“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Federico Fellini
What is it about Italian food and cooking that is so intrinsically magical? From assembling your ingredients to taking that very first bite—the experience is somewhat enchanting. It’s always been a source of comfort to me. I can’t think of a time a bite of homemade pasta, or taste of some freshly made sauce, simple sautéed vegetables, or the sight of an authentic Italian pizza didn’t instantly lift my spirits.
The entire philosophy of Italian cooking seems to me to consist of a few key elements. Some of which are; using fresh, seasonal, & local ingredients, creating simple dishes that are full of flavor, using what you have on hand, and finding joy in the process. There is something to be said of finding joy in the preparation of a dish, no matter how humble. About taking the time to be more present and take pleasure in creating a delicious meal. This Bolognese recipe always has that affect on me.
From chopping the fresh vegetables, to sautéing the garlic and meat, the sound of bubbling red wine and milk, to the fragrant smell of San Marzano tomatoes simmering away—the entire process feels like a therapeutic exercise. I forgot about the busy week ahead. I was distracted for a time from the endless stream of frenetic thoughts marching through my mind. While cooking in general is a sort of mediation for me, there’s something about making this Bolognese that is particularly enthralling.
Perhaps it’s the fact that it has become one of my signature dishes. I could make it now without any thought whatsoever. I’ve made it for family and friends and shared the recipe with people who can’t get enough of it. I don’t normally brag…well ever, but this recipe is one I’m very proud of. Each time I make it, it is always a bit different. I might add this or substitute that, but the essentials are the same.
I’d say this is easily one of Simon’s favorite dishes. It’s the kind of meal that causes one to close their eyes upon the first bite, slowly shake their head in disbelief, and often elicits a hushed reverence at the table. It’s that good.
Now I won’t proclaim this recipe is 100% authentic or traditional. I’m sure it’s not. But it’s delicious, it’s comforting, and it is especially wonderful during these cold winter months. The essential ingredients are as follows; the classic Italian soffritto (onion, carrots, celery), garlic, ground beef and pork, a dry red wine, whole milk, fresh herbs, and San Marzano tomatoes. Now I’ve been known to add mushrooms (or use them entirely for a vegetarian version). Pancetta gives this great flavor too. My herbs change depending one what I have (any combination of sage, or thyme, or oregano, or basil). The amount of wine changes too—although half a bottle seems to be the sweet spot.
Spices are simple; salt and pepper, occasionally a pinch of re pepper flakes, and a few spoonful’s of sugar (Simon’s Nona insists on that). The only other key element is cooking time—this needs a minimum of three hours to cook, ideally four. Now of course you could easily cook this for a couple hours and get great results, but would you get a transcendent pasta sauce experience? That’s an emphatic no from me! Oh, and if you can make this the night before—the flavors only develop and improve the next day!
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do! I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to post.
Make about 5 cups of Sauce
- 3 Tbsp. Olive oil or butter
- ½ cup onion, diced
- ½ cup carrots, diced
- 1/3 cup celery, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- ½ lb. ground pork
- 1-2 cups red wine (like a cabernet or pinot)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 36 oz. (4 ½ cups) Crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- A few sprigs thyme, leaves striped from stems
- ½ tsp. dried oregano
- 2 tsp. granulated sugar
- ¼ to ½ tsp. red pepper flakes, optional (Sometimes I like it with a bit of a kick)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Fresh basil, for serving
- Parmesan, for serving
- 1 lb. Prepared pasta
- In a large pot, heat butter or oil over medium heat.
- Sauté onions until glossy, about 3 minutes.
- Next add in carrots, celery, and garlic. Sauté another 3-5 minutes until they begin to soften.
- Add in beef and pork, some salt and pepper, and cook completely, breaking apart with a wooden spoon.
- Add in wine and simmer for 3-4 minutes before adding in milk, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, and sugar.
- Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, and cover.
- Cook for 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste test through out and add more salt and pepper as needed. Be sure to keep the heat on low so nothing burns and stick to the bottom of the pot.
- When Bolognese sauce is nearly done, prepare the pasta according to package instructions.
I like to serve family style, mixing all the noodles with the sauce, in large platter.
Serve with parmesan and fresh chopped basil.