Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bolognese Sauce

I grew up on Chinese food at home except for Pasta Sundays. This was the day that my father got to experiment with Spaghetti Sauce and there were some strange ones that he came up with. He tried all kinds of mixes and jars of premade sauce that he doctored with other things - adding sausage or ground beef and various vegetables like zucchini, which was another disliked vegetable in my youth - now I love it. Although it was fun to watch him experiment, I knew something was missing from these sauces and I've always liked being authentic to a culture.

So, when I was 15, I went to the library and looked up classic Italian pasta sauces. This is when I discovered Bolognese Sauce. What a revelation! The only hard thing about making it was that I couldn't buy the wine, but when I finally gathered all the ingredients and made it the first time with Fettucine pasta - the only kind of wide noodle I could find at the time, I thought I had reached a peak experience in cooking! This sauce was so different, so delicate and oh so good. The tomatoes were not the star of the show, the pasta was and the meat was tender not chunky. Graced with a sprinkling of fresh parmesan, it is still a wonderful meal. 

The secret to a good Bolognese Sauce is to cook the meat in milk before adding the wine and the tomatoes. This tenderizes the meat and softens the acidity of the sauce and gives it a wonderful delicacy. The other secret is to use good Italian tomatoes - it took me many years to discover this and before that I was always adding sugar in order to make the sauce taste right. Use San Marzano tomatoes if you can get them as they are naturally sweetened from the hot Italian sun. Also add in just a bit of Tomato Paste from a tube at the end to make it thicker. And the final secret is to use a really good red or white wine. I use one that I would like to drink and then serve the remainder as the first bottle at dinner. Make sure you mince the vegetables very fine - I use my Cuisinart as my kids didn't like seeing signs of anything except meat when they were younger. I have also made this sauce with ground chicken and changed to white wine and it is even lighter and more delicate. My father was delighted with this recipe and it became our Sunday night special until I discovered pesto - but that is another post. Now this is one of my sons' favorite meals with garlic bread and a big salad and was the meal of choice the night before a soccer game.

I now serve my Bolognese Sauce with Papparadelle or Tagliatelle pasta that I buy at the Italian deli. I also use this sauce to make Lasagna with bechamel sauce and parmesan - not ricotta - and it is divine using Barilla No Boil Lasagna noodles. The only change I make is to add another 8 ounces of tomato sauce to make the sauce slightly more pourable and substantial. And as a purist, I have to serve these pasta dishes with authentic Parmigiano Reggiano. Nothing else will do. I hope you enjoy this sauce as much as my father did and the rest of my family still does.

Bolognese Sauce

2 ounces Pancetta diced (optional)
1 pound lean ground Beef (can also use a combination with veal and pork)
1 Onion minced
2 medium Carrots minced
2 Celery stalks minced
2 Garlic Cloves minced
2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup Milk
1 cup good Red Wine (you can also use White Wine)
1 28 oz can San Marzano Tomatoes including juice - chopped
1/4 cup Tomato Paste (4 Tablespoons)
1 Bay Leaf
1 teaspoon Thyme (preferably fresh)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Note: If using another kind of canned tomato, you may need to add up to 1 Tablespoon of sugar to sweeten the acidity.

In large heavy pot, melt butter with olive oil and then add in pancetta, onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Stir until lighty softened. Add in ground beef and stir until only slightly pink. Add in milk and simmer for 10 minutes. Add in red wine and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and herbs. Simmer for 1 hour. Add in Tomato Paste and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over a wide pasta cooked al dente. Stir the noodles into the sauce to serve and pass the Parmesan cheese.

Five Element Analysis

The ground beef belongs to the Earth Element and so do the carrots. The tomatoes are Fire as is the celery and the red wine adds even more. The onions and garlic are Metal but they do simmer for quite awhile so they end up being Earthy, but the Parmesan cheese adds a nice bit of Metal along with the milk, bay leaf and thyme. The wheat in the pasta adds the Wood Element. The Water Element is only slightly represented by the pancetta and salt and the ground pork if using that. So, you might want to consider a desert of dark berries to balance the meal.

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