you. Cooking food is (loosely) like sex: if it feels [tastes] good, it’s prob­a­bly fine.

The Dish

What I’ve done here is to ac­cu­mu­late stuff I’ve picked up from oth­ers dur­ing the years, as well as ex­ten­sive re­search on­line for more tips and tricks, in or­der to boil every­thing down to a process that fits me (I’ve or­dered the light ver­sion of The Silver Spoon” but it has­n’t ar­rived at the time of writ­ing).

What I love about bolog­nese is that it’s so very ver­sa­tile. It can be boiled down to a very ba­sic recipe you can make in 40 min­utes, or make it a Sunday meal ac­tiv­ity where you long cook it for 4 hours with home­made tomato pas­sata. Up to you (our mantra here, if you did­n’t pick that up).

The Ingredients

All in­gre­di­ents are stuff you can find at the lo­cal su­per mar­ket, of course, but as usual, try to find good qual­ity gro­ceries as it’ll taste richer. I usu­ally go with 100% beef meat (eco), but I guess a pork mix is fine too. I have to con­fess that I’ve cut out the cel­ery part when I make it my­self, since I hate cel­ery be­yond rea­son.

I usu­ally make bolog­nese on 800g of meat. But that’s for Sunday din­ner, and then me and the girl­friend has lunch boxes for the week at work. The bolog­nese tastes won­der­ful the day af­ter in the mi­crowave, so it’s the per­fect dish for mak­ing a large batch of. And, it’s quite sat­is­fy­ing to make huge fuck­ing batches of food too. Just a tip. Feel free to dou­ble all mea­sures in the recipe be­low if so.

You can put in tons of fun stuff: every­thing from mush­rooms to ba­con. The lat­ter will make it a more smokey flavour. I hon­estly think the mush­room taste is dis­ap­pear­ing in the tomato sauce, but that’s just me.

Some recipes, mostly the tra­di­tional ragù ones, calls for white wine. But as I’m mak­ing a tomato ragù” here, I go with red wine since I think it mar­ries with the tomato bet­ter.

The tomato sauce

The essence of what we as­so­ci­ate a good bolog­nese with! Juicy, sweet, rich tomato sauce. I learned a lot re­search­ing this. In recipes I’ve en­coun­tered on­line, they use some­thing called passata” or passato”. What’s pas­sata? It’s just” tomato puree: it’s not pasta sauce and it’s not tomato paste. It’s ver­sa­tile (you can use it for all kinds of tomato stuff in cook­ing) and dead easy to find (I swear your gro­cery store has it, just not named passata”). This site has fur­ther ex­pla­na­tions, and Mutti has the coolest page ever, de­scrib­ing their pas­sata prod­uct. Recommended read.

I bought the Mutti one in a glass bot­tle from my gro­cery store, as well as one pas­sata pack­age from a lo­cal Swedish brand called ICA — just to com­pare the two to each other, since I was mak­ing a large batch of bolog­nese. I tasted the two be­fore­hand: Mutti’s pas­sata was slightly thicker and sweeter (it in­cludes 99.5% toma­toes!). ICA’s was a bit wa­tery and not as in­tense af­ter taste. But both had a near equal rich­ness in flavour to me. Mutti’s is also a tad more pricey.

The Recipe

Or Jesus fi­nally he gets to the ac­tu­ally cook­ing, that nerd”.

These are the things I use:

  • 400g of minced beef meat
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 car­rot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cel­ery stalk, finely chopped
  • 2-3 gar­lic gloves
  • 200 ml (a small drink­ing glass) of red wine
  • 1 ta­ble­spoon of tomato paste
  • 400 ml of pas­sata
  • a cou­ple of fresh basil leaves
  • salt and pep­per
  • fresh parme­san or pecorino cheese for serv­ing

Ok, lets go!

Total time: Around 1 hour and 30 min­utes. If you’d like to long cook it, around 4 hours. Preparations: if you’d like to use the oven for long cook­ing, start pre­heat­ing it to around 175˚C now.

  1. Open the bot­tle of wine and pour your­self a glass. You’ve prob­a­bly earned it. Let the meat warm up a bit in room tem­per­a­ture if you’ve had it in the fridge or just bought it. This will make it sear rather than stew when it goes into the pan.
  2. Peel the gar­lic gloves, cut them in halves. Finely chop the onion, car­rot, and cel­ery.
  3. Heat up the olive oil in a deep pan or pot (I use one of these). Use low to medium tem­per­a­ture.
  4. Add the gar­lic gloves and stir them around to flavour the oil for a few min­utes. Don’t burn them or let them get too brown. I usu­ally leave the gar­lic gloves in, but some peo­ple re­move it at this stage.
  5. Add the onion, cel­ery, and car­rot. Increase the heat some. Keep stir­ring! Do this for around 5-8 min­utes.
  6. Season the meat with salt and pep­per. Add to the pan. Let the meat cover the whole base of the pan, rather than stir­ring it around too much. The idea is to sear the meat rather than boil it, due to the pro­tein and liq­uids in the meat. So make sure it stays still for 5-6 min­utes un­til it heats through com­pletely. Check on the veg­eta­bles so they don’t burn. Poke in the gar­lic gloves into the meat if you want to. When the meat looks brown enough on the top sur­face, stir it around and mix with the veg­eta­bles for around 10-12 min­utes.
  7. When the meat starts to stick to the pan, we can bring out the wine. Add the red wine and let it re­duce into the meat.
  8. No sight of wine left? Good. Then we can put in the table spoon of tomato paste. Stir around and mix it out and let cook for a cou­ple of min­utes.
  9. Add the pas­sata! Bring every­thing up to a boil. Add wa­ter if you’d like a more liq­uid sauce. Add a hand­ful of basil leaves for the cook­ing.
  10. Here you can ei­ther long cook it for around 4 hours — ei­ther on the stove or in the oven — or let it sim­mer cov­ered on the stove on low heat for around 1 hour. Stir it oc­ca­sion­ally dur­ing this time and en­joy the nice smell. If you have a lazy Sunday, try go­ing for the long cook vari­ant to see how it turns out! Chances are you’ll like it.

Serving

  1. Bring up a lot of wa­ter to a boil, with lots of salt (more than you think — at least the dou­ble).
  2. Add a pasta you like. Regular spaghetti is nice, as well as tagli­atelle.
  3. Boil un­til al dente and serve im­me­di­ately. Let the eaters put parme­san or pecorino on the pasta and bolog­nese if they’d like. Some table fling salt is­n’t bad ei­ther. Serve with the same wine as you had in the bolog­nese.

Done.